THE LAMB IS A LION — A SERMON
When we think about God’s wrath against a people, we normally think about God’s attitude toward unbelievers. Peter reminds us that Judgment is something that none of us can escape: 1 Peter 4:17 “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Judgment begins in God’s own household! What a frightening thought!
Passover was an important celebration. It was prescribed by God through Moses in the Old Testament Law. It was a time of remembering, a Memorial if you will. During the Passover, they remembered how God had delivered them from Egypt. It was a week long celebration and Jerusalem must have been an exciting place to be. Jews from all over the world came to Jerusalem to celebrate.
While it must have been exciting, it was also complicated. In each household, there was to be a Passover lamb which had to be killed at the temple in a certain way. And while you were at the temple, you were obliged to pay a temple tax. It was complicated because people came from all over the world and from long distances. They could not carry a lamb with them on a long journey. Moreover, with all the different kinds of currency from different countries, some worth more, some worth less, paying the temple tax became a nightmare for the Temple treasurer.
So, solutions were found. First, the temple tax had to be paid in Tyrian currency. The Tyrians were traders and they had the reputation of having coins that were always pure gold or silver, never mixed with other metals. So Tyrian coins became the currency of the temple, you had to pay the Temple tax with Tyrian coins which were later melted down into gold ingots.
As for the lambs, it seemed only natural for a person to sell his sheep, go to Jerusalem and buy one there to be used for the Passover. So a large market for lambs grew up in Jerusalem. There were always sacrifices to be made and there was always a traveler who wanted to make a sacrifice and it would be good to know that a sheep or a lamb could be bought at Jerusalem.
The high Priestly family saw an opportunity to make money. So they allowed sellers of animals and money changers rights to work the temple area and they would receive a portion of the profit. They even controlled the sheep market in and around Jerusalem. Soon, they allowed the animal merchants and the money changers to actually come into the temple with their merchandise.
Jesus arrived and found the temple filled with lambs and birds and the tables of money changers. It angered Jesus. The problem was the temple was a holy place and was supposed to be lead by holy men for a holy purpose. They took up a part of the temple that was made for worship. The temple was supposed to be a place where all men could come and find a quiet place to worship and pray and to meet with God.
The Temple was made up of concentric courts. The outer court, was the court of the Gentiles where non Jews could go and pray. The next court was the court of the women and the next one was the court of the men, the one most near the holy place and the altar. Apparently, the High Priest had allowed the court of the Gentiles to be used as a shopping mall, a boutique for pilgrim travelers. The believing gentiles who came to worship were left out in the cold. They had no place to worship.
This angered Jesus. The temple was not a mall. The holiness of the Temple was violated. The gentiles had no place to worship. The holiness of the gentiles was violated by the lack of holiness in the People of God. He was so incensed by what he saw that he took up some cords and very deliberately weaved a small whip from them. Then he drove out the sellers and the animals and the money changers. As He drove them out, He said to them, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”
I think that it is interesting that one man with a flimsy whip was able to empty out the temple. One writer said that the sellers must have already known that what they were doing was wrong. They must have had a sense of uneasiness about them. They asked him by what authority he did this. They did not question whether it was right or wrong, for they knew he was right. His authority was something they did not understand. He referred to his death and resurrection. John 2:19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Well, they went into a rage and talked about the current Temple taking 46 years to build. Someone even misquoted him later at his trial regarding this moment. It was only after his resurrection did the disciples understand.
What is disturbing is that Jesus was not confronting pagans but his very own people, the People of God. It reminds us that God is not beyond disciplining us! In this case, it was the issue of holiness and worship. There are right ways and wrong ways. Just because something seems like a good idea does not mean that it is. There are a lot of things today that go by the name of worship, but it isn’t. Worship is to be God centered. It is the time we stand in praise and repentance before God and the time when God speaks to us from his word. It is a serious matter when a holy people gather before a Holy God.
But it is about more than just worship. It is about our whole life. When God proclaims his name over us and claims us as his own, we belong to him, which is what it means to be holy. As a holy people, we do what God has commanded. Sometimes we think we know more than God does and we seek to do what we know we shouldn’t. Don’t be surprised if God confronts us in that moment of sin.
When God begins to move and call folk to repentance, he will begin with his own household, he begins with us. We do not escape his judgement. When God confronts his people, what should be our response? Should we try to have a more hip worship service? Should we get mad at the preacher for saying what is wrong? Should we quit church because we can’t get our way? The proper response always is repentance. Even when we take a good idea with good intentions and go too far, we repent and admit we are wrong. And of course, admitting that we are wrong is the hardest thing to.
We are not free to do whatever we want to do. We are slaves to Christ. We belong to him and our chief end is to do what he commands.
John had recently called Jesus the Lamb of God. On this day, he was a Lion. He was a holy wrecking ball. His reaction the unholy things the people of God were doing was to cleanse the temple.
We pray for revival. Understand that we are inviting Jesus to cleanse our temple, not his building but us. This building is nothing more than a “meeting house,” a term Baptists have used for more than 400 years. But, we believers are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It is the condition of our hearts that may very well cause Christ to take out his whip and cleanse his temple.
Sometimes we ought to be filled with holy terror for the things that we do and for the things we don’t do. Sometimes we need to understand that Jesus is not nice. He is holy. We belong to a fearsome God. He is both the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah. The worst way we can think about God is to assume that he is promiscuous and just overlooks our sins.
The Lamb who is a Lion calls us to live holy lives. How do you think we are doing?