Good morning, Friends!
Thank you all so much for being here today. This month is the two-year anniversary of the start of the epidemic which we all have suffered through. It’s been an incredible struggle, but we’ve had incredible faith, incredible love, and incredible blessings.
I can’t thank you all enough for what you’ve done. And just being here, showing up, because you want to see people, and you want to sing, and you want to hear the Bible – that’s so great. Thank you!
And now, just as we’re all trying to get back on our feet, there’s this new time of war, and international tension, and economic fear.
We need to pray for the people who are suffering directly. We need to pray for peace, and do what we can to build peace.
Our new friend in Ukraine sent me some pictures this week. She saw the Christmas pictures of Springfield on Facebook. So she sent me pictures of her church last Christmas. It’s a beautiful, modern church. Her city was completely destroyed in World War II. Then, for 50 years, it was illegal to build new churches. But somehow, they kept their faith alive. Their new church is both traditional and modern. It’s gorgeous!
And during this terrible war, they’re still praying. They’re singing hymns in the subway at night, during the bombing. They’re so grateful for our prayers.
We need to keep remembering that God is still with us. There is so much beauty in the world. There are so many people who care. The message of Jesus is still the same: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. . .” (Mark 16:15)
That’s what we do — take every opportunity, in good times or in bad, to be a Christian. Share the light wherever you can. Plant seeds wherever you can. Even a word, a prayer, or a cup of cold water, because you love Jesus, is what disciples and friends of Jesus do.
And – here at Springfield, we’re opening up again! We’re free to do most things. Now we need to summon the energy, to want to do them. If we want to have social gatherings and classes, re-start old ministries and start new ones, we need to encourage each other to get them going.
Today, we’ve got another part of the story that leads us up to Easter. This story is one of the few that’s found in all four gospels. That makes this story important. So, let’s listen to it together.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
And as Jesus taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.Mark 11:15-19
Jesus wasn’t doing anything new here. He wasn’t really even being out of line.
There were clear commandments, in the Bible and tradition, that the Temple was supposed to be a special place.
Jesus quoted from two of the Old Testament Jewish prophets. First, he quoted from Isaiah, where God said,
“Even foreigners who join themselves to the house of the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, who keep the sabbath and do not profane it, and hold fast to my covenant – even these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. . .”Isaiah 56:6-7
Jesus was also quoting from Jeremiah chapter 7, where God said,
“Reform your ways and reform your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Don’t trust in deceptive words and say, “Oh, this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord! If you really change your ways and your actions, God said, and deal with each other justly, if you don’t oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and don’t shed innocent blood in this place, and if you don’t follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you haven’t known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “Oh, we’re safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.”Jeremiah 7:3-11
So, Jesus wasn’t saying something new that day in the Temple. He was actually saying what God said, many years before.
The Temple was supposed to be a place where people came to pray. Where people came to get right with God. People came there to pray to be healed, and to give thanks for healing.
It was a place where famous teachers came, to teach people about the ways of God. All around the edges of the huge courtyard, there were teachers, gathering groups of students, whoever would come and listen.
They’d sit there all day long, kind of like a Sunday school marathon, or a free university. Some would stay as students, others would go as pilgrims, and take the new knowledge back home with them, to places all over the world, wherever Jews were to be found.
The Temple was a symbol, a gathering place, a place of pilgrimage from all over the world. It was like a lighthouse to the whole world. The white stone, and the bright gold, made it visible from miles away. It was the first thing people saw when they came near to Jerusalem.
Jesus wasn’t against any of this. What Jesus was against, was the crass way that the religious leaders monetized the Temple for their own benefit.
Rather than bring sacrifices from home, the religious leaders insisted that people buy sacrifices from the vendors at the Temple, at super, marked-up prices that they controlled.
And rather than people donating the money that they’d earned, the religious leaders insisted that people exchange their money for special Temple coins, again at a super-high mark-up.
The noise of the animal sellers and the exchange booths was so loud that it drowned out the sound of prayer and teaching. It wasn’t the sound of prayer Jesus objected to. It was the sound of money in the Temple.
Jesus also said that what mattered wasn’t the Temple. It was faith. Faith in God. Faith in him. Faith in the good news, not in a building.
One word of faithful prayer, Jesus said, could move mountains. It could feed thousands. It could bring storms to a complete stop.
And along with that, Jesus said, what matters is reconciliation. He said, “If you’re going to the Temple to make an offering, and you remember on the way that there’s a quarrel between you and somebody else, then leave your gift at the altar. Go home, and be reconciled with them.. Then come and offer your gift, and it’ll be accepted.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
Jesus also said, that what matters most, is humility and asking God for mercy. He told a story onetime about two guys who went to the Temple. One stood up front and prayed, “Thank you, God, that I’m not like all those terrible people in the world – the thieves, evildoers, adulterers and tax collectors. Look at me, God! I fast twice a week, I put money in the plate. Look at me!”
But the other guy, said Jesus, stood all the way at the back of the Temple. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes up to heaven. He beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner. . .”
“Which one went home right with God?” Jesus asked. “You tell me. Which one really came to the Temple?” (Luke 18:9-14)
That same week, Jesus was sitting by the gate to the Temple. There were big collection boxes there, right by the door.
Jesus saw people putting in big gifts – heavy bags of silver and gold that made a lot of noise when they were dropped in.
Then Jesus saw an old woman, a widow, who put in just two small copper coins – that’s where we get the phrase, “putting in your two cents’ worth”.
Jesus said, “She gave more than all the rest, because she put in all she had. It was what she needed to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
It’s as though Jesus was saying, “The Temple isn’t here. It’s here – in our hearts, in our lives. The Temple is where people do what God commands. It’s wherever people do what I teach.”
Then, Jesus said something which many people didn’t understand, and which many other people hated him for.
He said, “If this Temple is destroyed” – as indeed it was, just a few years later, by the Romans – “if this Temple is destroyed, in just three days, God will build it up again.”
People said, “What are you talking about? It took 46 years to build the Temple, and millions of offerings. How can you raise it up, in just three days?”
But of course, that wasn’t the Temple Jesus was talking about. He, himself, was the Temple God would raise up. That’s why this story is part of the whole Easter message.
God raised Jesus up. And God raised up hope. God raised up faith. God raised up salvation, and repentance, and forgiveness. God replaced all those millions of Temple sacrifices with just one sacrifice – Jesus himself.
God celebrated life. The life that begins now, and lasts forever. When God re-built the Temple, when God raised Jesus up, God basically said, “Everything Jesus taught is true. This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him!”
Jesus said, “There’s a new kind of Temple. Not one made with human hands, but a Temple built in human hearts. Everyone is welcome. Everyone can come home, and be fed. My sheep know me, and listen to my voice.. . .”
That’s a lot to pack in to one short message. That’s a whole lot to absorb, and believe. Just remember, the Temple, the real Temple, is always in your heart.
Make it a place of prayer. Make it a place of listening, learning and healing. Make your heart a place where Jesus is alive, a place where love is found.