The topic of our sermon this morning is, “Christ, our access to God.” It’s about worshipping God, how we know we do things right worshipping Him.
After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside that night and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today – but I wish you had been there!”
Jesus Christ – the place of worship
There was a day when our Lord and his disciples went to the temple in Jerusalem. Now keep in mind, as our text says, that it took Herod 46 years to build the temple. It was indeed a magnificent place with embellished colonnades, vestibules, decorated ceilings, ect. Then, as Matthew records it in his Gospel,
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1–2, NIV)
Jesus said this for two reasons:
- The worship was meaningless and corrupted.
- Even if everything did happen absolutely according to the Word of God – with a priest presiding over the sacrifices, the ceremonial washing of everything and everybody involved, all these things – such worship was destined to be replaced by a permanent priesthood and sacrifice, where even the place of the worship would be done away with.
And when that happened, the place for worship, the actual temple, became Jesus Christ.
The first temple, the one David planned and designed so carefully according to the instructions of God, was built by his son Solomon. It was a magnificent place. On the day this place was dedicated, Solomon prayed,
“But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27, NIV)
Earlier, before this prayer, when the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant into the Most Holy Place, we read,
… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple. (1 Kings 8:10–11, NIV)
God was not in the Ark, nor could they shut Him in behind those massive temple doors! What was in the Most Holy only symbolised his presence as the covenant God with his people: The Law of God (the two tablets) was his contract with his people. It described their delivery from slavery through grace and mercy, and it stipulated their conduct as God’s treasured possession amongst the nations.
This was the point so sadly missed by the majority of the leaders of the Old Testament. When their enemy would surround them, attack them or threaten them, the false prophets applied their corrupted theology and taught them that for as long as the temple was on Mount Zion, God was with them.
“This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4, NIV)
In verse 14 Jeremiah, the true prophet of the Lord, told them the words of God,
“… the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors… I will thrust you from my presence…” (Jeremiah 7:14–15, NIV)
They trusted in the temple? Because if was not God they trusted in they themselves became the standard of worship. This takes us to the verse we come across in John 2:
Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? (Jeremiah 7:11, NIV)
So John 2 takes us to Jesus in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, the feast which was supposed to remind them of the reason they existed as a people: God showed them mercy by passing over the doors with the blood of the lamb on it. What Jesus found in the temple courts on that Passover stirred Him, because the place had become exactly what Jeremiah described: a den of robbers.
The cattle, sheep and doves were used in the sacrificial worship of the temple. For worshippers coming from a distance, it was a convenience and a service to be able to purchase these animals onsite, instead of having to bring them from afar.
People from all over the Roman Empire gathered to Jerusalem for the high festivals, bringing many different coins with them. Every Jewish male of twenty years of age or over, had to pay temple tax paid Tyre coins because of the quality of the silver. The money-changers converted money to the approved currency, charging a percentage for their service. Those who were involved in this trade, made money, and probably took dishonest profits.
All of this did not happen in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the temple courts! Everything in preparation to the worship of God was distracting from the actual worship. The buying of the animals and the exchanging of the money almost seem to have become worship in itself, and focus on the holiness of God and his requirement for contrite hearts were lost. God was not in it.
The worship of God was not pure; it became mechanical, just another tick in the box on the religious calendar.
We can fall into the same trap. How many times do we attend worship for other reasons than what God designed it for? Do we even prepare for worship? More even, is our highest priority to meet with other believers around the throne of God in the Name of Christ? This is not the house of God, but it is our place for corporate worship. And the reason we worship is to have communion with the living God. Do we understand this?
To drive the animals from the temple courts Jesus used a whip. He overturned the tables of the money changers. The fact that He was not arrested there that day points to two facts: He had the authority to do so, the authority which He received from God. It also pointed to the fact that those involved in these practices deep down knew the they were wrong.
Jesus acted not because of the temple itself, but because of his zeal for true worship. When He drove out the animals and rebuked the moneychangers He took the initial steps to restore worship. Ultimately He would take on Himself the sin of the moneychangers, as well as those who approached God with irreverence and thoughtlessly, and those who came with to worship with reverence and awe, – his sacrifice restored not only true worship, but the sinful hearts and attitudes of every person who must approach God.
He replaced the temple, the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the altars, the basins – everything. As such, He now is our place of worship. We don’t go up to Jerusalem to worship; there is no mount Zion, there is no temple – there is no other place to find and worship God, but Jesus Christ. And we meet God going past Calvary Hill to the open grave where our Lord made it possible to find God.
Jesus Christ – the approach to worship
The priests brought the Ark into the new temple of Solomon. What was in the ark? 1 Kings 8:9 says,
There was nothing in the ark except the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt. (1 Kings 8:9, NIV)
The Ark of the Covenant was placed in the Most Holy – it was that place where only the high priest entered once a year to bring a sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. God descended in his glory and filled the place. He was with his people. The Law was his contract with his people, but their sins were always before Him. The blood of calves and rams could not atone permanently. This fact Jesus knew very well. His mission was to bring a permanent solution to sin: his sacrifice was the only atoning sacrifice. That day when He saw the moneychangers and irreverent worshippers, our Lord knew that He had to replace corrupt, sin-stained worship with true God-honouring worship. What Christ came to do was to, in his body, replace the temple and all its stood for and meant, and to bring an substitute atoning sacrifice and righteousness which would satisfy to holiness of God.
Dr Don Carson writes:
Jesus’ cleansing of the temple testifies to his concern for pure worship, a right relationship with God at the place supremely designated to serve as the focal point of the relationship between God and man.
Christ fulfilled the requirements of the Law, his body was the perfect sacrifice presented by the perfect high priest – Himself: there was no need for Him to fist of all kill an animal to cover his own sins.
We preach Christ, and Him crucified, the only approach to the Father. When I speak to God in the Name of Christ, I have the right address, but I also have the right of approach. The writer of Hebrews says,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15, NIV)
Jesus Christ – the way into worship
All of what we have heard up to this point is summarised if we say that Christ is the way or the door into worship. Any worship which focusses on anything else is not worship. Man’s need not the reason for worship, but the Saviour who brings salvation. It’s not the building we gather in to worship, it’s the Name of Christ our Mediator. It’s not about any sacrament, but He who the sacraments point to. It’s not my name on the roll, it’s my name written in his blood in the Book of Life. It’s not the pew I have sat in all my life, but it’s about Christ who through his sacrifice has prepare our home in heaven. It’s not about my financial contribution to maintain the buildings, but it’s about the lost which needs salvation in Christ.
Our Lord said they could destroy this temple, and He would raise it again in three days. They did not understand it then, not even the disciples. But when all was finished, and He conquered death in his body, they understood. God opened their eyes and they believed. The minds of the Pharisees remained shut – and in the darkness of their hearts these words of Christ became one of the main charges against Him – and they killed Him for saying it.
My dear friend, put your faith in Christ, the place of our worship, the approach of our worship and the door and way through which we approach God into worship.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 October 2016