I remember talking to a teacher in our congregation a while back who said, "One of the things I'm struggling with most is how half-hearted my students are". (I know that not all pupils are like that, but that was this teacher's experience). Maybe if you're a beleaguered teacher here this morning you're struggling with more than that. But wherever we see it in life, half-heartedness is pretty discouraging isn’t it? And, in contrast, whole-heartedness is a quality we all aspire to. So, if that's true, how you would you describe your worship of God? Half-hearted? Or whole-hearted? Because that's the key challenge from the beginning of our passage this morning. So, before we begin. Let's pray:
Lord, help us to worship you wholeheartedly, and help us to see that your son, Jesus, made better worship possible. In his name we pray. Amen.
1. Jesus wants whole-hearted worship from us (John 2.12-17)
It's Passover time- The time when Jerusalem was full of God's people, from far and wide, as they celebrated how years and years before God had rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And God's people back then related to him through sacrifice. So, imagine you were a believer back then - you'd bring your best animal and confess your sins over it. Then a temple priest (who doubled up as part-time butcher) would take it, and kill it, and that was your way of saying sorry to God, and God’s way of forgiving you. And you’d also go to the temple to bring offerings of praise, to thank God for his goodness. So, the temple was the focal (the centre) of the relationship between God and his people. But, in John 2.14, the temple sounds more like a busy market. So, do have John 2.12-25 open in your Bibles, that's on page 887. (John 2.15-17):
In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
This is a shocking picture, isn't it? Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…This is Jesus the revolutionary! As he makes a whip of cords (not to be overly violent but because it’s going to take a bit of force to get all those animals shifted) and he drives them, and all the traders, out of his Father’s house (His Father's house. God's house) because the temple should have been about worship of God. It should have been a place dedicated solely to him. This trade would have taken place in the outer court where God-fearing non-Jews could come to worship God. And that was God’s plan, that his people would point the nations around them to the one true God, but the temple had become a place to make a bit of cash. And it had become a place of convenience - why bring an animal on a long journey when you can buy one at the temple, and sacrifice it then and there?! I think few of us could better this description of the scene:
Instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer, there is the bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep. Instead of brokenness and contrition, holy adoration and prolonged petition, there is noisy commerce.
[The Gospel According to John, D.A. Carson]
Probably a long time after these events, Jesus' disciples remembered Psalm 69.9, which is quoted in John 2.17 of our passage. And in that Psalm God's people were in a mess, but King David knew that their biggest problem was actually their relationship with God. If they treated God properly, everything else would fall into place. So he's desperate, he's consumed, with zeal for whole-hearted worship of God. And the disciples recognised that this new King (Jesus) was, if you like, a much greater David. One with an even greater zeal, and an absolutely pure concern, for whole-hearted worship. One who longs for God to be honoured and to be worshipped, as he should be. And that's what Jesus wants for us; to worship God whole-heartedly, to be zealous for his honour and worship. Jesus doesn't want us to be; people who just go to church on a Sunday, people who just go through the motions as soon as we walk in the door, people who don't really engage, or really take it in, people who take communion, but don’t think about the significance of it. And more than that, he doesn't want to just be part of our lives, someone we go to him when we need help, someone we rely on when times are hard. He wants all of our lives, all of our hearts. And he wants to push out anything that takes the place of him; money, success, relationships, whatever it may be. What area of your life are you not letting Jesus be part of, and rule over?
Jesus wants us to be people who wake up in the morning and say "This is a day that I'm going to live for you, Lord. This is the day I'm going to serve you, and honour you above all." He wants us to be people who make all our decisions based on him, people who worship him with all that we have. What will that look like for you this week? What needs to change? Jesus was so committed to whole-hearted worship, that he sacrificed himself to make, closer, more intimate, better worship possible. So, secondly:
2. Jesus died and rose again to make better worship possible (John 2.18-22)
The Jewish leaders aren't happy (John 2.18-20):
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things? [i.e. What are you going to do to show us you've got the authority to do what you've just done?] Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty- six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
They aren't prepared to call Jesus' bluff so they seek to ridicule him. “You think you can rebuild this temple that's taken 46 years to construct, in three days?! Laughable!" But John, the writer of the gospel, is keen to point out that Jesus is talking about a destruction and a rebuilding that was much greater (John 2.21):
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
So, Jesus was really saying, "do you want a sign? Look at what I'll go on to do on the cross. I'll prove myself there! You'll destroy me. But really I'll have chosen to die for you. But I'll defeat death. And then everyone will see the glory and honour of God". So imagine again that you're a Jewish person back then. You'd bring your animal to the temple, confess your sin on it, and it'd die because your animal represented a real-life substitute who would one day take the punishment your sins deserved (the punishment of being cut off from God's presence and friendship), but the death of the substitute meant that you could have access to God, and relate to him, without your sin being a barrier between you and him because the substitute took the punishment your sins deserved. So that's what the temple facilitated back then: access to, and relationship with, God through sacrifice.
