20. Careful Restraint

Short Meditations in John 2:  20. Careful Restraint

Jn 2:24,25  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

It is a mistake to take people’s enthusiasm over you or over something you have said or done. That is not a cynical comment; it is a warning based on the truth. A person’s enthusiasm today can turn to scorn, criticism or even hostility on another day. Our emotions fly with the events or circumstances that face us and because they change, we change.

Now Jesus knew this, Jesus understood us and knows what we are like. So Jesus knew that this crowd of people in Jerusalem were responding in a surface way to what were in some ways surface miracles. Yes, they were the simple (and wonderful) expressions of the Son of God, and as such they had the power to stir people’s admiration, yet there is a great deal of difference between someone saying, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (Jn 3:2) and, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) One are words of admiration and the other is a declaration of commitment to an amazing belief and thus a commitment to Jesus himself (even if Peter did at one point deny Jesus).

Jesus does not look for temporary admiration for the miracle he performs, but looks for permanent heart-change commitment to himself that comes out of understanding who he is. One is response to a miracle (and event) and the other is a commitment to a man (Jesus himself) and there is an amazing difference. Indeed we should be aware of this when people make a declaration of faith based on one good thing God has done for them. Salvation does not come in response to a single good thing received but in response to a deep conviction, a conviction of need and a conviction that Jesus alone is the answer to that need.

Jesus’ parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-) shows us that there are many and varied responses to Jesus’ words. Some reject them from hardness of heart, some receive them but soon fall away, some receive them gladly but under the pressures of life soon fall away, while others receive them and they go deep in them and it brings total change and fruitfulness. No, miracles in themselves don’t bring salvation, but they can act as signs to point people to a place of eventual total commitment – that is, when they have open hearts. Hallelujah!

19. Initial Belief

Short Meditations in John 2:  19. Initial Belief

Jn 2:23  Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name

If we are honest, this is one of those annoying verses that leave us wondering. What miraculous signs? Isn’t it interesting; as John looks back and reflects on all that happened at that time the thing that stuck in his mind was the fact that at that point a lot of people were believing in Jesus simply because of the things he did there. What those things were, weren’t the big issue for John. Jesus had done so many in the overall picture of his three years of ministry, that a few here in Jerusalem didn’t feature big. In fact when you look at John’s Gospel he only speaks of the miracles that he considered were ones that acted as signs for those who really wanted to know about Jesus.

The fact that Jesus had performed miraculous signs there in Jerusalem didn’t fit in with John’s intent, to only pick out a limited number of things that unequivocally pointed to Jesus being the Son of God. These things that Jesus did in Jerusalem at this time certainly pointed him out as someone special and for the moment many people followed him. But John’s design is to only record certain things that stood out to him that he could use to point out to the wider world in the centuries to come that would speak volumes about Jesus.

We have already noted, This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee.” (2:11) A little later, back in Cana again after healing an official’s son, John records, “This was the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed, having come from Judea to Galilee.” (4:54) Whether that was the second sign up there in Cana in Galilee or simply the second that John wants to use to show who Jesus was, is unclear. After the first one we read, “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (2:11) and after the second one, “So he and all his household believed.” (4:53)

After these things that happened in Jerusalem (whatever they were), “many….. believed in his name.”  So belief was the end product of each of these signs, whether the specific ones used by John, or the general ones he simply mentions in passing.  The difference between these general ones and the specific ones, seems to be these create belief in large numbers of people and crowds start acting over-emotionally. Later on a crowd would start suggesting they make him their king. Stirring up ‘group belief’ was not Jesus’ intention; in fact it could act counter to his final plan to be rejected.

18. Post Understanding

Short Meditations in John 2:  18. Post Understanding

Jn 2:22  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.

Quite often in the Christian life we are told things or things happen that don’t quite show the whole picture and we are left wondering. I’ve often wondered why that is? I’ve concluded that sometimes the Lord just wants us to trust Him. Faith is responding to what He says but trust is hanging in there when we are not quite sure what is going on.

Jesus has just come out with this amazing statement about rebuilding the temple in three days and all his listeners – including his disciples, I suspect – were confused. What does he mean? But he doesn’t spell it out and he doesn’t even do what he did sometimes with his disciples, and let them in on it when they are alone with him later. In fact there is no record of the subject coming up again. It is only, John tells us having pondered over it for years, after he has died and been raised from the dead that the disciples remember this event. Oh my goodness, that is what he was talking about when he said that thing about rebuilding the temple in three days!

