Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the tenth Sunday after Trinity 8/8/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9:30am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity10 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
When Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He wept. It wasn’t because He knew He would be crucified by the end of the week (though He did know that); Jesus wept because His own gracious visitation was being ignored.
They did not see and did not know the things that made for peace. That is to say, they did not recognize Jesus as the Prince of Peace, and their Savior. And so, on account of their present blindness and their future fate, Jesus wept.
But Jesus is not only a Man of Sorrows, as Isaiah describes Him, He is also a Man of action. He doesn’t merely lament the log in their eye, but raises His hand to remove it. In the event we call “The Cleansing of the Temple,” Jesus drove out the vendors and money changers, saying:
It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of robbers. verse 46
We call it “The Cleansing of the Temple,” and with good reason. But we might get the wrong idea. The Temple wasn’t cleansed by temporarily evicting some people who were abusing it. You could still be a money changer down the street. You could still offer up discount sacrifices without faith, and without prayer. You could still not believe a lick of God’s Word and stand there with everyone else.
What cleansed the Temple was Jesus’ presence there. Luke goes on to describe what Jesus was up to after tossing out the vendors. Namely,
…He was teaching daily in the Temple. verse 47
And Matthew adds even more details in his Gospel, noting that the blind and the lame were coming to Jesus there to be healed.
So, it is not only the removal of impurity that matters, but Jesus’ own gracious teaching and healing. This is what cleanses the Temple. This is what shows forth God’s gracious visitation in Christ. This is something that the world does not understand about the Church.
I’ve had enough conversations in the Back Bay to learn the popular opinion. Almost every unbeliever I’ve spoken to has had this idea of what the Church is: that we’re just a purity cult.
Of course, if that means trying to live lives that please God according to His Word, then fine – we’re a purity cult.
But what they really think is that we’re uniquely obsessed with morality, the self-appointed police of public righteousness, clutching our pearls and handing out demerits for loud music and swearing. You get the idea.
But if that’s the thing that the Church really cares about, then the Church has no hope. That would be nothing but works righteousness, the stumbling block that Paul wrote about in today’s Epistle to the Romans.
Of course, we strive to keep God’s Law. The Holy Spirit does not live in us to motivate disobedience. But our striving does not make us righteous before God.
What shall we say? That the Bostonians who did not pursue righteousness have attained it. They have a righteousness that comes by faith in Christ.
As for those who treated the Law as a way to make themselves righteous before God; as for those who thought they could drive out the vendors from their inner Temple, and not replace them with Christ, they fell short. They pursued something good, but they did not pursue it by faith; only with their works.
I know this sounds like the most predictable Lutheran sermon ever preached, but it’s the Bible. So, sometimes it’s just like that. Sorry. Not sorry.
But there’s actually more here than the chief article of justification. We have here a principle that needs to be expanded and extrapolated.
It would not have been sufficient for Jesus to merely throw out the vendors and money changers from the Temple. It was still necessary for Him to preach, teach, and heal. So, we learn that it is not enough to get rid of something spiritually harmful. We also need to learn what is good, right, and salutary.
For those of you playing Lutheran Bingo, get ready. You probably won’t hear this name again: Charles Porterfield Krauth, a significant, if now unknown, Lutheran theologian in America in the 19th century, said it succinctly in a soundbite that has stood the test of time:
It is vastly more important to know what the Reformation retained than what it overthrew; for the overthrow of error, though often an indispensable prerequisite to the establishment of truth, is not truth itself; it may clear the foundation simply to substitute one error for another, perhaps a greater for a less.
It’s not enough to demonstrate that a particular medicine or treatment doesn’t really work to heal someone from a disease. You actually need to develop something that does.
Likewise, it’s not enough for the Red Sox to get rid of an underperforming right-hander, unless they can replace him with a worthy lefty and more timely hitting.
And it’s a sad day if being a Lutheran Christian merely means that you’re not Roman Catholic or an enthusiast. Jesus has zeal for His Father’s house. He chased away those who were defiling it, but then He filled it with truth, grace, and mercy.
Christians are to have the same zeal for their lives of faith. They are to pursue the grace, mercy, and wisdom God gives in His Word, and wield all of that joyfully in their lives.
You are of more value than the Temple. And more was done to win you than was done to destroy it.
Of the former, i.e. the Temple, it wasn’t difficult. In A.D. 70, as Jesus predicted, Jerusalem was besieged, hemmed in, barricaded, and ravaged. The Temple was torn down such that not one stone was left upon another. The historical record of Josephus is one of violence and destruction at magnitude. The Romans utterly laid it to waste.
This pales in comparison to what God did to have you. The tearing down of His only-begotten Son, the death of His Christ, the living Temple, this is the death into which you have been baptized.
It probably just looked like water and words to you. But God’s Word declares that it is the catastrophic destruction of sin. More impressive, more comprehensive, and more significant than the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
But Baptism gives you something the Temple didn’t get: New Life. You were baptized into Christ’s resurrection. He is the Living Temple, rebuilt, raised on the third day.
Your life, your joy, your hope is utterly wrapped up in this fact: that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, may walk in newness of life now and always.