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Jesus, the Temple, & Us

F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Audio Version

Advent I 11/11/27
Is. 28:14-22;     Ps. 97;     Rom. 13:8-14;     Matt. 21:1-13

Jesus had been telling His disciples that they would be going up to Jerusalem where He would be delivered to the chief priests and scribes and condemned to death, mocked and scourged. In the Gospel this morning, they have arrived. Things have been prepared for His entry. The crowds must have known that He was coming for they were ready and waiting. Some had been following along as they traveled. Jesus was no longer telling the crowds to remain silent about Him. The ass had been brought for the occasion, not a large war horse as appropriate for such an occasion, but a common donkey, a beast of burden. Jesus does not come, as pictured in the Book of Revelation, indeed on a warhorse, and with a sword issuing forth from His mouth, the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of Truth, by which He would slay His enemies.

Jesus had no sword at His side, and only His own very human-looking self to persuade not only the multitudes, but very hostile leaders. Nevertheless they had seen enough of His miracles perhaps to suppose that He just might be able to carry off this rather improbable take-over of the Jewish people and leadership, and then, of course, over throw Rome.  That was expected. 

What must they have thought of this donkey business?  Perhaps they remembered that scripture which Matthew gives us: “Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass....”  Nevermind, they picked up the cry and echoed it loudly enough so that a they entered the gates of Jerusalem, the whole city knew that something big was up.

The word ‘meek’ does not imply weakness or lack of courage or lack of forcefulness. It means one who is submissive to Godly authority. One who is relaxed about such submissiveness. Jesus could be calm, patient, and straightforward with life precisely because He was obedient to the Father and lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. He had nothing to worry about. And neither do we if we are trusting and obedient. We can be meek in that proper sense of the word.

The verse tells us why Jesus chose an ass rather than a war horse. He did not come to conquer with military might, He came to conquer with truth and with love, the truth spoken in love. It would not be a weak and spineless truth, it would be a strong and attention-getting truth, an aggressive truth which would command a response. It would be a powerful truth which would redefine all law as love. And love would mean being servants of one another, not arbitrary bosses. A powerful meekness.

When the people in the city cried out, “Who is this!!??” The disciples replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.”
   

As soon as the procession was over, Jesus headed for the Temple, and let His presence and authority be known. He struck right at the source of the power of the ruling classes, their control of both the spiritual and moral lives, and of the money system.

Jesus cast out of the Temple all those who sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves. He spoke harshly, “It is written: My house shall be called a house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” He was calling them thieves.

He might as well have slapped the leadership publicly right across their faces.

Why were the money changers so important, other than they were intruding with secular interests into the Holy Temple of God? The word ‘shekel’, so far as I know, does not occur in the New Testament, though it is often use in the Old. In any case, there was only one coin Jews could use to pay the Temple tax. It was not the shekel. They did not want the Temple tax being paid with foreign coins, especially since they might have images of pagan gods upon them. But the Temple tax coin was also not the common Jewish coin of the time, shekel or otherwise.

The reason, apparently for this special and limited edition coin being made was that the coin dealers, the money changers, could more easily get a corner on the market for that limited coin. First of all, being coin dealers, they would be the ones who minted the coins, so they were in a position to control the supply of that coin. They could buy them up out of the common market for the going price, and then hold them for a high price when they were needed by the people to pay the Temple tax. So just about the only place you could get them would be from the coin dealers, the money changers – at their price.

Their being allowed into the precincts of the Temple tells us that they were in cahoots with the priests who must have gotten a share of their dishonest take. The spiritual leaders and the coin dealers were partners in scamming the people. Jesus understood all that, and had good reason to accuse them of turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves. They were exactly that.       

      

This coalition of corruption was one of the early predecessors of our own Federal Reserve, which, in much more sophisticated form, does the same kind of bilking of the American public, skimming a river of money off the top of the economy into their own private pockets. They were responsible for the Great Depression of the 1930’s, as admitted by Benjamin Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, and are largely responsible for the present economic crisis which promises to get much worse than it currently is.

