Sunday, March 23, 2003

The Third Sunday of Lent
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God.

Many pastors begin their messages with the final words from today's Psalm. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Jehovah, my rock, and my redeemer." Those who preach God's Word to the people have a great responsibility. The scriptures note in several places the punishment for a prophet who claims to speak for God, but who does so wrongly. They should be rejected, cast out, even killed for doing what God has not commanded. Even today there are those who cry out "thus saith the Lord" but the words they speak go against the character of God as He is revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ and through the scriptures. It is good to commit our words to God, to seek His guidance for the messages we give and pray that He might be pleased with what we have to say.

But what is it that we are to preach? The people in Jesus' day thought they were doing pretty good. The priests and the temple leaders thought that they were teaching the kingdom of God rightly, that they were leading the people according to God's commands. Yet, the temple had become a marketplace, huxters in the outer courts selling every kind of animal for sacrifice, moneychanges giving poor rates on the money. The priests did nothing to chase these merchants from the holy house, allowing them to sell these things to the pilgrims who came to the temple for festivals. When Jesus saw what had become of His Father's house, He made a whip out of cords and chased them from the temple area. Jesus would go on and teach the people about the kingdom of God, about true repentance and how to truly live a life according to God's commandments. He would insult the priests and teachers of the Law and upset the rulers of His day, until they would finally send Him to the cross and kill him.

He warned them it would happen, even told them it would be the sign of His authority. When they asked Him for a miraculous sign that He was from God, He told them that when they destroyed the temple He would raise it in three days. They had no idea what He was talking about, but when it was over His disciples remembered what He said. The priests and temple leaders thought He meant the building, the place they thought was the dwelling of God. It had taken long to build the building where they hid God from the world -- in a box-like room no one could enter. There was no way one man could rebuild the temple in three days. Jesus did not mean the building, He was referring to Himself.

The priests and teachers of the law were preaching was a burdensome message of works righteousness, of obeying the Law of Moses. Yet, in that they had no heart for God, no mercy for their brothers. The moneychangers and merchants were in the outer courts of the temple where the Gentiles were allowed to pray. What did it matter if they were disturbed by the business of the marketplace? God was in the Holy of Holies, the holy people were allowed in the Holy Place, the believers were allowed in the inner Courts. There was nothing sacred about a place where Gentiles could pray. They had it all wrong. God gave them the Law and the Temple as ways to draw them closer to Himself. Instead, they used His gifts to condemn the sinners and separate themselves from those they considered unclean.

But what we see in Jesus is that God can not be hidden away in some building and righteousness is not following a bunch of rules. God is revealed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and in His mercy we can have a right relationship with Him. Isn't it funny how this is still misunderstood today? How often do we keep God locked behind our church doors and reject those who do not fit our ideas? We hide Him behind our own ideas, our own expectations. Have we allowed the marketplace into our own temple, catering to the ways of the world rather than teaching the kingdom of God according to His Word?

The Ten Commandments are the rules by which God calls His people to live -- to love God with our whole hearts, to love our neighbors as our selves. For that is what the Ten Commandments teach us, to put God first and to live in a way that will not harm our neighbors. The Law was never designed to be a burden, it is a gift. The Psalmist writes, "The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul: The testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple.  The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart: The commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes.  The fear of Jehovah is clean, enduring for ever: The ordinances of Jehovah are true, and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the droppings of the honeycomb." They are not to fear, they are to draw us closer to God.

Through the Law we also see is how imperfect we are, how unable we are to be able to live up to such high expectations. We are easily tempted and we fall into sin. It is impossible for us to be righteous according to the rules. That's why Jesus came. His death on the cross is the only way we can be reconciled to God.

But Paul writes, "For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." Jesus' words were foolish to the priests in the temple. Who could build the temple in a few days? It took forty years to build. But Jesus was not just a carpenter or even a man. He was God in flesh and the temple where He dwelled would be raised so that we will be raised from death into eternal life.

Is this what we are preaching? Are we speaking this foolishness -- that we are unable to obey the Law but that Jesus died for our sake? Is Jesus the Rock and Redeemer? Or are we allowing the marketplace to take over even our sanctuaries of prayer? The Jews demanded a miraculous sign from God that Jesus had the authority to do what He was doing. The Jews continued to demand a miraculous sign when Paul was preaching the cross of Christ for salvation. But what Paul preached was a stumbling block to those who refuse to believe. It is still a stumbling block, for we would much rather live up to a set of rules than rely totally on the love and mercy of God. But the foolishness of God is far wiser than a man's wisdom. We don't find God's grace in any laws or building, but in Jesus Christ our Lord. In Him, we see that they are gifts not burdens, drawing us into the heart of God. It is there we will find peace and the words that are pleasing to Him. Thanks be to God.

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