Sermon text: Exodus 20: 1-17, John 2: 13-22
A dozen of us sat around tables at the Flyin’ Lion in Jennerstown, and in between bites of cheeseburger and sips of our drinks we talked about faith. Once a month we gathered to weave together a contemporary topic of public importance and our Christian faith, and this week we were supposed to be discussing the 10 Commandments and if they ought to be displayed by the government in public works of art. But an interesting twist occurred that evening; one of the participants was struggling to remember all the commandments and wondered aloud if we could name all ten of them.
That should be easy, right? We had twelve adults, mostly churched. There’s only 10 of these commandments. That’s less than one commandment per person…not too challenging. Oh, how I was wrong! I sat at my spot recording all of their answers, and they were using creative license trying to list all ten. After several minutes we finally had them all written down.
That night we learned some important lessons:
- We don’t all number the commandments the same way. There were people from different denominations and churches at this discussion and our lists were slightly at odds with each other.
- We don’t know the Decalogue as well as we think we do.
Guess what we discussed as a group for the next 10 months?
The 10 Commandments are incredibly important and in today’s first lesson we hear the list as it is given by God to Moses. God has brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they are camping at Mount Sinai, and now the people are getting some rules. God is outlining how to have a good life by following these commandments in their community life.
Simply put, these are the values that characterize God’s community as they live together. The commandments promote life. We see that most clearly with the command not to murder, but every single one of these laws promotes a fuller, richer existence. The same goes for the Sabbath as we rest and recharge. We are told to respect the origins of life with your parents, to not break the sacred trust rooted in relationships, words, and possessions, to use God’s divine name well, and to honor and worship the God who delivered freedom, the God who won the Israelites from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh.
The 10 Commandments also announce an important fact to the people of Israel, one that we have heard emphasized in the last two weeks with God’s covenants with Noah and Abraham. “I am your God. I am the one who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. I am your God; you are the people whom I saved. You do not travel alone in this wilderness. You are claimed.”
Together this message and these commandments are inscribed on stone tablets and revered by the people. They are kept safe in the holy ark of the covenant. In many respects they are viewed as the power and location of God, especially when the ark is placed in the center of today’s Gospel setting, in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the Holy of Holies.
The Temple is God’s house and it is an supremely significant space—important for religious purposes in Judaism, and important as the economic driving force for the city of Jerusalem. However, it appears, at least to Jesus, that the economics of the Temple are overtaking the devotion and faith shown in that sacred space. Jesus shows some righteous indignation as he cleanses the Temple. Using a whip he clears the livestock and the merchants, he overturns tables, and dumps out coins. In his anger Jesus will essentially shut down the everyday operation of the Temple. He pulls the plug.
“Stop making my Father’s house a market house!” he shouts.
Jesus couldn’t be clearer. The God who freed you from Egypt, the God who gave you the Commandments to live by, the God whom you honor with this Temple, I am the son of that God. Stop disrespecting my Father’s house.
And then, like Father, like Son: On this Mount Zion Jesus will issue a commandment. The 10 Commandments God gave on Mount Sinai will be the basis for life together as a community, but this commandment from Jesus will transform our lives.
Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
In the original Greek this written in the Imperative Case. This is a command, even though it is very often read as a conditional clause. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple,” not “If you should destroy this temple.” The leaders think he’s talking about the physical structure, but as John helpfully editorializes, “he was speaking of the temple of his body.”
“Kill me, destroy me, and in three days it will be raised.”
The temple is the location of God, which makes Jesus a living, breathing, walking, talking Temple. A temple of flesh.
Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. Destroy this temple and you will see death defeated. Destroy this temple and grace will cover you and all your faults. Destroy this temple and forgiveness will flow out of it. Destroy this temple and healing will radiate from me. Destroy this temple and new life, abundant life, resurrected life will be yours.
In the 10 Commandments God lets the people of Israel know that they are claimed and that they have rules to promote a better life together. In this command Jesus will change us and renew us when brokenness encroaches in on our lives.
Rules are good, but redemption is better. Laws help us live, but forgiveness gives us a path forward. The 10 Commandments provide order, but the work of the cross and the resurrection change us more than we could ever change ourselves by following the commandments.
Jesus drives out the sacrificial animals from the Temple and demands to take their place. He becomes the sacrifice for us all and brings us into everlasting peace. Call it atonement. Call it forgiveness. Call it the way forward. When we inevitably show our sinful selves and break all 10 Commandments, this commandment from Christ reminds us of the ultimate truth.
I am your God.
I have freed you.
I have claimed you.
I will die for you.
You are mine.