The Lord's Day Morning
June 5, 2011
“In the Temple”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke 19. We’ll begin right at the end of the chapter at verse 45 and continue on to Luke 20 verse 8. It is Monday of what we call Holy Week. On the Sunday of that week, Jesus has triumphantly entered into Jerusalem and His followers have shouted “Hosanna, to the One who comes in the name of the Lord!” as He enters in on a donkey in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. On Monday, He cleanses the temple. He casts out the money changers in the outer courts that are defiling what should be a holy place, a place of worship, what He calls here His Father's “house of prayer.”
And on probably Tuesday morning, He is met for the first of three times by leaders of the people of Israel, the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin — chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, and elders from some of the prominent synagogues. And they challenge Him as to His authority and to the claims that He makes about His person. The passage that we're going to read today then, comes from Monday and probably Tuesday morning of that final week of Jesus’ life before He was crucified on the Friday. He's probably teaching, in Luke 20:1-8, on the stoa of the temple area, maybe near Solomon's Portico. And He's got crowds around Him and they’re, we're told by Luke here, hanging on every word. They are earnestly listening to His teaching, and in this context, He is confronted by the religious leaders of His people as to His authority.
Thus we have two scenes in the passage we're about to read and I want to look at them in two parts. The first part is the cleansing of the temple, and in that cleansing, Luke is going to show us Jesus accomplishing several things with one deed. This passage in particular is going to point out the need for the cleansing of the temple. And that was something of course which was predicted by the prophet. For instance, if you remember the little book of Malachi, in Malachi 2 and 2, the prophet Malachi goes on and on about the defilement of the priests and the defilement of the offerings that they were offering in the worship of God. And in chapter 3, he predicts that there will be a messenger of the covenant who will come and refine with fire and purify as with fuller's soap the people of God and its worship. And so there was an expectation from the Old Testament prophet that there would be a day when the temple was cleansed and the offerings of Israel were purified. You even hear it in the libretto of Handel's Messiah in that bass solo, “for He is like a refiner's fire,” if you can remember the last time you've heard the whole of Handel's Messiah. And so there's this expectation, before the coming of the kingdom, that the temple will be cleansed and certainly that is one of the things that Luke is pointing to in this passage — identifying Jesus as the messenger of the covenant who is going to come and cleanse the temple.
But what I want us to concentrate on today is how this passage reveals the hearts of the leaders of God's people, the religious leaders of God's people. And then in chapter 20 verses 1 through 8, there comes this challenge to Jesus’ authority from those very people. And it reveals something about the blindness of their hard hearts. But of course these messages are not simply for people that lived 2,000 years ago; they’re for us. In fact, the rebuke, the warnings that Luke entails in this passage are just as much for us upon whom the ends of the ages have come, as they are for unbelieving Jews in Jesus’ own day.
Well let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father we ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word and by Your holy Spirit You will enable us to understand and believe and embrace the truth that You've set forth in Your Word which You mean for our profit, for our edification, for our training and instruction in righteousness. We ask that You would show us our sin and that we would not deny it or be blind to it, and that we would run to our Savior and that You would show Him to us as well. And we ask all this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.’
And He was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on His words.
One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to Him, ‘Tell us by what authority You do these things, or who it is that gave You this authority.’ He answered them, ‘I also will ask you a question. Now tell Me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?’ And they discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,” all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.’ So they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
What do you think Jesus’ estimation of our worship would be if He were here with us today? In this passage, we have recorded for us His estimation of the worship of His own people in God's temple in His time. What do you think our estimation would be of Jesus if He were teaching in our midst today? In this passage, we have the estimation of the leading religious figures of His day, the religious leaders of the people of Israel. We have recorded their estimation of Jesus as He taught and preached the Gospel in their own day. Well let's think about these things in two parts because this passage has a very important message for all of us.
