“Because He Knew All Things”
Lent 4, March 15, 2015
Because He Knew All People
Text: John 2:13–22 (23–25)
Like most couples, Erica and I have our “her shows,” our “his shows,” and our “our shows” on TV. Many of the shows we watch together have that element where you don’t really know who the bad guy is, and you are trying to figure that out as you watch. And as we watch we will say stuff like, “That’s the bad guy!” “No, he’s not the bad guy! She did it! She’s the bad one!”
One such program of recent memory was simply entitled 24. In that show, the hero, Jack Bauer, has one whole day, but only one day, twenty-four hours, to save the United States from disaster. As each season progressed, Agent Bauer would learn of a threat and then determine who was behind the threat; he’d have to uncover the identity of the “bad guys.” For there were always “bad guys” to be found, and they’d often be found working in important places, using their “insider positions” in the government hierarchy as a way to make sure they could elude Agent Bauer and accomplish their “bad guy” things!
My wife and I might have trouble determining who the “bad guys” are in a TV program, but in the Gospel before us, we see that Jesus would have no problem doing that—at all! As we heard, Jesus “knew all people” and “needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (vv 24, 25).
Of course, these words of St. John refer to something far more important than a television show. John’s words have a true “life and death” aspect to them—unlike the fictitious situations with which the fictitious Jack Bauer contends: Jesus Knowing All People Leads to Our Forgiveness.
Let’s consider all this for the next few minutes.
Today’s text is in the early stages of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It’s time for the annual Passover celebration, so as a faithful Jew, Jesus goes to Jerusalem as required.
But, when He went to the temple, He was disgusted by what He found. The temple courtyard had been turned into a marketplace! Merchants had set up shops selling pigeons, oxen, and sheep to the faithful who had come to Jerusalem from other countries. Money-changers were also there, changing foreign currency into local money, again, so the faithful could pay the temple tax of one-half shekel.
To be clear, to have these things available to the foreign worshipers wasn’t bad, because worship of the Lord demanded the people bring sacrifices in proportion to their wealth. (Something that continues to this very day!) And it was totally impractical—if not impossible—for someone who had come a long distance to bring his own sacrificial animal. There needed to be some way for those things to be acquired in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, God had even given instructions for this kind of arrangement.
The problem was that the sellers had set up shop right in the temple itself, in what is known as the court of the Gentiles. The people had made the house of God into a stinking spectacle.
Think of it! The worshipers, as they passed through the courtyard on their way into the temple, were probably more focused on bargaining over the cost of the animals or bickering about the exchange rate for their foreign money than they were on singing entrance psalms and preparing their hearts for worship of the Lord! This was not a good thing. Those folks then had no problem figuring out who the bad guys were there in the temple. As Jesus came into the temple, the “bad guys” were right out in the open for all to see.
Jesus, incorrectly thought by some to be weak and soft—well, Jesus shows himself to be a man of strength and action. You know there is talk out there that men of the baby boomers and men who are Gen Xers are not interested in Christianity because they think Jesus is portrayed by the Church as something of a wimp. Jesus is no wimp. He personally—and by Himself—took on the whole lot of them there in the temple. He even put Jack Bauer to shame! He took cords and, using them as a whip, drove the animals and merchants out of the temple, thus fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah would have “zeal” for the house of God (Ps 69:9).
Again, for those who think of Jesus as a “softy,” you have to think again. Not only did He take them all on, but also, according to the account before us, not one of the merchants even dared to stand up to Him!
We hear this story, and we say, “Good! Good for you, Jesus! You saw that those folks from the temple hierarchy were ‘bad guys,’ and you kicked ’em out in quick order!”
There’s no doubt this smelly spectacle of sweaty people and bunches of animals being sold right there in the house of the Lord was bad, but Jesus was seeing even more. He looked into people’s hearts. He saw through their duplicity, their hiding behind God’s instructions in order to make a fast buck. As bad as the scene and the smell had to be, the spiritual stench of the place—lust for money at God’s expense—was worse!
And how could Jesus know that? John tells us: “because he knew all people” (v 24). Jesus knew their hearts and saw them for what they were—sinners through and through, more interested in making a few shekels than in honoring the Lord’s house.
But before you join my wife and me in our living room, self-righteously pointing out the “bad guys,” consider again the words before us: “[Jesus] knew all people . . . for he himself knew what was in man.” The Lord Jesus knows all and sees all. And, He knows the hearts of the money-changers and animal sellers, He knows your heart, and my heart, as well!
He sees your real attitude toward those Ten Commandments we heard as our Old Testament Reading a bit ago! Although you might not be caught bowing down to a “carved image,” He sees your attitude toward the myriad of other things you allow to be first in your life—such as your work, your money, your family, your vacation, your ____ (you fill in the blank!). He sees your attitude toward sins of pleasure, toward other people’s property, toward speaking well of your neighbor.
Oh, yes, He sees it all! Admit it: you—just like the temple merchants—you are one of the “bad guys” rightly deserving to have Jesus take a whip and drive you out of His presence forever! Me, too, to be clear.
A commentator described why Jesus had to rid the temple of those “bad guys.” He writes: “The uncleanness in the temple portrayed the corruption of the people and was an image of the impurity in their hearts. The conditions existing in the temple are therefore a testimony against the people. [Jesus’] blows [with the whip] struck at their hearts. And the cleansing is a picture of what must occur with the people to make it a holy nation acceptable to God. And what is more, this must be made to apply to the individual. The house of the heart must be cleansed if it is to be the temple of God” (Ylvisaker, 138–39).
My brothers and sisters, we, too, have a “spiritual stench,” and it’s far worse than the largest holding pen of sheep and oxen in a closed-up barn on a hot, humid summer day!
During this holy season of Lent, our Lord calls us to recognize our utter need for cleansing of our hearts laden with sin. He calls us to allow His right and just Law to show us our sins and then in repentance and faith to receive Him as He reaches out to us—to you—with His love and mercy.
He urgently desires to cleanse “the house of [your] heart,” to wash it pure with the only cleaning agent that will get the “stench” out—His holy blood shed for you and the whole world! This He did on the cross of Calvary, about three years to the day after He cleansed the temple. “Zeal” for His Father’s house drove Him to cleanse the temple that fateful day, and “zeal” for you—zeal motivated by His eternal love—drove Him to the cross to cleanse you, so that you could be a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19)—your body and soul washed clean and pure, thereby making you to be a righteous one of His forever!
You see, you’re no longer a “bad guy” in God’s estimation. No! Through faith given to you in baptism waters, you’re now one of His very own, a forgiven child of His. Rather than chasing you out of His eternal presence with a whip, He eagerly walks toward you, always seeking to embrace you, inviting you to dine at His Table, regularly here on earth and eternally with Him in heaven!
Brothers and sisters, continue to walk with the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. On this day, led by the Holy Spirit, vow that you’ll allow the house of your heart to be—and remain—cleansed, that it will forever be a temple of God!