On Saturdays, I’m writing my thoughts that have rambled in my brain since hearing the sermon at my church. Today’s entry was inspired by Barry Jones’ sermon given at Irving Bible Church as we’re picking up in Mark where we left off months ago. This sermon is titled “Come, Follow Me: The Gospel of Mark, Part 2.”
I started getting into Jesus about the same time I was getting into Joey Ramone, Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer. This may explain my favorite stories about Jesus…
…which, as an aside, given the right conditions, is a great question to ask people. The answers tend to be very revealing.
Anyway, given that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you that my favorite stories about Jesus involve the two times he turned over tables in the Temple court. Yep. I believe a thoughtful reading of the book of John lends itself to two different times Jesus did the same thing. In the first “cleansing” in John 2, Jesus made a whip and wrecked havoc on folks who were making a lot of money on the pilgrims coming to express their faith at the Temple on Passover.
He did it again on his third Passover trip. No whip is recorded in that one. But both times Jesus was getting to the heart of walking with God. Barry described the scene this way in his sermon:
There is chaos and corruption and commerce that’s all happening in the Temple courts. That the people have elevated profits over people. This place that is supposed to be a place to come and encounter God and worship Him has become a become a place that’s filled with commerce, corruption and chaos. Jesus is having none of it. And in His righteous anger, He disrupts the whole process, turning over the tables and driving out the animals. Now, this is what’s going on on the surface of the story. But we need to ask the question, ‘What’s the theological meaning underneath? What’s going on here? What is God trying to communicate to His people through the meaning of the story?’…
…It was in the court of the Gentiles that all this commerce and corruption and chaos was happening. And God’s desire was for Israel to live it’s life in a way that they would be a light to the nations, that all nations would see through their life what it looked like to live a fully human life. What it looked like to live under the reign of God and that they would be drawn to Israel’s God and they would come to that place to worship Him. And yet that was made impossible by all that was happening in the Court of the Gentiles.
Jesus had an expectation that the nation of Israel would be a light to the nations. An echo of a mental turning over of tables from the famous Sermon on the Mount.
I agree with scholar N.T. Wright’s interpretation of the Sermon in Matthew 5 in that it was a “turn-the-tables-over” manifesto address to the nation. Most folks are drawn to the adjectives that we admire that Jesus calls His people toward…like “meek,” “merciful,” “pure.” And people should aspire to that, but this “sermon” went far beyond being “nice” people. You gotta keep reading and you gotta have context.
Wright is right. The people on that hillside had an expectation of a Messiah coming to overthrow the government and usher in His Kingdom. This was expected behavior on that hillside where the rabble-rousers and riff-raff would gather to hear the keynote address of someone who would lead the charge against Rome and rescue His people.
These were the kind of folks who were practically sharpening swords while Jesus was addressing them…and then Jesus blesses all the “wrong” people. He would speak of revolution in those words, no question. But the revolution was going to take a much different form than they were expecting. Oh, yes, there will be a kingdom ushered in with the Messiah winning a military victory, but much has to happen before that…it isn’t going to happen the way you think it’s going to happen.
It’s going to happen by Israel being who they were created to be. Like Barry put it: a light to the nations by living life as it’s supposed to be lived. That hillside speech not only blesses all the “wrong” people, but it wasn’t long before Jesus was telling the assembled fringe element that they were supposed to be the light to the nations, but they stunk at doing it. The rest of that sermon focuses on their hearts.
Just like the prophet Isaiah did. Read chapter 1 if you have the time. God wasn’t interested in only offerings of goats and bulls and doves and such. He was interested in their hearts. As Francis Schaeffer was fond of saying, “Inward realities become outward changes.”
And my experience in coming to church early on as a guy who loved Joey, Johnny and Joe was that the folks who loved me seemed to spend a lot of time trying to get my outward behavior squared away. They wanted me to stop wearing certain t-shirts and getting rid of the music and making sure I didn’t cuss or see R-rated movies and kept my hands off my girlfriend. The had the order backwards. They focused on outward changes to keep me in-bounds until my realities came to my innards. I guess they had their own bulls and goats and doves.
Well intentioned bulls, goats and doves, mind you. And maybe even wise bulls, goats and doves.
See, like them or not…
…or agree with them or not, Joey, Johnny and Joe were singing about things that mattered. They were contrasting the pop music/culture of the day with pointing out things that, from their perception were “wrong.” They sang with anger. They turned over tables against things like class warfare, abortion on-demand, poverty, oppression, war, and on and on. It was music about the heart from the heart. Which demanded action. It was an artistic turning over the tables of society.
But it begins in the heart.
Which should manifest itself in a life well-lived, to be sure. But we have to get the order right.
Inward reality first. The outward will happen from there.
And I agree with Barry at the end of his sermon when he says, “All your religious activity means nothing if you don’t love people in tangible concrete ways.”
That includes everybody, man. How do we show love to everybody in tangible, concrete ways? How do we turn the tables over from religious activity to truly living the abundant life which will be a shining light to a dark world?
Because those table-turning actions echo Isaiah 1 and Matthew 5 which beg us to examine our lives and turn the tables of our own heart over. That’s where the revolution needs to start…
…and that’s what Jesus was saying all through the New Testament…
…and what God’s been saying since Genesis.