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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The Lamb turns Lion when his Father's house is defiled
Text:John 2:13-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 84:1,2,5,6

Psalm 102:1-3 (after the law)

Psalm 69:1,4

Hymn 41

Psalm 146:1-3

Scripture reading:  Malachi 3

Text: John 2:13-22

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

The first two chapters of John give us several ways of referring to Jesus.  The gospel begins by calling him “the Word,” the Logos.  Jesus is called “the Light.”  And then later in chapter 1, John the Baptist twice calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.” 

A lot of people like to think of Jesus merely in terms of being a Lamb.  After all, lambs are non-threatening.  Lambs are harmless.  This image of Jesus as lamb-like plays well in our contemporary world.  You see it even in many artistic representations of Jesus.  He’s often portrayed with the appearance of a slightly effeminate Swedish pop singer from the 1970s.  This is Jesus, gentle, meek and mild.  This is a Jesus who would never get angry or violent.

Yes, later in John’s gospel, we do see the loving compassion of our great High Priest.  You probably remember one of the shortest verses of the Bible, John 11:35, just two words:  “Jesus wept.”  He wept because he was filled with sorrow about death and the brokenness of this world.  But there’s far more to our Saviour than his gentle, loving compassion. 

In our passage we see him revealed in a surprising way.  He comes to the temple in Jerusalem with a holy anger and violence.  People don’t often want to hear about Jesus revealed in this way.  They want a tame and domesticated Jesus.  But for Christians, this is what God says in Scripture about his Son and we accept it.  We learn from it and we believe it.  Here we see Jesus who is the Lamb of God, but who is also the Lion of Judah.  I preach to you God’s Word: 

The Lamb turns Lion when his Father’s house is defiled

We’ll look at:

  1. Why Jesus came to Jerusalem
  2. What he did at the Temple
  3. How he responded to the Jews

The first thing we encounter here in our passage is the Feast of the Passover.  This feast goes back to the book of Exodus in the Old Testament.  This goes back to when God brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.  The Passover was instituted on that last night they spent in Egypt.  God commanded the Israelites to place the blood of a lamb on their doorposts.  When he saw the blood, he would pass over them.  Wherever he didn’t see blood, he would kill the firstborn.  This event was to be commemorated every year by the Israelites.  As part of the ceremonial law, God required his people to celebrate the Passover every year at the place he appointed for his name to dwell. 

Now you have to remember that Jesus was Jewish.  He was born into a Jewish family and he was raised with the Old Testament.  His parents taught him to follow God’s law and he did.  So what it says in verse 13 is not really that surprising.  Jesus was a Jewish man, and so he did what Jewish men were supposed to do, go up to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.  Not surprising.    

But even though it’s not that surprising, there’s something important here that we shouldn’t overlook.  The one who did this was not an ordinary Jewish man.  As John’s gospel has already revealed, Jesus is the Messiah.  He’s been sent into the world for the salvation of sinners.  It’s important to see that what happens here in verse 13 is part of that.  This short verse actually gives us good news about Jesus.  Let me explain how. 

We need to think here in terms of the Ten Commandments and what they require of us.  What our Lord Jesus does in verse 13 is an act of obedience especially to the Second Commandment.  Remember the Second Commandment is about how we worship God, that we are to worship him only in the way that he commands.  That’s part of how our Catechism summarizes that commandment in QA 96.  We are to worship God only as he commands.  So, for the Jewish people of the Old Testament, God commanded that the Passover be celebrated once per year in Jerusalem at the Temple.  That was part of how he wanted to be worshipped.  Jesus obeyed that command and by doing that, he was perfectly obeying the Second Commandment.  But how does that relate to us? 

We need Jesus.  We need him because we are sinners.  When we say that, we recognize that we need forgiveness through his suffering and death on the cross.  We’ve broken the law of God, including the Second Commandment.  We don’t always worship God properly.  Think of how we sometimes worship half-heartedly and easily get distracted during prayer or singing.  We are sinners also when it comes to the Second Commandment.  So we need Christ’s atoning work to turn away God’s wrath from us (remember:  we need his propitiation).  But we also need his obedience to be imputed to us, credited to us.  God still requires that we keep his law – he does not shelve that requirement because we’ve been forgiven.  Christ takes care of that for us too. 

Let me illustrate.  Let’s say you tell one of your kids, “I want your room cleaned up by 4:00 and if it’s not, there will be punishment.”  Well, 4:00 comes around and the room is not clean.  So you keep your word and the punishment is given.  But the room is still dirty, the room still needs to be cleaned up.  There are different ways that you could do that, you could have the child do it himself, or you could do it for him.  Now you see, Jesus Christ bears the curse or punishment on sin for us, but then he also cleans up the room for us with his perfect obedience.  His suffering is given to us for forgiveness, but also his obedience to the law of God for our righteousness.  You see, we not only need the cross, we also need his perfect life. 

