When Avenues Become Obstacles
We recently studied the account of Jesus cleansing the temple from John’s gospel (Jn. 2:13-22). John tells us that the temple was being used as a marketplace, to sell livestock as sacrifices to those who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover. There were other merchants exchanging money so that sacrifices could be purchased and the temple tax could be paid using approved temple coinage. This marketplace was probably located in the court of the Gentiles, which effectively barred them access to the temple during the most sacred days of the Jewish calendar. Even for Jews, who could enter into the inner courts, one can imagine how distracting the cacophony outside would be to their worship. John records how Jesus fashioned a whip out of the cords used by the merchants, and drove them out of the temple, overturning the tables of the money-changers.
In the exchange that followed, Jesus said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn. 2:19). Those words were later twisted by Jesus’ enemies and used at his trial in support of a charge of blasphemy against him. The temple was sacred; and to intimate any violence against the temple was therefore blasphemous. The irony, of course, is that, though they claimed the temple was sacred, they had no problem using it as a marketplace, effectively cancelling out its purpose to be a house of prayer where people could go to meet with God (cf. Mt. 21:13). The point is that the temple was only sacred because the God who dwelt there is sacred. Theirs was a case of misplaced values: on the one hand they insisted the temple was sacred and must be honored, on the other hand they did not honor the God who made the temple sacred.
With his words about the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in three days, Jesus not only foretold of his death and resurrection, he also made another important statement: that he had come to replace the temple with himself. The purpose of the temple was always as a place to meet with God, and yet, the thick veil that barred the way into the Most Holy Place in the temple was a constant reminder that, because of sin, people could only get so close to God. Through his death and resurrection, however, Jesus would remove the need for the temple with its thick curtain. Because of Christ’s work, people could now enter into God’s presence at any time and in any place (Heb. 10:19-22, cf. Jn. 4:21-24).
In 70AD, the temple was destroyed, not to be rebuilt to this day. The destruction of the temple was in one sense a “severe mercy.” God had taken Israel’s most treasured possession away from them; a precious gift that he himself had given them. In the end, however, he took it away because, instead of an avenue, it had become an obstacle, standing in the way of their ability to receive the best gift he offers all of us—himself.
Israel’s experience is a sobering reminder of our inclination to become so enamored with the good things God gives us, things intended to draw us to him, that they actually become obstacles rather than avenues. We would do well to consider, what are the gifts he has given us, intended as avenues, which we have turned into obstacles? If he were to exercise severe mercy and take them away, how would we respond? Would we cling to the lesser gift and shake our fist at God for taking it away? Many in Jesus’ day did just that. Or would we surrender to his severe mercy and let go of the lesser gift, so our hands are open to receive the greater one?
Pastor Jon EnrightJune 1, 2021