A sermon delivered on March 7, 2021 by Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Welcome to this third Sunday in our Season of Lent for 2021! This morning, our two scriptures really fit nicely together as they call us to reflection and examination which is very appropriate for our Easter preparation as well as for a communion Sunday as we get ready to eat the Lord’s Supper in a few moments.
Turn in your Bible to John 2 and we will be looking at 2:13-22. It is a Story that appears in all the Gospel accounts but John places his Temple Story near the very beginning of his gospel whereas the other three place it towards the end. John the Apostle, author of our Story, is not trying to create revisionist history; rather, John places our Story early in Jesus’ ministry for artistic reasons in order to highlight what is going to happen throughout the rest of his gospel narrative.
John chapter two serves as the book’s overture for what he is going to unpack throughout the rest of the Story. The scripture immediately preceding ours in this chapter is Jesus turning ordinary water into wine at a wedding in the village of Cana. John does not call this a miracle but rather a sign pointing to who Jesus is. Our Whip and Table Story today points to what Jesus is ultimately going to do. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
The Jewish Passover was near. The Passover is the yearly festival that faithful Jews celebrate to mark their release from slavery from the bonds of the Egyptians; it’s a time they remember how God led them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Passover is all about liberation, freedom, and bright hopes for the future. Passover was the time faithful Jews looked out for the new messiah to come and deliver them from their current pain and turmoil. The Passover was a festival all Jews had to observe and they came from all over the ancient world to celebrate it in Jerusalem. Just like Fort Lauderdale during Spring Break, the sidewalks were packed and there was a carnival atmosphere.
The center of the celebration was the Temple where the people would come and make their sacrifices and offerings to God. In what is known as the Court of Gentiles, animal vendors would set up shop selling lambs, doves and other animals for sacrifice by the Levitical priests for their sins, their thanksgivings, and for other spiritual obligations. Since it drew people from all over the ancient world, you would also see these tables like you see at international airports where you exchange your American dollar into British pounds. The money taken at the Temple for Jewish sacrifices could not be impure, dirty money from Rome or Persia; rather, it had to be exchanged for local untainted, purified Jewish funds. The sale of animals and the exchange of money was not the problem for Jesus; it was where all the buying, selling, and exchanging was taking place: It occurred in a set-aside place of worship for those seeking God.
The Court of the Gentiles was included in the Temple architecture in order to welcome uncircumcised God-fearers into a place of worship. It was designed for those Gentiles who believed in the one God but who were not ethnically Jewish. So here was a place that was set-aside for a group of people seeking to worship and find a God they did not yet fully know but whose worship location had been taken over for a marketplace. It was a literal regentrification of a divine worship space!
Jesus was torqued. God’s house was turned into a marketplace, an emporium, a spiritual Walmart at Christmastime of sorts. A place for spiritual seekers to come in contact with God was displaced for carnival’s expediency. No longer was the Temple about encountering God; the Temple had become a place where transactional business took place. It was symbolic how the Holy was usurped by the secular. And Jesus was torqued.
His response? He started flipping tables and swooshing the animals out with a make-shift whip. Jesus was upset! As scholar Dale Bruner reminds us, Jesus’ anger is provoked by the people’s and religious leaders’ spiritual obtuseness through their mixing of the sacred with the profane. His flipping of tables was his dramatic act of trying to restore the honor of God within the confines of God’s house! And the people did not understand or get it.
Confronted by put-out vendors and religious officials who demanded to know what Jesus is doing, he simply replies, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2.29). What the crowd and disciples did not know then but we as his disciples should know now is that Jesus is telling them that the Temple no longer will be the center of their spiritual orbit in encountering God; he is telling them that he will be the One people will come to in order to encounter God. This was Jesus’ battle cry for a new order in the world, in worship and in the soul.
So, Jesus implying that he is now the new epicenter of a person’s worship! Later in John’s Story we hear Jesus say, “Abide in me as I abide in you” (15.4), and we learn that we are called to worship and serve the Lord who now resides, not in a Temple of stone, but within our hearts of flesh. The Lord in my heart, your heart, all of our hearts joined together called Church become the location for the Beloved of God and is called to be made holy and set apart. God moves His Presence from a singular place in Palestine to a corporate place in his disciple’s hearts and souls. God in Jesus is dwelling in you and me and through this and other churches! Wow! Think about that fact for a moment!
So, Church, what does Jesus find when he enters the Temple of the Holy Father now residing in each of our hearts and in the heart of the American church? What does Jesus discover as he enters our heart’s door leading to the Holy? What tables will he discover?
Perhaps over there is a table of bitterness that you have towards those who disagree with you. Then again, maybe it’s the table of veiled prejudice and bigotry expressed through casual words or remarks. Maybe it’s the table of spiritual superiority you set up with your feelings that you know better than that person, that elder or deacon, that pastor and you let everyone know how right you really are. Then again, I’ve seen those tables in people’s hearts that are oblivious as to what is going on in their own life and don’t realize there has been spiritual drift in their walk with Jesus and they are not really honoring God anymore.
Beloved, as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, let’s remember that it is a spiritual table that connects the table in your heart to mine, mine to yours, and ours to Jesus and the saints’ that have gone before us. It’s a Table and meal that interlaces each of our lives through the Spirit to others in our community. But before we get to Easter, before we get to this Table this morning, each of us has to discern which destructive tables in our hearts have to be flipped over. Let us pray…
© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The Hebrew Scripture lesson is from Exodus 20:1-17, The Ten Commandments.
 Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John. A Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans’s Publishing Company, 2012), 141.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Bruner, 143-144.