The Undoing of Death
Meditations on Holy Week Inspired by Fleming Rutledge’s Sermons
Have you ever noticed that the gospel of Matthew puts Jesus’ clearing of the temple right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but John places the event at the beginning of Jesus ministry? Some people claim they were separate events, not so. The gospel writers never intended their accounts of Jesus ministry to be historical documents. They instead used real historical events, such as Jesus temple cleansing, to reveal theological truth, a truth they were more concerned with than historical fact. For both Matthew and John the temple cleansing has supreme importance. For John it was the perfect event to illustrate what Jesus’ ministry was about and so it was a good place to start the story. For Matthew, who focused a lot on Jesus passion, it was the perfect cap to a ministry that led to the cross. But, for BOTH Matthew and John and for ALL the Jews in the first Century this event would have reminded them of the words of some of their Old Testament Prophets.
Amos 5.21ff “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies … Take away from me the noise of your songs…”
Micah 3.11 “Its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us.”
God is most displeased by how Israel became more concerned with the form and practice of worship than what they were actually worshipping. The prophets not only condemned the attitude of Israel in worship, but they also talked about how God was going to do something about it. In Jeremiah 7.14-15 God says that he will tear down the Jerusalem temple and cast the people from his sight.
And then there is the Old Testament Prophet Malachi. He tells of a time when God himself would ACTUALLY come to his temple and set things straight.
Malachi 3.1-2 “The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears? For he IS like a refiners fire … and he shall sit AS a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord and offering in righteousness.”
And then that day comes. AD 33, Passover week. Jesus steps into the Temple with a whip and begins over turning tables shouting, “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade!”
Sometimes we think of this story and focus on Jesus temper. We say, “See he is human just like us!” But the religious leaders of the day heard only, “I AM the messenger of the covenant of whom Malachi prophesied. I have come to purify the worship of my Father.”
This is why they plotted to kill him just days later. They refused to believe that maybe they had the wrong idea of what it meant to be a follower, worshipper and disciple of God.
Today the overturning of the Temple tables makes us ask ourselves the question before we crucify Jesus in a few days time, “What are some wrong ideas I have about following God?” We all have the wrong idea about worship. This is why you, all of us, killed Jesus. Why did you shout crucify him? What tables is Jesus overturning in your temple?