Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jesus at the Temple (Jn. 2:12-25)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 5 July 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 2:12-25

The true God is the God of mercy and compassion. He is also the God of justice. When Christ walked on earth, He demostrated both God’s compassion and justice. When we see a harmony between the two, we have a balanced understanding of God. Many people want to know God’s grace but not His justice.

John 1 told us that God came in the flesh. John 2 tells us how God reveal His grace and judgement. If we do not understand God’s justice, we will abuse His grace. When a person only knows God’s judgement and not His grace, he would not be able to approach God. Therefore the devil will always disturb us to one or the other extreme. Majority of people would want to know God’s grace but not His justice.

A lot of Christians blame God when facing difficulties. But many pagans fear their gods when they face difficulties. This abnormal religious phenomena come about because many pastors always preach about the love and mercy of God, but neglect His justice. People who keep hearing the goodness and kindness of God cannot accept it when they see God’s judgement. So we need to return to orthodox faith. God is to be feared and cannot to be mocked.

Similarly, a person who only knows God’s justice but not God’s love will be a stern and cold person. In John 2 we see both the mercy and justice of God. From verse 1-11, Jesus showed his concern about human marriage. With His infinity, He took care of our finiteness. Our Lord personally intervened when they were in the midst of difficulties. In our family lives, we see His blessings. He is our present help in our times of trouble.

The revelation of the OT and NT reveal both God’s justice and love. The order of revelation has been His justice first, then His love. God wants us to first know His authority, then His love. We see this in a teacher as well as parents. They need to establish their authority first. Once the children grow up, the children will see love behind all the sternness.

A person who understands God’s justice, when he understands God’s grace, will be most appreciative. In contrast, a person who only knows God’s grace, would blame God when he suddenly see God’s sternness. After the Fall, God first gave us the Law that we might know His justice, holiness and goodness. That way we might know how unclean, unrighteous and wicked we are. So when God gives us the salvation of Christ, we are grateful to see His grace.

But in John 2, the order is reversed. He manifested His grace, then His justice. When God deals with us, He first gives us grace, then judgement. When we preach the gospel today, we first tell them about God’s forgiveness of their sin. But when they reject, they will be subject to judgement. This is implicitly in the general principle of the Bible. Jesus showed both these attributes of God. The Lord of mercy is also the God of justice. He has the authority to judge and rebuke. After the miracle in Cana, we see the authority of God displayed in the temple through Christ.

He went to Jerusalem because it was the Passover. Since Jesus was born under the Law, He fulfilled the requirement of the Law. By obeying the requirement of the Law, He was circumcised on the 8th day, He was baptised, and He started His ministry when He was 30. Jesus went through Passover 4 times since He started His ministry. The recording in John 2 was His first visit with the status as the Messiah.

People went to Jerusalem during Passover to confess their sins and to be cleansed. The priest would sacrifice animals for the pardon of sin. Those who were poor could buy doves instead of cattle, showing that God did not discriminate the poor want all to come to Him. But Jesus did not bring any sacrifices to Jerusalem. He did not need to bring any animal to the priest. When He came to the world, He Himself was the Priest and the Sacrifice.

Jesus saw a lot of people buying and selling animals in the temple, making the temple a marketplace for making money. The sellers felt that they were serving these people since it would be very difficult to bring a cattle all the way to Jerusalem. So they provided convenience for the people. The way to differentiate between a good and a bad church is whether you hear the voice of God or the voice of money. Those who truly wanted to pray would feel quite disturbed while those who wanted convenience would like it.

Worship has to be done according to God’s design and requirement. In the Old Testament, the measurements of the temple were determined by God. When Aaron followed the people’s desire to make the golden calf, God was angry. In line with God’s anger, Moses was angry against the Israelites. But at the time of Moses, there was no temple built yet.

The first temple was built by Solomon, the son of David, built according to the measurements given by God. There was only one temple in the whole Israel. So while we have many churches, in reality there is only one Church. The church is not a building. It is the center of the entire world, where God is with His people. The temple is so holy that even the man after God’s own heart (David) was not allowed to build it because his hands had shed blood. This is something regretful for David when he was alive. So David prepared for Solomon his son to build it.

Solomon declared how God in His highest and His glory covered the temple. This is the first time in history someone mentioned the transcendence of God. The word ‘temple’ was first mentioned when Jacob had a dream. When he woke up he said this was the temple of God. There was not yet a temple when Jacob said that. So the first time ‘temple’ was mentioned, it did not refer to a building. It is a concept of how God is with His people.

When the glory of God left the temple, it became just a building. Christians need to bear this in mind. We need to fear that the lampstand would depart from us. But if we are obedient to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in spreading the gospel, God will be with us. It does not matter if people leave us, as long as the presence of God is with us.

Jeremiah said, “Do not say the temple of God, the temple of God, the temple of God.” Implicitly he was referring to the Triune God, like the way Isaiah declared “Holy, Holy, Holy” thrice in his vision. Jeremiah prophesied that the Lord God would give the temple to Nebucadnezar. The Israelites perceived Jeremiah as a traitor because of his prophecy as they did not believe that God would leave that temple. God was angry with His people and wanted to punish them. He would not accept their sacrifice and would leave the only temple in Israel. The Israelites were finally exiled and the temple was destroyed.

After the Israelites returned from exile, the younger ones were glad to see the temple rebuilt but the older people mourned as they remembered the old glorious days where the temple was so grand. Later on, after the Roman occupation the Jews had no more temple but Herod built one for them. The politician used religious means to bind the conscience of the people. Herod built one grand temple which took 46 years. After he finished building it, he thought the Jews would remember him. It was built not by the people of God, but by the enemy of the Jews. But the Jews used it anyway and worshipped in that temple. But they forget that the design was wrong, the motive was wrong. It was not built not based on the will of God. But the Jews still worshipped there, including Jesus.

Why did Jesus go there? He did not go to compromise with Herod. He went to restore the correct order. So is the temple built by Herod still considered the temple of God? The general principle is that the temple of God is not a building, but it is where God’s presence is with His people. When people praised the temple built by Herod, Jesus said not one stone would be left on another. He prophesied that the temple would be destroyed. Indeed when the Romans destroyed that temple, they made sure not one stone was left on another. (To be continued … )


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