But there is a significant principle behind all this. It is the one that Paul spelled out: We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)  Sometimes we wish we could understand everything in the Bible – right here and now! Sometimes we wish we could understand everything that is going on in our lives – right here and now! Sometimes we wish we could see the path ahead and know where it is taking is – right here and now! But the truth is that in all three instances we are not given those insights.

Quite often, I have found,  I’ve come across a passage of scripture that seems strange and whose meaning eludes me. It is only later – sometimes a long time later – that the meaning shines through. There are times when I have wondered whatever is going on in my life or the life of others around me, and yet it all remains unclear. It is only later – sometimes a long time later – that understanding comes. In fact I have found that more often than not I understand what went on in retrospect. I had to wait years to be able to look back with understanding – just like the disciples here. And as for understanding the future? Someone recently said to me, “Who knows what will be happening in five years time.” It wasn’t a question but a statement of understanding. So often we can’t guess what the years ahead will bring, but we have the comfort that the Lord knows. Trust that.

17. Body and Temple

Short Meditations in John 2:  17. Body and Temple

Jn 2:21  But the temple he had spoken of was his body

Suddenly all is revealed! In the next verse John will explain this a little more but for the moment we are simply told that the ‘temple’ Jesus referred to was his own body.

Of the some 680 references to ‘temple’ in the Bible, the vast majority refer to the building built by men as the ‘house of God’, so it was understandable that these unbelieving Jews would have their minds fixed on a building – especially as they were standing right next to it! Theoretically, of course, it was supposed to be the place where the presence of God dwelt. Jesus was the first one to use the word to refer to his body but when you think about it, his body was exactly where the presence of God dwelt.

The apostle Paul went on to use the same analogy: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16,17) and again, “For we are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor 6:16) and “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22).

In that last quote he combines the pictures of citizens (of a kingdom), household (reference to God’s family), and a building, a temple (the visible expression of the church where God dwells.). In the New Jerusalem in John’s revelation, the temple in the city is the Father and the Son: “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Rev 21:22)

So, when we put together the thought of the presence of God dwelling on earth, with the picture of the Son of God being the incarnate presence of God we see the perfection of Jesus’ description – and of course it now applies to us – the church, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. This temple, Jesus’ body, was to be put to death and then raised from the dead on the third day, but the listeners would not understand that – yet!

16. Misunderstanding

Short Meditations in John 2:  16. Misunderstanding

Jn 2:20  The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”

Obtuseness is not only the prerogative of the unbeliever but unbelievers certainly can be obtuse when it comes to spiritual matters and these ‘religious’ Jews of the temple in Jerusalem were certainly being obtuse.  As we noted in the previous meditation, of course it was not humanly possible to rebuild the temple there in the centre of Jerusalem in three days.

Now when you think about it, there are only a limited number of things we could say about Jesus’ declaration. First we could say he was a madman. Well, they don’t quite seem to be saying this because actually everything else about Jesus and all his actions and words are remarkably sane and far from the appearances of madness. Second, we could say he was claiming that he could actually do this and that this would be the miraculous sign that they were asking for. The only way that could happen was if he was God; was that a step too far even for the expected Messiah? They couldn’t countenance that option because everything their history told them was that God was big, holy, and dwelt in heaven. This cannot be. The third thing we could say is that somehow he was playing with language and meant something completely different – which of course is exactly what he was doing – but the meaning and application of what he was saying was still beyond their possible understanding.

Which leaves one asking, why did he say it? Jesus knew people and he must have known they would be confused and so we have to ask, why? The answer must be so that we would see in the future that he knew exactly what he was doing and exactly what would happen in the days to come. The Gospels are quite clear on this point, e.g. Mt 16:21.

But the bigger challenge from this verse I find, which I touched on in the previous meditation, is how we respond when things happen we don’t understand or we read Scripture we don’t understand. If I am honest there have been times when I have gone through confusing times – and I’ve grumbled!  Sin is not far under the surface! When it comes to the Bible I like the comment that says, “Well I trust the Lord with the things I don’t understand because of all the things I DO understand in the Bible”. Read long enough and pray long enough and the “I don’t know” things become fewer and fewer. The question is, though, will I keep on reading and keep on praying?

