Posts tagged temple
I love the book of John. Not only is it unique among the gospels (the other three being very similar to each other) but it is also unique in that it is a first-hand account of the events of Jesus’ life told by Jesus’ closest companion. This is a biography written by a best friend, not a casual observer.
One of the things that makes this book so unique is that John relates to Jesus both as friend and as God. His opening paragraph is a poetic vision of Jesus as the embodiment of the Word of God that spoke everything into existence. Yet, as we’ll see, John also presents the very human side of Jesus – the man that John got to know personally.
One of the things that John points out in his book is just how confused the religious leaders were by what was happening around them. When John the Baptist came (not the John that wrote the book, by the way), the religious leaders wanted to figure out who he was and what he was all about. They obviously recognized that there was something special about him, because, instead of dismissing him as some kind of lunatic, they wondered if he was the Messiah or Elijah or some great prophet. They legitimately wanted to know who this guy was.
When Jesus came along, they had similar questions, except that Jesus presented a much greater threat to their authoritarian system and so they were pretty hostile to him from the start. But they recognized that there was something special about him.
Even John the Baptist was confused by Jesus. Here is a guy who knows that his life calling is to prepare the way for the Messiah and yet, while he is preaching in the desert, he has no idea who the Messiah is. Then, he sees a dove rest on Jesus and his eyes are opened. What are his eyes opened to? They are opened to the fact that his cousin – a cousin who is younger than him by several months – is the Messiah.
Can you imagine discovering that your cousin was the Messiah? As we’ve already seen in the other gospel accounts, John would eventually question his own interpretation of that dove, sending his men to just confirm with Jesus that he was who John thought he was. It was a really confusing time. And yet, in the midst of all that confusion, it was still undeniable that there was something special about Jesus. People were drawn to him. They wanted to be around him and learn from him.
If we are to be like Jesus, shouldn’t people have the same reaction to us? Shouldn’t people want to be around us? Even on our worst days, shouldn’t people be eager to learn from us, rather than running away from us? I mean, look at what happened just after Jesus ransacked the temple. He started healing people. That means that there were people around him to heal – they didn’t all run away from this guy even on his angriest of days.
Being like Jesus means being a person that people want to be around. If I’m not that person, then I need to delve deeply into why that is the case. It’s not about personality or charisma. Being a Jesus-like attractional person is about a spiritual condition – the condition of the heart that welcomes and accepts people with genuine joy. People are attracted to that.
Much has been made of the text in Isaiah from which Jesus read in the temple. More to the point, much has been made of the fact that the scroll from which Jesus read just happened to contain that passage. Some would say that was incredibly fortunate. Others would say that Jesus was so well-versed in scripture that he could simply pinpoint any verse to make his point. Others would point to divine providence in linking this moment, this scripture and this man.
In fact, all of those may be true. But I don’t really think it matters…and here’s why. All scripture points to Jesus. Jesus stands at the center of the story of God and his people. The entire Old Testament is a lead up to Jesus. The entire New Testament points to Jesus’ life and then to his coming return. It’s all about Jesus.
I am convinced that if Jesus had picked up a scroll and read from the cleanliness rules in Leviticus, he could (and would) have still said something poignant that pointed back to himself – something that would have caused the religious leaders to run him out of the temple and everyone else to be astonished by him.
As the old saying goes, when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In Jesus’ case, when you are the Messiah, everything looks like a Messianic prophecy. And it was. It is. Jesus is the answer to the questions raised in the Old Testament. He is the embodiment of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Jesus is, in the words of John (we’ll get to him in a few days) the Word made flesh.
And so, in a sense, when Jesus read from that scroll, he was simply reading a part of himself – something that was already at his core. It wouldn’t have matter where he started and stopped reading, those words were in him – they were his flesh. He was reading himself.
The question, then, is this: If we are supposed to seek to be like Jesus and Jesus embodied the words of Scripture, shouldn’t we seek to embody those same words? Shouldn’t we be eating, sleeping and breathing this stuff until it courses through our veins? For nearly 300 days, we’ve been on a journey of discovery through the Bible and yet, we’ve barely scratched the surface. We could spend every hour for the rest of our lives studying these words and still not fully grasp the wisdom they contain.
But I bet we would begin to embody them. I bet we would look, sound and act different if we devoted ourselves more to the study of scripture. I bet that, like Jesus, if asked to read a part of Scripture, we would be able to connect some dots for people that they had never connected before.
If I’m going to be a student of anything, let it be Jesus. If I am going to know any text, let it be the Bible. If I am going to pour my life into anything, let it be the effort to embody that which was embodied by Jesus. I may never fully succeed, but it will certainly be a fruitful journey.
The story of the widow’s offering is one of the most powerful in the Bible. It only takes up 4 verses in the book of Mark, but it has had a significant impact on how we view giving and generosity in the Church. Here is a woman who most people were totally ignoring – a poor widow – but Jesus takes notice of her. Not only that, but he points her out to his disciples.
