Turning the Tables
I like movies where things aren't what they appear to be; the bad guys are good; the good are bad, and the crime never really happened. In these types of movies, very often you cheer for things you find out later you shouldn't have. This sermon is like those movies. The tables get turned in two ways.
First, Jesus goes into the most holy city on earth, Jerusalem, into the most holy building in that city, the temple, during the most holy season of the year, Passover, and He turns over the tables of those providing the items essential for Passover.
Nobody in Jerusalem thought the tables needed turning. Nobody thought the men selling cattle, sheep, and doves ought to be driven out of the temple. Where else could people get animals that were guaranteed acceptable to the priests for sacrificing? Were people traveling for days suppose to bring an animal from home? What if the animal died on the way? What if it did not pass inspection once it got to the temple?
The buying and selling going on were necessary, so was the money changing. The temple tax was collected at Passover. It had to be paid in Jewish coin. Roman coins weren't accepted because they had pagan images stamped on them. Since Jews came from all over the Roman Empire to Passover, they carried coins from all over. For a small fee, they could exchange their foreign coin for Jewish. How else could pious Jews pay their temple tax? And why shouldn't they be able to do their money changing and animal buying in one place? Even 1st century people liked convenience.
The whole arrangement was just fine with everybody till Jesus showed up and started turning tables over. He said it was wrong to make God's House a market place; it was wrong to turn His temple into a bank. The argument that it was done for the convenience of worshippers didn't move Jesus. Since when was worship suppose to be convenient? Since when was it suppose to be made easy? Since when was worship suppose to be something that wouldn't interfere too much with your day?
The argument that it raised money for the temple and its ministry didn't move Jesus either. Is this how God had revealed that His temple and ministers were to be provided for? Were they suppose to set up a for-profit business? Were they suppose to sell necessary religious items? No, the Lord's temple and ministers were to be provided for out of the fruit that the Word of God produced. Thankful worshippers overflowing from the riches of God's grace were to support the Lord's Word and workers from free and willing hearts not by patronizing temple businesses.
Aside from teaching the wrong thing about worship and the support of God's ministry, the buying, selling, and money changing in the temple interfered with its primary purpose. God's house was to be a place of prayer for all nations. The animals with their flies, droppings, and smell were bought and sold in the only place where Gentiles could pray. The money changers with their clinking coins and chattering about exchange rates made the Gentile place of prayer anything but peaceful.
So Jesus turned the tables over on those making the temple a one stop shopping center. Although church leaders thought it was a fine idea, Jesus showed them what God thought of it. He didn't do it gently. Jesus made a whip out of the small ropes used to tether animals, and He drove them all out of the temple. Jesus took a whip not just to cattle, sheep, and doves but to people buying, selling, and exchanging money. He wasn't polite; He wasn't kind. Jesus didn't say, "Everyone remain calm and file out in an orderly manner please." No, Jesus bellowed across the open area, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" As Jesus shouted, with one hand He whipped and with the other He swept the neatly staked coins off the tables. Then He violently turned those tables over.
Those buyers and sellers, those bankers and their customers got what they deserved, didn't they? Bravo Jesus! He wasn't afraid of the religious establishment. He wasn't afraid of popular opinion. He turned the tables over of those who needed them turned. Bravo!
Wait a minute. Aren't their tables in your life that Jesus could turn over? Aren't there things in your heart and mind that should be driven out? Aren't their things in your world that interfere with your worshipping God? Aren't there things in your life that Jesus could take a whip to? Before you get all excited about a table turning Jesus, better check your own tables.
O, you don't think you need to. Then you didn't listen when the OT lesson was read. If you evaluate your life in light of the Commandments, you'll find plenty of things on your tables fouling up your relationship with God. Children, are you always honoring your parents? Parents, are you content with what the Lord has given you or are you coveting more? Men, are you committing adultery in your hearts? Women, are you gossiping? People, are we fearing, loving, and trusting God above all things?
