The Way to God

The Way to God

I confess that seeing how our passage, as my sermon title suggests, tells about the way to God isn’t something that is immediately obvious for what does Jesus clearing the temple of livestock and moneychangers have to do with our finding a path to God? The answer lies in verse 13 which tells us that this temple-cleansing occurs when the Jewish Passover was about to begin.

Passover is a festival that began when Moses and the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt and were thereby not permitted by Pharaoh to go and worship the LORD their God. And if you stop and think about it, why should Pharaoh allow them, his slaves, to do so since he was the most powerful person in all of Egypt? From Pharaoh’s perspective this was a battle of the gods. We might even describe it as an ancient version of the prosperity gospel in that whoever had the most money, wealth, and influence surely had the most powerful god or gods as evidenced by such prosperity ad power. Therefore when the LORD, the God of Israel afflicted Egypt with plagues that they might let God’s people go and worship, we find Pharaoh explaining away and dismissing each plague. Now after Egypt had withstood nine plagues[1] as a direct result of Pharaoh not permitting Israel to go and worship their God, Moses warned Pharaoh that if he did not allow them to go, the tenth plague and final plague would be the most severe for if they refused to let the people of Israel go, the result would be that all of the firstborn sons, whether of Pharaoh or of a female slave, would die.[2] And tragically, as God had told Moses,[3] this extreme measure was what it took for the Egyptians to know that the God of Israel was indeed the LORD over all heaven and earth. So we read of the horrific price paid by Pharaoh for dismissing the one true God for

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.[4]

Such needless and terrible suffering all because Pharaoh did not heed God’s many warnings. He had been forewarned yet had summarily ignored the LORD. And with this final devastating plague we’re told how finally “31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.’ 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. ‘For otherwise,’ they said, ‘we will all die!’” And with this we have the beginning Israel’s Exodus. After spending over 400 years in Egypt,[5] God’s people were finally returning home to worship the LORD their God in their own land.

So we can understand why the story of Passover was—and is to this day—so crucial to every Jewish believer for it is a story of the LORD’s provision for his people. Even during their time of captivity, the LORD had not forgotten them. And this story also makes clear how important it was—and is—to follow God’s instructions; how important it is to follow God’s ways for the only way his image-bearers have ever been able to learn the way to God is by means of his disclosing this to them.

Now prior to the final plague God had directed Moses and Aaron to “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.”[6] This instruction became the beginning of the Passover meal celebration which also commenced the Feast of Unleavened bread.[7] As to the lambs that were sacrificed, they had to be “year-old males without defect.”[8] And each household was “to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.”[9] With this last requirement, we learn why it was that the firstborn of Israel were not struck down. As the LORD told Moses and Aaron,

12 On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. 14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.[10]

After God’s people had been given these instructions, they “…bowed down and worshiped. 28 The Israelites did just what the Lord commanded Moses and Aaron.”[11] Had they not, their homes would have suffered the same fate as that of the Egyptians. But because they followed God’s instructions and marked their doorposts with the blood of the sacrificial lambs, God’s wrath did indeed pass over them for they had obeyed his word and followed his ways.

So now we can fast-forward to our passage and read verse 13: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Again, knowing that the events that follow were leading up to a sacred time for Jewish believers can help us better appreciate just how wrong was the behavior that Jesus encountered in the temple for, verse 14, “In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.” Now during these major feasts, Jewish believers from all parts would come to Jerusalem and be required to pay the half-shekel temple tax in the coinage of the temple. In other words, foreign money wasn’t accepted but would have to be exchanged. Further, since those coming to Jerusalem to worship also had to offer up animal sacrifices, many of them would purchase a sacrificial animal once they arrived rather than bring one from home. And whereas in former times these animals and money exchanges would have taken place outside the temple courts by this time, for reasons unknown, such commerce had moved into the temple courts.[12] But this way of doing commerce was a problem because the outer court of the temple was the one place where the Gentiles were allowed to come to pray. Therefore in setting up their business there, these merchants had made it impossible for non-Jewish God-fearers to worship. In effect those selling animals and exchanging money had made it impossible for the temple to function for the purpose for which it existed. Needless to say, this was not a good situation!

