One of my favorite things to do, especially during Lent and Easter, is to listen to sermons by Dr. Norman Nagel. He just has a way with words. This past Sunday’s sermon, I think, shows his influence. Here it is, after the jump.
Jesus is the temple. Jesus cleanses the temple. Jesus leaves the temple. But he does not leave the temple, for he is the temple. It is only the blindness of the leaders that can not see him as the temple, and can not see him in the temple.
Jesus is the temple. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. But that word isn’t quite right. The word became flesh and tented among us. Lived for a time. But it is also the word for tabernacle. The word became flesh and tabernacled among us.
You recall that after the children of Israel left Egypt, Moses and Aaron were told to build not a temple, but a tabernacle – the tent of meeting. It was made from fabric held up with poles. It was called the tabernacle. It was the tent where God’s glory dwelt. The place where Moses would go to receive God’s word as they wandered through the wilderness. But more than just hearing God speak, the glory of God covered the tabernacle, because it was where God was present. It was where Aaron went in his role as high priest to offer the sacrifice for the sins of the people. It was the tabernacle that contained the most holy place, the holy of holies, where the mercy seat was placed. And once a year Aaron would enter and sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the mercy seat for the forgiveness of the sins of Israel.
At the beginning of John’s Gospel, we are told, Jesus tabernacled among us. The glory of God is seen, not in a tent in the wilderness, but in the Son of God himself, made flesh for our salvation.
And after his baptism, one of the first things Jesus does is the go to Jerusalem and cleanse the temple. He drives out the money lenders and those selling animals. My temple shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers. When asked by the leaders of the Jews what sign he can give, to show he is allowed to do this, Jesus tells them, tear down this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Of course, they think he is speaking of the building made with stones. Forty six years under construction, and still not finished. But of course, Jesus is talking about the temple of his body. For he is not just a tabernacle – a tent, he is the temple as well. He is THE place where God dwells, the place where we go to see God, to hear him speak to us, to receive his word and his forgiveness. But the leaders can not see this. They do not understand that when Jesus enters the temple, that the Glory of God is seen again, that God is once again in his temple speaking his word to his people. There is no great cloud in the temple. There is now Jesus, teaching the people.
That is what he is doing in the Gospel reading. He is teaching. He is bringing to them the same word given to Abraham, to Moses, to all Israel. But the do not receive it. And so, he hides himself. The people expected that any Messiah would show up gloriously at the temple. That was, after all, the place of God’s presence. The place where God was for Israel. It was more than just a place to God and pray, it was the place that proved Israel as God’s chosen people.
And yet, today, it is the place where Jesus is rejected. The people of God, rejecting God, in the house of God. And yet this house of god is no longer the dwelling place of the most high. The most high now dwells, not in temples made with hands, but in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the one who was before Abraham. The one whose word Abraham kept, and so the one who kept Abraham from death, even after Abraham died. Abraham saw Jesus’ day, not by a superhuman, long lifespan, but by faith, he knew that when he died he would see God. And now, God has come among men, and the people don’t recognize him. Even more, the people don’t see him.
The cross is covered. The picture is covered. The black veil has descended to remind us that we are no different than the people of Jesus day. There is no great insight in us, no great spark of divinity in our soul that we can choose to see Jesus for who he is. As we approach Good Friday, we remind ourselves with the black veils that our sin is the same as theirs. The darkness of our hearts is the same. The sin that leads to condemnation and death is the same. There is no great godliness in us to make us more worthy to see Jesus than they were. We can acknowledge that, and confess our sin. Or we can deny our sin and our unworthiness to see Jesus, thinking ourselves better than the people in Jesus day, and in so doing deny Jesus himself. The black veil that descends over these final day so f Holy Lent is nothing more than a reflection of the veil that we have placed over our heart to jeep Jesus out. Oh how he wants us to see the truth, to acknowledge him as Lord, to be his own dear children. He wanted it so much that he sent his son into the world. But we would not listen. We would not hear the word. Instead of the light of God’s truth, you have chosen the darkness of your own sin. There is no difference, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The black veil simply reminds you of the truth.
And yet, God would not have the sinner die. And so Jesus was sent to the people to save. But Jesus sees the temple for what it is. It is not the place of his glory. His hour has not yet come. Not quite yet. And so, he hides himself from the people of the temple built with human hands, and goes away. The one who is the temple, the dwelling place of the most high God goes away from where we expect.
The glory of the temple will be seen not even two weeks from now. The hour of glory is when your Lord goes to that cross. The hour of glory is when he is beaten and bloodied for you. That is the hour when the son of Man is glorified. When he is lifted up for all the world to see.
And yet, when we speak of lifting up, and being exalted, the last thing we think of is someone slowly suffocating on a cross. Should he not be in the temple? Should he not be in palaces? Should he not be enthroned, sitting high above all this, judging? He is above, he has been lifted up, exalted. But not as we see it. Your sin does not allow you to see the glory. You see only the darkness.
Jesus knows that his death is the moment of glory. The moment when he gives himself into his father’s hand. When he takes your sin away. The cross is where God is to be found. The temple is Jesus. The cross is the holy of holies. The place where the blood of the lamb is sprinkled for you once and for all to take away your sin.
Jesus was hidden from them, and left the temple.
Oh Lord God, do not leave the hearts of your people veiled. Do not leave us in darkness. Do not leave us without the light of your truth. By your spirit, help us to see clearly, as Abraham did, the truth that Jesus is the dwelling place of the most high God. Give us eyes to see, that our own sinful blindness not keep us from you, our only Savior. Amen.