It’s his perfect life that’s revealed to us in verse 13.  Like he did with all the Law of God, he obeyed the Second Commandment, and he did it for all those who believe in him.  Loved ones, look at your Saviour here and trust that he did this for you.  Believe that even though you’re still learning to obey and you stumble along the way (also when it comes to worship), you have a perfect Saviour.   Through him God looks at you as being perfectly obedient in every single respect.  In him, you measure up for God.  In what he’s done for you, you are righteous in God’s sight. 

So Jesus went up to Jerusalem as an obedient Son.  Then he came to the temple and what he found there was disturbing.  It made him angry, in fact.  He had come into the outermost part of the temple, known as the Court of the Gentiles.  Gentiles were not allowed further into the temple precincts, but Jews could go further.  A little while before our passage, a major change had been introduced at the temple.  The high priest Caiaphas made a deal with traders, merchants, and money-changers so that they could do business within the temple precincts, specifically in the Court of the Gentiles.  This had some background. 

When pilgrims came to Jerusalem for the various feasts, they could bring their own animals for the sacrifices.  But there were two problems.  One was that you’d have to take the animals with you on your journey.  If an animal died along the way, you were at a loss.  The second problem was that if you got to the temple, it might turn out that your animal had some kind of blemish that you were unaware of.  That blemish could disqualify your animal from being sacrificed.  So already in the Old Testament, God mercifully allowed for the possibility of pilgrims buying their sacrificial animals in Jerusalem.  A business developed around that.  The animals were basically on site, so transportation wasn’t an issue.  And these animals were certified as being blemish-free, so guaranteed to be accepted by the priests.  Of course, those selling them could charge a premium price for this service.  There was money to be made in this. 

Then there were the money-changers.  Jews were coming to Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  They didn’t necessarily carry with them the right currency for the temple tax.  You couldn’t pay that temple tax with just any money – for example, Roman currency made Caesar into a god and that was unacceptable in the temple.  So another business venture arose where money changers set up shop in Jerusalem and exchanged Roman, Greek, Egyptian and whatever other currencies for the currency that had to be used in the temple.  Of course, those doing this were charging a premium for this service too, just like money changers do today. 

Now what had changed by the time of Christ’s visit to the temple in our passage was that all this buying and selling had been moved into the temple precincts.  It used to be done on the Mount of Olives, but now it was on Mount Zion, in the Court of the Gentiles.  It had become a sort of religious marketplace.  Exorbitant prices were being charged and the high priests were getting a cut.  The traders had to pay the religious leaders a little something for the privilege of being able to conduct business within the temple.  So all of this business activity was what our Lord encountered there in verse 14.  You got to have this picture in your mind of the temple looking like a market, rather than a house of prayer and worship.

That’s the picture Christ saw and it enraged him.  He took action.  He did what was prophesied about him in Malachi 3.  The Lord came to his temple.  He came as a refiner, as a purifier.  He came as one who would clean up and purify the worship offered. 

Verse 15 tells us that he made a whip out of cords or ropes.  With all the animals around, these would have been easy to find.  He took this whip and he used it to clean up the temple.  He forced all the merchants out along with all their animals.  He then went over to the money-changers and dumped out all their coins and threw over their tables.  You have to picture this correctly in your mind.  Our Lord did not do this gently and peaceably.  He was righteously angry and he acted violently.  What he saw outraged him and he acted in the most appropriate way.  In doing this, Jesus did not sin in any way.  You see there is a righteous anger and there is even a time for holy violence.  Jesus did that perfectly and sinlessly.  When it comes to you and me, we need to be careful.  If you’re the type of person that gets easily angry and you quickly lose your temper, this passage is not your friend.  This is not a place in Scripture you can go to find a rationalization – “Oh, look, Jesus got angry too.  He had a righteous anger and he even got physical.  My anger is righteous and my physical acting out when I get angry is justified.”  No.  Think.  Be careful.  You’re a sinner.  Everything you do is stained with sin.  Yes, there is a righteous anger even for us.  For example, who wouldn’t get angry at the thought of a child being abused?  If you don’t get angry at that, you don’t have a heart.  But we can easily rationalize a lot of our sinful anger and turn it into righteous anger in our own minds just to suit our own purposes.  Loved ones, beware of the deceitfulness of sin.  Beware of easy rationalizations for your sin.

