Read Today’s Reading »
What is church for? Why are we here? Why even bother with church anyway? What’s the point?
This question is the elephant in the room when it comes to church. Not too long ago going to church was just what you did. I can still remember seeing all the stores closed on Sunday because most people went to church. No one asked, “Why go to church?” because it was like paying taxes. But now that the cultural backing has eroded, it’s an open question: Why go to church? It’s not that there aren’t churches out there. There are—lots of churches everywhere you look. But now we’re just not sure what to make of them. What are they for anyway? Why bother with it? Aren’t there better things to do on a Sunday morning? What’s the point?
There are some popular answers to that question. For example, church is where you go to be inspired so that you can go out and change the world. Or church is where you offer your devotion to God. Or, church is where you find the help and the encouragement to get through life.
But I have to admit that there’s something unsatisfying about these answers. After all, I can do all of these things without church. I can hear an inspiring message on the Internet. I can give honor and glory to God in my own way on my own time. I can learn to make good decisions from Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts or somewhere else. If these are the answers—if these are the reasons to go to church—then I can’t help but wonder, what’s the point? Why bother with church?
There is a point to church, something that makes church not only unique but the one and only thing in life that really matters. Church is the place where you encounter the one true God through his Son; it’s the place where you find Jesus.
In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus is furious. Jesus went up to Jerusalem and he entered the temple. And there he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the moneychangers sitting there. And he explodes. He makes a homemade whip and he drives them all out of the temple—not just the sheep and the oxen but the moneychangers too. Can you imagine Jesus chasing these people out of the temple with a whip in his hand?! And then he takes the money of the money changers and pours it out on the ground, he turns over their tables, and he says to those selling pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus explodes!
What triggers Jesus to suddenly fly off the handle?
They had turned the temple into a marketplace, a place where you exchange favors with God, quid pro quo. You give some of your money for oxen or a sheep or a pigeon and you get God’s blessing and favor in return. But the temple was never meant to be a place of exchange with God. The temple is a place where God is present among his people, where he gives his gifts and gives them in abundance.
The God of Israel, the Creator of all things, is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. But where do you find him? Where do you go to receive his steadfast love and faithfulness, his forgiveness and favor? You go to the temple. That’s why the temple was built. The temple is the place where the Lord, who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, serves his people. So when Jesus walks into the temple and sees people acting like God is not a good gift giver but a merchant whose favor needs to be traded for or bought, he loses it! “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
When the dust settles, the authorities ask him, “What sign do you show us for doing this?” What right do you have? And Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews can’t help but laugh: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body.
Jesus himself is the place on earth where God does his steadfast love and faithfulness, where God does his forgiving, his blessing, his showing favor. Jesus is the place where the Creator is known in the flesh, the place where the one who created all things dishes out his gifts in abundance.
The gospel of John puts it this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The one who was with God in the beginning, the source of life itself, is the Word. “And the Word,” says John, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” But the Greek word John uses to say “dwelt among us” is one of the words used to describe the temple. It’s as if John said, The eternal Word of God, the source of life himself, has templed among us. And Jesus himself is the place where God is present among us, where God gives his gifts—his steadfast love, his blessing, his favor—and gives them in abundance.
And that’s exactly what Jesus declares. Jesus says He is living water. When he speaks to a woman at a well, he says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Everyone who drinks water will be satisfied for a time. But they will be thirsty again. And no amount of h2o will keep us from dying. But everyone who comes to Jesus has living water—life that will never come to an end.
Or again, Jesus says He is true bread. “I am the bread of life;” Jesus said, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Again, we can eat our fill of bread. But we will get hungry again, and no amount of bread will keep us from dying. But Jesus is the source of life himself. And everyone who believes in him, everyone who eats his flesh, will be raised from the dead to everlasting life.
Or again, Jesus is the true sacrifice. When Jesus dies on the cross, he declares it is finished, then he bows his head and gives up his spirit. And the soldiers come to break the legs of the men hanging on the cross, because they want them to die. But when they come to Jesus, they see that he’s already dead. And instead of breaking his legs, they pierce his side with a spear. John tells us that, “at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: not one of his bones will be broken.” The Scripture that John refers to, that none of his bones will be broken, is talking about the Passover lamb. Jesus himself is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And the water and blood that flow from Jesus side? Well you can’t help but see in that the abundant forgiveness that flows from Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, his body and blood given to us for the forgiveness of sins. And you can’t help but see the water of baptism, which cleanses us from all sin.
And when Jesus rises from the dead on the first day of the week, Jesus shows himself to be exactly who he says he is. The one who has the power of life and death! The one who has life in himself, and who gives life in abundance.
The temple is the place where God is present and gives his gifts in abundance. But the building of the temple has been surpassed…by a person. And that person is Jesus.
But that raises the question: Where do I find this guy? If Jesus is the one who gives life and gives it in abundance, where do I get ahold of him? You don’t find him at the football game, or on a hike in the woods, or at work, or at Lowes. You don’t find him in a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart. You find him here at church. Church is the one place where Jesus is—the one place where Jesus pours out life in abundance. This is the place where Jesus forgives our sins. It’s the place where Jesus speaks to us and promises us that we belong to him. Church is the place where Jesus gives us his body and blood so that we may have true life that will never come to an end.
You have come to the right place. The Lord Jesus Christ is here to pour out his gifts in abundance. So come eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus and have true life.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.