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“Destroy This Temple and I Will Raise It Again”
John 2:18-22


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday in Lent—March 15, 2009

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, in which Jesus declares, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Buildings are classified by architects and engineers according to their expected lifespan.   Because of rapid changes today in technology and frequent adjustments to the building codes, the current trend is for relatively short-term, disposable buildings.  It is simply easier to tear them down and build anew then to bring older buildings up to the new requirements.  That is why many stores, offices, and other commercial buildings erected these days are designed with “planned obsolescence.”  They may look substantial and permanent, but often their materials, design, and construction are actually rated for a lifespan of 25 years or less.

Christian churches have traditionally been built to last for generations, with the highest standards of design and construction, and best quality materials.  That is why in many parts of the world there are Christian churches a thousand years or more old that are still being used.  Our own new sanctuary was designed and constructed to very high standards, as a century building or better, intended to last at least a hundred years or more. 

There are not only practical reasons but also an important symbolic significance for making churches well-built, solid, enduring structures.  First Peter says, “The Word of the Lord endures forever, and this is the Word that was preached to you.”  The permanence of Christian church buildings symbolizes the permanence and unchanging nature of the Christian faith and doctrine.  “On this rock,” Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  And Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

A gentleman was telling me recently, with sadness, that his pastor, in a church of a different denomination, said that the virgin birth is an unnecessary teaching, and it’s not important to believe the creeds when they say that Christ “was born of the Virgin Mary.”  I told him he should ask, “What else do we say in the creeds that we don’t really believe anymore?”

Unless the Lord’s second coming, and the end of all things, occurs first, Lord willing, a hundred years from now, and beyond, our descendants in the faith will still be right here, worshipping the same God, holding fast to the same Word and teachings, celebrating the same Sacraments.  Just as this enduring building will be passed on from generation to generation, we pray that the faith itself will also be passed down.  As Paul says in 2nd Thessalonians, “Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus has an encounter in the temple courts at Jerusalem with the leaders of the temple.  They feel assured that their temple must endure, because of how long it took to build.  “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple!” 

It was indeed a massive, impressive structure, considered comparable to the wonders of the ancient world.  But, oddly enough, God never intended that ancient temple and its services to be permanent and enduring.  God instituted all the ceremonies of the Old Testament and the temple itself with “planned obsolescence.”  Paul puts it this way in Colossians, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” 

The worship life of the Old Testament was destined to come to an end.  That is why originally the worship of God by the Israelites was in a tent.  A temporary structure, to symbolize the temporary nature of the old covenant and its worship.  It was actually not God’s command, but David’s own idea to build a permanent temple.  For, the sacrifices and ceremonies of the old covenant all pointed forward to the coming of the promised Messiah.   They were intended by God to be only temporary, to be superseded by the new covenant the Messiah would usher in when he came.

When the woman at the well asked Jesus if the true worship of God was found on Mt. Gerazim with the Samaritans, or only at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus described the end of the temple and its worship, which he brought with the Messianic era: “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . .  a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

It was widely expected that the Messiah when he came would totally transform, if not eliminate, the temple and its ceremonies.  When Jesus takes it upon himself to drive the money-changers and merchants from the temple courts, the temple leaders consider that correctly an assertion by Jesus of who he is: the promised Messiah.  So, they demand from Jesus a miraculous sign to confirm that he is the Messiah.  But, you see, they don’t want it to be true.  They don’t really want him to be the Messiah.  Because, they have perverted the temple into a money-making machine for them and their cronies.   As Jesus says, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” 

They know that if he really is the Messiah, it will mean the end of their cushy, easy existence, as parasites skimming off the operation of the temple.  Just after today’s Gospel Reading, John says, “[Jesus] did not need to be told about anyone, for he knew what was in a man.”  So, Jesus knows that they ask for a sign, not out of faith, but out of unbelief and rejection of him as the Messiah.  Even when he does perform miraculous signs, they still do not believe, but accuse him of being a sorcerer in league with Satan: “He is possessed by Beelzebub!  It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”  John concludes, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

Jesus knows that it is futile trying to convince them with a miraculous sign.  For, if he is the Messiah, that will mean the end of the temple as they know it, and run it.  They are so attached to temple—for all the wrong reasons, because it is a good source for them of ill-gotten income—that they will just explain away and reject whatever sign he may do.  But, there is one, ultimate sign that will confirm who he is: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus’ answer is purposely enigmatic, a riddle.  It is like the parables, designed to get people thinking, and stick in their minds.  Jesus knows a miraculous sign will not get through to them, but perhaps this enigmatic riddle will. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

What does he mean?  What is he talking about?  The temple they standing in?   But, that doesn’t make any sense.  “’It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’  But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”

This riddle did indeed stick in the minds of his disciples, and finally made sense to them three years later on Easter morn: “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.”

Paul says in 1st Timothy, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body.”  Christ’s describes his human body as a temple, because in him the divine and human are united.  As Paul says in Colossians, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”

Jesus will prove he is divine, the God-man, the Messiah, by doing something no one else has done, or will do, or could do: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  Muhammad is buried at Medina, Saudi Arabia.   Confucius is buried in Qufu, China.  Buddha was cremated and his ashes buried in India. But, Paul says in Romans, “[Christ] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”

“What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority,” to prove that you are the Messiah?  “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”  They would indeed attempt to destroy the temple of his body three years later, when he was crucified, dead, and buried.  But, as Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, “[You] put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” 

Christ’s resurrection from the dead proves who he is: the divine Son of God, come down from heaven and made man, the promised Messiah, your Savior.  Paul describes in Colossians what Christ’s death and resurrection means for you: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” 

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again.”  Paul explains in Romans that through Baptism you are united with Christ in his death and resurrection.  You see, you are called a “follower” of Christ, not only because you follow him in this life, but at the end of your life you will also follow him on the same journey he took at the end of his life: through death, and the grave, to eternal life: “All of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.”

So, when Jesus declares, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again,” it is not only a prophecy about his own resurrection, it is also his promise to you of your resurrection.  Job puts it this way, “After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”

Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”  Just as Jesus raised from the dead on the third day the temple of his own body, he will raise from the dead on the last day the temple of your body. 

“Do not be amazed at this,” Jesus says, “for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear the voice the Son of Man and come out. . .  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . .  I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.” 

The decay and destruction of your body culminates in your death and burial, but it is really an ongoing process already during your life.  If not for the fall of humanity into sin, our world and our bodies would be perfect.  However, we don’t live in a perfect world anymore, and the lingering effects of the fall cause disease and decay, a gradual decline and ongoing destruction of our bodies over our lifetimes.  But, Jesus promises, not only about his body, but also about your body, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again.”

Jesus told the thief on the cross beside him, who trusted in him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”  At the moment of death, your soul will depart your body and go to be with Christ in paradise.  As Paul says in Philippians, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”

At the last day, your body will be raised up, restored to life, and transformed to glorious perfection.  As Paul also says in Philippians, “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”  That’s why Revelation says that in heaven, “There will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Each week we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” or in the Nicene Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”  Those aren’t just empty words that we recite.  For, Jesus not only prophesies his own resurrection, he also promises your resurrection, when he declares, “Destroy This Temple and I Will Raise It Again.”

Amen.

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