Additionally what may also have been taking place in the temple was that this exchanging of money for approved coinage and the selling of animals to be sacrificed was being done for a profit for those who had set up their businesses. So these men may have been taking advantage of those who had come to worship. Though as read in our passage Jesus at this time drove out all those doing business in the temple courts, we know from the other three gospels that they nonetheless returned for Jesus again cleared the temple just prior to his crucifixion when he “…overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘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.’”[13] Again, whereas the temple was to be a place of worship, these businessmen had made it impossible for such worship to take place. And to say that these men had made God’s house a “den of robbers” indicates that the business they were conducting there was hardly honorable or simply providing a needed service.

Therefore, we read about the Jesus’ first temple-cleansing starting in verse 15: “So he made a whip out of cords,[14] and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’” These traders had turned a house of worship into a house for profit. They had converted a holy place into a profane place. And God was not pleased. And Jesus, who was God in the flesh, expressed that displeasure and rightly drove everyone out. He implemented God’s discipline upon this travesty so that order might be restored to God’s house of worship. Keeping non-Jews from worship and making a profit for providing a service were not what God had established as facilitating proper worship and love for God or love for one’s neighbor.

Now there were two opposing reactions to Jesus’ extreme actions. In verse 17 we learn that “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” In seeing Jesus’ actions, his disciples recalled God’s Word, specifically Psalm 69 in which David is crying out to God, asking him to save him.[15] Yet in the midst of his despair, David nonetheless bore witness to his zeal, his passion, his devotion to the LORD. And Jesus’ disciples saw him, the King of all heaven and earth, fulfilling this earlier earthly king’s words as he restored order to God’s holy temple. So in Jesus’ disciples we see the response of faith to his actions. They understood his actions as a confirmation that he was indeed the promised Messiah who had come to show the proper way to honor and worship his Father.

Not so with other Jews who witnessed his temple cleansing. These others instead questioned Jesus, verse 18, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” These men were not happy with the way in which Jesus had disrupted the status quo. Who did he think he was? What right did he have to drive out those who, at least in their eyes, were providing a service to those who had come to worship and offer sacrifices in the temple? So what if they made a little profit along the way? Who had given Jesus permission to overturn their work? So they asked for a sign. They wanted some kind of proof that he had the right to chase out those selling sacrificial animals and exchanging money in the temple.

Jesus’ enigmatic response to them is found in verse 19: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Now at one level these words might be taken to display Jesus’ commitment to God’s temple—even if someone were to destroy it, he would rebuild it. Yet taken literally his words were also beyond belief for he claimed he would rebuild the temple in three days—by himself. No one could do such a thing. And so those questioning him exposed how utterly ridiculous, if taken literally, was Jesus’ response for as they pointed out, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (v. 20). Point taken.

And with what we’re next told, we’re provided a glimpse of a transitioning that occurred with the coming of Messiah, with the arrival of Christ Jesus. For though there was a time in which God’s people dwelt in temples made by human hands, after Jesus died, ascended to heaven, and sent his Holy Spirit we his people, his children, his sheep, his church would become his temple. Christ Jesus, Immanuel, God with us would now be with us by sending, sealing, and indwelling us with his Holy Spirit. Therefore Immanuel, God with us, is now Immanuel, God in and among us. As John states in verse 21, when Jesus declared, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days…,” “the temple he had spoken of was his body.” Think about this. If the temple Jesus was speaking of was his own body, then with these words he is stating that he, as God, is indestructible. He who is the resurrection and the life though he die, yet he shall he live for by his death, he conquered death that all who turn to him might experience the eternal life he came to provide.[16] He is the only way to the Father God has disclosed and provided. Therefore no one can come to the Father but by him.[17]

So this passage in John serves not only as a transition from the Old Testament human-built temples to the Church age temple of God, but it also foreshadows Jesus’ death. For one of the charges that will be brought against Jesus is taken from his words here. When Jesus was later arrested we’re told how

55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.[18]

Therefore those who didn’t hear Jesus through the perspective of trust, of belief in him, of faith in who he was and the truth of his Words, would later use his very words to accuse him of seeking to destroy God’s temple.

But this passage in John, occurring when “it was almost time for the Jewish Passover” (v. 13), also points to Jesus being the ultimate and final Passover Lamb. Recall how John the Baptist, early in his ministry declared upon seeing Jesus coming towards him, “[Behold] the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[19] And on the following day, when John was with two of Jesus’ disciples and saw him passing by, he again said, “[Behold] the Lamb of God!”[20] John the Baptist, the one who was called to prepare the way of the LORD,[21] to prepare the way of Christ Jesus, knew who Jesus was and why he had come. He knew that in the person of Jesus Christ God had come to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all who would turn to and believe in him.

