October 29, 2019 – Gentle Jesus? The Love of Money, and the First Commandment- Mark 11:15-19, Leviticus 25:36-37, Matthew 6:24

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For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:8 (ESV)

And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)

Gentle Jesus…yes, but not always. Emotions are not inherently good or evil.  What we do in response to our emotions is what matters.  Jesus got angry.  Jesus acted upon His anger, which was justified.  People had turned the temple, which was supposed to be a holy place of prayer, into a place to rip people off.

The money changers and other vendors had taken legitimate business and turned it into price gouging and taking advantage of people who traveled to the temple over long distances. They engaged in a similar philosophy that lies behind the truth that a Bud Light that costs $1.50 at Kroger costs $12 at the football stadium or hockey arena.

Most of us can live without a $12 beer. It’s there if we really want it, and it is a rip off to pay that much, but the people coming to the temple had no other place to exchange their money for temple currency.  Most people coming to the temple also could not bring live animals for sacrifice over long distances, so they had to buy animals on site. The money changers and other vendors had a captive audience at the temple for needs rather than for wants or conveniences, which makes that sort of price gouging a form of extortion.

Some people have interpreted Jesus’ actions toward the money changers and vendors to mean that one should never sell anything at church. To this day many churches will not conduct fund raisers inside the church building because of this example from the life of Jesus, but the act of selling things in the temple isn’t what made Jesus angry.

The money changers and temple vendors were not wrong to be exchanging “secular” money for temple currency for the offering, nor was it out of bounds that they were selling live animals for the ritual sacrifices.  Both the exchange of “secular” money for temple currency and the purchase of animals for sacrifice were required for those who were observing the Mosaic Law and keeping the Passover. The sin of the money changers and temple vendors was that they were making exorbitant profits on those transactions and taking advantage of their neighbors. The money changers and temple vendors were ripping people off and lining their pockets with the proceeds in clear violation of the Mosaic Law which states that the people of Israel were not supposed to loan to each other with interest or exact a profit off of each other.

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.  You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. – Leviticus 25:36-37 (ESV)

See also: Ezekiel 18

The fact that the chief priests and the scribes were so unhappy with Jesus for his reaction to the vendors activities suggests that they may have been on the take as well.

Jesus was bad for business.

Which brings us back to the question: “Which god were the chief priests and the scribes actually serving?”  It wasn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus Himself taught:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The sin that the chief priests, the scribes, the money changers, and the vendors in the temple all shared is the worship of a god (money) that isn’t God. We are tempted in that direction as well.

The love of money is the most attractive false god (other than ourselves) that people fall prey to.  While it is true that we need money to buy the things we need to survive, it is also true that God is the maker and provider of all things.  God is the one who provides us with the means to earn what we need to survive, as well as to serve our neighbors (vocation.)  We cannot put our trust in our abilities, in money or in anything else other than in Jesus.

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

The First Commandment: 

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

No one puts God first in all things. We are not capable of obeying the Law.  We all get obsessed with having enough (or not having enough) money at times.  Money in and of itself, like anger, is not a bad thing.  But do we love money more than God and others?  Do we get angry without having a good cause and an appropriate release for our anger?

Jesus took the penalty for all the times we violate the law.  We don’t deserve His pardon. We can’t earn His pardon.  Jesus took the penalty of death for us because He loves us.  Jesus was angry at the money changers and the temple vendors because they were turning a holy place that was supposed to be reserved for prayer to God and worship and turned it into a place to rip people off.

How maddening it must have been for Jesus to watch people ripping each other off for the love of money and worshiping the acquisition of wealth when He was right there in front of them- the Creator and Source of all.

The priests and scribes put their love of money above the love and worship of God.  Most of us would be guilty of the same sin against the First Commandment.

Yet God turned the priests’ and scribes’ intents- as well as our intents- for evil to our good.  The people who plotted the death of Jesus did not know that His blood would be spilled for the forgiveness of their sins. They looked right at God but didn’t know Him.  They rejected the stone that God had made to be the cornerstone.  The reproach of the reprehensible fell on God in human flesh alone.

Save by the power of the Holy Spirit, no one can come to faith in Jesus.

Lord, we thank You for Jesus, and we thank You for the gift of faith that we cannot earn and do not deserve. Help us to always remember Your death on the cross to save us from our sins. Comfort us and give us confidence that in our Baptism we have died in Christ and are made Yours forever.

We pray that we would trust in Your provision- that we would have enough for ourselves and some to share with others- neither too little so we would be tempted to steal, nor too much, lest we worship the thing (money) rather than the Creator and Giver of all.

We pray these things in the holy Name of Jesus.

 

November 21, 2018 – Thank God for Everything- Psalm 30, 1 Peter 2:4-10

thank god everything

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol. You restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22-23, Matthew 21:42)

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-10 (ESV)

Faith, as we learn from the apostle Paul (see Romans 3), is a gift from God.  We may never understand why some receive the gift of faith and others do not.  We know that Jesus died for the sins of ALL.  Our faith is a gift, and it comes to us through the means of grace – hearing the Word taught and preached, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

David’s theme in Psalm 30 is thankfulness. Left to our own designs we fail.  We can see God’s Law in action and it condemns us. God does not owe us anything.  God chooses to act on our behalf regardless of how ornery or obnoxious we are. If we look into David’s life- David, the anointed king, the man with a heart after God, David, the earthly forefather of Jesus, we find a pretty ornery character with quite a few skeletons in his closet.  We are no better than David was, yet like David, we are made right with God by faith.

God is the one who grants us the gift of repentance, which is simply sorrow over our sins and a desire to turn a 180 away from them. God is the one who lifts us up when it seems as if the world and our own evil desires are going to destroy us.  God has mercy on us even though we hardly deserve mercy.  The only thing that we are capable of earning from God is wrath.

Jesus is the one who calls us from darkness to light. Jesus is the one who says to us, “I have chosen you and I am transforming you into one of the precious stones I use to build My house.”  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are being made holy- bit by bit in this world, but fully and completely when we step out of the “now” and walk into finality of “not yet.”

The only response we can have to such generous grace and mercy is deep thanks- thanks for the assurance that we are named, claimed children of God. He will never let us go in spite of our inadequacy and our utter inability to repay Him.

In this season of darkness sometimes it is hard to believe that there will come a day when darkness and despair will be defeated forever. Our mourning will be turned into dancing.  We have been lifted up from the pit of Sheol (place of the dead.)  We are set free to praise and sing. We are God’s people, saved by His mercy.  We have everything to thank Him for.