But all this only ever pointed to the need for something better because a thoughtful Jew back then would have been scratching their heads thinking, "there's something inadequate about all of this" because they had to keep making sacrifices, through the priests. i.e. sin remained a constant barrier. And that was highlighted by, the holy of holies, and area at the centre of the temple which was cut off from them. They couldn't enter it which meant they couldn't fully enter the presence of God, but Jesus is saying here, "I'll be the new temple. I'll make a once and for all sacrifice, so no more sacrifices need to be made. I'll tear down the barrier and give far better access to God". So when Jesus died on the cross, all of God's anger against sin was poured out on him. He took all the punishment so that we could stand forgiven before God, fully come into his presence – and stay in his presence. And he did it for the glory and honour of God. Isn't that wonderful? Isn't it far better? And, our writer John, very helpfully, tells us what he thinks the response to all of this should be (John 2.22):
When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
So, after Jesus had died and rose again, the disciples would have been thinking back to this event, and they'd have remembered how Jesus had been challenged to prove himself. And they'd see how he did it, ultimately, by dying and rising from the dead. Just like he said he would. And they'd have looked back to the Old Testament, to passages which pointed to how the Messiah would be vindicated before everyone, and they'd see how Jesus did that on the cross by defeating sin forever. And they'd have seen, and known, how Jesus' death had brought about a whole new, far better, access to and relationship with God, that no longer depended on making sacrifices. So, they put that all together, and they believed in Jesus. So, if you're not yet a Christian, keep looking back to the evidence for what Jesus has done for you. Weigh it up. See what you make of it. Did Jesus do what he said he would do? A great way to do that would be to join one of our online Explored courses. Chat to one of us for more details.
And we all need to see how much better this is. We need to see how amazing it is that Jesus died for the honour and glory of his Father. Of course, Jesus died for us. We're wrapped up in all of this, but Jesus went to the cross for the honour of God because what's the best way of making sure God is seen as the best thing ever? By bringing a people completely separate from God, to God. And this shows us, that Jesus will never give up on us – no matter what we do, no matter how we feel. The cross will cover our every sin and failing. Constant and better worship will always be possible if we keep trusting in Jesus. The honour of God depends on it because if the cross didn't achieve once and for all forgiveness then it would be defective, wouldn't it? And that wouldn't bring God any honour at all. So we can worship God wholeheartedly, because he's done everything possible to give us an intimate, secure, and better relationship with him. And all he asks of us is that we really place our trust in him. So, finally:
3. Jesus only gives himself to those who really trust in him (John 2.23-25)
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
I remember the first time I went to the circus as a boy; I was blown away by everything I saw, and I didn’t want the show to end. I wanted more, and more and more. The people described in these verses looked like they trusted in Jesus but beneath it all they were treating Jesus like a circus act. They wanted to follow him, to see his miracles, to be captivated by his teaching, but their faith was no deeper than that. So, John 2.24, basically means Jesus won't go along with them, he won't treat their change as real change because he knows what's going on in their hearts. And he doesn't need anyone to tell him what's going on in my heart, or your heart, or anyone else's. He's got x-ray vision that sees us as we really are. Only he knows what's really going on in our hearts. You see it's not enough to be impressed by Jesus. It's not enough to think he's a good guy. It's not enough to come to church. It's not enough to want the benefits of relationship with him. You can't dupe Jesus. You need to worship him whole-heartedly and put his honour first, by making him the Lord of your life. You need to admit that he is new, and better, temple. You need to admit that you're a sinner. And you need the forgiveness that only he can give, and only he can guarantee.
Is it time you stopped pretending and really starting trusting in King Jesus? He can't be fooled and he loves you so much he doesn't want you to fool yourself because when we trust in Jesus, the implication is that he will entrust himself (i.e. give himself) to us. He will get into relationship with us, and he will get us into relationship with him. And if this passage where to teach us one thing, and one thing only, wouldn't it be that living in relationship with Jesus is best place ever to be? Let's pray:
Father, we thank you that Jesus died to make an even better worship of you possible. Help us to trust in that. We confess how half-hearted you we can be in our worship of you. Please forgive us. And through your Spirit, fill us with zeal for your glory and honour. For Jesus' sake. Amen.