At our house, we have a utility trailer that we use to store extra garbage from when we are cleaning up around the house or yard and when it gets full and I have some time, we take it to the transfer station. So a few weeks ago, one of my sons and I took some garbage to the transfer station. As we were emptying the trailer, I saw something that I wanted to keep. And I knew that I had to decide whether to keep it or not. But I also knew that someone else in our family had made the decision to throw that item away. And I realized that something more important than that thing was at stake here. Someone I loved had made a decision, and I had a choice whether to undermine that person and their decision, or not. I decided to let that other person have authority in my life and I threw the item away.
Authority is at the root of everything we do and the question of who has authority to do what and to what extent is very important. But instead of thinking about authority “out there,” I am inviting you to reflect with me on authority “in here.” Consider, if you will, this question: To whom do you give authority to make changes in your life?
Most of us function like self-guided beings most of the time and we don’t give authority to make changes in our life to anyone unless we can see some personal benefit coming back to us. So we do what our boss says because we know that we will get a paycheque at the end of the month. Or we do what our friend suggests because we want to be liked by them. But we don’t give complete authority to anyone because the only one that we really trust is ourselves.
Here is the problem with functioning like that: At some point in our lives, all of us will experience a time when we come to the end of our own personal wisdom and resources and it is not enough to handle what we are facing. Infertility, the loss of a dream or the death of a loved one are only some of the things that can happen in our lives that are beyond our ability to manage or control. But we also have in our lives, messes of our own making that blow up in our face. Whether it is something that happens to us or something that we caused, we can give that situation our best shot and our world still comes crashing down around us and in us. And what do we do then? Because if our best efforts won’t work and we won’t let anyone else speak truth into our lives, then there is no hope for us getting through that situation.
These are human things that all of us experience, regardless of what we believe. It doesn’t matter if we describe ourselves as an atheist, an agnostic or a follower of Jesus, all of us will experience these times when we come to the end of ourselves.
So if you are here for the first time and you feel that way at times, please know that you are not alone. I’m glad that you are here because we want this to be a church where people of all ages and backgrounds are welcomed into the family of God and we hope that you feel welcomed, supported and encouraged here.
And the good news for today and everyday is that Jesus came to give us hope in the midst of our hopeless situations. If you remember only one thing from today, may it be this: When Jesus rose from the dead, he proved that he can turn our lives around.
Today we are continuing to reflect on the life of Jesus as we look at a biography written by one of Jesus’ followers named John. And another of the re-occurring themes that we see pop up in John’s biography of Jesus is authority. People were constantly questioning Jesus’ authority to do the things that he did, and we see that in the passage that we are looking at today. One piece of information that is important for you to know is that the events in our reading today happened right after Jesus chased out a bunch of merchants who were set up on the grounds of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. We begin at John, chapter 2, starting with verse 18 and the readings will be on the screen.
But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.” (John 2:18)
Right away, we see that the Jewish leaders are demanding that Jesus tell them what authority he has to chase all of the merchants out of the outer courtyard of the Temple. And it is a legitimate question. But they make their demand in a way that is unusual for us reading these words almost 2,000 years later. First, they look to God as the ultimate authority, and that makes sense because, after all this is the Temple, the place where God lives. Back then the people would certainly have understood that God is everywhere, but God promised that he would live among his people in a special way, so the Temple was a visible reminder that God was living among his people. People from all over the ancient near east came to this Temple to meet with God, to worship God and be blessed by the assurance that God loves them, is with them, forgives them and gives them eternal life. So because the Jewish leaders and Jesus are on the Temple grounds, it was natural to ask for proof of authority from God. We probably would have looked to some human authority as being the source of authority in a situation like this. We might ask, “Who said you can do that? Was it our leadership in our church, or was it some local, provincial or national authority?”
And the second reason that the demand of the Jewish leaders is unusual for us is that they asked for a miraculous sign as an indication that authority was given. We would likely never do that. We would ask for a permit, or a licence, or an email or contract, or the name of a recognized authority with whom we could check.
We live in an age where we have lost any expectation of the miraculous and we have lost our connection with God as the ultimate authority over all things, including our day-to-day life. And because that has happened, because we don’t share God as a common reference point in our society, we have lost our regard for truth and we have lost our compassion for each other.