15. A Provocative Challenge

Short Meditations in John 2:   15. A Provocative Challenge

Jn 2:19  Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

There are times, it seems, when you look at the things that Jesus says, when he seems to be deliberately provocative; not provocative in the way to make you angry, but the way to make you confused! It is this same old thing that we have considered before, that sometimes Jesus says things in a particularly obscure way that only those who know him and can ask him personally what it means, get to understand. Those who are unbelievers, those asking to be awkward, and those who are shallow in their belief, miss out; they fail to come to understanding. This is the wisdom of God that knows that only those who are whole hearted in their commitment to Him can understand spiritual matters and respond in the right way to them. The Lord is not interested in titillating the minds of those who are merely playing with belief.

So here we find Jesus coming out with one of these obscure sayings that we can almost guarantee is going to cause confusion in his listeners, the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem. Remember he is responding to their demand for a miraculous sign. Very well, he will give them one within a few years. We now know that he was referring to his own death and resurrection, which we’ll see in the coming meditations, but for the moment what he says, when taken literally just doesn’t seem to make sense.

Consider this a bit more. He is standing in the temple courts and to all intents and purposes he is saying that if you pull down these massive buildings, I will rebuild them within three days – buildings which had taken years and years to build! At least that is what Jesus appears to be saying if you are thinking in purely literal, materialistic terms.

But isn’t this just what we find again and again throughout the whole of the Bible – picture language used to convey something else. A metaphor is ‘a figure of speech in which a name or quality is attributed to something to something which is it not literally applicable.’ Read the prophets or the psalms, say, in the Old Testament and they are filled with such figurative picture language.

So here is the key question for us: when we come across such picture language in the Bible, do we appear lazy and say, “Oh, this is too difficult to understand,” or do we seek the Lord for understanding? Your honest answer reveals the sort of Christian you are.

14. Religion Challenged

Short Meditations in John 2:  14. Religion Challenged

Jn 2:18  Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

It is interesting when you ponder on this verse to note that nobody was asking “WHY did he do this?” So often when something happens we miss the main point – why is it happening? When young children kick over the traces we fail to ask why they are doing it, and we fail to see that we, the parents, have failed to lay down boundaries that provide a sense of security of our children. When we come across terrorists we fail to ask why is it they are acting and fail to see the injustices they are rebelling against. No, so often it is easier to point fingers at the person and fail to face the issues behind the behaviour.

So instead of asking of Jesus, why have you done this – for they probably knew in their hearts that what had been going on was wrong – they challenge him as a person. Note John says, “the Jews”. It is a collection of people, the religious people of Jerusalem, the people who habited the temple who, as a group, stood against him. So often in history wrongs have been perpetrated by people who have been part of a crowd. When a crowd comes together people take on a new courage to act badly. In this case they stand against the one man, and they challenge who he is. The come against him in an aggressive manner, they demanded of him…”

The wanted to know by what authority he acted. Their authority came from the fact that they were expressing the indignation of the religious authorities of the temple. That is what gave them the temerity to challenge him. They knew that what had been done challenged the religious authorities who presided over the temple and over Judaism, who had in act set up this ‘market’ in God’s house. So in effect what they were saying is, we represent the authority of Judaism, the authority of the temple, and you are no part of us, so who do you represent? You’re a nobody! You are wrong!

And to prove their point, they make an interesting challenge: “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Now why should they ask such a thing unless they know people are already wondering is he is the expected messiah. They exercised no miraculous works, but they demand such things of him. Now of course, as we look at his ministry, we see exactly this, but they are blind to this. Prejudice (or guilt) blinds minds to the truth. Unbelievers challenge God to act on their terms. Wrong!

13. Disciples Understand

Short Meditations in John 2:  13. Disciples Understand

Jn 2:17  His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.

How often do we read Scripture and yet not take it in, I wonder? I don’t know how many dozens of times I must have read this verse and yet never really taken it in. It is an odd verse; it appears almost as a commentary on what is going on. Does it mean that at that moment his followers remembered that verse from Psalm 69 or was it years later as they reflected on what happened, they remembered that verse and saw it as an outworking of what happened here?

What did the original verse in Psalm 69 mean? I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” (Psa 69:8,9) In its simplest outworking, David the author of the psalm laments that he stands out in his day as one who has a heart for the Lord and for His House, and that everyone else is apathetic if not hostile towards him, and thus he faces rejection.

