Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent based on John 2:13-22
Dear cleansed church of God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The youth are holding a fundraiser in the narthex following the service. After hearing our Gospel reading, should the tables be overturned, their money poured out, and should the youth be driven out with a whip?
To answer this question, we have to understand why Jesus drove the money changers and the livestock sellers out of the Temple.
Livestock sellers were selling animals so that God’s people could offer the sacrifices prescribed by the Law of God. This way the people who made their pilgrimage to the Temple from far away wouldn’t need to make the long trek with animals in tow. The animals were necessary for the prescribed sacrifices.
The money-changers were also necessary. Every Israelite twenty years old and upward was to pay the Temple tax and it had to be paid in Jewish coins (Ex. 30:11-16; cf. Mt. 17:24-27). Money-changers exchanged Roman coins with the Jewish currency. The Roman coins had the image of Caesar and an inscription declaring him to be a god. The money-changers exchanged these idolatrous and blasphemous coins for Jewish coins, the local currency that was acceptable for the Temple tax and could be used for giving tithes and offerings to God.
There was nothing wrong with selling animals for Temple sacrifices or trading Roman coins for Jewish currency. It is not a sin to sell to others what they need, nor is it a sin to make a profit.
The problem is where they were carrying on this trade. It was in the Temple, in the Gentile court where the Gentiles were supposed to be able to pray. They were thus denying the Gentiles a place to pray, even though the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all people, not just the Jews (Is. 56:7).
The Temple was the place from where forgiveness came. The sacrifices for the sins of the people where the means of grace for the Old Testament believers. They were sacrifices which pointed to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross when the body of His temple was destroyed.
Forgiveness cannot be bought or sold, and the buying and selling was preventing Gentiles from worshiping in the Temple. Their buying and selling got in the way of forgiveness. This Christ would not tolerate going on in His Father’s house, and thus He drove the livestock sellers and money changers out of the Temple.
We also should not tolerate anything that gets in the way of forgiveness of prevents anyone from worshiping in church. No event or fundraiser can be permitted that does these things.
The youth fundraiser does not get in the way of forgiveness, nor does it prevent anyone from coming to the Divine Service. Forgiveness of sins cannot be bought or sold, and you know that your donations towards their catechism retreat will not earn you the forgiveness of sins any more than your church offerings earn you the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness is given freely.
The Jews wanted a sign from Jesus to prove that He had the authority to cast the money changers and livestock sellers out of the Temple. They wanted visible evidence that He is the Son of God with the authority to cleanse His Father’s house.
Jesus, speaking about the temple of His body, responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” That is His sign of authority. He is the temple. He is the sacrifice. He indeed was killed, and He did rise again, just as He said.
Jesus’ death is what truly has cleansed the church. Throwing out sellers and money changers doesn’t cleanse the church. Jesus’ blood shed for us, covering our sins is what has cleansed the church.
Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” We are thus blessed, for that is exactly why we come to God’s house. We come here to have our transgressions forgiven. We come here to have our sins covered. Jesus does not want anything getting in the way of that.
Jesus is zealous for what happens in His Father’s house, because it is a place of forgiveness. This is where the font stands before our eyes, reminding us of how God has received us and cleansed us from sin. This is where we gather to receive absolution from one in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is where the altar stands which recalls Christ’s sacrifice; the altar from where we receive Christ’s true body and blood, cleansing us from all our sins.
Jesus is zealous that nothing gets in the way of our transgressions being forgiven. Jesus is zealous that nothing gets in the way of our sins being covered.
We also should be zealous to make sure nothing gets in the way of us receiving forgiveness from God. Cast out whatever gets in the way of you being here. Overturn it and pour it out. Make a whip of cords if necessary to drive out whatever is in your way of forgiveness.
The church is God’s house of forgiveness. For you. For everyone. Yes, for our youth too, so please don’t drive them out with whips.
Let us receive that forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.