Jesus and The Nations

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Many years ago we used to live in Bristol. When we were there we hosted the African leader of a Pentecostal denomination. He was visiting the church in Bristol as part of a delegation who'd been invited to report on the state of the church in Bristol as they saw it. Our late night conversations with this man gave us an insight into our church and its life. He was a gentle man, but his own experience of vigorous church life and growth was a sharp rebuke to the pattern of decay and decline into which our church had fallen. It was obvious to us that we had a great deal to learn from our brother and sister believers in other nations.

Imagine what would happen if not an African church leader but Jesus himself visited this country - and the church in this country. What would he do? What would he say? We can't know precisely. But the passage from Matthew's Gospel that we're looking at today can give us a good idea. Jesus comes to the temple in Jerusalem to do an uninvited church consultation. And the sparks begin to fly.

'Jesus and the Nations' is my title, and Matthew 21.12-17 is the passage that we've got to as we work our way through Matthew's Gospel.

Now I want us to try and understand the significance of the events recorded here by repeatedly asking two questions as we see things unfold. The questions are these: What is Jesus saying about himself? And what should our response be to him?

Let me tell you immediately how I at least begin to answer the first of those questions: What is Jesus saying about himself? By which I mean: What's Jesus revealing here about who he is by his words and actions? My answer gives you my four main headings for this morning, so you might like to jot them down on the space on the back of the service sheet.

First, Jesus is the Lord of the temple. Secondly, Jesus is the Judge of those in the temple. Thirdly Jesus is the Saviour of those who come to him at the temple. And fourthly, Jesus is the King in his temple.

And what should our response be? Let me outline that as well. If Jesus is the Lord of the temple, then we shouldn't ignore him but we should submit to him. If he's the Judge of those in the temple, then we shouldn't resist him but we should confess to him and ask him for mercy. If he's the Saviour of those who come to him at the temple, then we shouldn't avoid him but we should come to him by faith and receive from his hand all that we need. And if he's the King in his temple, then we shouldn't hate him but our lives should be lived to his praise.

Why are those my answers? Let's take a look at each in turn.

First, JESUS IS THE LORD OF THE TEMPLE

Look at Matthew 21.12-13:

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers'."

When Jesus enters that great temple in the heart of Jerusalem, he comes not as a tourist looking for a souvenir for his mantelpiece, not as a pilgrim wanting to buy an animal to sacrifice, not as a religious leader visiting the centre of his faith. He is coming home. The temple belongs to him. He is its Lord.

It's been a long journey that Jesus has made to this point. To understand it, we have to understand the significance of this unique building he has entered.

The temple is God's temple. The Tabernacle that was constructed at God's command accompanied the Israelites on their wanderings around the desert and into the Promised Land after the Lord rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Under Solomon that temporary structure was replaced with a magnificent and glorious temple. As God warned would happen, that temple was destroyed by the Babylonians when God's patience with his stubborn and rebellious people finally ran out. But God never gives up on his promises so he never totally gives up on his people - and a new temple was built and rebuilt.

And what was the point of the temple? Why did God command it? It was the place where God promised he would meet with his people, when they approached him there in the way that he required. It was the place where they would find forgiveness through atoning sacrifice. God's name would dwell there. God never confined himself to it - but it was the symbol of God's living presence in the midst of his people for ever. It was the place from which the news of the great name of the one true and living God would go out to the ends of the earth and to all the nations of the world, calling all peoples to come and worship the living God in his holy temple. It was a sacred place and building unlike any other the world has ever known - not because of its architecture but because of its owner. It was uniquely God's building - God's temple - God's home.

So it shouldn't have been a surprise when the boy Jesus - the only Son of God come into the world - was found by his frantic parents in the temple, saying to them, 'Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?'

And then over twenty years later, as the climax of the earthly ministry of Jesus drew near, it shouldn't be a surprise what the Bible records in Luke 9.51:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

And here, then, he reaches his destination. 'Jesus entered the temple area.' The Son of God has come back home. He is the Lord of the temple. In his person the glory of God returns to the temple.

Last week we were on holiday in the South West and we visited Bristol and drove past our old home again. It was a strange experience. The church we used to go to on the corner of our street was gone - demolished because of structural problems and replaced with flats. Our house was still there. But it's been redecorated and refurnished, and it wasn't, of course, ours any more. We had no right over it any longer. We just pulled up in the car and looked over at it, with an odd feeling in the pit of the stomach.

When Jesus returned to the temple, he had total rights. It was his. And he had radical plans for it. In fact it was due for demolition, as Jesus took over the functions of the temple in his own person. A generation later, just as Jesus said would happen, the temple was razed to the ground. Where now can the nations of the world meet with God? Where now can we find forgiveness? In Jesus.

Jesus is the Lord of the temple. How should we respond to that? We should recognise that now our lives are his temple. He indwells those who believe in him - and he has all the rights of ownership over us as well.

Don't you know [the apostle Paul asks] that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?

When Jesus comes home, he should not be ignored. In the end he will not be ignored. He will impose himself, as he has every right to do. We need to submit our lives to him - open the doors of our lives to him - open every room of our lives to him so that he can make whatever use of our lives he wants.

That's point one. Jesus is the Lord of the temple, and we should not ignore him but submit to him.

Secondly, JESUS IS THE JUDGE OF THOSE IN THE TEMPLE

Back again to verses 12-13:

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers'."

Jesus doesn't like what he finds in the temple. Its true purpose is being subverted and corrupted. Jesus enters the court of the Gentiles - the huge courtyard of the temple precinct to which non-Jews were allowed access. And he takes radical and shocking action and uses physical and verbal force to clear out all those doing business there whose real reasons for being there were not at all what God intended or wanted.

