Looking for a Sign
John 2:13–22: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
(Mt 21:12–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:45–48)
13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After 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.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 2:13–22). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
The majesty of Jesus must have rivaled his baptism and transfiguration the day he walked into Jerusalem and cleaned out the Temple. It is hard for me to imagine how the well-established religious practice could be so easily overturned without a significant and maybe even violent response. Something very different happens though. Instead of fighting back, the people simply ask for a sign, the way a person asks the police for a warrant if they want to enter a home.
It is almost as if they were expecting someone to get around to this sometime or another. They were less concerned about the action and more concerned with Who was carrying out that action. Why is that, I wonder?
I think maybe they felt like the Temple was like a great grandmother’s prize china dishes which had been pawned away to someone else who did not know the sentimental value of them. Perhaps they were being used for common meals: tv dinners and delivery pizza. You know that these dishes need to be specially cleaned, but you don’t trust just anyone to do it. You might be afraid that, in a clumsy attempt to make things better, they might actually be marred worse, or perhaps even broke.
The answer Jesus gives is: go ahead and break them all, and in three days, I will remake them again. Part of what makes his answer ridiculous is not just that it takes more than 3 days to build something like the Temple in Jerusalem. It is that the stones themselves have memories attached to them. There are things about the structure itself and the experiences that took place there that could never be replaced. Sentimental value cannot simply be remade.
Or can it?
What if some of the things we hold most dear are some of the things that need to be cleaned up the most? What if the kind of cleansing we need is not soap and water, but a grinding stone and a forge? Would we trust Jesus enough to hand our most precious things in life knowing He held a hammer in one hand and a blowtorch in the other?
More importantly, do we believe that, after all that, He could put us back together again, better than we are today? Perhaps you and I would ask for a sign also.