03. April 2022
Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Then they took up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
Well, that escalated quickly! Why had no one diffused the situation? Why didn’t anyone step in long before it got so out of hand? This temple yard spat has devolved into violence. How did we get to the point that Jesus was no longer a curiosity but is now a threat that must be silenced at any cost?
Before Jesus first appeared teaching in Galilee, his cousin John the Baptist came to prepare His way. John was more than a distraction. All the region of the Jordan and much of Judea had gone out to him. He preached repentance and administered baptism for forgiveness. But as we hear each Advent, the priests and Levites are already more than curious. They ask him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He confessed that He was the prophet whom Isaiah foretold. So they ask him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” He responded, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”
From the start, John sets Jesus apart. As many came to John, many more will follow Jesus. And what’s the threat? The people will follow John and then Jesus; the good thing they’ve got going in the Jerusalem temple will diminish. Their business model for religiosity will falter and fail. And the one thing those with power, influence, and wealth fear more than anything else is losing their grip on others. These religious oligarchs will do whatever it takes to guard and protect what they have. They’re willing to lie, cheat, steal, and even murder.
So it begins. The next day John the Baptist sees Jesus and declares, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He! … I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” That’s why the Jews—whether Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, Levites, scribes—want to kill Him. From Andrew and Peter to Philip and Nathaniel, to James and John, to the rest of the twelves, to the 70, and then the 5000 and 4000, the people follow Jesus, hanging onto His Word and not the fascist collaboration between all the religious and political leaders in Judea. They come to Jesus to be forgiven and thereby healed, restored, and hopeful. He is their once-and-for-all Passover Lamb, whose blood cleanses them of every sin. So, the need for the blood of bulls and goats in the temple was ended.
And as John said, “He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” Jesus comes with a greater baptism, that same that Karson John received today. Karson’s sin is washed away. He is joined to Jesus’s death and resurrection. He is clothed in Christ’s righteousness. And God the Holy Spirit is dwelling in Karson to continually call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify him in the one true faith in this Christian church. So, the ritual washings and purifications demanded in Levitical law and performed in the temple have found their end in Jesus, too.
John and then Jesus are extraordinary threats to the big business of Jerusalem. The temple has its currency. It facilitated booth after booth of merchants, from religious trinkets to grand bulls for sacrifice. There was an assumed door fee, the disciples even on occasion wanting to be the bouncers of the poor widow. And now Jesus is beginning to tear it all down. Its purpose was to point to Him, confess Him, and lead to faith in Him. But now, the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices had all been coopted by unbelieving rulers, and this cannot stand. The whole scheme God had established no longer serves its given purpose and is now a demonic inversion.
The first time Jesus went to Jerusalem, He healed a paralyzed man on the Sabbath. But then Jesus dares to say to the healed man, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” How could that be such a big deal? Healing and forgiveness? Sounds delightful. But not to the ruling class. That is an offense to their Satanic distortion of the Lord’s day. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” The Evangelist tells us, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him because He broke the Sabbath and said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”
These tyrants use the temple for money laundering, robbing the people blind, and turning God’s free grace, mercy, and peace into just another product on the market. They have refused to hear and listen to Moses, Abraham, the Psalmists, or any of the prophets’ warnings. They are, as Jesus says, “whitewashing tombs,” having all the appearance of religiosity but none of the faith. They are the blind leading the blind. But that doesn’t mean they act like animals. No, they are worse than that. They have taken the good gifts of God’s Word and forgiveness and used them for Satan. By rejecting the Lord’s voice, they follow the voice of the Evil One.
Their wealth generation is being threatened. But worse yet, their influence and power are also being undermined. There’s nothing more offensive for the liar than to have his sins exposed to the light. There’s nothing more threatening to these brood of vipers than to have the people stop listening to them. Everything depends on the people attending, being charmed by their words, and being spellbound by their lies. They had a minor victory when Jesus’ words to the 5,000 who followed Him to the synagogue of Capernaum. The Evangelist says that “from that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” They managed to pick off Judas Iscariot to betray Him. And the Evangelist later records that under the threat of death, “Even His brothers did not believe in Him.”
Be honest with yourself. Jesus is offensive. He says things you don’t like. He tells you to do something you don’t want to do. Each time you come to church, you hope this is the Sunday you get by without Him noticing you and your sin. You have a good thing going, and you don’t want Jesus to upend your day, week, or year. You don’t want Him to expose your lust for power and endless pursuit of wealth. But even worse, you don’t want Him exposing your lies and your following after liars. You prefer the out-of-context Bible verse memes to deep study. You choose the easy to the difficult, the life of “I’m okay” to the life of “I’m a poor, miserable sinner.”
But here you are. And here Jesus speaks. And in His speaking, He exposes you for the fraud that you are according to the flesh. But that’s not His last Word, and that’s not what He calls you. In Baptism, He no longer sees you as anything but His forgiven brother, a coheir of heaven, and a child of God. And as Karson, so for you, too. You have the Holy Spirit who repents you daily, coverts you again, restores you to faithfulness, and gives you to live in Christ today and always.
That’s the real authority. That’s godly power. That’s your greatest treasure. The Gospel is the power of God that saves all who believe in Him. Every other religious scheme, system, or sham is worthless. But the promise of Abraham, the offspring of the Blessed and who blesses, is yours. Jesus, who today you hear, receive, believe, and trust.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin