Isn’t the gospel account of Jesus cleansing the temple amazing? It stands in stark contrast to many popular notions of Jesus’ character. Here is no picture of a gentle, soft-spoken Jesus calmly confronting the religious establishment with authoritative teaching and divine wisdom. Rather, here Jesus appears with His sleeves rolled up ready for a fight. After making His very own whip, He charges through the heart of the religious establishment striking forcefully and aggressively at a religious system that has become skewed. Imagine it! Jesus is opening pens and cages of oxen, sheep, and doves with one hand, while, with a whip of cords in the other hand, He is driving animals and people alike into confusion and retreat.
Is this really our Lord Jesus? What about His commandments to turn the other cheek or to give your cloak also if anyone takes your coat (Matthew 5:39-40)? What about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you? (Matthew 5:44) Mercy and love do not seem as evident in this account of Jesus driving people out of the temple like so many animals. Yet all four gospels agree that our merciful and loving Lord Jesus charged through the temple like a bull in a china shop. He overturned tables and poured out the coins of inappropriate commerce on the floor. Jesus drove money changers and animals from the temple. At the height of the Passover season, no less, in a city filled with pilgrims gathered at the temple to commemorate God’s delivering mercies and covenantal love, an angry Jesus — God’s Son, our merciful Lord — is overturning tables and disrupting the religious life of the people.
This account of Jesus’ aggressive behavior doesn’t mesh too well with our cherished views of Jesus as teacher, healer, comforter and gentle shepherd. So we may be prone to think Jesus didn’t swing the whip too hard. If He did wield the whip forcefully, He surely didn’t hit anyone with it. Our Lord would never do anything that disruptive, would He? As a good friend and colleague said to me once, “Maybe, maybe not.” But overturning tables and disrupting life really is the way of our loving and gracious Lord Jesus, you know.
Jesus is far more confrontational than we often imagine. It is a characteristic of His work in the world. Jesus is constantly disrupting things, whether it be on the corporate level of, say, a religious establishment, or on the personal level of an individual’s life. Wasn’t it our Lord who used the purification jars to hold wine instead of water at a wedding in Cana? (John 2:1-11) Remember the time he entered a house to eat with some Pharisees but refused to wash before dinner? (Luke 11:37-54). Then before the food was passed around the table He called His hosts hypocrites, pronounced woe upon them and left without eating. Try that the next time you’re invited over to someone’s house for dinner and see if that doesn’t cause a disturbance!
And what about the lives of his followers? Did Jesus not cause substantial disruption in their lives? Fishermen who were successful enough to have boats and hired hands left their livelihoods behind to follow Jesus in the far more difficult and unsettling work of fishing for men, and women, and children, (Mark 1:16-20). Similarly an affluent tax collector walked away from a lucrative business and the security it gave him in order to journey with the One who, unlike even foxes and birds of the air, had no- where to lay His head (Mark 2:13-14; Matthew 8:20). Likewise, Jesus disrupted the lives of Mary Magdalene, Mary, Salome and countless other followers. Jesus had that kind of disruptive influence upon people’s lives.
Jesus still has that kind of disruptive influence on people’s lives today, doesn’t He? Our presence here this morning bears witness to some degree of Christ’s disruptive work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Career choices and goals have been altered and reshaped. Family relationships and lifestyles have been interrupted. Decisions for faithfulness and obedience have collided with cultural values and expectations time and again. I suspect all of us could point to more than a few costs and disruptions that have accompanied our responses of faith in following our Lord Jesus. Now as then, followers and antagonists alike have been disrupted by Jesus’ presence and work among them. And so the cleansing of the temple is really but one more event in Jesus’ totally disruptive ministry.