Examine your worship life too. Is it godly? The Jews thought their worship life in the temple was godly. But what did Jesus do? He trashed it in a big way. If Jesus walked into your heart the way He walked into the temple, what things would He find there that needed to be driven out? What things on your tables make them ripe for overturning by Jesus?
Showing up here once a week to go through the motions isn't God-pleasing worship. Communing at this altar each week isn't necessarily either. There may not be large cattle and bleating sheep in your worship area but is your mind occupied by other sights and sounds as you worship? We don't have money changers sitting in the aisles, but do you have money worries sitting on your heart? Jesus wants such things driven out of our hearts. How dare we pretend we're worshipping God when our hearts are really somewhere else!
How many tables Jesus could turn over in my life? Tables neatly stacked with sins that aren't that bad to me. Tables stacked with my personal religious opinions Tables stacked with things that I think Jesus should accept because I do. But Jesus won't. Jesus will turn these tables, pull out a whip, start lashing us with it, and drive us out of this Church, His kingdom, and heaven itself.
Not so fast. Things aren't always what they seem. This sermon is about turning tables over but it's also about the tables being turned. It's about Jesus coming into our life and violently turning over the tables where we've kept our sins and sinfulness neatly stacked, but it's also about things being switched around unexpectedly. Jesus comes into our lives with His whip held high and shouting threats. Jesus scatters our pet sins and lashes out at our hypocrisy. Just like the people in the temple, we run for cover, but then suddenly the tables are turned.
The judgment for profaning God's house is death. The judgment for going through the motions of worship is damnation. But not a single Jew died that day though they were guilty of profaning God's house. Not a single Jew was dammed that day though they were hypocrites in worship. Likewise, not one of you has ever been struck dead for sleeping while God proclaimed His Word. Not one of you has had a heart attack for daydreaming in church. Not one of us has went to hell because we only pretended to be pious and repentant when taking Communion. That's because the tables were turned.
Jesus enters the temple of our hearts and finds a vileness that has no business being in the Christian's heart. But who suffers the punishment for these sins? Look at the text. Those who bought, sold and exchanged money in the temple were not hauled out and crucified, Jesus was. Likewise, those of us who sleep, daydream, or just go through the motions of worship are not delivered over to be tortured and put to death, Jesus was in our place.
When the tables were turned on Jesus, when He went from beloved Son to despised sinner, it was not quiet, gentle, or tender. Jesus did not have a whip made of small ropes applied to His back. He had a leather one with sharp bits of metal in the end. Jesus did not have tables of money or sin dumped out. He had all of our sins dumped on Him and His holy, precious blood poured out to cover them. The threats of the Law were not shouted in Jesus' ears because He was a sinner. The punishments of the Law were brought down on Jesus head' till He cried, broke, and died because He carried our sins.
The tables are turned during Lent. The holy, righteous Son of God is treated like the worst sinner on earth. We very guilty sinners are treated like righteous, holy daughters and sons of God. The tables are turned. Jesus got what we deserve; we get what He deserves. Jesus gets lashed by leather whips; we get caressed by God's love. Jesus gets all the tables of sin and filth dumped on Him; we get His holy, precious blood poured on us. Jesus gets driven out of God's house to die; we are invited into God's house to live.
We should come to Church expecting to be whipped outside for all our sins. Instead, for Jesus' sake, we're invited in to be forgiven of them. We should come to the Baptismal font expecting to be drowned for our sins. Instead, for Jesus' sake, our sins are drowned and we are given life. We should come to Communion expecting spoiled food and bitter poison for the sins we've committed just this week. Instead Jesus gives us His Body as Bread and His Blood as sweet wine for new life and salvation.
The only way for you to be saved is if the tables are turned. The tables where you stack your sins need to be overturned. Jesus must come into your life with His whip lashing and His Word damming every one of your sins. Once the tables are turned over and you're on the run, you must believe that the tables have also been just plain turned. Jesus has gone to the cross getting punished for all of your sins while you go to God getting all the grace, love and mercy that Jesus deserves. Because Jesus got the tables turned on Him, you can have a place at God's table. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20060319); John 2: 13-22