Cracking the Whip

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts

Lent III – 11 March 2012

Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19, I Corinthians 1:18-25, John 2:13-22

From the Book of Exodus:
God spoke these word to Moses, I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me…you shall not bow down to them or serve them…

From St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Church at Corinth:
The apostle proclaimed, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

From the Gospel According to St. John:
Regarding the cleansing of the temple from corrupt money changers, Jesus, making a whip of cords…drove them out of the temple…poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,
Amen. †

I received a great e-mail this past week of various newspaper headlines – best described as headline bloopers – that actually got printed. I thought they were really funny – I hope you do as well. Here a few of the best ones. It may take a moment to get it – but they’re really good.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers

War Dims Hopes for Peace

Cold Wave Linked to Dropping Temperatures

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks

Local School Dropouts Cut in Half


Tornado Rips Through Cemetery – Hundreds Dead.

Now these are headline bloopers – note worthy because headlines are important. Most of us read the headlines in the paper, or on the Internet, and if it looks interesting we then read the rest of the article. A good headline captures our attention and makes us want the rest of the story.

I wonder how the headlines would have read if newspapers covered Jesus cleansing of the temple. There were, of course, no newspapers in those days – news got around mostly by word of mouth. But if there had been, how would the headlines have read?

One might read – Religious Fanatic Trashes Temple. This paper obviously had a bias against anyone who might disrupt the normal routine of Temple activity. Anyone who would do such a thing would have to be a fanatic.

Another paper, more sympathetic, might lead off with, Jewish Holy Man Roots Out Temple Corruption. Here, from our modern perspective of those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior, captures our attention because we believe in its truth. Temple corruption dishonored God. God’s Son came to clean it up.

And yet another headline might be, Jesus of Nazareth Cracks the Whip in Jerusalem – Temple Cleansed. Again, this sympathetic perspective acknowledges the corruption that the first paper might overlook, identifies Jesus by His most common name, and tells us exactly what he did. In any case, regardless of the newspaper’s bias or perspective, these headlines would capture our attention. We would the rest of the story.

News in those days, as I indicated just a minute ago, got around mostly by word of mouth. Someone who had witnessed the event would tell another or several others – and if there were many witnesses, many stories would abound. Then, as now, the news would travel.

We have four accounts of the Temple cleansing from four different reporters. These reporters, Matthew, Mark, Luke as well as John, all tell the same story but from slightly different angles. For instance, Mark and Luke tell us that although the Temple authorities were outraged and sought to have Jesus arrested, they held back because Jesus was so popular with the crowds. Neither Matthew nor John mentions this.

It’s entirely probable that the people who went to the Temple – regular men and women who lived their lives in an attempt to honor and obey God – went there to offer sacrifices and to pray. I think it’s safe to assume that they were as outraged – as was Jesus – by the corrupt practices. But none of them had the courage to take any action. Or perhaps it wasn’t so much a lack of courage as it was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness – one man against the world kind of thing.

Probably the most notorious corruption was that of changing money. Roman money, with the image of Caesar on it, represented unclean, paganism – the idolatry of the Roman Empire. Roman coins were not therefore acceptable for Temple usage. So the Temple authorities insisted that the Roman coins be exchanged for Temple currency.

This is how the corruption functioned. A worshipper would exchange a coin worth five dollars but only get in return two dollars worth of Temple money. The corrupt money changers would use the balance to pay off the authorities keeping the rest for themselves.

People went to the Temple to make their sacrifice s for either thanksgiving to God for some great blessing such as the birth of a child or to seek forgiveness for some sin in their lives such as breaking any of the Ten Commandments or any of the multitudes of lesser laws that had been added over the centuries. (Some of these were the man-made laws to which Jesus referred on another occasion.) To encounter this kind of corruption – or any kind of corruption – in the place where they wanted and needed to find holiness, well outrage would be the appropriate response.

I also think it’s safe to say, that most of the people were fed up with it. Ready for a cleansing revelation against Rome and even more so against their own leaders who had sold out to Rome and were profiting from the oppression, the people would have – and did – embrace a man like Jesus who had the courage to literally crack the whip, drive out the money changers and lay claim to the Temple for the sake of holiness. He said, This is my Father’s house – a house of prayer for all nations. You’ve made it a den of thieves! The people loved it. High time someone spoke out! High time someone did something!

