Friday, July 24, 2009

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

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 12 July 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 2:12-25

If a person has not experienced God’s justice and holiness, he will not treasure God’s grace. He will abuse the grace of God. Conversely, a person who only knows the wrath of God and not His love will find it hard to get close to God. We need to see both God’s righteousness and mercy. We have to first know God’s righteousness and discover that we have not been judged based on His righteous standard. We need to see that He has the right to judge us. He can have mercy on whom He would have mercy, compassion on whom He would have compassion.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had vision, anxiety and action. A person’s vision is a response towards his understanding of God’s will. When God grants someone a vision, the person would respond to Him. The apostle Paul was given a vision and was moved with anxiety. The vision moved him into action. In this manner, our spirituality will be a living one. Today we see a lot of evil in the world but we are completely indifferent.

In the temple, there were many people who just did things according to their own ways. There were people sacrificing, praying, buying and selling. Suddenly somebody came and immediately chased people away. This person was Jesus. What authority did He have in doing this? We want to find the true meaning behind this incident. He said the temple is His Father’s house. Although that temple was built by Herod and was not pleasing to God, it was still the temple of God. This is a very important principle. When we see a bad church or a preacher and pastor who are not examplary, do not despise Christianity. The problem is not with Christianity, but is that all these people do not do the will of God.
That temple in Jerusalem was the largest Jewish temple ever built in history so a lot of people praised how great the temple was. But it failed because it was not built based on the revelation of God. And the motive of building was not to glorify God. It was based on the ambition of Herod to use the temple to deceive the Jews. A king of the Jews must be a descendent of King David. Herod is not the descendant of King David and not from the tribe of Judah. He was the descendant of Esau, an Edomite. Why was an Edomite be made a king to the Jews? Because at that time Israel was not an independent nation. They were directed by the Roman emperor. In the entire empire, there was one people that would not submit, the Jews. Roman emperor did not believe that he could not conquer them. So he sent an Edomite to be a king to rule over them. King Herod thought of a method to subdue the Jews. He knew that the Jews feared God. So he built a temple for them, a grand one which used very good materials and took decades to build, so that they would gradually forget that he was not from the right lineage and would recognise him as their king.

Jesus did not say, “This is King Herod’s temple” but said “This is My Father’s house.” Although it was built with wrong design and based on wrong motive, Jesus still looked at it as the temple of God. The purpose of a temple is still to worship God. Jesus would not allow the temple to be used for other purpose.

There were money changers, buyers and sellers. They were there to serve customers and give people convenience. The Bible says the temple is the place to pray. It is the altar for sacrifice; it is where the laws of God are taught. But now there were commerce and money exchanging. The temple was so large that tens of thousands of people could fit inside.

When Jesus entered the temple, He chased the sellers out. The first thing He did was to use a whip to chase the cattle out. He did not come in like a tourist taking pictures to appreciate the beauty of the temple. He is the Lord of the temple and He came in to judge. He was consumed with anger but He was most wise and controlled in His actions. Very often when we get angry, our mind is heating up as well and we lost control. Not so with the Lord Jesus.

The cattle could not run fast so the owners could still chase after them. He told those who sell doves to take the doves and get out of that place. Once doves fly they could not get it back, so He did not release the doves. A lot of these people relied on selling these animals for their livelihood. Jesus did not destroy their livelihood in His anger. So Jesus was still very wise and cool-minded even in His anger. When we get angry, it should not be to release our frustration.

When we see a lot of wrong things happening in the church today, we need our Lord to once again cleanse His temple. The Jews ought to be thankful when Christ cleared the temple since they could now quietly pray. But the religious leaders were instead angry with Him. They challenged what authority He had in doing it. The religious were no different from business groups. They most likely received profit from the sales. A person who surrender to profit is not a good leader. A great person looks beyond profit and loss. When a person treats profit and loss as the greatest goal, his judgement would be impeded.

Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and I would raise it in three days.” This is very difficult to understand. He did not even give an explanation. He purposely conceal understanding from them. When they asked Him to prove His authority, they wanted Him to show a miracle. Those sellers went away when Jesus chased them away. They knew they were wrong. It was clear He did the right thing. But these Jews still challenged Him. So Jesus clearly told them that they were not the actual owners of the temple. King Herod built it out of wrong motive and spent a lot of money on it, but the religious leaders were worse in that they used it to make money. They have destroyed the function of the temple. They were not serving God. The most pitiful are those who think they are serving God but are actually going against Him. They are those who think they are preaching the word of God but in the end bring Christianity to shame.

When religion is sustained by a system and purely by reason, maintained by profit and loss, the religion has lost God’s presence. Seminaries seldom have people with a true theological mind. Many seminaries need financial support, and they rely on charismatics so could not say anything against them. Many people are fervent for God before entering seminaries, but once they graduate they lose their fervor. Such words are not pleasing to hear by seminaries, but Christ came into the temple and said such words to the religious leaders.

He implied that if these religious leaders did not open the doors, those people could not enter and do business. Surely this had happened because the religious leaders allowed them. They were indeed destroying the temple of God. Jesus already hinted to them that they would kill Him. He was prepared to die. If He could not be killed, salvation could not happen. God could not die. So in order to die, He came in the flesh. He did not explain much, He simply declared that they could destroy this temple (His body) and He would raise it in three days. He meant that they could kill Him but He would resurrect in three days.

But they could not understand it. Why would they want to destroy the temple (built by Herod)? They had no finance to build it but at least they maintained it. They would never want to destroy the temple. They could not understand Jesus’ words. The word of God was full of mystery. It was spoken so that some people would never understand. And God would judge them in the end. Isaiah declared that they would hear but never understand, see but never perceive. These are the people who only want to make use of God from the depth of their heart. If you have religion but do not want to serve God you are worse than someone without a religion.

Those sellers came because of the religious leaders’ consent. When Jesus chased them away, they went away. They were obedient to Jesus. The Scripture did not say that any of them come back to challenge Jesus. But the religious leaders were forces behind all this commercial spirit. The true temple to be destroyed is the body of Jesus. He knew they would surely kill Him. On surface the temple might be there and they were maintaining it, but they would kill the true temple of God. Every year, Jesus cleared the temple. It meant they never changed. They invited those sellers back.

Had Jesus failed? They never changed year after year, so why bother too keep clearing the temple? If a preacher keeps preaching and people do not change, is that considered a failure? Jesus cleansed the temple every year. The first time He said, “Do not turn my Father’s house into a market.” The second time He said, “You converted my Father’s house into a robber’s den.” The temple of God has become a center for financial gain. The Scripture said, zeal for Your house consumed Me. He cared for His Father’s house. When the house of God become a den of robbers, it was Jesus who felt grieved, not the priests and the religious leaders. So all the disciples remember this. When Jesus declared He would raise the temple in three days, the disciples remembered His words when He was raised from the dead. But those people who were not interested in Jesus’ words and considered Him insane to claim to be able to rebuild it in three days.

The most important thing in the house of God is God’s sovereignty, the teaching of the Word of God, the Son of God who have given us redemption and the Holy Spirit who regenerate us to become children of God.

In the house of God, if we use it as a tool to profit ourselves, our Lord will be consumed with anger. But those religious leaders could not understand Him and considered Him insane. This is difficult even for the Son of God to preach, more so for us. Isaiah said, “Who will believe our report? Who wil receive what we hear? To whom shall the arm of God be revealed?”

The religious leaders did not care whether the temple is holy or not and kept destroying its function, and in the end they would destroy the true Temple, the Lord who came in the flesh. When the Jerusalem temple built by Herod was destroyed by Roman soldiers years later, they discovered that each stone was layered with gold, so they were commanded not to leave one stone upon another, which fulfilled the prophecy of Christ.

To be continued…


At 1:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could one judge the teaching from a preacher in a church as right or wrong?
Esp. across denominations.

Who have the authority to do that?

Or the preacher in your church. Which part of his teaching are righteous and which parts not? (which to obey and which to discard)

Do we just follow those who are in agreement with us?
Those who would never offend us?

