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April 6, 2003
by Tony Grant
Now susan Gibby will read our gospel lesson.
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."
18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?"
19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."
20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?"
21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.
22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Amen. The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
March Madness is almost over. College basketball teams from across the country have battled through the brackets to reach the Sweet Sixteen, the Elite Eight. Yesterday the Final Four battled it out. Tomorrow will be the National Championship Game. And there has been a lot of exciting basketballclose games, great comebacks. It has been a good tournament.
For some, however, March Madness is not enough. They want more, and so they have SlamBall. Slamball has action that looks like one extended highlight clip. It is full of instant hoops, instant air, and instant gratification. The secret of SlamBall is trampolines imbedded in the court, in front of the hoops.
A player named Sean Jackson, better known as "Inches," is one of the supercharged new stars of this brand-new extreme basketball league. In SlamBall, Inches is not limited by the normal constraints of the game. He can perform jaw-dropping 360 degree, through-the-legs, windmill jams. "Its just like I dreamed about in street ball," he tells The New York Times, "that I could do a certain dunk in midair, and the man I just dunked on was Michael Jordan."
SlamBall is all about fulfilling dreams. It combines the flying freedom of a trampoline, the fantasy of stepping into a video game, and the adrenaline rush of an extreme sport. The game has four rectangular trampolines in front of the baskets. Players wear soft helmets and body padding, since football-and-hockey-style body contact is allowed, and they concentrate on bouncing, leaping, hitting and dunking. "Its an adrenaline rush," says Inches. "Its more than feeling like Superman you feel like God."
Of course, Inches may think he feels like God, because he is bouncing on a trampoline, but he is not. But In John 2, we are talking about one who was God.
Take a look at the text. Jesus steps onto a court that is rockin with everything but religion. He steps onto the temple court during the Passover a religious festival that must have felt like March Madness to the fans of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus estimates that more than 2.5 million pilgrims congregated in Jerusalem for the festival a huge gate by any standards. Add to the crowds the thousands of cattle, sheep and doves brought to town for sacrificial slaughter and you have something that begins to look like a religious rodeo.
In a SlamBall game, the ball is in play for two 8-minute halves, with a 15-second shot clock. In-your-face dunks are worth 3 points, as are long-range shots coming from beyond the trampoline. Every other shot is scored as 2 points.
The rules are just as strict for Passover. On the Day of Preparation, paschal lambs are slaughtered in the temple from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Then the Passover meal begins at sundown, with participants recounting the story of the exodus and singing songs of praise. The next day, an offering of first-fruits is made.
But Jesus is concerned about something else when he enters the temple court. Finding entrepreneurs selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others changing money at their tables, he gets as fired up as a SlamBall player hitting the trampoline. Making a whip of cords, he drives the sheep and the cattle out of the temple. He also pours out the coins of the money changers and overturns their tables, before saying, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Fathers house a marketplace!" (John 2:13-16).
It may seem a little blasphemous to say it, but this is SlamBall Jesus. You might ask, "What is his problem with the animal sellers and money changers?" Some think that Jesus is angry at them for cheating out-of-towners when they bought animals for sacrifice, and when they changed their Greek and Roman coinage into local currency.
Yet Jesus says nothing about cheating. Instead, he shouts, "Stop making my Fathers house a marketplace!" (v. 16). Jesus wants the whole enterprise to be shut down, not just the crooked vendors. What he is saying is, "Shut down the marketplace! Scrap the whole system!"
Jesus threw the temple worship into chaos on a high holy day. No wonder that Jews who are gathered at the temple asked Jesus who made him the head hancho, the boss.
They want a sign. And what does Jesus say? "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (v. 19). Jesus shifts attention from the temple in Jerusalem to the temple of his own body, which will be destroyed on the cross and then raised in three days. For years, the temple has been the place of Gods presence on earth, but now, with the coming of Christ, the body of Jesus is where God is seen most clearly. We are the body of Jesus. The church is his body.
At one level, this scripture is about discipleship. You get the feeling that many Christians just do not have a clue when it comes to discipleship.
I heard a little story. After awaking one morning, a woman told her husband, "I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for our anniversary. What do you think it means?"
"Youll know tonight," he said.
That evening, the husband came home with a small package and gave it to his wife. Delighted, she opened it to find a book entitled, The Meaning of Dreams.
Unfortunately, when it comes to discipleship, most Christians are much like that lady. We mean one thing while God means something else. We think of discipleship as going to heaven. We think of the joy we are going to have with God and Jesus in eternity. That is the reward of discipleship, not discipleship. Discipleship calls us to oppose sin. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, "Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the Law of God" (Q14). Usually we apply that to individual sins, but it does not say that. There are national and societal sins as well. A Christian is against sin wherever it is found, be it in an individual, a nation, or a society.
Confronting a society is not an easy or pleasant task. The easy thing is to go along with society. Go with the flow. That is what the temple folks would have said to Jesus. They would have said, we have a system that has been in place for a long time. Noboby else is too concerned about it. What are you so worked up about, Jesus? And Jesus would have replied, Because it is wrong. Even if everyone is for it, if it is wrong, it is still wrong. God does not do judge sin by popular vote. Now I am American. I believe in democracy. On most things involving the nation, the states, and communities, I believe that the majority rulesbut not when it comes to the things of God. In the eyes of God, sin is sin whether it is done by one person or by one hundred million.
And this leads us to another pointresponsibility. I differ with our government on this point. Our government says that we are at war with the regime in Iraq, that we are not at war with the Iraqi people. That is kind of wartime propaganda. The truth is that people are responsible for the government they have. After WWII, an American general was assigned the task of bringing the Nazis to trial. But everywhere he went Germans emphasized that they had never liked the Nazis that all that had happened had been forced upon them by Hitler. The general submitted a facetious report which said that obviously there were no Nazis in Germany, that WWII must have been fought entirely by Hitler.
Let us say it. People are responsible for the kind of government they get. That generation of Germans brought Hitler to power. This generation of Iraqis brought Saddam Hussein to power and they are responsible for that. Now you might say, If they had resisted, they would have been killed. That is possible. Jesus says, resist anyway.
Understand that many scholars say that the Jewish authorities turned against Jesus when he cleansed the temple. He could have stayed in Galilee and talked theology all his life and the Jerusalem authorities would not have cared, but when he cleansed the temple, he hit them in the pocketbook, and they decided to kill him.
Jesus did not say resist sin when it is comfortable and easy for you. He says you are called to resist sin wherever you find it. And the motive here is not hatred, but love. Jesus did not cleanse the temple because he hated it. He cleansed it because he loved it. When we see him taking a whip and driving out the money changers, we certainly see him angry, but it is an anger with tears. You can see this in what he says: "Look what you have done to my fathers house." He is angry because he loves the temple.
This shows us what discipleship is. We are to oppose sin wherever we find it, no matter what the cost. We are responsible for that. We do it not out of hatred but out of love. Amen.
ODay, Gail R. "The gospel of John." The New Interpreters Bible (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 544.
Robbins, Liz. "Are you ready for some SlamBall? Basketball just got extreme." The New York Times, July 31, 2002, C14.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 4/22/03