Article linked to Bible study post for March 7 and based on the set Bible readings:
OT: Exodus 20:1-17 — Israel’s responsibilities in the Ten Commandments
NT gospel: John 2:13-22 — Jesus confronts temple traders blocking the Court of the Gentiles
NT letter: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 — Only the ‘foolish’ but holy wisdom of God has power to save
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.Psalm 24:3-4 NIV
GOD IS DISTINCT from us, and on another level entirely — in how He loves, without condition or qualification. And this is seen in how He patiently bears with us and graciously forgives us, when we are not as devoted and loyal to Him as He is to us. We are made in His image, but it has become rather torn and smudged — yet He sees what He created, and sees through our limitations to what we can become.
As a holy God He expects us, His people, to respect His holiness. We show that by respecting His ways. What does that entail?
How God’s people respect who He is
The Ten Words — we call them the Ten Commandments — have long been the basis of what we consider good, Christian, civilised behaviour. Moses expands the teaching in Exodus to include many more specific aspects of tribal behaviour and relationships. But the commandments are the bare bones of how to relate to God and how to relate to others. So this is transferable to all people, for all time.
By Jesus’ time, these commandments had been added to, and made into a code. People thought that by obeying every law and all its additions, they would earn God’s blessing and protection. But they had missed the point. It was about a relationship with God
“You must not have any other god but Me.Exodus 20:3 NLT
And to honour God meant honouring, i.e. obeying, the way He treated people, justly, fairly and considerately. Jesus summarised the whole of the law by saying that it comes down to loving God, and loving others. Someone committed to this path is not going to commit violence or steal, or covet what is not theirs and will keep the faith in their marriage relationship. To relate well to God is to want to relate well to others, without finding exceptions.
How God’s people respect His priorities
Loving God takes a high view of worship. In Jesus’ day, prayers and Scripture teaching took place in local synagogues, but the sacrificial part of worship took place at the temple. Male adult Jews living out in the country, like Jesus and His Galilean friends, were expected to make the journey to Jerusalem for the three major festivals.
The temple also served as a place where God-fearing non-Jewish people could pray and offer worship, although they were restricted to the outer court. But what Jesus encountered, stirred up in Him a righteous indignation about the place He saw as “My Father’s house” and “a house of prayer for all nations”. Visiting Jerusalem at the busy Passover season when the city was full of visitors from all over the Roman empire, He found the outer court where the non-Jews would come, crammed with stalls. The space was full of people selling animals to sacrifice, and changing money for the special temple currency used for offerings — all at highly profitable, or one might say, exorbitant rates. So He shooed them outside.
Then, going over to the people who sold doves, He told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” Then His disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume Me.”John 2:16-17 NLT
This was about God’s priorities. The temple was a place of worship. The outer courts and colonnades were places where rabbis could gather people to teach them about God. It wasn’t a place for milking people of their money to support the temple and its hierarchy. And the principle that God’s people would, by the way they lived and honoured God, be a light to attract people of other nations and cultures, was as old as the law of Moses. This place which was supposed to be a showcase for the Living God, welcoming all comers, had become a place of exclusivity and power and control. Such is the ungodly human nature.
Our lesson is to ask ourselves whether the church is trying to be like the temple, or trying to be like Jesus. The two don’t sit well together. Where worship is formal and complicated, it is by its nature exclusive, but we are supposed to be on a mission with Jesus, to help people believe in Him and be saved. And where churches have too many items on their agenda about buildings and upkeep and fund-raising, that question has to be asked again and again.
How God’s people respect His mission
God is on a mission, to find people He can save. That mission has a simple message about Jesus, His sacrificial death by the most shameful form of execution, but the promise for those that believe of new life in Him. This is the new life of the kingdom, where people can know God personally and invite His order into their lives. Both the mission and the message soon spread over the Mediterranean world (and it didn’t take long to reach the British Isles). In this week’s story, Paul is writing to the young but already sizeable church in Corinth, and he is forthright about how unpalatable the message of the Cross where Jesus died must seem at first. But he spares no effort in emphasising how this message is the catalyst for the power of God to transform lives.
For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1:18
Corinth was a city of would-be philosophers. They had their professional debaters, who tried to run rings around each other with their logic and rhetoric — all good entertainment. Corinthians loved trading opinions, and they had plenty of them. They found little difficulty in rubbishing the story the Christians told. What sort of Saviour would end up dying that kind of shameful death? They would rather follow someone successful.
Paul meets the doubters where they are. Our proclamation of Christ crucified is a real barrier for people who value reason — because it is totally unreasonable, he wrote. So if this is God’s way, it looks ridiculous at first sight. But, he said, give it a hearing, and you’ll find real spiritual power working in you, and this will bring you to believe and be saved — and none of your philosophers can do that.
Since God in His wisdom saw to it that the world would never know Him through human wisdom, He has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom.1 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT
Unlike us, Paul wasn’t sidetracked for a moment with thoughts about giving people what they wanted, or sticking to what they were used to. He knew that his commission from God was to tell people about Jesus Christ crucified, and to tell them what good news this was for them if they believed in Jesus and received Him as their Saviour.
And that’s a challenge to every ministry today. There’s little sincerity in worshipping God, and then not doing what He says to do. What is our evangelism budget? Where is mission on our list of priorities? We are in a season like no other for people asking spiritual questions, and being open to spiritual conversations. And what we have been given, we can surely share.