Download or listen to the Third Sunday in Lent: “Transactions” (John 2:13-22)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some things never change. Sinful human hearts remain the same throughout history. We always take God’s good gifts and cheapen them, and exchange them for so much dust and ashes. We hear the Ten Commandments, the summary of the eternal and good will of God for His creation, and we treat it as just another guide to living: along the lines of a diet plan, or a guide to financial freedom, as something that may help you if you choose to follow it. We hear the First Commandment, that we must not have other gods before the one true God, and we immediately get to the business of constructing idols. The sinful human heart is a perpetual idol factory, that takes the good things of God’s creation and trusts them, instead of their Creator. Some things never change. Another thing is the amazing ability of the sinful human heart to take the abundant, the inconceivable, the immeasurable mercy of God and reduce it to a religious transaction. So Jesus enters the court of the Gentiles, given to the Gentiles to pray to Yahweh, waiting for the Messiah of all nations, which God had promised through prophets like Isaiah: My House shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But if there are any Gentiles left there, Jesus probably can’t hear them over the cows and the sheep and the doves and the bartering of money-changers. He drives them all out. Lets the animals go, overturns their tables, pours out the money on the ground. “Stop turning the House of My Father into a house of trade, a market-house.”
I’m sure there were sincere people there, hearing the Word of God, trusting Him, worshiping Him. Offering their sacrifices and waiting for the day when the once-for-all sacrifice would come and set them free. Waiting for the consolation of Israel. But how easily it all could have become just another religious transaction. How easy it could have been to come to the Temple three times a year, put in your time, and your money, get the approved and authorized sacrifice, let the priest offer it, and leave feeling good about yourself. You put in the right amount of money, the right sacrifice, and you get the grace out.
Or in the medieval Church at the time of the Reformation, I know there were believers, who heard and believed the promises of God; who ate and drank Christ’s Body and Blood and served their neighbors. They were there because Christ was there, who never forsakes His Church. But how easily it became a religious transaction. How easy to put in your money, to put in your time, to make the pilgrimage, to get the indulgence paper, to have a Mass said for your soul or the souls of your loved ones. To travel from church to church, as some people did, not to receive the gifts of God, but to hear the bell ring which marked the time when the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ, as if observing such a thing could get you extra credit with God. You put in your time, your money, and you get an equal amount of grace back out.
But we’re past all that now. Now grace doesn’t cost us anything. Now it’s free for the hearing, free for the taking—and everyone tramples it. Or ignores it. Some have suggested that it may have been better when grace cost you some money or a pilgrimage; at least then people cared about it. But those indulgences, those pilgrimages were false assurances, because they had no promise of God. No, God’s mercy is freely given, even if some use and abuse it, as sinners do. But how easily we make that free mercy, that astounding gift of the forgiveness of all our sins, into a mere religious transaction! We hear that we are sinners, and that Christ died for our sins; we come and put in our time and money, get enough grace until we need some more—if we ever do—and leave feeling good about ourselves, just the same as we came in. We make God and His good Gifts just another part of our lives. We make those things a part of our lives, which means we run the show. Stop making the House of God into a house of trade. You cannot transact your forgiveness based on your felt needs. There is a transaction here, but it is not between you and God as equals; not even between you and God. Christ does it all. To those who want a sign, He says, tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days. He was speaking about the temple of His Body. He came to purify, to cleanse a Temple for God, but it wasn’t that building in Jerusalem. That building was about to be destroyed, and it does not exist today. He didn’t come to remake that building into the place it used to be; it was over. It was over because its fulfillment had come. The problem wasn’t with the Temple, but with the people. And God was no longer in a building behind a curtain in a cloud of smoke and darkness; the Lord the whole earth had been waiting for had come to His Temple, and it was made of flesh. God has come to dwell with His people. And He purifies a temple for Himself, but not by driving out animals and pouring money on the ground. He does it by taking sin on Himself so He can drive it out; and pouring out His blood on the ground. His Body is torn down by whip, thorns, and nails, and is rebuilt in three days.
Zeal for you consumed Him. Or don’t you know, did you forget, that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, you don’t belong to yourself; you were bought and paid for by the precious blood of Christ, to bring glory to Himself in and among you. His glory is always to show mercy. So the good news is not what we’ve reduced it to, simply that we “don’t have to do anything.” The good news is Christ. The good news is that you get to have Christ for your Lord, instead of the devil (David Yeago). Christ redeemed you, purchased and won you, lost and condemned creature, from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, so that you might be His own, belong to Him, and live under Him in His Kingdom, serving Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness; just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity (Luther). When Jesus was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered what He had said, and they believed the Scripture and the Word which Jesus had spoken.
And that, all of that, can never be reduced to a religious transaction—or a series of them. Not three times a year, not six times a year, not 50 times a year, not every week, or even every day. You are the Body of Christ. His life is your life, or you have no life at all. You are the Body of Christ, the living and breathing temple of the Living God, moving out from His beating Heart into the world, bringing the world back in to Christ, because He has redeemed it. And then, on the day when your earthly temple finally breaks down, wears out, goes back to dust, then you have a temple not made with human hands, awaiting you in the New Jerusalem. There is no temple building there, because Yahweh, God Almighty and the Lamb is the temple in her. And there you have your place, with all the nations, cleansed and purified forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/10/12