Sunday Night Live Sermons
OVERTURNING OLD WAYS
WHO HE REALLY IS
22nd February 2004
Mel Gibson’s film The Passion is a detailed account of the last hours of the life of Jesus taken directly from the Gospels, in all of its simplicity, boldness and brutality. It has unleashed a storm of criticism around the world. More controversy surrounds this film than any other I can remember. Most of criticism is directed at Gibson, which has led me to entitle my talk that I have been asked to give at the Australian premiere this Wednesday night, as “The Crucifixion of Mel Gibson.”
He has presented a simple and honest re-creation of the Passion of Jesus. There are no invented sub-plots and no fanciful covering of the brutality. It is the scriptures that implicate the leaders of the Jews in the death of Jesus, not Mel Gibson. People are entitled to deny history, claim fact is fiction, and blame the Italians rather than the Jewish leaders of 2000 years ago. But the issue remains: why is there such a violent reaction by so many people to Jesus when He strides today into our business marketplaces, media outlets and religious traditions today? When Jesus, during His last week on earth, entered the city of Jerusalem and faced the entrenched power structures of Jewish religion and Roman Government He caused a conflict that is as modern as this week’s launch of The Passion. Many people want to keep Jesus as a safe conservative whom people worship in rites and ritual. But a reading of the Gospels, and a presentation of them on film, reveals He was a radical who overturned people’s concepts of religion more than any other spiritual leader, and brought people to a new reality of God and new relationships with others. That is a radical shift for most people’s concept of worship. People feel safe with rites and ritual.
But Jesus brings us into new realities and relationships. That’s revolutionary! He creates a crisis in the marketplace and challenges conventional religion. When He touches our finances people become alarmed. Jesus would overturn the religious practises today of many Australians if he were to physically stride through our communities and observe our credulous, repetitious secular practices that pass for religion with many. He would challenge our financial practises based upon greed and exploitation. Jesus is utterly revolutionary and those who have based their faith and their economics on His teaching discover how radical He is.
The Temple had originally been built by King Solomon, but destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.. This temple was rebuilt in the time of Jesus by Herod the Great. The Roman general Titus destroyed Herod’s Temple in 70 AD. According to John’s Gospel Jesus enters the temple at the beginning of His ministry. During the last week of His life a similar event occurred, leading to the religious authorities deciding to kill him. He was a danger to both peace and profits. It may have happened twice or John may have placed this event, last in time, first in His account because it shows clearly the difference and the danger Jesus was to conventional religion and business. From the beginning of John’s Gospel He talks about his religion as new wine, new birth, new worship, and here, as a new Temple. Jesus was going to overturn religion!
It occurred at the Passover when Jews came from many countries to make sacrifice in the Temple, similar to Muslims crowding Mecca today. Over 2 million people visited Jerusalem during Passover. Only animals without blemish could be sacrificed.
Those brought in from local flocks and herds were inevitably found to be blemished, and the owners forced to buy approved stock at inflated prices from the Temple pens. Herod designed his extension of the Temple Mount to hold this formidable crowd. Herod’s Temple Mount is the largest site of its kind in the ancient world. The walls are 1,575 feet long and cover the equivalent of 12 football fields! The retaining walls rise above the paved avenues at the foot of the mount to the height of a ten-story building, more than 165 feet high. The smallest of the Temple Mount’s stones used in the walls weighs over two tons. The largest of the Temple Mount ashlars weigh 50 tons! These ashlars are 40 feet long, 3 feet high and 8 feet thick. Beneath the arches around the court were pens of thousands of sheep, goats, and bullocks, with baskets of pigeons and doves. Their stall holders cried out best prices and bargains. Cashiers at tables changed money into the Temple coin as they do in every Middle Eastern market today. They argued foreign and tainted money was unacceptable. Every Jew had to pay a tax of two days wages in Temple coin. The Roman, Greek, Egyptian coins would not do. The bank commission was 50% on top of the exchange rate.
The scene was one of noise, confusion, dispute, and bad temper. Jesus strode through, drove the animals out and overturned the money changers tables sending the piles of money rolling among the manure! Men scrambled for what they could get. Jesus, with imperious voice drove them out. “Take them out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” v16 Passion for the honour of God and the restoration of Israel collided with toleration of irreverence toward the Temple. This event triggered the conspiracy that led to Jesus’ death. Mark 11:18; Luke 19:47-48
1. JESUS OVERTURNS IMPROPER RELIGION.
Whenever we seek to worship God, others see it as a commercial opportunity. Private worship for some is seen by others as an opportunity for personal profit. The vendors in the Temple court said they were simply helping people purchase the right sacrifice and exchanging their money for the proper coin. When Peter and John went to the Temple to pray they were met by a man begging. Outside every cathedral in Europe, the tourist faces legions of beggars, souvenir sellers, hot dog pedlars and ice-cream vendors. Inside some churches fraudulent ministers make improper use of the gifts of people.
Some Australians have established commercial religion, promoting “prosperity theology” - encouraging the poor to give them money so the poor will receive more! The philosophy at Wesley Mission is to give to the poor, not take from them. Wesley Mission refuses to turn our places of worship into centres of commerce. Before everything else comes the worship of God. The temple was the place where God met with believers. But the merchants turned the house of prayer into a den of thieves. Jesus overturns such improper worship! True worship cannot exist in an environment of commercialism.
Jesus would soon teach the woman of Samaria that true worship was of the spirit: “By the power of God’s Spirit, people will worship the Father as He really is, offering Him the true worship that He wants. God is Spirit, and only by the power of His Spirit can people worship Him as He really is.” John 4:24 We are embarrassed by those, who under the guise of religion, earn huge salaries, keep the profits of their CD’s and commercialise religion. Jesus overturns the improper religion of people who put profit first.
2. JESUS OVERTURNS IMPOTENT RELIGION.
This religious system was really powerless to help believers. The old sacrificial system of killing bulls and goats so that their blood might remove people’s sin never achieved anything. It was impotent. The people were unchanged and still in their sin. Jesus was to replace the old sacrificial system with the ultimate sacrifice, His own death as the Lamb of God. Isaac Watts put it: “Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain, could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ the heavenly Lamb, takes all our guilt away; A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they.” Jesus would be the sacrifice. His blood was powerful in its effect, cleansing all from sin. “His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me.” Charles Wesley
In The Passion, we think of Jesus dying upon the Cross, shedding His blood as the sacrifice for our sins. His death upon the Cross, is powerful in how it cleanses us from our sin. He was the ultimate Temple sacrifice for our sins. Here was an impotent religion overturned by a powerful religion. People need a powerful religion today! Sincere people give their tithes and time to impotent religion. Some follow secular rites hoping to ease their conscience. Some endure endless repetition of rites hoping that their persistence will somehow appease God. Some fall for “New Age” technics until they find them sterile. Other desperate people turn to newspaper horoscopes leading to empty hopes or deep despair. Impotent religion! The dangerous Jesus overturns such impotent religion! True worship does not consist of our sacrificing to God, but of God being the sacrifice Himself! Only the all powerful God can be the source of powerful religion.
3. JESUS OVERTURNS IMPERSONAL RELIGION.
In clearing out the sacrificial animals and the ritualistic people Jesus was overturning their old religious rites and replacing them with a personal relationship with God. But they were concerned more about their grand temple than about their God. They were troubled that Jesus threatened the existence of the Temple. That so angered them that it became the chief charge against Him in the trials leading to His crucifixion: “We heard Him say, ‘I will tear down this Temple which men have made and after three days I will build one that is not made with hands’.” Mark 14:58 Later Stephen was to be stoned to death for repeating what Jesus said “against our sacred Temple.” Acts 6:13 They could not see past the stones which had taken 46 years to build. For their Temple was the central place where God would meet people. “But the Temple Jesus was speaking about was his body.” v21
People would now meet with God, not in a place but through a person: Jesus Christ. He prophesied the destruction of His body on the Cross, and of God raising it from the dead three days later so that those who believed might come before God through their faith in Him. Here, days before the first Good Friday, Jesus was indicating what would happen to Him at the hands of cruel men, and how God would respond to them with the dawning of the third day, the day of Resurrection. His body was the new Temple where people meet God. Meeting God would occur not in a place but in a person. Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection would bring people of faith to God, and no other Temple would be needed. People in Australia still put their trust in impersonal worship where there is no central personal core.
In 1739, John Wesley started preaching in the open air for the first time. He had been brought up to respect churches as holy places in which we encounter God. But George Whitfield had shown to him that people meet God in the person of Jesus Christ not in some temple of stone. People meet God in a personal way through Christ Jesus. That is why Wesley Mission preaches wherever it can gather people to hear about Jesus Christ: in Hyde Park, in Martin Plaza, in Wesley Theatre, in chapel, hall, and home, at the Opera House, in the open air and on the air waves of radio and television. The focal point of coming to God lies not in a place but in the person of Jesus. Christianity is a personal religion, born out of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus overturns improper religion, impotent religion, impersonal religion. The old will not do. There is no place for rumpus, rites and rackets in the worship of God. His was new wine, new worship, new birth, new Temple! True worship cannot be in an environment of commercialism but of the Spirit of God. True worship cannot be in the power of man’s sacrifice to God, but of God’s sacrifice for man. True worship cannot be in a place but in a person raised from the dead. Jesus overturns religion with rackets, rites and rumpus, and in their stead, He places a new reality with God and a new relationship with other people. This religion is proper, powerful and personal. He is the new Temple where people worship God in the Spirit. He is the only sacrifice for the sins of the world. He alone brings us to meet with God. Jesus is the person, the power, the sacrifice! You come to God through Jesus! Only through Jesus. No money, no Temple, no sacrifice required. He has already opened the way to God for you, and all you need to do, is, by faith, enter!
- Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, 1992.
- Archaeology and the Bible Vol. 2. p.22. Ed H. Shanks & D. P. Cole. Bib. Arch. Soc. 1990.