In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The response of the believer to hearing that the Lord had chosen to dwell in one place is to hold that place up in their hearts, minds, and actions as higher and more to be desired than all other places! It is sacred. And so if you believed this you would act accordingly when you talk about that place, and when you went there. You wouldn’t just walk into the Lord’s temple with a coffee in your hand as if you were going to hang out with a friend. Instead you would go with a reverent attitude, with a humble heart, with repentant thoughts, with an offering in hand, maybe chanting the psalms as you walk up the steps into that wondrous outer courtyard where the prayers of the nations are heard.
And if you were raised with a reverent faith in your God who had chosen you, saved you, made you His own, redeemed you, and forgiven you then what a shock it would be to go to that temple, chanting those psalms step by step and instead of the smells of incense and burnt offerings, and the sounds of the services of prayer, you heard the din of commerce, of moneymaking, of the frustrating, every day marketplace. People haggling, people arguing, voices lifted up not in thanksgiving and supplication, nor in repentance of sins, but in negotiation of prices.
These were the two sides of Jerusalem and her temple. This city and that temple should be sacred. It should be holy. It should have been the place that all believers prayed to and came to for God’s grace. But in reality it was a place where as much abuse, fraud, and theft went on as goes on in any marketplace. Buyer beware, applied there as much as anywhere else. So Jesus was justly angry about that. “My house will be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers,” He said. A clubhouse, the base of operations, the hideout of those who would fleece the sheep. Jesus was righteously furious.
And it is no different in our day. The site of God’s temple has shifted. Now it is found where two or three gather in His name and He comes into our midst through His Word and Sacraments to dwell in us bodily. We individually and we corporately are His temple. But even today there are those two sides of His temple. There is the sacred side, holy, full of the Lord and His ways, His grace and mercy and miraculous presence overflowing in our midst and in you. And then there is the reality that we together as His templeand turn ourselves into a den of robbers by focusing on everything but the things that make for peace. We argue about building projects and finances, we are uncharitable in our judgements of each other, miserly toward God and our fellow man, we think that church would be better or more meaningful if we had funner music, more technology, if we praised God more, or didn’t take things like the Lord’s Supper so seriously. And individually we turn the temples of our bodies into dens of robbers by fixating on diets rather than what we feed our souls; by abusing our bodies with food, drugs, drink, profane sexual practices, and the bitterness we harbour in ourselves that makes us crabby and poisonous, and the lives of everyone around us miserable. Repent.
This should not be so. Amend your ways and your deeds. For the Lord weeps over you. He knows what your actions earn you. Death, both physical and eternal.
For the city of Jerusalem the death they earned was horrific. It came with the engines of war, not the things that make for peace, but that which makes destruction. Some 40 years after Jesus spoke these words, armies in their thousands surrounded them, throwing up earthen embankments and siege walls bristling with sharpened poles, utterly hemming them in so that no sorties, no cavalry charges, no food or goods could go in or out. Starvation set in first, as the city ran out of food. Then cannibalism and all sorts of unthinkable horrors occurred as the people turned on one another in their desperation. And finally their protecting walls, and their glorious temple were destroyed, as the Roman cavalry and armies broke down their gates and poured into the city trampled its people in the streets. Their children were torn from their mothers’ arms, and dashed on the cobblestones. The streets flowed with blood. And every stone was thrown to the ground.
Jesus wept because He knew it would happen. They would not turn from their wicked ways. They would continue to profane the temple of their God with their wicked ways and false worship all the while claiming they were fine because of the temple. And they would reap what they had sown. “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.” He said.
Would that you would know He who was standing in your midst. The one who is visiting you! The one whom you claim to worship in that temple, standing here before you in the flesh. Teaching in your courts. He who is “Emmanuel,” God with us. He’s no longer in the inner sanctum of the temple, but right here before you enfleshed in the man Jesus. This Jesus is the Great I AM who dwells in the Temple. He has visited His temple. He has come to save them. The crowds outside Jerusalem that day recognized that, shouting, “Hosanna!” meaning: Lord save us!
The Lord, the Great I AM, the God of Israel has come. He has visited. But Jerusalem, proud Jerusalem, the home of God’s temple, rejected Him. They crucified Him. The nations streaming to that temple recognized Him, but Jerusalem itself, the heart of God’s people rejected Him; they beat, whipped, mocked, tortured and crucified Him.
And are we any different? He comes to us with healing in His wings, with His holy presence in the Lord’s Supper, the whole company of heaven with Him. And we are indifferent. We look at our watches if His service of us gets a little long. We prefer the beverages we carry into church with us over His holy, precious blood. We long for the fellowship with each other that will occur after church more than the fellowship with Him that occurs when He Himself visits us with His Holy Presence, with the angels, arch-angels, and all the company of heaven. It is sacred and holy thing. Nothing on earth is more precious than that. But we are too often indifferent. Disinterested. We have better things to do on a Sunday, and even when we come we don’t really want all He has to give if it makes service longer. Repent.
For He comes. He comes to clean out the temple courts of your heart. He comes to visit you with His grace and mercy. He comes to work repentance and grant you forgiveness. He comes whether you want Him or not. Whether you desire Him or not. He comes for He is passionate about the Holiness of His Father’s house and He is merciful. So repent of your idolatry, your indifference, your crowding out of His temple the things that make for peace. For He comes bringing destruction to those who obstinately remain in their sins, but for the repentant He restores the things which make for peace, His Word and Sacraments, to your life and makes them the focus of your life. For they deliver forgiveness, life and salvation, to His Temple, to His Church, and to you.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
---Pastor David Haberstock