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi there,

You ask a very broad question which is impossible to answer in detail here. We live in a world of relativity and it is very easy to be lost in details. Some differences are not as critical as the others.

At the most fundamental level, it is not the preacher or denomination that should catch our attention. As a rule of thumb, examining whether a teaching is God-centered or man-centered clarifies a lot of the confusion. God-centered teaching emphasises God's sovereignty over and above individual comfort / preferences, focuses on God's eternal will, balances God's justice & love, treats God as God and man as man, and entreats man to fear God and to gratefully receive His grace as completely unworthy recipients.

Of course, this is not enough to answer the question in detail, but I think it's a good fundamental guideline.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mejlina,
Thank you for the 'rule of thumb' advice.

That's very good in theory, but who could be consistent?

e.g. On contraception:
Every church in Christendom condemned contraception until 1930, when, at its decennial Lambeth Conference, Anglicanism gave permission for the use of contraception in a few cases.
Soon all Protestant denominations had adopted the secularist position on contraception.

Actually this 1930 conference, give seed to 'Gay Marriage' today, because procreation has been separated from marriage.

At 11:38 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi there,

Thanks for your comment.

Obviously, in practice, nobody can be 100% consistent, otherwise we are perfect beings. But we are sinners and after redemption we now are given a direction to pursue, though we can never follow perfectly. So a good theory is still very useful.

Of course with your question, there is also an issue on the scope and depth you are looking for. Certain applications are more high level and obvious than others, e.g. there is not much controversy as to whether a Christian should pray and love.

But peel it deeper and the actual application of 'loving your neighbor as yourself' might become not as straightforward when you are faced with a multi-faceted issue like pregnancy by rape. I believe contraception is a multi-faceted issue as well. Certainly it creates choices people do not have in the past. Choices are a double-edged sword.

Even things that are inherently good, e.g. intelligence, could become destructive in the hands of sinners. Could we then say intelligence is a bad thing as it lays the seed for a lot of crimes that are hard to catch.

I am not saying that this should be applied wholesale to contraception case, but just showing that the argument isn't that straightforward.

Whenever an issue is multi-faceted, it is probably unwise to expect one-size-fits-all kind of answer, although a general rule is still helpful. And while still on this earth, differences will always exist. Some differences are more critical than others, and I guess, we need God's wisdom to know what differences are worth fighting for, and what differences we can keep to our own convictions.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Introduction of contraception had deeper impact than most people realized.

It make people believe they could remove consequences from actions. Look at our society today ('contraceptive minded world')

As Christian, marriage between man and woman portray the eternal marriage of the Lamb (Jesus and the Church).

It is not just for sexual pleasure, but it is something holy. (for a man to lust on his wife is an act of sin).

When Christians believed that Jesus has redeems them. It should include all aspect of live, esp. the marriage. (towards what God meant it to be from the beginning before the Fall).

Have you give a good thought of what Jesus meant by 'it was not this way from the beginning'?

Matthew 19:8
8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

in case of pregnant by rape. it is a tragedy that involve 3 people. Woman as victim, man as aggressor, and the unborn baby (with original sin).
When the man rape a woman it is a terrible sin.
When a woman decided to abort her unborn baby it is a terrible sin too.
Between the 3 people, rape is already a terrible act. it is not a wise decision to add the second one.

At 12:09 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi there,

Gosh, isn't it extreme to condemn physical pleasure as lust? I thought physical relationship is part of an expression of love in a marriage. Just because contraception is used, that expression becomes lust instead of love? And no control on baby-making is more consistent with reflection of Christ's relationship with His Church?

If your proposal has to stand in all cases, then you might want to provide some practical advice for the following:

- In developed countries, in the kind of modern society we live in, the cost of having children is really high, particularly on education. Many times families have to rely on dual source of income. Children's education is getting more and more expensive. Mine has cost my parents a few hundred thousand dollars. If there's no family planning and birth control, what would you advise parents struggling to make ends meet to do to take care of more than 10 kids? Isn't it too flippant to accuse those who use contraception as being irresponsible for their actions?