JESUS’ estimation of the worship of His own people in God's temple
The first thing I want you to see, you’ll see especially in verses 45 to 48. Here on the Monday Jesus has cleansed the temple; He's driven out the money changers. Now as you know, there are a couple of issues that come along with this that I'm not going to touch today. But if you want to ask me some questions about it later, I'm delighted to talk with you. One, some people ask the question, “Was it right for Jesus to cleanse the money changers and to drive them out of the temple?” and people question whether this was right or not. If this is something that bothers you, I would love to talk with you about it as would your other pastors if that's something that you would like to enlightenment on. Also there's the question of, “How many times did this happen?” John reports this happening early in Jesus’ ministry. Mark and Luke record this in the week of Jesus’ final public ministry before His crucifixion. And we're not going to get into that today. It's very clear that Luke, following Mark, highlights this event as something which indicates Jesus as the Messiah fulfilling the role that the prophet Malachi had indicated in Malachi 2 and 3.
But here's what I want to concentrate on and it's this — in the cleansing of the temple, Jesus is indicating that His people are in the grip of the sin of religious hypocrisy. They gather for public worship, they go through the motions of worshipping the living God, but they do not live in such a way to indicate that they’re really worshipping the living God. In other words, they’re hypocrites. Their outside actions don't go along with the idolatry of their hearts, and their worship of their own wills and of their own whims and ways during the week do not accord with their worship in the temple. And Jesus even uses a phrase from an Old Testament passage to make this point. If you look at Luke 19 verse 46, Jesus speaks of His people making the temple, what? A den of robbers — “You have made it a den of robbers,” He says in Luke 19:46.
Well if you’ll turn with me in your Bibles back to Jeremiah chapter 7, you’ll see the passage from which He takes this quotation and it will also teach you a little bit about how the New Testament quotes the Old Testament. You’ll see in Jeremiah 7:11 where He has taken these words from. “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?” Now if you will look at the context, you will see what Jeremiah is indicting the people of God in the Old Testament for. Look back to Jeremiah 7 verse 8. “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ — only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I Myself have seen it, declares the LORD.”
You see what Jeremiah is indicting the people for. They are living like pagans and then they’re coming to the temple and they’re going through the motions of worshipping the living God. They’re claiming to be faithful to Him and to offer Him pure and acceptable worship when they’re breaking the Ten Commandments and they’re following after other gods. In other words, in their whole lives, they’re worshipping themselves and their own wills and their own ways and then they’re gathering in the temple and they’re going through the motions at least outwardly of worshipping God. And Jeremiah is indicting them for hypocrisy. In this passage, as Jesus cleanses the temple in Luke 19, He quotes Jeremiah 7:11 to let you know that His estimation of the worship of His people in God's temple in His time is that they were hypocrites. They were religious hypocrites.
Now what does that say to us today? You know, when people say to us, “You know the people at First Presbyterian Church gather on Sunday morning and they say that they worship the living God, but they don't live that way six days a week.” Would they say that of us? But of course that's not the most important question. The question is, “What does God see of our worship? What is His estimation of our worship?” And notice at the end of Jeremiah 7:11, God emphasizes, “I the LORD have seen it.” I've seen what you’re doing. I know what's in your hearts. This is a warning against us, to us, against religious hypocrisy — going through the motions, saying that we're worshipping the Lord, gathering in His name, and yet living as if He is not our Lord, not worshipping Him in the whole of our lives. Religious hypocrisy is just as dangerous today as it was 2,000 years ago and 2,600 years ago and 3,000 years ago. Religious hypocrisy is a reality and Jesus is indicting His own people in their time in God's temple for just that, and He's warning us about it as well.
But there's good news in this verse as well. If you look back at the first part of verse 46 that I skipped over, Jesus says, “My house shall be a house of prayer.” Now that passage is taken from Isaiah 56. If you turn with me to Isaiah 56 — if you’re still in Jeremiah, you just have to turn a few pages back to Isaiah 56. And look at verses 3 to 8:
“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from His people”; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’ For thus says the LORD: ‘To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I will give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant — these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, ‘I will gather yet others to Him besides those already gathered.’”