Jesus was concerned about the thieves of His time, we ought to be as well, with the same vigorous response, and for the same reasons. We are letting America go to hell in a money changer’s handbasket. The use of God’s creation is a spiritual issue, an issue of obedience to His law – Thou shalt not steal.... And God will hold us American citizens accountable, to whom He has given authority over our government. We had better exercise that authority, or we too will hear from the Lord. Harry Truman was wrong. The buck does not stop at Harry Truman’s desk. Under God, it stops at the desk of we, the people.

Jesus was saying that He, Jesus, the Son of God, has authority over the money systems of the world. Yes, Caesar’s image was stamped on the Roman coins, so Caesar owns those coins. But the Image of God was (and still is) stamped on Caesar. So, who owns Caesar?

Jesus had, once again, thrown down the gauntlet – this time, creating, as Jesus planned, an unavoidable challenge. The Jewish leadership had to respond, or totally lose face. Their choice, which Jesus cornered them into, was, “You either join Me, or you get rid of Me. Take your pick.” And so they decided.

Jesus came to earth to offer again, as He had before through Isaiah, “Come, let us reason together...” That may sound a bit weak for Almighty God to offer. Does not God command? Reasoning? -- with His fallen creatures?

But taking Jesus up on that offer always leads, sooner or later, to the crucifixion. We all have spiritual and moral baggage which refuses the offer of truth, righteousness, and love – from which Jesus will not back down. But we back down, some of us noisily, some quietly. God has made His choice, and He will force us, right in the reasoning together, to make our choice – for those who have eyes to see, openly and visibly. The scam is over, the Light has shone. “Reasoning together” is not weak, like the spineless nonsense being propagated today under the banner of relative truth -- where everybody wins and everybody gets a prise. It has all the authority of objective truth, righteousness, and love behind it, not to mention the presence of God Himself.

That is why Jesus shows up for the reasonable discussion, and we so often hide in the bushes.  We fear the truth. 

And, in all of this, Jesus is showing us the undying love of God, the unending caring of God for the welfare and success of His people. If God is not stern with our sin, He is not being loving with our salvation. Sin and salvation cannot live together, so one will destroy the other. Darkness cannot conquer light, so light, if we shine it, will conquer darkness. If the darkness can persuade the light to shut down, the darkness wins.

In the collect, we pray, “Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility....”

Light is both a protective armor, and it is a lethal sword.

The evil-minded cannot tolerate living in that light, and will do whatever evil they can get away with, to extinguish the light. But that is also their vulnerability.

If there are followers of Jesus who will shine the light, tell the truth at any cost to themselves, true witnesses to the Lordship of Jesus, the forces of evil cannot win. If the blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the Church – how, except in the short term, can evil win? We have been given all the offensive and defensive armor we need to hold at bay the works of Satan and his entourage – until the King returns to finish the job.

In the meantime, we must tell the King’s story, and tell of His plans for us, of His rulership over all things, and of salvation from the trap of this dying world, which is continually collapsing down into hell.
 

Isaiah writes,

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement; when the overwhelming scourge passes though, it will not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter.”

Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘He who believes will not be in haste.’

 And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” 

Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand....

The overwhelming scourge coming down the pike from the north was Assyria. For Jesus’ time, it was Rome, already in control.

Later on, when Jesus and the disciples were leaving Jerusalem to go out to Mount Olivet, the disciples remark about the buildings of the Temple. Jesus replies that the time was coming when not one stone would be left upon another. Just as the first Temple centuries earlier, the whole Temple would be destroyed, leveled to the ground, as would also the city walls. The implication is that if the Jewish leadership and people had recognized the time of their visitation from the Lord, the Temple and walls would still be standing.

