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Sermon for March 3, 2024 – Third Sunday of Easter Preparation

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3015 | The Opposite Game
Michelle Fleming

I used to be a teacher, and one technique I learned that helped kids understand antonyms was the “Opposite Game.” The game involved using flashcards with words like “hot,” and the first student to answer with an appropriate opposite, like “cold,” would get a point. The idea was that by helping students understand what a word was not, they would better understand what the original word means.

In the Bible, the writers sometimes use opposite examples called contrasts, exaggerations called hyperbole, and other literary techniques to make their point. The apostle Paul used “The Opposite Game” in his first letter to the Corinthians to help them understand what God’s wisdom is not—so they could grow in their awareness of what God’s wisdom truly is.

Paul begins by pointing out how the idea of Christ on the Cross seems silly to those who aren’t interested in pursuing a relationship with God, but to those who are interested, the Cross portrays the love of God for all humanity. He writes,

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:21 (NRSV)

One translator said God was turning conventional wisdom on its head in order to expose so-called experts as crackpots. In other words—opposites.

Paul continues using opposites to show how God’s way is completely different—“opposite”—to the way humanity thinks.  He points out that the Jews were looking for miracles and the Greeks were searching for wisdom in the philosophy of the day. To both groups, the idea of self-sacrificing love on the Cross was not only the opposite of a miracle, it was absurd. Paul shows how God’s way of love, evidenced by Christ on the Cross, helps us think beyond our limited human scope:

but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:24-25 (ESV)

Human beings tend to put God in a box—one that looks like what our human wisdom dictates as reasonable and prudent. God’s love for humanity is the opposite of reasonable and prudent. It is lavish, excessive, and strong—even as it is self-sacrificing. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that the truth of God’s being was the opposite of humanity’s typical way of loving and living.

Learning about opposites helps kids understand the meanings of words more fully. Human love is often finite and self-seeking, but God’s love is infinite and self-sacrificing. Considering how God’s way of moving in the world contrasts with our own helps us understand how deeply we are loved. We are safe in the certainty that God’s “opposite” kind of love will never let us down or let us go.

God’s love, evidenced by Christ on the Cross, is stronger and deeper than anything you can ever imagine.

I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 19:1-14 • Exodus 20:1-17 • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 • John 2:13-22

This week’s theme is the reverence for and worship of God. In our call to worship Psalm, we read a song of praise and worship that declares the greatness of God as revealed in nature and in his law. In Exodus, we read about the ten commandments which includes instructions for worshipping God. In 1 Corinthians, we are to acknowledge God’s power and wisdom as displayed in his accomplishment at the cross. And in the Book of John, we see Jesus cleansing the temple from the irreverence that was allowed to exist there so that all people could participate in worship.

The Real Passion of The Christ

John 2:13-22 (NIV)

What is it that makes your blood boil? Is it when someone cuts you off in traffic? Or maybe it’s when you witness an act of injustice. What is it that motivates you to action? What is it that would cause you to step up even when you know that most other people would remain silent?

Today we are going to look at an event that brings out the righteous anger of Jesus, something that gets under his skin in a way that we seldom see anywhere else in the gospels. We are going to find out what makes his blood boil and what he decides to do about it. And, hopefully, we will see why it is equally important for us to be moved the way Jesus was.

This day is the 3rd Sunday of Easter preparation. As such, we will see in this passage that Jesus alludes to a time where he will be raised on the third day. So, let’s read John 2:13-22 and discover the real passion of the Christ.

Read John 2:13-22

At the start of this portion of scripture, we read that it was almost Passover. This was the reason for Jesus going up to Jerusalem. Let’s briefly go over Passover and its significance. Passover is the Jewish holiday commemorating the Israelites’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. This is a reminder of the final plague in Egypt, when the firstborn of every house would die – except for those who slayed a lamb and used its blood to cover the doorpost of their home. Pretty brutal stuff!

We know that Jesus is now our Passover lamb that was slain, and it is his blood that is displayed over the doorposts of our hearts. Not only that, but in his death, he was the firstborn that took death upon himself for us, so that now death shall not hold us. We are no longer in bondage to sin and death. We partake daily of the Passover, and we enjoy full access to the Father through Christ. So, let’s now examine today’s pericope.

