Third Sunday in Lent (Year B – John 2:13-22)

“God has left the building”

John 2:13-22

Last week, we talked about the Jewish hope for a Messiah that would come and restore the temple, overthrow Rome, and bring God’s justice. We looked specifically about how Jesus defied expectations by refusing to be involved in a uprising against Rome. This week, we’ll take a closer look at another Messianic hope: the restoration of the temple.

First, we need to understand what the temple was and its significance in Jewish worship. The purpose of the temple was twofold: it symbolized the presence of God with the people and it was a place where sacrifices were performed.

The temple was a visible symbol that God was where the people were. The people could look at the temple and know that God was in control. Of course, God was a powerful force that the people had a healthy fear of. God’s presence was concentrated in the holy of holies. No one could go in to that room except the high priest, once a year, because encountering God’s unmediated presence would mean certain death.

The temple also offered a means by which sins could be forgiven. The sacrificial system, established in Leviticus 1-3, allowed the restoration of the covenant relationship that was broken through sin. If you committed a sin or violated God’s law, you could come to the temple and make a sacrifice from the goods you had produced. Through that sacrifice, your relationship with God would be restored.

By the time of the Old Testament prophets, the original purpose of the temple had been obscured by corruption. Jeremiah noticed in his day that the temple had become a “den of robbers” (Jer. 7:11). Malachi foretold of a day when a messenger from God would come to restore the temple to its original purpose (Mal. 3). Isaiah envisioned this restored temple as a place where all people could come to pray and offer sacrifices (Isaiah 56:7).

By Jesus’ day, corruption in the temple had hindered its ability to function as a meaningful symbol of God’s presence and a place where the sins of all could be forgiven. There was corruption in the high priesthood, taxes and exchange fees that put a burden on the poor, and a whole market devoted to the purchase of sacrificial animals that missed the point of sacrifice. Far from Isaiah’s hope that the temple would be for all people, Gentiles weren’t allowed to go past their designated area.

In todays’ Gospel reading, Jesus comes on the scene to cause trouble for those who profited off the corruption of the temple.

What Jesus did was more radical than we may realize. Imagine someone going up to the gate of the White House and causing a ruckus. They say something like “this palace has been under construction for 215 years, but I will destroy it!”.

What do you imagine the Secret Service would do with such a person?

The temple was a sign of authority in Jesus’ day, just as the White House is to modern Americans. It’s no wonder that Jesus was executed by the Romans with the blessing of the religious leaders.

This image of Jesus is scandalous to most of us: a violent Jesus. Jesus isn’t meek and mild. He’s a revolutionary!

Certainly Jesus acts with a divine anger in temple, but we need to notice that Jesus doesn’t act violently to the people selling goods and exchanging money. He only throws out the products and overturns the tables of money.

Jesus reacts zealously against those who have misused his Father’s house. Are we similarly zealous? Certainly, I’m not saying we should overturn the tables of the girl scouts selling cookies, but how has our church become corrupt? And how can we cleanse it as Jesus did?

I think the central issue for Jesus probably wasn’t the selling of goods itself. They were just providing a necessary service! People needed sacrificial animals. They needed to exchange their Roman coins for temple coins. Rather, the problem was that people were exploiting God’s temple for profit, creating a barrier for access. The sacrificial animals were cost prohibitive to buy for the poor. The rich could buy expensive animals as often as they wished to make amends with God, but the poor spent most of their funds buying one animal.

How have we erected similar barriers of access in the modern church?


One of the themes I’ve been exploring this lent is how Jesus, the Christ, changes the expectations of what the Messiah would do. In this scene, Jesus comes not to restore the temple, but to proclaim that “I am the temple!”. Jesus is the one who will be torn down and rebuilt in three days at the hands of the religious and Roman authorities!

Jesus’ death was the final sacrifice, rendering the sacrificial system of the old temple unnecessary. God no longer demands the death of an animal to atone for the sins of God’s people. Covenant restoration no longer comes through death, but through the life of Jesus Christ.

We acknowledged at the beginning of worship today that we have broken the commandments of God, but we also hear the words “In the name of Jesus Christ, YOU ARE FORGIVEN!”