The people not only loved the cleansing, they also loved Him in a hero-worship, celebrity kind of way. When they heard the headline that Jesus had cracked the whip in the Temple, people came to listen to His every word. And, for a time, they placed their hope in Him – that He would save them through that much desired revolution.

For them, salvation meant the revolution. For them, only the blood of the slain oppressors – those who had so often confiscated their meager wealth, put down their efforts to live according to their own faith and generally made their lives miserable – only the blood of those evildoers could cleanse their nation from its corruption.

Now, interestingly enough, only John mentions the whip. The others just say that Jesus overturned the money changers’ tables. I like John’s version best because it stands over and against the notion that Jesus was some kind of sickening sweet and sentimental savior, non-judgmental and all-inclusive kind of guy – weak and wimpy – who never held anyone to account for anything. Truly, any serious reading of the Scriptures and of the Gospels presents a very different picture of the Son of God and Savior of all mankind.

Never sickening-sweet, Jesus proclaimed the primacy of The One True God – The One True God who was – and is – and will be forever – His Heavenly Father. Jesus proclaimed and demanded that only He be worshiped, honored and obeyed. The first and great commandment – the most important of the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai – said just that. I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me…you shall not bow down to them or serve them…

Well, the people wanted their bloody revolution to cleanse their nation as well as their Temple from corruption. Wash the place clean with their blood. That was the prevailing wisdom – the conventional wisdom – the popular belief. Bloodshed was the only way. We want a savior to led the revolt and set us free – so they believed.

Such was the aforementioned prevailing wisdom. But as St. Paul tells us, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom… Think about it. How can the shed blood of unholy and corrupt men cleanse anything? If the people shed the blood of those who had shed their blood, well all you’ve got is more bloodshed with no redeeming result. Surely, if the revolution were successful it would only be a matter of time before a new level of corruption would set in. A bloody revolution was not the answer.

Many might have remembered the stories of the Maccabean Revolution of just about 160 years before. Judas Maccabaeus led that revolt and successfully freed the Jewish people from foreign oppression. But in just one generation, that new government became corrupt – in just one generation.

In His perfect wisdom, God knew that bloodshed though had to happen. But neither the shed blood of unholy men – nor the shed blood of the dumb animals sacrificed in the Temple. Although the Temple sacrifices had had their function, it was now time for the one, true, perfect and all- sufficient sacrifice that would not only save the oppressed people but also would offer the oppressors the opportunity for redemption as well.

Shed blood was required. Sacrifice had to be offered. But it had to be the shed blood of God Himself – it had to be His own life sacrificed for only the perfectly holy sacrifice – only the perfectly holy blood could cleanse the people from their sin – all people everywhere and in all generations. God had to offer the sacrifice. God had to be the sacrifice. God had to save His people – and only He could do it.

That could be a headline – Only God Can Save the People. That would get our attention for sure. We would want to get the rest of the story.

We have the rest of the story. God the Father – incarnate in God the Son – the perfect sacrifice. The perfect victim. Offered not on the altar in the Temple but on the altar of the cross. Offered not by a corrupt high priest, but by the perfect Great High Priest who was – and is – and will be forever Jesus the Christ.

Perfect priest. Perfect victim. Perfect sacrifice for the imperfect people – that they might inherit perfect eternal life in God’s perfect, heavenly kingdom. Jesus Christ the perfect blood shed so that no other blood need ever be shed – if all the people would believe. Literally, the blood of Christ shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.

So what about the corruption that devastates every generation? What about all the injustice, oppression, extortion, theft, rape and murder that stains the fallen human condition?

For those who truly believe, their sin is cleansed. For those who do not, God’s perfect justice will prevail. Each of us faces our individual judgment. All of us face the final judgment at the end of time. Washed in the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Lamb of God, no sin is counted against us. Not washed in that blood, only sin remains. Simple as that.

And so we live to bear witness to our Lord’s sacrifice, that as beneficiaries of Him gift of Salvation we can rejoice and be glad all the days of our lives – now an forever – as we worship and serve Him in obedience to His command. And when He comes again, He will execute both His perfect mercy and His perfect justice. Until that time, we simply have to keep the faith, proclaim the Word and rejoice in our salvation.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, let the power of your saving sacrifice come to its perfect fulfillment. Defeat all the powers of this world and of the world below. Deliver us from every oppression and all afflictions. Lift us up to the gates of heaven and establish the perfection of you kingdom,
in and through you Son, Jesus Christ,
the only Savior of all mankind,
Amen. †

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