Jesus and Jerusalem

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Would you describe yourself as an emotional person? What drives you to tears? What makes you angry?

What drives these emotions tells us a lot about who we are and about what we truly value.

1. Jesus Weeps Over Jerusalem (v41-44)

We join Jesus in the final week of his life on earth on the Mount of Olives looking over Jerusalem and he weeps, verse 42:

"saying, 'Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…'"

Jesus' seemingly triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is not typical or representative. Jerusalem will, in just a few days' time, reject and kill God's king and there are consequences for this rejection. Verse 43:

"For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade round you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation."

Jesus' words foreshadow with chilling accuracy AD70 and the fall of Jerusalem which the historian Josephus describes like this…

"While the sanctuary was burning… neither pity for age or respect for rank was shown. On the contrary, children and old people, laity and priests alike were massacred. The emperor ordered the entire city and temple to be razed to the ground."

By rejecting Jesus, God's king the people are rejecting God and will face his judgement. For Jerusalem, this will mean destruction at the hands of the Romans. For us, if we reject Jesus it means facing paying the price for our own sin and there is nothing more frightening and tragic than that. This is what Jesus tears are for - the spiritual blindness that leads Jerusalem to murder its rightful king and so face God's judgement instead of having peace.

Jesus is sad before he is angry. He grieves over those who are blind to God's offer of forgiveness and life. Do we? Are we heartbroken for those who do not yet know Jesus as their saviour and king? Jesus was.

Jesus's tears are not for effect, they are tears of grief because he knows that there is an end to God's offer of forgiveness. God is patient, not willing that anyone should perish, He is generous offering eternal life to all who call on the name of Jesus but you must call.

With tears in his eyes, Jesus enters Jerusalem itself and heads for the temple itself…

2. Jesus Cleanses the Temple (v45-48)

The temple is busy, people are coming from all over Israel to celebrate Passover and to offer sacrifices. Jesus enters the temple area, the 'Court of the Gentiles' and rather than finding a place where people can seek and know God, he finds for profit religious performance. People are selling animals to be sacrificed. In and of itself this wasn't a problem but they are doing so charging exorbitant rates. The temple has become less about prayer and more about profit.

Jesus cleanses the temple by driving out those who have forgotten what the temple was for. The other gospel writers tell us Jesus did this by toppling the tables of those who were trading, John's gospel records Jesus using a whip in what may be the same event. This a very different Jesus to the one we are used to seeing not meek and mild but furious as he drives the greedy and the hypocrites by force from the temple. But Jesus' anger is not you or I flying off the handle, it is righteous, fuelled and measured by scripture, look at verse 46:

"saying to them, 'It is written, "My house shall be a house of prayer", but you have made it a den of robbers.'"

Jesus combines two quotations from the Old Testament in his condemnation of the temple's current practices. The first reference is to Isaiah 56, Jesus quotes verse 7. Let me read to you from verse 6:

"And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

Anyone who loves God, who keeps his commands and trusts in his promises to them. Jew or Gentile, whatever their standing is to be able to come and meet God at the temple. It is a house of prayer for all nations. The religious leaders though have put up barriers to worship, have sought to profit from those who should have had free access to God's grace.

The second quote is from Jeremiah 7 which we read earlier. Jeremiah 7 is written to Israel at their lowest point. Having seen their hypocrisy and sin God is about to judge his people by exiling them to Babylon, before he does so he condemns them saying in Jeremiah 7.9-11:

"Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, We are safe— safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD."

Six hundred years later Jesus applies Jeremiah's caustic sermon to the religious authorities, saying you are just like that generation who faced God's judgement before. Jesus' harshest words are for those who knew God's promises, his kindness, his faithfulness and yet who choose instead of sharing this precious gift to seek power and comfort for themselves.

Jesus is angry about the temple being a place of unfair profiteering. Perhaps we can relate to that quite strongly to that sense of injustice. There's probably no one here making significant sums 'selling religion'.

The temple had a specific purpose in the life of God's people and so now does the church. Is St Joseph's fulfilling its purpose? Is it a place where anyone who is seeking God can come to freely and find God? Is it more difficult if you are from a different nation, background, class? We may not profit financially from what goes on here directly but we may still seek power and our own comfort. Is it more important that the kids' groups serve our kids, the music is to our liking, services happen at a convenient time and place or that Benwell is engaged with the gospel? Of course, we all know what the right answer is but are we willing to make ourselves uncomfortable to allow St Joseph's to achieve it? Can we recognise in the religious authorities something of our own tendency towards hypocrisy and self-interest and does that trouble us? Does our selfishness or our pride bother so that we are actively trying, with God's help, put those things to death?

3. Jesus - the New Temple For A New Jerusalem

We have seen then what drives Jesus to tears and what stokes his anger and we are challenged to ask - are these the same things that fuel our emotions? But there's something else going on in these verses which I want us to see; that Jesus is the new temple for a new greater Jerusalem. Whilst these verses do give us an insight into Jesus' emotional life they have a wider purpose too.

Jesus' cleansing of the temple as well as casting out those who were corrupting it was ushering in something new. In the Old Testament, this time in Malachi 3.1 we read this:

"Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap."

By suddenly coming to the temple and purifying it, Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy. He is acting as if he is the Lord. A new age is beginning. John's gospel records Jesus declaring here that the temple would be destroyed and then three days later raised. Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection. He was declaring himself to be the new temple, the new way for people of all nations to approach God and to receive forgiveness and new life from him.

It's this claim that leads to the hostile reaction in verse 47 and 48, where the "chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him". Jesus claims, his teaching, demand that authority be given to him. He is now not just condemning the religious authorities for their mismanagement of the temple but claiming that he will replace the temple and in doing so become the way by which people would approach God.

Jesus is claiming God's authority here; you can see this if you look down to Luke 20.2 where these same chief priests and teachers of the law ask Jesus: "Tell us by what authority you are doing these things, they said." Who gave you this authority? The chief priest and teachers of the law are under no illusions as to what is happening here. Jesus is not merely condemning them, he is in a sense, replacing them. And so now comes the first explicit mention of a plot to kill Jesus.

Jesus says that he will be the way through which people may approach God and in a few short days he will prove his claim by dying on a Roman cross and three days later rising again. That's the gospel and it is staggeringly generous and scandalously full of love for broken sinners like you and me. However, it does come with one condition; that we recognise Jesus as the king. How will you respond to Jesus claim of authority?

Will you respond like the chief priests and teachers of the law and put Jesus to death? Or will you listen to Jesus as the crowds did, who hung on Jesus' every word?

Christmas showed us that God is willing to come to earth, to enter into our messiness, our shame and our suffering. Here as Jesus approaches the cross we see his tears for those who cannot see the only thing that will bring them peace and his anger for anyone who will stand in the way of those seeking God.

Some find Jesus claim to be the only way to God difficult, perhaps you do. But look at Jesus, Jesus who weeps for those who hate him, Jesus who had real authority and the crowds recognised it as he spoke. Jesus who was here not just to condemn religious hypocrites but to die for them.

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