The story itself is great, but what is greater is the discussion that it starts almost any time it is shared. In fact, it must have started quite a discussion among the disciples then and there, because look at the beginning of the next chapter of Mark:
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” (Mark 13:1)
Do you see what happened there? Jesus points out the poor widow and talks about how she has “given more” than the wealthy donors because she has given all she has. Then, sometime between that observation and the time Jesus and his guys are leaving the temple, the discussion turns to the magnificence of the temple. How do you suppose that happened?
My guess is that somebody in the group said something like, “Yeah, but you really need those big donors. I mean, the woman is making a big personal sacrifice, but this temple wasn’t built from poor widows throwing in a couple of coins. I mean, just look at this place!”
Jesus then proceeds to make the point that even the extravagant temple is just rocks piled on top of each other that can be (and will be) destroyed. True, magnificent structures aren’t typically built using gifts from the poor – but Jesus isn’t really all that interested in building fancy buildings. He’s way more interested in transforming people.
In Jesus’ eyes, I believe that what he saw happening in that woman’s heart as she gave those two coins far exceeded the awe that most of us get when we visit a vast cathedral. When his disciples looked, they just saw a poor widow. When Jesus looked, he saw a grand example of his Father’s craftsmanship – a woman who understood her total reliance on God – and he was in awe of her. God, let us see people like Jesus saw them!
Can you imagine being in that crowd and witnessing Jesus’ final moments on earth? Even if you had no idea who he was, and even if you were numb to the events leading up to the moment of his death, once he died, things started getting funky!
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:51-53)
Um…this is like horror movie stuff. A guy dies, which causes an earthquake, the giant temple curtain rips in two from top to bottom like God ripping a phone book (it was a thick curtain), rocks bust open and the zombie apocalypse is upon us. Now, I don’t know if I would have had the Roman soldier’s wisdom and recognized Jesus as the Messiah, but I surely would have known that something was up with this guy!
But look at the reaction of the religious leaders just a couple of paragraphs later. Having witnessed all of this (and, no doubt, had a committee meeting about how to mend the temple curtain) their chief concern wasn’t re-examining Jesus’ life and teaching to determine if he actually was the Messiah. No, they wanted to make sure he didn’t come back to life or have the appearance of coming back to life. They were determined that Jesus would not be deified.
You see, power, especially of the religious variety, has an ability to corrupt like nothing else on this earth. These guys were at the top of the food chain – they were Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, John Hagee, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen and the Pope all rolled into one. Then along comes Jesus and, even though he was just a homeless carpenter, threatens their power and authority. At that point, it no longer mattered if he was who he said he was. All that mattered was that they wanted him removed from the equation.
I wonder how often I let my own desire for power push Jesus out of the way. How often do I ignore the obvious signs that God is doing something special because I feel it is more important that I be in control. How many earthquakes and zombie apocalypses (metaphorically speaking) have I turned my back to, denying their very existence, so that I could continue to live my “in control” life.
I’m not a powerful guy. I don’t have authority over much. But too often, I’m afraid, my little kingdom becomes more important in my eyes that God’s great kingdom. In that way, I’m more like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day than I care to admit. How about you?
I remember exactly where I was. It is a day that will forever be imprinted in my mind: September 11, 2001. It was a day when thousands of people died along with our illusion that we are safe from those who hate our country. It was our generation’s Pearl Harbor.
Something else happened on that day. Two very symbolic buildings were destroyed – buildings that symbolized American power, economic prowess and leadership in the world. The twin towers came crashing down that day and, almost ever since, there has been a push by many people to rebuild those towers – to reassert that symbolic power in a show of victory over our oppressors. Of course, eventually, a compromise was reached on the rebuild between trying to restore everything back to the way it was and finding a way to honor the fallen. But almost anything that could have been rebuilt on that site was sure to stir controversy.
Why? Why is it that we place such importance on buildings and land? I’m not sure, but the reality is that this has been going on for thousands of years and, in fact, was much more intense in ancient Israel – especially when it came to the temple. Even today, mentions of the temple in Israel immediately stir up debate. And so, you can see why God would devote so many words to let the people of Israel know that he was going to rebuild their temple.
You see, that temple – and it’s rebirth – would mean that the nation of Israel was back. Returning to the land was good. Being reunited as a nation was great. But seeing that temple restored was the ultimate prize – the event that said, “we made it!” It was also the event where God really put his stamp back on his people.
Remember, one of the gravest sins of the Israelites was that they started worshiping foreign gods. They built alters and temples and monuments for these gods and, by and large, they neglected their own temple. But here, God is saying, “Enough of that.” He has taken the people of Israel through a cleansing process – he has wiped out much of the evil in and around their nation. He has removed their leaders, flattened their cities and destroyed their enemies. It’s time to start over.
But here’s the thing. He’s going to do it again. He’s going to tear down and rebuild not just a city or a nation, but the whole earth. All of it. All of us. That’s his plan. And we’re part of it. Perhaps as children of God, we can learn from those who have held that honor before us.