John 2: 13-22, Exodus 20: 1-17
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As it is so often when we meet someone new, we want to get to know them, and further yet, we want our new friends to get to know us as well. One of the ways we do this is by sharing pictures of our lives. It’s fun sharing pictures and stories of our past with others who seem interested in getting to know us. So invariably, we pull out the family album. These books tell our story.
One of the books I show people from time to time is a photo album of my days in the navy. I also have an album my parents gave me from when I was young. Other pictures we share are standards for getting to know someone and allowing others to get to know us. For instance, if you are married you are likely to share the pictures from your wedding. We share pictures of our kids with relatives and those whom we haven’t seen in a while. And if you’re not careful, someone might even come up with an embarrassing picture of you when you were either very young, or very unaware that there was a camera nearby.
We all have those pictures in our past. Really, you think you know someone until you see some of those candid photos taken when they least expected it. You know the type, shots taken them by surprise, with a mouth full of food, or striking a superman pose. That’s when you get a glimpse of who a person really is. Do you suppose Jesus might have had fun sharing such pictures of his life?
Think about it. We all have seen countless pictures of Jesus. Some at church, some in our homes, and still others in magazines, newspapers and books. Most of the pictures we see of Jesus are rather pleasing. Jesus as a baby lying in a manger. Baby Jesus with his mother Mary. Jesus the Good Shepherd, Jesus blessing the children. There are also pictures of Jesus working miracles. Feeding the five thousand, calming the storm, walking on water, and even Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Do you think that if we were able to sit with Jesus and share his photo album that he would show us the candid shots? What about the ones we don’t want to see? A picture of him taken after 40 days in the wilderness? Or how about Jesus rebuking Peter or cursing the fig tree? Then we turn the page and see the picture of today’s gospel text, Jesus, with a whip in his hand, driving out the money changers and the animals from the temple. What would we say to Jesus when we came across that one? Would we ask him about it, or would we just pretend we didn’t see it and quickly move on? The trouble is, we can’t ignore it. It’s there, plain and simple, we do see it. The real question is, would we ask Jesus what happened to make him so mad? Or would we be too afraid to ask?
John, the apostle, doesn’t hesitate to bring it up. In fact, even as Matthew, Mark and Luke include this event in telling of Jesus’ final days, John puts it up front. From the very opening verses of his gospel account, John is helping us get to know Jesus. Not just the Jesus in the nice pictures; John is introducing us to Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And already in chapter two, John leaves little doubt concerning how Jesus feels about sin.
Just this morning, only a few minutes ago, we heard the story of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. Ever since the fall when Adam and Eve bit the forbidden fruit, we humans have strayed from the precepts of God. Following the Exodus, as a gift and model for living a godly life, God handed to us his Law, his teaching, his instructions. God set boundaries for humans to live by, not as a rule to keep us under control, but as a gift that we might turn away from sinful behavior and live as God intends. Yet, throughout history, throughout the history of the Bible and throughout the history of our lives, we can see where we have fallen short of God’s expectations. Try as we might, we cannot keep even Ten Commandments, let alone live according to the totality of God’s Law.
The first commandment our heavenly Father gives to us calls us to have no other gods. We are to worship and trust the One True God, the maker of all things. Yet, when Jesus came to Jerusalem and saw that the temple had been turned into a market place, he was angered at the fact that even in the holiest of places; humans had replaced worship with greed, and trust with contempt. It is of little wonder that Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us; it’s of little wonder that his response to such sinfulness was to turn over the tables and drive out those who made God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves.
Jesus came to turn the tables on sin. He came to redeem that which was lost. Jesus came to save people from their sins, so he scattered the animals meant for sacrifice and became the sacrifice himself. During this time of Lent, as we continue to turn the pages of Jesus’ photo album that is the gospel, we soon come across the most difficult picture to look at. Jesus at Gethsemane, Jesus before Pilate, Jesus being whipped himself, and finally, Jesus lifted up on the cross. Such images of Christ are not the ones we choose to look at, but they are the ones we need to see.
Seeing such images during this time of repentance causes us to consider what tables in our lives Christ might turn over. What is about our lives, our homes our churches that displease our Lord so much that he would take up a whip and drive them out? Which of these Ten Commandments do we fail to keep most often? How many “other gods’ do we put in front of the One True God? When we speak of our neighbors, do we always cast them in the most favorable light, or do we at times resort to bearing false witness in order to get our way? Do we take only what is ours, all of the time, or are there instances when we take advantage of loopholes or get around the system for our own benefit?
The most interesting thing about looking through Jesus’s photo album is that, as we look deeper into the text, we begin to see ourselves. As we get to know Jesus better and better, we also get to k now our own person, our own self. We realize our need for a savior, and we come to realize the love of God as he gives us one in the person of his only Son Christ Jesus.
People of God, the lessons of Lent are heavy. The texts we read and preach are such that as we study them, we see the complete picture of who we are, and more importantly, who God is. Ours is a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Ours is a God who waited until just the right time to invade our world, dwell with his people, and serve as our example of Godly living. He is the God who delivered his people from bondage, gave them the gift of his law as a guide, and when it became necessary, turned over the tables ridding his temple of sin and taking up the cross as the final atoning sacrifice for the sins of all.
It won’t be long until we turn one more final page in Jesus’ photo album. On that day we will behold the most glorious of pictures of our Lord and Savior, there before the empty tomb, early in the morning while it is still dark, we will once again behold the Risen Christ.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.