To understand why the Lamb turned Lion here, you have to look more closely at verses 16 and 17.  To those who were selling the pigeons or doves, he said, “Take these things away!  Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”  Jesus has a problem with all of this business going on, not because it’s a bad business.  As I mentioned, this type of business was allowed in Scripture in Deuteronomy 14.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was where it was taking place.  It was okay to do this on the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley.  It was not okay to do this on Mount Zion, in the Court of the Gentiles at the Temple.  Jesus had a personal interest in making sure that it didn’t because the Temple was his Father’s house.  That’s a remarkable statement.  Jesus was publically saying that God was his Father and the Temple was his Father’s house.  The Son of God has a vested interest therefore in what goes on in the Temple.  He’s eager to maintain the dignity and honour of his Father.  His Father has been dishonoured and mistreated by these people.  It’s as if all that matters in the temple is making money, doing big business.  It’s not about worship or prayer anymore, but about the dollar.  It’s not about God, but about mammon, wealth.    

The other gospels also tell of a temple-cleansing by Jesus.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus also goes to the temple and sends away the merchants and money-changers.  But that happens on a separate occasion, towards the end of his ministry on earth.  What happens in John is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus had to cleanse the temple twice, and John’s story is the first time.  But when he did it the second time, Jesus pointed out that the temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations.  That was referring to the fact that this trade was being done in the Court of the Gentiles.  The temple had a place for Gentiles to pray and worship God.  Gentiles too could draw near to God at the temple.  That was part of its design.  But it had been repurposed, really defiled, into a place of business rather than worship.  Try to pray there! 

That’s why the Lamb of God also reveals himself to be the Lion of Judah.  It’s because he cares about the honour and glory of his Father.  That’s what he’s most passionate about.  That too is part of his obedience in our place.  If you think back to the beginning, Adam and Eve were supposed to guard and protect the Garden of Eden.  They failed.  Similarly, the priests were supposed to protect the sanctuary of God in the temple.  They too failed.  In a sense, you could say that they let the serpent in.  They brought something into the temple that wasn’t supposed to be there.  They allowed something that defiled the temple and turned an important part of it away from its intended purpose.  But now the Second Adam, the Son of God, arrives on the scene.  He is faithful.  In his faithfulness, he turns Lion and drives out what defiles his Father’s house.  In this, he was and is doing for God’s people what they could not and would not do for themselves.

All of that leads us into verse 17 and how his disciples remembered what Scripture said in Psalm 69.  It doesn’t say when they remembered this and it really doesn’t matter.  At some point, whether sooner or later, they made the connection to Psalm 69:9.  In that psalm, David wrote about facing opposition.  He had people who hated him and wanted him dead.  He was zealous for God’s house, for the true, pure worship of God.  Notice the word “zealous.”  Zeal is a powerful word.  Zeal has sometimes been defined as passion on steroids.  That’s what we’re looking at here.  This is passion to an exponential power.  David had that radical zeal, and that pointed ahead to his great grand-son Jesus.  And that potent zeal would consume Jesus.  That’s not just a reference to that zeal being a driving force in his life.  “Will consume me” points ahead to his death.  When Jesus cleansed the temple out of his zeal for God and the pure worship of him, he antagonized the priests.  They did not welcome his efforts.  Instead, they began to resent him.  It’s not that evident yet in John’s gospel, but it will become more and more obvious that the Jewish religious leaders hate him and see him as a threat.  Christ’s zeal for God’s glory is part of what leads to his suffering and death, his being consumed, at the hands of the Jewish religious authorities.

Now we have to stop here for a moment and reflect on how this applies to us.  The temple that Jesus visited that day is long gone.  It was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans.  And yet the New Testament speaks of the temple still existing.  As we’ll see in a moment, it starts with Christ himself.  He is the temple.  What follows from that is that the church is also the temple of God in the New Testament.  The church is the house of God (the temple) because the church is the body of Christ, in whom the fullness of deity dwells.  You find Scripture speaking like that in places like 1 Corinthians 3 and 1 Peter 2.  Then Scripture also speaks about believers being individually temples of the Holy Spirit.  Since the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are also each the house of God in a sense. 

Now remember that we see Jesus revealed here as the Son of God zealous for the glory of God in his house.  He is eager to see everything removed that defiles the house of God.  That brings me to two questions for you to reflect on.  The church is the temple of God.  Were Christ here in person, what would he drive out from among us as being defiling?  Is there anything?  That’s something to think about and perhaps discuss over lunch.  Then the other question:  what about your personal life?   You are the temple of the Holy Spirit according to 1 Corinthians 6.  What’s in the temple that doesn’t belong there?  What would Jesus passionately drive out to bring your temple back to its original purpose?  Don’t give a vague answer like “sin.”  We all have sin.  No, be specific with yourself.  Be concrete.  We all have particular sins that we struggle with that defile these temples of the Holy Spirit.  What are yours?  Are you eager to have these defilements driven out by your Lord through the whip of his Word?  Loved ones, we all need to think about these things.