Now that's a beautiful prophecy from Isaiah and do you understand the intent of it? In the Old Testament ceremonial law, eunuchs and foreigners — that's most of us, most of us are Gentiles — eunuchs and foreigners were excluded from the holy precincts of the temple. And Isaiah's predicting a day when both eunuchs and foreigners, Gentiles like you and me, will be brought into the presence of the Lord in worship. And by quoting this passage, Jesus is indicating that He is the one who has accomplished that. He is the Messiah; He is the messenger of the covenant who has cleansed the temple to prepare, bringing those who are not a part of the worship of the people of God into the old covenant, into the presence of God. So this is a passage of great encouragement to those of us who are Gentile believers. We have some Jewish believers in our congregation, but most of us are Gentile Christians here and this is a passage of great encouragement to us.
Jesus’ estimation of the leading religious figures of His day
But there's a second thing I want us to see as well and you see it in chapter 20 verses 1 through 8. Jesus is challenged by the spiritual leaders of His people. Look at verse 47 and then compare it again to verse 1 of chapter 20. Luke speaks of the chief priests, the scribes, and the principal men of the people, and then in verse 1, he speaks of the chief priests and the scribes with the elders. Now this is a three-fold description of the people that constituted the Sanhedrin, which was the highest religious court of the people of God. And all of them, Luke tells us, look again back at verse 47 — were seeking to do what? They were seeking to destroy Jesus. Why? Because of what Luke has already told you in Luke 19 verses 45 to 48. Why? Because they were hypocrites. Their hearts were not right. Their hearts were hard, their hearts were hypocritical, and therefore they rejected Jesus and they wanted to destroy Him.
And they decide — they’re listening to Him teach — and they decide that they’re going to confront Him with a difficult question. They ask Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?” Now what are they referring to? Certainly they’re referring to the cleansing of the temple the day before. You know, “Who are You, Jesus, to come in and take it upon Yourself to cleanse the temple?” Now chances are they recognized the symbolism, but they want Him to incriminate Himself. But they may well be asking Him, “By what authority have You done all the things that You've done and by what authority are You teaching the things that You’re teaching today?” Now you understand this puts Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If He says, “I'm doing this by God's authority, they’re immediately going to accuse Him of blasphemy and they’re going to haul Him off to trial. And there are things that He has to do and accomplish before that time will come. If He denies that He does these things from the authority of God, He is going to incriminate the integrity of His own ministry and allow them to mock Him and to say, “On what basis then are You doing and saying these things?”
Now, one can imagine Jesus giving a rather sarcastic reply to this. You know, “By what authority do You do these things?” “Okay, now are you asking by what authority I’ll say, raise people from the dead? Or healed lepers or restored the sight of blind people? You know, don't you understand how these things testify to who I am? Do you really need to ask why I do this?” But Jesus responds by asking a question. He says, if you’ll look again in verse 4, He says, “I’ll answer you if you’ll answer Me. Here's My question — was John's baptism” (and He's using baptism to indicate the whole ministry of John, but you can understand the theological question — by what right was John, who was a prophet, administering baptism, which was something that was reserved for the ordained Levitical priests in the Old Testament law) was John's baptism, was John's ministry, from God” — He says from heaven, using the polite Hebrew form — “was it from God or was it from man?” Now He's put them on the horns of a dilemma and they express this explicitly in their discussion. If they say it's not from God, the people are going to be furious with them, because the people, including some of the Pharisees, thought very highly of John. Indeed they thought he was a prophet. If they say, “Yes, his baptism, his ministry was from God,” then Jesus is going to say, “Why don't you then believe what John said about Me?” And so they think about it a little bit and they say, “Um, we don't know.” And Jesus’ reply, you see in verse 8, is, “Okay, if you don't know, then I'm not going to answer your question.”
