Day 7: The Scope of Salvation
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
The same Jesus who is the Good Shepherd also cast the money changers out of the Temple. We don’t have an evangelical or a social-ministry Jesus. We don’t have a liberal or a conservative Jesus. We don’t have a pastoral or a prophetic Jesus. We don’t even have a High-Church or a Low-Church Jesus, if we Episcopalians can believe that. I’m taking the Incarnation seriously here. We have one Lord Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human. And discipleship is about following that Jesus, our Lord and Savior.[i]
Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
Father of all mercies, we ask that our prayers may ascend to you in an acceptable manner, and we pray that your Church may be defended by you against all assaults of iniquity, unchastity and ungodliness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns with you, one God, forever and ever. Amen.[ii]
Old Testament Lesson
This section of Isaiah envisions the surprising in-breaking of salvation to all nations, not just Israel. To seek the Lord where he may be found meant to find him in the Temple, where his presence resided. This required making a pilgrimage to the city of Jerusalem probably for one of the major religious festivals like Passover or Pentecost. To make a pilgrimage, this further required forsaking business and economic interests to realize the prophetic promises of God. When God says that his aims and ways are loftier than ours, this means that we cannot even comprehend the mercy and grace of God’s plan to save sinners. His promises are mighty and accomplish what they set out to do.
6Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon Him while he is near. 7Let the wicked forsake his way, the iniquitous man his plans. Let him return to the LORD that He might show him mercy and to our God because his forgiveness is abundant. 8Yes, indeed: my aims are not like your aims nor are your ways like my ways, says the LORD. 9For as the heavens are loftier than the earth so my ways are loftier than your ways and my aims loftier than your aims.
10For just as the rain and snow come down from the sky and do not return there, but instead water the ground, causing produce to come forth and sprout up, providing seed for the sower and bread for food, 11so my promises which come forth from my mouth will not return without effect. 12Indeed, they accomplish what I desire and they succeed as I send them out.
New Testament Lesson
In first-century Jerusalem, Israel was being ruled by the Romans. Hence, any insinuation from a Jew that he might be the rightful King had the potential to cause great unrest.[iii] This is why the religious leaders reacted so strongly to the children’s’ song that Jesus is the “Son of David.” According to Jewish literature, religious officials were getting rich off the Temple, the center of economic life in Jerusalem. For example, Josephus claims that the High Priests had servants stealing tithe money.[iv] Other sources claim that officials had just recently moved the money changing operations into the outer court of the Temple, thus setting up a deliberate confrontation between Jesus and Caiaphas, the High Priest that year.[v] In his response to the criticisms of the religious leaders, Jesus weaves together a tapestry of Old Testament texts, which predicted (1) there would be no more merchants in the house of the Lord when the Messiah returned (Zech 14.21), (2) that the speech of children would put down the enemies of God (Ps 8.3) and (3) that salvation would be extended to all nations who would gather for prayer in God’s house on His holy mountain (Isa 56.6-7).[vi] Jesus thus claims to be the fulfillment of the prophetic promises by his actions. Yet it’s only the “crowds” around Jesus (who followed him in from the countryside) who seem to understand the scope of his claims. The leaders in Jerusalem, threatened by Jesus’ assault to proper order (and to their positions), move to resist him.[vii]
10Now, when He entered into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken and they said, “Who is this?” 11And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
12Then Jesus entered into the Temple and he cast out all the sellers and buyers in the Temple. He overturned the tables of the money changers, as well as the seats of the dove sellers. 13And He said to them, it stands written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves.”
14Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple and He healed them. 15Now, when the High Priests and the Scribes saw the amazing acts which He performed and heard the children crying out in the Temple, saying, “Hosanna, Son of David,” they became angry.16So they said to Him, “Do you hear what they’re saying?’’ And Jesus said to them, “Sure. Have you not read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing ones, you have outfitted praise for yourself’”?
Questions for Reflection
- John’s Gospel insists that the Temple is really about Jesus’ body (John 2.21). St. Paul insists that your body “is a Temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6.19). If Jesus wanted purity in His Temple, how pure is your body? How successful are you at avoiding pornography, gluttony or greed?
- Who are the “moneychangers” in your life? Does the accumulation or management of wealth get in the way of your spiritual life? Does work? How do you react when you have a financial setback?
- Have you ever reflected on the surprising reality that the Gospel was meant to go the Gentiles all along and not just to the Jews? Have you ever given thanks for this?