- What about developing world where poor families still have lots and lots of kids because they have no birth control, and later on, like Africa, due to lack of food and basic amenities to support such population, in a short time many people have to die in malnourishment and malnutrition. Do you suggest they continue to bear kids when they have no means to take care of them?

- Finally, I was told of a 9-year-old girl who got pregnant by rape, and the court ruled that the baby was to be aborted so save this girl from a lifetime trauma of seeing the baby growing up which reminded her of that horrifying incident. But the church condemned the girl as a sinner for doing so. What will be your advice for that girl? How would you advise her practically go through 9-month pregnancy and raise that kid?

We do not live in a perfect world and frequently reluctantly have to accept imperfect solutions which breathe air of grace for struggling fallen beings like ourselves.

At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, where in the bible it said that following Christ will cost us nothing?
That what we sacrificially do for God means nothing?

Since when having a baby is a punishment?

Where in the bible it said that God
loves those who have earned the highest degree in education.
Or that God loves the smartest people in the planet more than the uneducated ones?
What I remember is that God said that more is given more is demanded?
How far have we use our talent and money to help to poor?

With modern science, we could know about 95% a woman could find out when she is fertile or when not. So natural family planning is available. So what is required is to abstain 1 week out of 4 weeks.

Answers to your examples:
(1) The most important education comes from parents. Not from institution. Most of education institution only create 'smarter evil people'. It is wrong to limit the children based on our financial projection. What happen to the providence of God? Or that's just a lip service when in church environment? But not practical in real life?

(2) Who give us right to be God over the poor people? Why not go further and perform euthanasia to old people above certain ages. Also for those born defect, they will suffer most of their lives anyway why not do mercy and do mercy killing?
So, if I follow your logic, only those who have high degree, rich and lived in developed country could have the right for more children (but mostly they won't because they don't want to suffer), also we become a kind of lord who rules over poor and destitute peoples?
Can you imagine during slavery era, why slaves give births to new generations only to be slaves. Because new generations bring hopes.

Don't forget that it's God who give and take lives. It's not up to us human to do so. Else that's a sin.

(3) We don't make rules out of exceptions. That's what developed country doing nowadays. Making laws out of exceptions will destroy the society.
Didn't the bible said that God will not test us more than what we could bear?
One need to recognize the sin in order to confess. When we confess our sin, He is just and full of mercy.
We get closer to God in our suffering, esp. due to obeying His command. But not by being pragmatic.

Not being judgmental, I hope you would really rethink of your position. Don't be like the world around us who play gods.

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most important skill a person need in life is the ability to distinguish the truth and the lies.

Whenever we encounter a higher truth are we able to recognize it? (When disciple of John the baptist saw Jesus, they follow him.)

There is a catch though. It is true that (finally):
The Truth will set you free.

But first it will make you miserable. (there is a cost to pay)

Either one pay the proper price now, or believe in a lie (no cost) and pay enormously higher cost in the future.

Whatever we do or fail to do have consequences.

At 1:24 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Hi Anonymous,

1. Technically there is some difference, but fundamentally there is no difference in your proposal. It is also about preventing pregnancy / pro-creation by carefully choosing when to do with the aid of modern technology. And it is 3 out of 4 weeks instead of 4 out of 4 weeks. It is more inconvenient but doable. It is another way of contraception and you are free to subscribe to that.

2. The fundamental difference between heterosexual marriage and gay marriage is that the former is between a man and a woman, while the latter is between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Whether there is a baby or not, is another issue. This gay issue has been around for a very long time before contraception is introduced. Without contraception, gay marriage will still happen. When men's hearts are bent on doing wrong, they will use whatever in their sight possible to justify it but then you cannot blame every tool they happen to use as evil as well. To say contraception gives birth to gay marriage is quite far-fetched.

3. This has been a long discussion. From my experience, when questions are asked not for an answer, but to voice an opinion, another 10 rounds would just be roundabouts. Never once have I observed such a discussion resulting in a change of opinion. but many times have I observed that sufferings and identifying more with others' sufferings mold lives to speak words of truth with more compassion.

Thanks for your participation and I wish you well in your life journey.


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