You understand what's going on there. They are sure that Jesus, His deeds and His teachings, are not from God. But when asked, “Where is John's teaching and deeds from?” they don't know. And so Jesus is saying, “Well if you religious leaders don't know where John's teaching and deeds come from, I'm certainly not going to have that conversation with you about Myself.” They've incriminated themselves even in trying to hedge their answer. But you understand what's going on here. In seeking to destroy Him they are wanting to accuse Him of blasphemy and false teaching and they are wanting Him to incriminate Himself. But Luke is showing us here the origins of their opposition to Jesus. I mean, why would these people oppose Jesus as they do, given what He has done, given what John the Baptist has said about Him, given the way that He has fulfilled prophecy? And the answer is, because of the hardness of their hearts, they are blind to the clear testimony that has been given by Jesus and by John. Jesus has raised the dead. Jesus has healed lepers. He has given sight to the blind. He has made lame to walk. He has caused those with hemorrhages to heal. He has borne witness to His fulfillment of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. And John has pointed to Him and said, “He's the Messiah!” Why did they not accept Him? Because there wasn't enough evidence? No, because of the hardness and the hypocrisy of their hearts.
Now there's a double warning for us in this. One warning is that we must always, always test the teachings and the lives of claimed religious leaders. Discernment is necessary. There are all sorts of self-appointed religious leaders in our world. Only those who speak in accordance with God's Word and who live lives in accordance with God's Word are to be listened to. And so discernment is required. But of course the other warning for us is this — are we refusing to embrace who Jesus is because of the hardness of our own heart? There's a warning to us here. The blindness of the Pharisees’ hearts are revealed by their hardness to Jesus. What do our hearts say about Jesus? Do we receive Him and believe Him or do we reject Him? If we reject Him, is it because He hasn't given us enough evidence of who He is? Is it because of the proofs are not certain enough? Or is it because our hearts are twisted and we want to worship what we want to worship and we want to live the way that we want to live and we want to go the way that we want to go and we do not want to go the way of Jesus.
There's this glorious testimony of John here, isn't it? It's mentioned in passing. Jesus says, “Where was John's baptism from? From God or from man?” The answer of course was from God. If you look at Matthew chapter 11 verses 7 and following, Jesus gives a beautiful tribute to John the Baptist and He says that there's never been a greater born among women than John the Baptist. John said that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. John said that Jesus was so great that John was not worthy to untie His shoelaces or unlatch His sandals. John said that he, John, must decrease so that Jesus the Messiah might increase. John acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. That was the testimony of John, that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Sanhedrin did not believe that. It was not because there was not a clear testimony to it. It was because they were hypocrites, they were religious hypocrites.
The twisting of our hearts blinds us to what is as plain as the nose on our face. If you find yourself this morning indifferent to the claims of Jesus, I would encourage you to beg for God to remove the blindness of your eyes because of the hardness of your heart so that you might see Jesus. Because if you will trust in Him and if you will lay down your own agendas and your own desires to live the way you want to live and to go the way you want to go, He will give you gifts of blessings that you cannot imagine. You know we ourselves today face this struggle of religious hypocrisy. We want to live one way during the week and we want to claim to worship the Lord. We want to go our own way and claim to be going God's way. Jesus is putting His finger on that religious hypocrisy today. He is reminding us that God doesn't want that kind of worship and He's reminding us that that kind of life actually keeps us from being able to embrace who He is and who He has testified to be in His Word. May God grant us sight and faith. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is glorious but some of us need our eyes open to His glory. Our hearts are set on worshipping ourselves and so we're not able to see the worthiness of Jesus of our worship. So we pray that You would change us, that You would give us faith and sight to see Him and to believe. And we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Well let's give testimony to the glory of who Jesus is singing number 301, “Join All the Glorious Names.”
The good news is that the Lord Jesus Christ didn't just come to drive hypocrites out of the temple. He came to save them from their sins. He came to change their lives. Receive His blessing. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.