Jesus quotes twice from the the Old Testament - the prophets to be precise - and applies their words to what he sees going on.

Now, if I can use a computing analogy for a moment - quotations of the Old Testament within the New Testament and on the lips of Jesus should be treated like hyper-links. That is, they should not be regarded as self-contained and out of context. They should lead us to the Old Testament passage behind them. We should then ask how that Old Testament passage applies in this New Testament situation in the light of how its been quoted.

So let's look at what Jesus is quoting. Verse 13. 'My house will be called a house of prayer'. That's from Isaiah 56:7. The context is there in v 3:

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, 'The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.'

In other words here is a word from God for all those who turn to him from the nations of the world. The question on their lips and in their hearts is, 'How can I ever be acceptable to God? I'm not one of his people.' And this is what God promises (verses 6-7):

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

That is, God will not turn away anyone who comes to him looking for forgiveness and acceptance and life. The temple should be a place into which people pour from all the nations of the world, to meet with the one true and living God. But the way the temple was being used and understood was shutting people out.

Back to Matthew 21.13. "My house will called 'a house of prayer' but you are making it a 'den of robbers'." The phrase 'a den of robbers' comes from Jeremiah 7.11. Turn back again to that - this time to p 764. And look at verses 1-4 of Jeremiah 7:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:

'Stand at the gate of the Lord's house [that is, the temple] and there proclaim this message: 'Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!'

And to verse 9:

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.

So here are people who are on the inside. They have access to the temple and they think that means they're safe for ever. But what they do Monday to Saturday shows that what they say on Sunday is a lie. And the Lord through Jeremiah shatters their complacency.

Just because we call ourselves Christian - just because we're Church of England, or whatever is your particular boast of spiritual, national or ethnic heritage, that does not mean we have any absolute and unconditional security with God. God looks at the heart. If your heart is as hard as a stone towards God, then whatever you have, you will lose it all. You are not safe.

Put those two prophecies together and what do you get? Outsiders - if you put your trust in the living God - you're welcome. Enter the kingdom of God. Insiders - if our life demonstrates no faith and we just try to shut others out - then we will be thrown out. And Jesus drove out all who were buying and selling there - not just the merchants, note - but those who were using the services of the merchants for what were ultimately self-satisfied and self-serving purposes.

Jesus is the judge of those in the temple. What should be our response to that? We should confess our own self-satisfaction and self-serving motives. There's no point in trying to pretend that we don't at times fall into this same trap. We all too easily lose sight of God, and faith becomes mere religion, and religion becomes a tool that we can use for our own ends at the expense of others.

We need to allow Jesus to clear that sin out of our lives - to drive it out as he drove those moneychangers out of the temple. We need a deep change in our thinking so that our main aim becomes to invite and welcome others in, not to protect and enjoy our own privileges at the cost of shutting others out. As we face up to Jesus the judge we should admit our self-centredness and ask for mercy.

Thirdly, JESUS IS THE SAVIOUR OF THOSE WHO COME TO HIM AT THE TEMPLE

Verse 14:

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.

Jesus doesn't shut people out! Jesus has not come to condemn but to save. When needy people recognise their need, and realise that Jesus is the one who can meet their need, and come to Jesus, he doesn't turn them away. He meets their need.

The temple in Jerusalem is no longer the place to find Jesus. His temple is now the church - the building of living stones in which Jesus lives by his Spirit. We have no promise of immediate physical healing now in the way that those blind and lame were healed. But what Jesus did for them was a sign of the spiritual healing that Jesus brings now, and the total healing that Jesus will bring in the new age when he has destroyed death once and for all.

How should we respond? Don't steer clear of Jesus. We must recognise our own need. What's your need this morning? What do you need Jesus to do for you? Then come to Jesus. You can't physically see him standing there in the temple. But he's here among us just as surely. Come to him by faith. Believe that he and he alone is the one who can meet your needs - the needs you know about and the deeper needs you hardly dare acknowledge. Trust Jesus with your life. And receive from him all the resources that you need now - and the promise of eternal life in the age to come. Come to him by faith - and accept all he gives. That's what we need to do. Because Jesus is the Saviour of those who come to him at the temple.

Then finally:

Fourthly, JESUS IS THE KING IN HIS TEMPLE

Verses 15-16:

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' they were indignant.
'Do you hear what these children are saying?' they asked him.
'Yes,' replied Jesus, 'have you never heard, "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise"?'

It's a terrible thing to see how twisted religious faith and convictions can lead people to be indignant when they see Jesus doing wonderful things for people. These religious leaders were threatened by Jesus. They rejected him. In the face of his healings they are angry. When they hear his praises being sung they get angrier still. They completely fail to recognise that standing before them is the King himself in his own temple. They are self-appointed guardians of the temple and they completely miss the point of it.

But the children get it. Unselfconsciously, unafraid of the glowering chief priests, spontaneously, they burst out in praise. They realise that Jesus is the King. 'Hosanna to the Son of David - the Messiah - God's chosen King.' And as they cry out in praise like that they become an amazing example for us.

How should we respond to Jesus the King in his temple - living among his people? We should respond with spontaneous praise - a lifetime of praise. We shouldn't hate him or raise our voices in anger against the way that he threatens our comfortable lives. He will do that. After all, he wants us on the outside welcoming people in, not on the inside shutting people out. We are now the temple of God, and we need to be a house of prayer for all nations. That's how we praise him best - by telling the nations about him. That's how we can honour the King.

So what's Jesus saying about himself by his words and actions here? What would his message be if he were to visit us today? The message is this. He's the Lord. He's the Judge. He's the Saviour. He's the King. What should our response be? Not to ignore him. Not to resist him. Not to avoid him. Not to hate him. But to submit to him; to confess to him and seek mercy; to receive life from his hand; and to praise him before the nations of the world.

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