So, too, did the apostle Peter, the rock upon whom Christ built his church also acknowledge. Peter even based his admonition to believers to remember that they are but foreigners on earth on the fact that their redemption, the purchase of their sins, was through the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God. Listen to Peter in his own words:

17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.[22]

And not to belabor the point too much, but the apostle Paul similarly reminded the church in Corinth that because they had been purchased by Christ, they were to live in a manner that exemplified his sacrifice on their behalf: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.[23]” As the blood of sacrificial lambs placed upon the doorposts was the provisional means God had once provided for his people both being spared his wrath and being enabled to come and worship him, so it is now with Jesus Christ. For he, our Passover Lamb who has been sacrificed for all of the sins of humanity, is the means our Triune God deemed before the creation of the world for God to both spare us from his wrath and enable us to come and worship him.

In a vision the LORD gave John, as has been recorded for us in the book of Revelation, Jesus Christ is referred to as a Lamb thirty times. And this communion Sunday when we celebrate and thank God for his sacrifice, for to give thanks is the origin of another word for communion, eucharist. I want to close by sharing with you a portion of John’s vision for, dear brothers and sisters, John bears witness to our glorious destiny:[24]

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen!
Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Brothers and sisters, let us now pray to our loving and heavenly Father who sent his Son, Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb, as a final sacrifice on our behalf;

and let us thank our Lord Jesus for loving us so well that he gave his life for us, who too often turn from and are ungrateful to him, that we might not only be spared God’s wrath but might also know his love and kindness for he is the means, the way, God has provided to himself;

and let us praise God’s Holy Spirit who has been sent to seal and indwell us with his presence and an eternal love that will forever seal us to our gracious, merciful, and patient LORD in whose image we have been made and into whose image of holiness we are being conformed.

So let us now pray….

[1] Plague #1: The water in the Nile was turned to blood (Exodus 7:17–18); #2: Frogs everywhere (Exodus 8:1–4); #3: Lice or gnats (Exodus 8:16–17); #4: Swarms of flies (Exodus 8:20–22); #5: Livestock (Exodus 9:1–14); #6: Boils on man and beast (Exodus 9:8–9); #7: Hail (Exodus 9:22–23); #8: Locusts (Exodus 10:4–5); #9: Darkness (Exodus 10:21–22); #10: Firstborn (Exodus 11:4–7).

[2] Exodus 11:4–8:So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.

[3] Exodus 7:1–5: 7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

[4] Exodus 12:29–30.

[5] Exodus 12:40: Now the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years.

[6] Exodus 12:3.

[7] The close connection between the Passover meal and the Feast of Unleavened Bread can be seen in Luke 22:1: Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching,…. sa Ezekiel 45:21: In the first month on the fourteenth day you are to observe the Passover, a festival lasting seven days, during which you shall eat bread made without yeast.

[8] Exodus 12:5.

[9] Exodus 12:7.

[10] Exodus 12:12–14.

[11] Exodus 12:27b–28.


[13] Matthew 21:12b–13. Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11, respectively. The Gospels of Mark and Luke both have Jesus quoting these same two passages from the Old Testament upon clearing the temple: Matthew 21:12–17: 12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[Isaiah 56:7] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[Jeremiah 7:11]14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. 16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’[Psalm 8:2 LXX]?” 17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.; Mark 11:15–19: 15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[Isaiah 56:7]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[Jeremiah 7:11]18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. 19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.; Luke 19:45–48: 45 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’[Isaiah 56:7]; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[Jeremiah 7:11]47 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words.

[14] The Reformation ESV Study Bible notes, “Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Mal. 3:1–4. He comes suddenly to the temple and purifies the sons of Levi, as a demonstration of His zeal for God and for keeping God’s ordinances holy.”

[15] For example, see Psalm 69:1–4, 13–18:Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God. Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal…. 13 But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. 14 Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. 15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. 16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. 17 Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. 18 Come near and rescue me; deliver me because of my foes.

[16] John 11:25–26a: 25 Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die….”

[17] John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

[18] Mark 14:55–59.

[19] John 1:29.

[20] John 1:35.

[21] Malachi 3:1a: I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Isaiah 40:3: A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Mark 1:1–4: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

[22] I Peter 1:17–21.

[23] I Corinthians 5:6–8.

[24] Revelation 7:

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