A few years ago, I walking home from the church building and a car going east on 88th avenue pulled into the left turn lane at 208th street and a motorcycle was right behind it. At first, it looked like the car was going to complete the left turn on an orange light, but then the driver decided to stop suddenly before entering the intersection. The motorcycle was following too close to stop. The motorcycle driver tried to avoid the car, but he clipped the back right corner with his bike and with his left foot. He managed to get his bike off the road and up on its stand before he collapsed in pain. The woman got out of her car and would like to guess what her reaction was? She went around to the back right hand corner of her car, saw the minor damage there and she was immediately very angry. Meanwhile, the motorcyclist is in extreme pain and I’m calling 911.
Only several minutes later after the fire truck, ambulance and police arrive did the woman calm down enough to be concerned about he man and his injuries. I am not condemning the woman for her reaction, because all of us, including me, are just like her. We are queen or king of our own little bubble and as long as nothing bad happens in our bubble, we are okay. But the moment that something is disrupted in our bubble, we fall apart, because we have forgotten that we are connected to God and to everyone else through the God that is over us all.
Jesus wants something better for us than the life we are now living. Jesus is inviting us to give him authority over our lives, not to dominate us, but to protect and bless us. When we give God authority to speak truth into our lives, then we are able to receive his direction for us as he leads us away from things that harm us and others, and as he leads us toward patterns of life that connect with and receive the many good things that God wants to give to us.
Now as unusual as it was, the demand of the Jewish leaders was small potatoes compared to Jesus’ response.
19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” (John 2:19-20)
Jesus’ response was baffling to the Jewish leaders and it is baffling to us to. But the reason for the confusion is that the words have a double meaning. And we often encounter words having a double meaning in John’s biography of Jesus, a surface meaning and a deeper meaning. When people only understand the surface meaning they are confused. But when they understand the deeper meaning of a word, a new and greater understanding opens up to them which enables them to see and experience life with God and his love. So John keeps telling us about people that come to this new understanding and believe that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to save them and the world.
We continue: 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said. (John 2:21-22) So when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” he was referring to his own body. But what did he mean by that?
A temple is a place where God and people meet. Prior to Jesus’ time on this earth, people would meet with God at the Temple in Jerusalem, or in the Tabernacle, which was a portable tent and courtyard that served as the forerunner of the Temple. Jesus is saying that now that he has come onto the scene, the Jerusalem Temple is not longer needed as a place where people can meet with God and receive more of the life that God wants to give to them because now Jesus is with us. God the Son set aside the use of his divine powers for a time to come to earth to become one of us. Born as a helpless human baby, raised as the son of a poor carpenter, Jesus knows from personal experience what life is like for us. Jesus lived human life just like us in every way except that he did not do any bad things, nor did he fail to do what was good. And later on, as we follow the life of Jesus, we will see how he willingly went to the cross and suffered a horrific death to more than pay the cost of forgiveness for all the sins of the whole world.
What that means is that Jesus is now the way that people meet with God. A special place or a building is no longer needed. You don’t have to buy a membership or make a donation to qualify for a relationship with God. Through Jesus, you already have a relationship with God. You don’t have to worry about guilt, shame or death because Jesus has already taken care of those things for you. You don’t have to earn forgiveness, love or acceptance from God because Jesus has already opened up the door for you to have all those things for free.
Far too often, people are going through life as if the weight of making life good is all upon them. As a result, the challenges of life become burdensome and overwhelming.
But what Jesus is trying to tell us is that the best life is a life where, every moment of every day, we know that God loves us and is with us, we know that God is making all things, even the hard things, work out for our good in the end, and we know that Jesus is working in us and through us to accomplish what he knows needs to be done. That is the good life and that is the life that Jesus wants to give to you today. Jesus wants to give you a beautiful life with him that lasts forever.
And Jesus is able to give us that life because he raised his body, his temple, from the dead on the third day after he was executed on a wooden cross. Jesus is alive and he is with us right now. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead is the proof that Jesus had authority to chase the merchants out of the temple grounds. It is the proof that Jesus loves us, is with us and give us eternal life. So we don’t need to take control over our own lives, nor place our life into the hands of others. Instead we give Jesus authority over our lives because he is the only God who has come to save us.
Jesus’ resurrection is also the proof that Jesus will raise us from the dead one day in the future. And one day Jesus will come back to this world to make us and all things right once again. On that day, Jesus will raise us from the dead too and give us new bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. And we will live forever with Jesus in the new heaven and earth forever.
Jesus is our Temple. Jesus is our connection to God. He always loves us, he is always with us and he knows and wants what is best for us in the long run. And that is something for which we can be truly thankful. Amen.
(This message is based on John 2:18-25 and is part of our series on the Gospel of John. It was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on October 8, 2017.)