Tag Archives: Holy of Holies

Why Revere Old Temple Stones?

Sunday’s readings: Daniel 12:1-3     Psalm 16     Hebrews 10:11-25     Mark 13:1-8

 

The birth of Judaism and the nation of Israel took place at Mt. Sinai under the leadership of Moses. The instructions given there for the design of the tabernacle dictated the design of the temple in Jerusalem under Solomon. The temple was the pinnacle of Jewish teaching about God. The temple was to be the place where God resided on earth.

The old way to worship God required a man to go into the temple and give the priest an animal to sacrifice on an altar in that building. The old way to be forgiven required that the high priest first cleanse himself and then in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, in the secret holy place, offer the blood of sacrifice for all the people. As the disciples in today’s gospel reading were leaving the temple in Jerusalem, the designated location of God’s presence on earth,  they took notice of the magnificent architecture. Jesus must have shocked them when he dismissed their exuberance by saying, “Junk. All these rocks will one day be nothing but a heap of rubble.”

Jesus was reinforcing a message he had already given his disciples when he rampaged through the temple throwing money and pots and tables into piles of junk. (Mark 11:15-19) Jesus had shouted on that day, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it into a bandit hideout.” (translation courtesy of Dr. Rick Carlson) He completely disassembled the process by which people were to encounter God who supposedly resided in this building. Not only that, but Jesus made a mockery of the people involved. He made a shambles of the process of sacrifice, and his message that God was finished with the temple would become very clear shortly thereafter when, as Jesus died on the cross, God ripped apart the curtain of the Holy of Holies from the top to the bottom. The days of that temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem were numbered.

Did that mean that God did not want the nations to have a place to pray? Had God decided that it was hopeless to forgive humans, because they sinned continually and never stopped?

The fact that Jesus predicted the demise of the temple most emphatically did not mean that God had given up on humanity. Quite the contrary. The presence of Jesus, God in the flesh, in that place at that time meant that God had absolutely not given up on people. He had given up on the temple, but he did that, because the religious leaders had perverted its purpose to their own use. Instead of worshiping God in the temple, they were all worshiping themselves. Jesus, God in the flesh, stood in front of the temple and predicted its downfall, because the people who should have been bringing others closer to God were so busy building up themselves that they had become their own God.

Jesus, God in the flesh, had already said that if anyone wanted to follow him, that person had to deny self. Clearly the religious leaders were not denying self. People who would deny self and follow Christ would not engage rigged transactions that only enriched fraudulent men engaged in fraudulent behavior. When Jesus pronounced the doom ahead of the temple, he was already looking toward that day when he himself would make the only sacrifice that ever mattered and would render the temple of stone obsolete.

What would replace it? Peter gives us the answer in today’s reading. Instead of a temple made of rocks piled up on a mountain, God’s temple would be made of living stones. Every person who received the Holy Spirit in baptism would become a part of that temple, denying self, serving Christ, being a little Christ to a world that needed forgiveness for sin and communion with God. God’s temple would no longer be confined to a place people had to travel to. God’s temple would be walking around among the people. Jesus’ message when he blew into Galilee in the first chapter of Mark was, “The kingdom of God has come near.” When he predicted the end of the temple of stones in Jerusalem, he was foretelling how the living temples, the living stones, the little Christs who would follow him, would bring the kingdom of God near to every person they met.

If you think that just getting to church on Sunday morning is fulfilling your obligation to Christ for what he has done for you, think again. Jesus did not die in order that you could go sit on a board in a building of stones. Jesus died for you in order that you could become a living stone and deliver his love to a world starving for him. You don’t want to be one of those people in Revelation described as so fearful of the real, living God that they called stones to fall on them. You don’t want to be someone who would rather be dead under a pile of stones than be a living stone in the temple of God’s presence on earth.

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Jesus casting out the money changers from the ...
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Sunday’s readings

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

All four gospel writers describe the day that Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem. He was like a whirlwind roaring through, overturning tables and scattering coins everywhere, driving out animals and people in his fury. When we remember that Jesus truly is God in the person of the Son, we know where this fury came from. It takes us back to the wilderness trek of Israel, when God first explained to them what he expected of them. The wilderness is the place where we can put the cleansing of the temple in its right perspective.

In the wilderness, God told the people what sort of sacrifice he expected. Any animal or any fruits of harvest given over to God as a sacrifice was to be the best of all. Over and over he emphasized that gifts to God should be unblemished, perfect in every way. In the temple of Jesus’ day, vendors sold blind, lame, pathetic animals that were the rejects they could not sell elsewhere. Moneylenders who were there to serve people of all nationalities and convert their many different forms of money to coins acceptable for shopping in the temple routinely gouged their customers in the rates and fees for money exchange. As a consequence, every worshiper who did not arrive with his own perfect animal ready for sacrifice was subjected to the untender mercies of vendors and moneylenders who cheated the customers and cheated God. It is said by some commentators that temple inspectors collaborated in the whole scheme by ruling that perfect animals brought from home had defects and must be replaced by animals bought within the temple grounds. The offerings were lies to God as a result of the people lying to themselves. The temple had become a place to celebrate big lies and scorn for both God and people.

Jesus, God incarnate, took action to show what a fraud the whole operation was. His action, taking place shortly before he himself became the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of humankind, highlights what a complete lie the whole worship experience had become. Every worshiper had become part of a scene that honored neither God nor man. Jesus’ action said with great clarity that God hates lies and he hates fraud and he hates the behaviors that sustain such attitudes.

When Jesus cleansed the temple, he was preparing it for the day when the curtain that hid the Holy of Holies would be ripped from top to bottom, the day Jesus himself was sacrificed on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and on the day of the cleansing, he acted as purifying truth to cleanse the temple and ready it for the one true sacrifice that would wipe away the sin of all humankind.

This is the truth celebrated in today’s psalm. This is the truth revealed in God’s law. The psalmist knew about that truth. He wrote that God’s law is the revealed truth that the heavens wordlessly sing about day and night. God’s law, which is often viewed as restrictive and oppressive, is revealed by the psalmist and by Jesus’ work of cleansing the temple to be liberating and fulfilling.

Some people have great difficulty “finding” any money to give to God as an offering when they worship. The lesson of the temple cleansing, pointing back to the lessons of Israel’s wilderness days, is that our gifts to God come first. They are the most special gifts we give to anyone for any reason. Our gifts to God must be our first fruits, our most perfect, our free gifts of love and gratefulness. We deny the blessing and mercy of God in our lives when we begrudge him our best.

This is the reason that we must give in gratefulness and love, not out of any sense of obligation. There were, no doubt, individuals who were sickened by the deceitful marketplace the temple had become in Jesus’ day, but their anguish was completely overwhelmed by the power of those who thought of worship as an opportunity to enrich themselves. They had no respect for God, and they caused even faithful worshipers to sink beneath their bad attitudes. There were almost certainly faithful believers who refused to have anything to do with the temple because of this problem.

We can be thankful that this story is in the gospel. It is a reminder first that Christ supplanted all the sacrifices ever burned in that temple by being the perfect sacrifice no animal ever could be. Beyond that, it is also a reminder that we never fool God when we give him less than our best, when we give him only our leftovers. Jesus is the way God tells us that we are so important to him that he gave his best for us. This gift demands that we give only our best to him.