Sacrifice in the temple was an effective way of achieving forgiveness for sins in its time, but Jesus tore down that structure bring the temple in its fullness. God’s presence is no longer constrained to the temple, a structure that would soon be destroyed by the Romans. Rather, Jesus is the true temple. Jesus is the person in whom we can find God’s presence with us. Jesus is the person in whom we can find true forgiveness.

Where can we find God today? Do we restrict God’s presence to the walls of the church, or has God really left the building? Can you find God’s presence in your workplace? Can you find God’s presence in the darkest corner of our world, in the place where we’re sure that God cannot possibly go?

How can we as the people of God bring God into those places? Do we try and contain God, or do we try and take God into unreachable places? Do we erect barriers for access to God, or do we allow, as the prophet envisioned, all people to come and call upon the name of the Lord?

Thanks be to God for giving us all access to God’s real presence through the person of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with our Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Second Sunday in Lent (Year B – Mark 8:27-34)

“Setting Our Minds on Divine Things”

On February 15th, ISIS, or the so called Islamic State, released a gruesome video of 21 Coptic Christians being beheaded. As of February 26th, it’s estimated that the group holds 262 Syrian Christians captive. They’ve burnt down churches and done everything they can to harm the Christian community there. Of course, these actions have been decried by the rest of the world and some are calling for direct military retaliation. One state senator from Arkansas posted on Twitter:

“With ISIS spreading all over the Middle East and Africa and Islamic Extremists carrying out violence in Europe, The United Kingdom and even in the United States, I wonder why the civilized world just sits by when we have weapons that could wipe out these barbarians where they are concentrated? I believe it is time to annihilate the strongholds and pursue the rest till we have them all captured or killed. A strategically placed nuclear weapon would save the lives of our soldiers and quickly turn things around. It is time for the insanity to be stopped.”


In response to the criticism this post received, he responded: “Seems liberals even love ISIS more than stopping them cold in their tracks. They truly amaze me with their anti-American arguments. Bizarre.” Most of us would agree that Senator Rapert’s comments about the use of nuclear weapons is “bizarre”, to say the least, but we might be tempted to agree with the spirit of some things that he says. After all, don’t we need to stop ISIS with any means necessary?

As I grew up in the Church in the late 90s, the common question was “What Would Jesus Do?”. This isn’t always a helpful question, and the fad of wearing WWJD bracelets has gratefully worn off, but I think in this instance it might very well be helpful. What would Jesus do if a group of militants threatened the very existence of his people?

I think our gospel text for this second Sunday in lent has a lot to say to the brutal attacks of ISIS and the appropriate way for Christians to respond. Why? Because we know what Jesus did when a group of militants threatened the existence of his people.


As you probably know, the people of Israel were never able to hold on to political power over a sovereign nation for long. The northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians, Judah became a province of the Babylonian empire, and the exile spread the people of God throughout every nation in the diaspora.

When the Persians took over for the Babylonians, things got slightly better. The temple, the center of their religious life, was restored. But when the Greeks took over in 331 BC, that hope vanished. The Greeks brought their “pagan” culture and desecrated the temple by sacrificing unclean animals in it and making it a temple to Zeus.

Between the rule of the Greeks and the Romans though, there was a Jewish revolt, the Maccabean revolution, that gave them power over their own land once again. From 164-63 BC, the people of God had control of their land.

When Jesus came in the beginning of the first century, this Maccabean revolution was in the forefront of the Jewish consciousness. They hoped that there would be a Messiah that would restore Jewish rule over their territory and free them from the rule of Rome.

When Jesus first began to teach and preach, he was acting as a prophet that was announcing the coming kingdom. The coming kingdom that his listeners expected was an earthly one – a kingdom of Israel apart from the rule of Rome. In this gospel passage today though, there is a shift in the recognized identity of who Jesus is.

Jesus asked the disciples “Who do the people say that I am?” Understandably, many people thought he was John the Baptist, Elijah, or another prophet. After all, he had been spreading the message of a coming kingdom. But when Jesus asked Peter “Who do you say that I am?”, Peter made a bold claim: You are the Christ (Messiah)!

We might assume this is a claim to Jesus’ divinity, that Peter is affirming belief in Jesus as Son of God, but it’s not. Mark believes this, but this isn’t the proof. When Peter is saying this he’s thinking “Here is the one who will free us from Roman oppression! Jesus is the true King of Israel!”

