Looking for a Sign

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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.

Cure

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Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” On that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the sources of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures. On that day the Lord will shave with a razor hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will take off the beard as well. On that day one will keep alive a young cow and two sheep, and will eat curds because of the abundance of milk that they give; for everyone that is left in the land shall eat curds and honey. On that day every place where there used to be a thousand vines, worth a thousand shekels of silver, will become briers and thorns. With bow and arrows one will go there, for all the land will be briers and thorns; and as for all the hills that used to be hoed with a hoe, you will not go there for fear of briers and thorns; but they will become a place where cattle are let loose and where sheep tread. Isaiah 7:10-25 (NRSV)

Babies grow up so fast. Don’t miss the moments you have with them. You blink and they are ready for their first haircut. You drop out for just a moment and they grow a foot in height and 3 feet worth of attitude. Babies become children in no time at all. That is the point of this prophecy.

King Ahaz was freaking out because the countries around him were gearing up to attack, and had already attacked some of the neighboring communities. He wanted a military solution to something he saw as a military problem.

God however was looking for a little bit of faith. In the same way that Jesus relieved Thomas’s doubts by showing him the wound marks on his body, so God told King Ahaz to simply ask for a sign and God would do it. But unlike Thomas, Ahaz refused to ask, refused to seek, and refused to look for God at all. So God told him what the sign would be: a son shall be born and before he is old enough to know right and wrong, those nations you fear so much today will not even exist.

God was raising up a “razor”, in the form of the King of Assyria who would conquer all the land. God planned to use this foreign king as a cleansing tool on Israel and her neighbors – for razors were not used as much for looking good, but as doctor’s tools, to cut hair from those who had skin diseases and needed a fresh start. Hair and beards were signs of maturity and authority, and God was letting them know they all needed to be as ones who were born again, to the hairless status of infants. The very land itself would go back to the way it was before people farmed it, inhabited only by wild livestock.

Advent reminds us that Christ is coming again, and that when He does, none of our own strength or possessions will save us. Our only hope is Jesus. He changed the lives of all in the Christmas story, and He will change our life as well.

He only asks us to trust him because sometimes the thing that looks like a loss to us is actually the cure that God has created to save us. God put Israel back on track as a nation that witnessed His glory to the world by sending the nations to conquer them. He saved us from sin by sending His Son to die for us. He saves us from death, by inviting us to pick up our crosses daily and follow him.

  • What have you lost this year?
  • What do you hope to find?
  • What is God showing you as a sign of His faithfulness to you?

In Christ alone my hope is found

He is my light, my strength, my song

This cornerstone, this solid ground

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

Friday December 9, 2016