- Those buying and selling in the Temple probably thought they were providing a useful service, since few wanted to take animals for sacrifices with them on pilgrimage. What activities in your life wouldn’t pass muster if Jesus were to shine a light on them? What bothers your conscience?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
When Jesus entered the Temple, the Messiah was entering his house. Jesus had made it to Jerusalem, the holy city, where he would eventually be crucified. This is what we remember on Palm Sunday. As Jesus came into the Temple, the crowds welcomed him with the words of Psalm 118: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD,” the typical greeting for pilgrims entering Jerusalem for the Passover. But, the crowds add these key words: “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt 21.9).
The crowds, who had been with Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, he that He was special. They believed He was the Messiah and they welcomed Him as such, as the one who was finally going to bring in better days for Israel. He was the one who was going to reign as their righteous King.
But the inhabitants of Jerusalem were the sophisticated ones. There were Messiahs all over the place in the first century. There were all kinds of people claiming to wear the prophetic mantle. Those in Jerusalem, with their urbanity and erudition, weren’t impressed because they knew that Jesus was supposed to be a descendant of David and thus from the tribe of Judah. Instead, as the crowds make clear, Jesus was from Nazareth.
Nazareth? Nazareth was the armpit of Palestine. In fact, the early church was embarrassed enough that Jesus came from such an unseemly place that they didn’t build a church there to mark his younger years until the fourth century. In John’s Gospel, the Apostle Nathaniel captures this doubt well when he exclaimed, “Is anything good able to come from Nazareth?” (John 1.46).
When Jesus entered the Temple, he encountered not a house of prayer, but a “den of thieves.” This was a likely allusion to a situation the prophet Jeremiah encountered when he was decrying the sin of the nation of Judah in the Old Testament. He warned the people in the strongest possible terms that they had to amend their ways or judgment would follow. He criticized the people for stealing, murdering, committing adultery, swearing falsely, burning incense and worshipping false gods like Baal (Jer 7.9).
Jeremiah then warned the people not to trust in their positional status before God with such sin on their consciences. They may be the recipients of the many promises of God, but this would not help them unless they repented. Jeremiah put it like this: Do you “then come and stand in my presence in this house, which is called by my name and say, ‘We have been delivered!’ – just to do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?” (Jer 7.10-11).
This is the situation in which we find ourselves in Lent. The promises of God in Isaiah have proved true. His promises have accomplished what they set out to do (Isa 55.11). We have been offered salvation. God will be with us, in our hearts, if we will just repent and turn back to the Lord. He will dwell among us if we will just admit that yet again we have walked away from his free offer of mercy and grace.
It is simply impossible to live the Christian life without genuine sorrow and contrition for our sin, which is an offense to a holy, righteous and perfect God. Thus Lent is very much like the pilgrimage Isaiah invites us to embark upon. We’re to “seek the LORD while he may be found and call upon him while he’s near” (Isa 55.6). We’re to forsake our wickedness and to turn from our iniquitous plans. Then, and only then, can we enjoy a genuine relationship with God.
In Lent, it’s time to stop, break our patterns and turn back once again to the Lord. It’s time for a holy pilgrimage to a holy place. It’s time to be like the children and cry out with abandon, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest!”
Consider fasting from news during Lent. This will almost certainly make you happier. The world will still go on and you might begin to notice how the constant consumption of news does little to help you find greater sanctity in your life. You might also consider fasting from looking at your investment/bank accounts during Lent, outside of common necessities like paying bills. Finally, consider going without your social media during Lent. After an adjustment period, see if you aren’t happier without them.
An ancient spiritual discipline is to make a commitment to live with greater simplicity during Lent. This might mean avoiding rich foods, indulging in every-day pleasures and ceasing to buy things outside of necessities. You might find simplicity makes you happier as well.
We live in perhaps the most over-sexualized culture in history (if this sounds prudish, just consider the billboards along the freeways…sex is used to sell everything). Try to build greater purity into your life by avoiding unwholesome movies, TV shows and images during Lent. See if this doesn’t help you seek the Lord with a purer heart.
[i] Michael Curry, Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus (New York: Church Publishing, 2013).
[ii] The Book of Common Prayer, 441.
[iii] Ulrich Luz, Matthew 21-28, ed. Helmut Koester, trans. James E. Crouch, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005), 10.
[iv] Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” in The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishing, 1987), 20.203–206.
[v] Luz, Matthew 21-28, 12.
[vi] D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale, eds., Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 68–69.
[vii] Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007), 184.