This is quite the claim! It’s a claim that is both dangerous politically and theologically. It’s a claim that Jesus is the true King of Israel, the heir to David’s throne. Herod Antipas is not King of Rome. Even Cesar has no kingly authority!

The Messianic hope of first century Judaism was threefold, according to NT Wright. The Messiah would:

  1. Rebuild/cleanse the temple (that was defiled by Rome)
  2. Defeat the enemy (Rome)
  3. Bring God’s justice

Before this, Jesus was just a prophet announcing these things. Here, Jesus is identified as the Messiah, the one who will actually do these things! So when Peter says “you are the Christ/Messiah”, he is thinking about these three things, but especially #2! Like all of the Jews of that time, he wanted freedom from Rome.

Peter was thinking “You’re gonna bring another revolt like the Macabeans and defeat Rome! You’re gonna put all those godless gentiles in their place. Go Jesus!”

Jesus says: NO.

Jesus redefines the role and scope of the rule of the Messiah. Peter has human expectations for the Messiah, but Jesus has divine aspirations! Peter desires retribution, vengeance, and earthly rule. Jesus has a bigger goal in mind: to usher in an era of divine rule over all the earth. For Peter, the Messiah’s journey ends with the overthrow of Herod and the Roman authority. Maybe Peter gets to be a high official in the kingdom! Wouldn’t that be nice… That’s why it’s so scandalous to Peter that Jesus will die.

Jesus says that he will die at the hands of the Roman authority and Jewish religious leaders, but that’s not how things are supposed to end for the Messiah! After all, what kind of Messiah would come in order to let the Romans kill him?

Jesus rebukes Peter’s human aspirations: “get behind me Satan”. Literally, Jesus says, get behind me accuser, tempter. Don’t tempt me to do that! Don’t accuse me of those actions. Don’t be a stumbling block for me on my path!

We as the Church can learn a lot from Peter’s mistake. Do we want to live in a “Christian nation”, where our beliefs rule the culture? Do we want our people in earthly power? Or, are we willing to be faithful to the gospel in our setting no matter whose government we are subject to?

Our world is a religiously and ideologically diverse context. That’s not going to change, and I’m not sure that it should. Thus, we need to figure out what it means for us as the modern church to follow Jesus in this context. Does it mean that we need to make a few minor adjustments to what we’re doing, or does it mean that we have to reevaluate our place in the world through the divine lens of Jesus?


So, we have a choice to make. Will we look at our world through the divine lens of Jesus, or through the human eyes of Peter? Peter missed the point! He didn’t have enough faith in Jesus yet to follow him to the cross.

Senator Rapert, in his cry for retaliation against ISIS, makes the same mistake Peter did. Jesus didn’t say “Nuke the Romans! Send in all your men and kill everyone you can in retaliation”. Jesus said “take up your cross”. Violence against your enemy doesn’t get you anywhere in the kingdom of God! Rather than starting an uprising like Peter wanted (that probably would have failed, by the way), Jesus chose to die at the hands of the Romans and religious officials.

In regards to ISIS, Catholic Bishop Georges Abou Khazen told the AsiaNews service: “This will not be be solved with bombs. What we ask is for others to stop supporting these people, to stop selling them weapons. We have been saying this for some time but no one has been listening to us.”

We have much to learn from this passage and from the early Christians who they faced persecution for their faith as a minority religion. Christianity in America is headed through a wilderness. We are no longer going to be the dominant ideology of the land. How will we react? As Jesus did? Or as Peter did, calling for an assertion of power.


As we continue our Lenten journey, are you willing to continue following Jesus to the Cross? Or are you tempted to act out in retaliation for those that persecute us?

In Deuteronomy 32:35, God says “Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.” Vengeance is mine, the Lord says! This passage is often taken as an illustration of how violent God is in the Old Testament. In the light of Jesus, though I think this passage has new meaning.

What does it mean to allow God to have vengeance, rather than seeking it ourselves? Did God achieve vengeance against God’s enemies through anger and violence? Or, did God achieve vengeance by powerfully overturning the forces of evil with a seemingly weak act of death on a Roman cross?

Do we want human vengeance against ISIS, or any other threatening force or enemy? Or, are we willing to let God’s divine action be enough?

In the face of the Roman oppression, Jesus called Peter to follow him to the cross. Are we willing to set our mind on divine things, to follow Jesus to the cross, whatever that means in our situation?

[1] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 111.