Psalm 69 is quoted a number of times in the New Testament and is clearly seen as a messianic psalm and so it would naturally be taught as one applying to the Messiah, and perhaps as his disciples meditated on it in the years to come they remember this incident and see how it is a fulfilment of these words of David. Perhaps because it is linked with the messianic psalm is the reason why John quotes it here. It is yet another of his subtle and not so subtle ways of saying, Jesus is the One! He is the messiah! He is the Son of God!

What this verse and quotation does also do is create a sense of emotional passion to what has just happened. Jesus acts because what has been going on has been wrong but even more he acts because he has zeal for his Father’s honour. Dictionary definitions for ‘zeal’ are intense enthusiasm, as in working for a cause; ardent endeavour or devotion; ardour; fervour’. Another way of putting it might be ‘strong emotional energy released in action for a cause’ and the cause in this case would be his Father’s honour.

Perhaps this should cause us to reflect on whether or not we are ‘moved’ by desire or concern for the Father’s honour.  Is the Father honoured and glorified by the modern church? Does the state of the church and what it says about the Father move and stir me to action to improve it to honour the Lord in the eyes of the world?

12. God Corrects

Short Meditations in John 2:  12. God Corrects

Jn 2:16  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

A parent who chastises a child without explanation would be judged unfair. An employer who dismissed an employee without explanation would be considered unjust. Correction and explanation go together. In the Bible, and more specifically in the Old Testament, God explained and explained and explained and then disciplined. Originally the explanation came in the form of the Law, including the blessings and curses, but as Israel’s history went on, the ‘explanations’ came more and more through prophets.

John gives us no more detail of Jesus’ ‘explanation’ than this verse. In the second expulsion Matthew records ,It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a `den of robbers.” (Mt 21:13).  Mark reports, “And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ” `My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mk 11:17) Luke is similar but omits the idea of him saying it while teaching.

Whether two occasions or one, Jesus conveys distinct unhappiness about what was happening for three primary reasons. First this temple was supposed to be God’s house, the place where God made His dwelling. When the Tabernacle was completed and when Solomon’s first temple was completed, the glory of God filled the place, visibly revealing the presence of God there. That had not happened with subsequent temples and certainly not Herod’s great building – yet it still remained at the very least a monument to God, some place that drew people to God. That was, theoretically at least, why pilgrims came to the temple.

The second reason was that the temple was supposed to be a place or prayer or place of encounter with God. As we noted above, that is why people came to it.

The third reason, which ultimately is why Jesus acted as he did, is that the sense of awe, peace and holiness was shattered by the presence of dozens (if not more) of animals. It has become more like a market than a place of prayer and encounter with God. The religious leaders and temple authorities may have made excuses why they were doing it, but it still detracted from the purpose of the temple – to create a place of prayer, contemplation and encounter. Right, clear out!

11. God in Action

Short Meditations in John 2:  11. God in Action

Jn 2:15  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. So a children’s song might go, but not on this occasion! To say that Jesus was annoyed would be an understatement. To purposefully make a whip and then drive all the animals out of the temple area, took perseverance and strength of will and character to resist the opposition that there would have been. This was a forceful and possibly violent event.

Now there is a question mark over this event because the three Synoptic Gospels all record it happening at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry whereas John places it firmly at the beginning. Possibilities put forward are that it was at the end but John put it here to signify God’s judgment coming through the Messiah, or very simply that there were two times when Jesus came to the temple and cast out the market. The details of the first and last events are actually different in small ways.

It is unlikely that the three synoptic writers got it wrong because of the variety of sources they used. Likewise it is unlikely that John got it wrong because in all other ways he exhibits such a clear mind and clear memory. We tend to lean towards the latter explanation and suggest that he cleared them out at the beginning of his ministry but over the space of three years the practice of the market continued.

It is consistent with the story that Jesus came to the Temple and did this twice. At the start of his ministry, having had the affirming encounter at his baptism, then performing the miracle of the water into wine, he is clearly ‘under way’ as far as his ministry is concerned and it is not simply to be nice to people but to reveal God to the world and to bring the truth of His being to the world. That God is holy, the Old Testament has no doubts. That He is a God who warns and warns again and then takes disciplinary action, again there can be no doubt.

It should not surprise us, therefore, to find Jesus bringing corrective action when he finds an abuse of the temple. He will do it again in three years time but then it will also be, not only because the abuse has continued, but even more to act as provocation to stir up the authorities against him to bring about his final arrest etc.  Is the God we worship one who tolerates wrong or acts against it?