We’re now at verse 18 in our passage.  Here the Jewish religious leaders engage Jesus with a question.  They’ve watched him cleanse the temple and undoubtedly they were surprised, taken off guard.  Here comes this Galilean and he acts like he owns the place, or perhaps like his Father owns the place.  So they ask him for a sign.  “Show us something!”  What they’re asking for is credentials.  They want to know what gives him the right to act like this.  What they fail to see is that the actions themselves are a sign.  They point to the fact that he is the Son of God.  Because he’s done what they should have done.  Them asking for a sign is already a matter of unbelief.  Instead of challenging Jesus like this, they should have been thanking him.  They should have accepted what he did with gratitude – and faith in him. 

Nonetheless he responds to them in verse 19.  He answers in a way that befuddles them.  He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Do you want a sign?  Do you want something that proves my authority and power?  “If you destroy this temple, then in three days I will raise it up.”  When that happens, you’ll have your sign. 

They immediately misunderstand him.  The Jewish leaders think that he’s speaking about the building before them.  They think that it’s a reference to the temple.  There’s a mention of 46 years.  As you can see from the note in the ESV, that can be taken two ways.  It’s either that it’s taken 46 years to build it, or that it was built 46 years ago.  I think the main text of the ESV is probably the best way to read it, but either way the reference is to the fact that there’s some substantial time and effort that’s gone into this building.  You don’t destroy all of that and then restore it in a mere three days, especially if you’re just one person.  One does not just rebuild the temple in three days.

The Holy Spirit clarifies exactly what Jesus meant.  He says that Jesus was speaking about his body.  Our Saviour was talking about his resurrection.  He was prophesying that if and when the Jewish religious leaders put him to death, tear down his temple, he will rebuild it in three days – he will come back to life.  That will be the sign of his power and authority for what he did on that day during Passover.  Then it will be confirmed that he is in fact the Son of God sent into this world as the Messiah. 

After Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit brought all of this back to mind for the disciples.  It would have been a bit refreshed in their minds later on.  How?  Prior to his death, one of the false accusations levelled against Jesus was a twisting of his words here.  One of the false witnesses accused Jesus in Matthew 26:61 of having said he was able to destroy the temple and raise it in three days.  That was not what Jesus said.  They twisted his words.  But the disciples would have remembered what he really said.  If the Jews destroyed “this temple,” his body, he would raise it up.  And that’s what he did.  And they believed the Scripture, says verse 22.  They believed all the Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s resurrection.  But they also believed what Jesus had spoken.  They saw that it was true – with the eyes of faith they saw that because he was God’s Son, he had power and authority over God’s house.  He had the right to come in there like a Lion.

Really that’s what this passage is all about.  Did Jesus have the right to turn Lion in the Temple or not?  His disciples came to believe that he did.  The resurrection confirmed it for them.  Was Jesus justified for turning Lion-like in the temple?  His disciples believed that he was justified, that this was the right thing to do for the Son of God.  The question is implicitly there for disciples today:  do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who has rights and authority over the temple, that he even has the right to turn Lion-like when the temple today is defiled?  Whether it’s the church or yourself, does he has have the right?  To answer that, you might want to read Christ’s letter to the church at Pergamum in Revelation 2.  There again, you’ll see Christ revealed as a Lion, as a warrior with the sword of his mouth.  He warns the church that’s being defiled.  That’s the same Jesus we see revealed in John 2.  He continues to be zealous for the purity of God’s house, for you individually and for us as a congregation.  Loved ones, by God’s grace and strength, work with him, not against him.  AMEN.


Our holy Saviour and Lord,

We praise you for how you’re revealed to us in this passage.  We acknowledge you as the Son of God.  You have the right and the power to be zealous for your Father’s house and to act on that zeal.  You did that in our text and we worship you for it.  We thank you that you were obedient to the Father in our place.  Lord, there are so many times where we are not zealous for our Father’s glory, or for purity of worship.  We rejoice that in you we have forgiveness, but also perfect righteousness.  Help us with your Spirit to continue to hold on to you in true faith.  And we also pray that your Spirit would help us to be zealous for purity in the church and in our personal lives.  We want to live in union with you.  We want to be your faithful disciples.  We want to reflect you.  Please help us to see and hate whatever defiles the house of our Father.  Please give us more grace to act on driving out whatever defiles these New Testament temples.  We ask that because we do care about our Father’s glory, and about your glory.  Please graciously grant us your power and strength.                                                                                               



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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