Pastor Joel Schwartz - Midweek Lent 3 - Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Text: Matthew 21:12-17

Watch Service Video

What was it like for the 12-year-old boy Jesus to go to his Father’s house for the first time? As he went up to Mount Zion, the holy hill where the temple stood, what were the sights, the smells, the sounds? He would have seen the massive stones stacked, one upon another made for an impressive building. Then there were the activities that took place there on a daily basis… the sacrifices of bulls and goats and sheep on behalf of the people! Then there were the crowds of people converging on the temple, praying, worshipping. Purchases being made to celebrate the Passover meal. Relatives meeting and reminiscing. But for Jesus … What was it like for Jesus entering the temple as a 12-year-old? Did his heart skip a beat as he sighed, “My Father’s house.” Did he think, “Ahh, home at last in my Father’s house.”

As a 12-year-old boy Jesus made himself at home when he traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, didn’t he? When his parents started their trek back home, they suddenly realized Jesus wasn’t with their group. They looked for Jesus for three days before they found him. “They found him in the temple courts, listening to them, asking questions.” He made it clear to his father and mother, “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:46-49). Jesus was at home in his Father’s house.

It should not surprise us that in the last week of Jesus’ life, Jesus goes back home. Jesus went to his Father’s house.

A day earlier was Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the shouts of loud hosannas and praises from the crowds. They were rejoicing over Jesus, the one who was in the line of great King David. Jesus accepted their worship and praise, but Jesus also paused…he paused to weep. What makes Jesus cry? Death for one. Just a few weeks earlier Jesus had wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. What else makes Jesus weep? Looking out over a city of hypocrites – those who looked to be doing all the right things, but in reality, he saw hearts that were far from him.

The first thing Jesus did on that Palm Sunday was go to his Father’s house and he surveyed the scene. From there, he went to stay in the town of Bethany a few miles away with friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. On Monday morning, Jesus was back at the temple. He had business to take care of - his Father’s business. In the place where Gentiles, foreigners, worshipped, in the temple courts, there was the sound of haggling. Haggling over the buying and selling of sheep and cattle. How could anyone focus on prayer or worship to focus on God and his wonders with the loud haggling happening? Not to mention, you probably had to be careful where you stepped. With all the animals present, what was the smell like in the Father’s house?

But what stunk more was this was all just big business for the chief priests, especially the High Priest and his family. Josephus the historian describes Ananias the High Priest as “a hoarder of money, his sons were treasures, his son in laws were the assistant treasurers and their servants kept people in line with their sticks.” They got a cut of everything sold in the temple courts. They made things difficult for the people who were there for Passover. If you brought your own animal to sacrifice they’d declare it unfit. Then they’d direct you to the merchants selling the livestock. They’d insist that all worshippers use their form of currency, the exchange rate wasn’t at all favorable as I’m sure you can imagine.

What was once a useful service to out-of-towners celebrating the Passover, helping them to buy a lamb for the Passover meal, was now completely corrupted. For the leaders of Israel, it was big business, it was all about making money. It wasn’t God’s business. A cleansing needed to happen. Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (:12-13).

One man drives out the merchants and moneychangers. One stands in the way of merchants carrying on with their big business. There were temple guards, and those guys weren’t wimps. They were the same ones Jesus would allow to brutalize him later in the week. Today, they couldn’t do anything to stop Jesus. One man puts an end to the defilement of his Father’s house.

It can be easy to read this account and feel a tad self-righteous, “How low could God’s people go? They cared more about the almighty dollar (shekel) than worship and prayer.” Before we go down that path we have to ask, “Are we much better? With the fluctuating markets, with inflation the way it is right now, do you find yourself worried, anxious, afraid for your finances? According to a recent survey I read, 90% of Americans say that money is having an impact on their stress levels. 34% of Americans are losing sleep over it.

Even as we sit here in worship… is our mind elsewhere? Do we find it hard to focus on why we are here? Are we thinking of the business of the week ahead? What is this place about to you? A cleansing needs to happen every time we enter this house. We need to begin with the understanding, “Father, I’ve sinned against you by ___________” (we fill in the blank with the sin that troubles us.) Maybe you did that earlier when we confessed our sins…maybe it is time to do that now, simply lay at Jesus’ feet the sins that are bothering you. What a comfort to know, “the blood of Jesus, God’s Son purifies us from all our sin” (I Jn 1:7). We are cleansed because we have a High Priest who was perfect in our place. We have a High Priest who only had our interests in mind, and was willing to sacrifice himself to lift us up to heaven.

I don’t know if you had a chance to look at the different depictions of Jesus clearing the temple. I enjoyed looking at all the depictions the eighth graders sketched of this scene in the temple. Jesus’ righteous anger and his zealousness for his Father’s house does tend to capture our imagination. It was interesting to me that one drawing focused on a different aspect of the story. It is an aspect that can easily be overlooked, yet it is just as important. Verse 14, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple and he healed them”. By the time we get to holy week it can easily happen that the miracles of Jesus become mundane and routine. There had been so many at this point.

After a long day it might be easy for us to yawn and say, “It is just Jesus being Jesus. That is what he does.” May that never be our attitude! There was nothing routine for the families whose lives were changed – a loved one could see again, they could see their children, their grandchildren, maybe for the first time. The lame could walk…some maybe taking their first steps again!

Jesus didn’t hesitate to perform those miracles, despite the fact that there were those who were indignant/incensed with him. Though Jesus knew this would be another reason many would want to take his life, it was another reason for his jealous enemies to move forward with their plan, toward his crucifixion. Jesus wanted to give them healing.

We dare not overlook the miracles that are taking place every time we gather in God’s house. In Word and water and bread and wine Jesus is powerfully at work. He bringing healing to sin-sick souls, souls that are weary, worn and tired.

Jesus didn’t shy away from hurting sinners, he doesn’t shy away from you and me. His love for you and me won’t let him. His devotion to his Father won’t let him. As the writer to the Hebrew’s said in Hebrews 4:15–16, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Jesus’ authority and power were so evident, they were like a billboard on the side of the road that lights up the dark WI night. Even the children got the message that week. They continued their praises from Palm Sunday, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (:15) Jesus heard the same cry the day before, it continued into Monday. The chief priests and rulers didn’t like it Sunday and they didn’t like it on Monday either. They knew what the title meant. Jesus was the promised one of God, the Messiah! Interestingly they couldn’t stop Jesus driving out the moneychangers, where they put up resistance is with the praises of little children. Jesus tells them, “Yes, I hear them,” and he quotes Psalm 8:2, “From the lips of little children and babies you have ordained praise.” The leaders probably knew the verse by heart, they had heard it. They had forgotten that God’s house wasn’t meant to bring themselves glory, it was for the glory and praise of God and his salvation through Jesus his Son.

Our Father’s house is still a place where praise needs to happen. It is a place where we ought not yawn over the miracles taking place – healing through God’s Word of forgiveness. It is a place for God’s children, the young, the teen, and the college students, and the elderly, it is a place for all to praise God. It is a place where the Father’s business is carried on, the cleansing of hearts from sin. Amen.