In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:14-17 NIV)

The next thing mentioned in this passage is that Jesus notices all the money changers, as well as all the animals for sacrifice crowding into the temple courts. It would have been prohibitive for Jewish families to transport cattle and sheep over long distances. These sellers would claim they were meeting a need that these tired, devout, followers of God would have had after such a long journey. Also, a tax was to be collected, but the coins most of these travelers had in their possession were Roman coins, which would not have been approved for temple taxes. Was all this somehow a problem for Jesus?

The next thing that Jesus would have noticed is that the line of people and animals to be sacrificed stretched about as far as the eye could see. A veritable river of blood would have flowed from the temple. The house of The Lord had been turned into a slaughterhouse and a den of thieves, as it was called in the other gospel accounts. Imagine the sight of such carnage and the smell of animal blood and waste. This spectacle was supposed to bring people closer to God?

And then it happens. Jesus goes into action mode. He makes a bull whip and clears out the temple courts sending frightened cattle and sheep running amok. He turns over the tables of the money changers and they go running as well.

So, what was it that had Jesus so upset? We see from the scriptures that he mentions that his Father’s house is to be a place of prayer (Matthew21:13). Scholars tell us that the money changers and the animals were located in the outer courts. This would have been where the Gentiles were allowed to seek God. As non-Jews, they could go no further. This didn’t affect the Jews, as they were still able to worship God without distraction or obstacles, but the God-fearing Gentiles were not.

Placing obstacles in people’s path to worshipping God had unfortunately become commonplace for the Jews. But placing obstacles in the path of others’ ability to experience God is a dangerous enterprise. Luke 17:2 says:

It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. (Luke 17:2 NIV)

Does this still happen today? I would say that just as the Jews made it difficult for Gentiles, so the church often makes it difficult for non-believers. If Jesus exhibited righteous anger over what was happening back then, we may want to ask ourselves how he might feel about it happening today. Or a better question might be, how do we think he would want us to respond?

What are some of the things that the church has done that has prevented others from engaging and worshipping God?

  • Bait and Switch (Grace to get in, the law to stay in)
  • Ultimatums regarding certain behaviors as conditions for acceptance and fellowship.
  • Protesting against certain groups of people.
  • Being known more for what the church disapproves of rather than what it stands for.
  • Not finding a sense of belonging or community.
  • Legitimate questions are dismissed or left unanswered.

The story continues:

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:18-19 NIV)

When the Jews asked Jesus for a sign of his authority to do what he did, he responds by telling them that if they destroy this temple that he will rebuild it in three days. They scoffed at his reply as they were clueless to the fact that he was prophesying about himself being raised from the dead. Jesus would have known that this is something that the crowd was likely to remember once it got reported that Jesus had risen.

What this meant, is that Jesus becomes the new temple. Worship would exist through him. Bloody sacrifices would never be needed ever again. Jesus became the sacrifice, once and for all. Jesus has become for us the site where we find relationship with God. It’s where we gain access. In John 4:23-24, he tells the Samaritan woman that the time is coming when true worshippers will not worship in the temple, but in Spirit and in Truth. Because, when Jesus ascends to the Father, we, the Body of Christ are the new temple. We carry around with us the holiness of God. We are the temple of God. All of us as believers are to be the place where others can see a true representation of Jesus.

What if, as the church, we majored in this truth – that we represent the living God, where we become this mobile temple of God that goes out as servants of this world…to wash the feet of sinners…showing generosity and love and kindness and acceptance…standing up for those who are marginalized? What would that look like if we took our identity seriously?

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (Read John 2:20-22 NIV)

Christ became humanity’s Passover lamb. Humanity demanded the death of all that was uncorrupted and holy. In response, God said, “Yes. I will die for you, since that is what you want. But just know that when I do that, I will be the full and final sacrifice. I will slake humanity’s thirst for blood with my own and that blood will be on the doorpost of humanity’s household. And through me, you will escape death and sin. Your freedom will be complete in me.”

When we fully absorb this truth and appropriate it to our lives, then we can truly function as the temple of God. We become an acting agent that is meant to bring healing to this broken world, where it is our mission to not put obstacles in the path of any who would look in our direction. Let us allow others to see God’s grace, his love, and his forgiveness. Let us throw open the courts of our fellowship that all may come in and be welcomed. Let us open wide our hearts to receive all who would search for God and let them find him because they see Christ in us.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What are some ways that the church may be preventing others from clearly seeing Christ?
  • How can we go about changing some of these things?
  • GCI congregations channel their efforts toward worshiping, teaching members, and reaching out to their communities as faith, hope and love avenues. How can these avenues aid in making Christ visible to outsiders?

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