It is not likely, I think, that the Jewish leaders had actually done as Faust in the German legend had done, make a pact with the devil, a literal covenant with death. But what they did do would lead to the same results. They exalted their desire for power and riches over their covenant with Yahweh. That left them in the clutches of the only alternative: the world, the flesh, and the devil. No longer either trusting the Hand of God for support, or obeying God for their moral direction, and therefore no longer receiving those two fundamental gifts from God, their personal stability of being and their moral direction, they were forced to grasp at the resources of the world.

It is always a bad bargain, because the world without God cannot supply those needed things, so we are forced to grasp compulsively and addictively, competing with others like ourselves among the wholly inadequate substitutes for the Hand of God supplying our power of being, and the Voice of God supplying our moral direction.
 

God is clear that when we do these kinds of things, He will return and set things right with the line and plummet of justice and righteousness, sweeping away the shelter and refuge of lies. We will be left hardly standing, naked, confused, and without hope.

The Episcopal Church is in charge of the national cathedral in Washington, DC, with a charter from Congress. It stands at the highest point on the horizon of the District of Columbia, far above all other monuments and buildings of our capital, a fitting testimony to the American covenant with God, implied if not explicit, throughout our history.

But hardly anyone notices that the stunningly beautiful cathedral is there – because in the Episcopal Church faith in God has been compromised, and the government power structure has declared God irrelevant, officially in the highest court in the land. The executive and legislative branches are largely in the financial pocket of those same monetary forces at which Jesus lashed out in the Temple. There is now open war going on between the political forces in America and the true Church of God. The visible Church seems to be sadly oblivious and self-absorbed.

The cathedral, like some others in the Episcopal Church, has become, in effect, a pagan temple, inviting the worship of other deities than the God of the Bible. During the earthquake on the east coast a few months ago, several chunks of the National Cathedral central tower came hurtling down to the floor. Perhaps a warning.

Many years earlier, when I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, across the Potomac River, I was walking around the capitol buildings, and had a strong question in my heart as to whether those stones would remain one on top of the other for very long. Our government was operating in defiance of God, not in submission to Him as we had begun.

There is still a potentially strong remnant of Christians in America, which could lead a spiritual renewal, but the windows of opportunity are getting smaller and smaller. Perhaps God is waiting for the time when we have only a small Gideon army. We need to learn that it is God who brings the victory, but that He does that when we are willing to submit to His leadership with whatever resources we have, small or large.
 

Jesus, the Temple, and us.

Temples and other institutions can have a running battle with God because we begin leaning on the temples and institutions rather than on God. We get seduced into using our institutions for our own benefit rather than for serving God and our fellow man. Temples are visible and often beautiful. Institutions sometimes pay our salaries and in other ways support us.

The Lord has been testing, testing, testing me to see whether I will trust Him, rather than any other source of income, to help me meet my responsibilities. God owns the Roman coins and the Temple tax coins. He owns all the resources of our parish income. He owns the cattle on a thousand hill, and the hills on which the cattle stand. He owns all the resources which enable any of us to function.

I want to become like the African refugee who said that – he had not known that Jesus was all He needed until Jesus was all he had. I recommend that as a model for us all, it will help keep us dependent in the right direction, beyond the temple to the Lord of the temple – so that we can make and confirm our covenant with the Lord of life, not with the seductive perverseness of the fallen world.

Let us pray for our use of this temple in which we worship, that it will be a spiritual home for us, not just a building for which we pay rent, but a sacrament, as it were, of the presence and life of God, as we ourselves are transformed into living stones of that living temple which is the Body of Christ. Let us pray that no one will ever be able to say that we, these living stones, will no longer be one-on-top-of-the-other, but thrown down and scattered. We will all depart in one way or another, geographically or in death. But let us work and pray that we will all find ourselves a part of that living communion of saints, the real Temple. Think about that as we pray the post-communion prayer of Thanksgiving.

We can then, as Jesus told the woman at the well, worship in Spirit and in Truth, and so, in our deeply troubled and troubling world, become adequate ministers for God – to whom He will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servants...”

Audio Version

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Date Posted - 07/06/2011    -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012