Now at the temple, Jesus was disturbing a very settled and solid institution. The temple was firmly established at the center of Israel’s religious and national life. The people believed it was the principal place where God in Heaven meets people on Earth. Moreover it was a symbol of God’s relationship with His people and served as a constant reminder of God’s claim upon their lives and of their responsibility to God and God’s people Israel. The temple took 46 years to build, and traditions surrounding it stretched back to before the reign of Solomon. Little wonder the temple was important to many loyal and faithful Jews. It was established by God’s own plan (cf., 1 Kings 51 Kings 8)
But something was amiss. Something was wrong. You see, while Israel’s sacrificial practices are spelled out pretty thoroughly in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, it’s not altogether clear how or when money-changing and the sale of sacrificial animals originated in the temple. Somewhere along the way, however, the religious leaders found it expedient to allow for currency exchange and the provision of appropriate sacrificial animals on the temple grounds — a move which surely had popular support. No longer was it necessary to drive one’s own best sheep or oxen all the way to Jerusalem (cf. Leviticus 22:19-20). No more must one suffer the inconvenience and hardship of lugging one’s own first fruits of the field along a hot and dusty road to the temple (cf. Exodus 23:19). Even planning ahead to secure the proper coinage for the temple tax was no longer necessary (cf. Exodus 30:11-16; Nehemiah 10:32-33; Matthew 17:24). Moneychangers could now make whatever exchanges were necessary on the spot. This was for the convenience of the people and the business of the temple.
Whenever it occurred, the merger of these financiers with the sacrifical animal conglomeration on the temple grounds was probably a welcomed reform. What a great system! It made the people’s temple responsibilities so much easier and more convenient. More people could enjoy being religious; the system made being faithful a more comfortable, secure and accommodating experience.
But Jesus steps into the temple swinging a whip of cords. He drives the animals out, overturns tables, and spills the whole system onto the temple floor. He commands the money changers to depart and to take all these things away. The people there retaliate and demand a sign; they don’t understand what the fuss is all about. Jesus answers, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up!” Can you imagine the barrage of responses from the religious people to such a seemingly preposterous statement? John gives us a sample. They said, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?” John was too kind to tell us the rest. What they really said is, “Bull! You’re crazy! A: No temple under heaven can be built in only three days. B: You can’t do it alone even if it could be done. And C: Things are fine just the way they are! There is no reason to change.” Jesus answers, “Destroy the temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
What in the world is Jesus talking about? Is He talking about tearing down a religious establishment that has lost its way by accommodating itself to the people? Does He mean to destroy a religious program that has become confused about its responsibility for being both a transformed agent of God and an agent of transformation among the nations? Is He talking about pulling down systems of self-identification, personal arenas from which one’s life receives more meaning and direction than from vital communion with the living God and trusting obedience to God’s word? Is He talking about Himself who, after being torn down upon the cross, would be raised on the third day, who will now be the point of intersection between the God of Heaven and the people on Earth, who will be the new and everlasting “temple” marking God’s relation with His people? Could He be talking about all of this?
Indeed, after Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, His disciples saw clearly that He had been speaking of the temple of his body (John 2:21-22). And they also came to see that Christ constituted the perfect sacrifice offered by God on our behalf so that no more sacrifices were needed beyond the sacrifices of repentance and trusting faithfulness, (cf. Mark 1:15; Galatians 1:4) And they saw that all who believe in Jesus are both temple and priesthood through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 2:9-24). They could see all of this because they had come to know and celebrate the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the risen Son of the Living God — the One who was, and is, and always will be. In Christ Jesus they encountered the One who calls us by name — disrupting our lives and beckoning us to follow. In walking with Him we may know him and so know ourselves, that we may love and serve God and one another as God intends. We may live appropriately as God’s own children who love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves.
We belong to one disruptive Lord. And this Lord of ours is bent on overturning anything and everything that hinders His brothers and sisters from appropriate devotion and service to God our Father and to one another. This disruptive Lord of ours does not passively abandon persons and institutions which he has called into being and commissioned with a task to do. No, our loving Lord boldly confronts that which in inappropriate within us and among us for the purpose of making us clean, whole and faithful.
So may we continue praising our loving and merciful God for stirring us to faithfulness. May we thank Him for throwing upon us gifts of the Spirit for special works to do. May we praise Him for disturbing our complacent lives through Christ Jesus our Lord. Praise Him for disruptively working to make us more nearly the persons and the community God created us to be.
Thanks be to God!

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