The year was 1999, it was September, and I had made my long awaited journey to Sydney, Australia to see my great friend. He had moved there about 5 or six years before. I was excited to see him, hang out, sample Australian culture, see Sydney, and, since I was in the area, I wanted to pop along to Hillsong Church to experience things there. Hillsong had been churning out some pretty amazing worship songs over the preceding decade or so and I wanted to know what it was like on a week by week basis there.
One of the Sunday’s of my trip rolled around and I made my pilgrimage to Hillsong. The experience of the worship service itself was nothing extraordinary. It all seemed to come and go again as any normal service I had known or experienced. In fact, I don’t think i could tell you one single detail about the service if you were to ask me. There is, however, one thing that I do remember quite vividly: my experience of leaving church that day. I do not know for sure if we were herded intentionally through the church store on the way out that day, but I do not remember any other options being available to me as an exit (of course there must have been other exits in the relatively modern building that we were worshipping in!) As I filed my way through the store on my way out of worship I can remember feeling quite disgusted by what appeared to be a focus on merchandising more than anything else. The cash registers were ringing again and again. Quite honestly I felt disheartened by the whole thing. I had come all this way to experience something which i thought was holy, blessed by God, and uniquely making a difference for the Kingdom, and my only lasting memory was one of ringing cash registers and a culture of Christian merchandising. Historians tell us that Martin Luther, when he made his pilgrimage to Rome, was going there with the similar starry-eyed thoughts about what he would see there. Martin Luther was bitterly disappointed in what he found in Rome, and I was bitterly disappointed in what I found in Hillsong, Australia.
I wonder if the table-turning, trader-chasing Jesus also felt that similar disappointment. Whatever emotion and motive was behind Jesus’ Temple outburst – you and I as readers must understand that Christ’s act of rebellion in the Temple Courts was just about the most hell raising act of social disobedience that anyone could have done at the the time. In Jerusalem, for the 1st century Jewish community, the Temple was the centerpiece of EVERY aspect of life: religion and worship, politics, local trade, community celebration, community mourning. There was no more an important place in the life of the community – this fact cannot be understated – and Jesus came in there and literally turned the place upside down!
Why did he do it?
What was so wrong with the Temple scene?
Why does John put it here at the beginning of his gospel when Matthew, Mark & Luke leave the same story to the end sections of their gospels?
What does it all mean for you and me, the readers, as we take this next step in John’s gospel telling journey?
Like I mentioned in my comments yesterday, John is building a story which will include signs and hints along the way regarding what the whole story ultimately points to. In the story of the miracle in Cana, the big point was around transformation – that Jesus can substantially transform one thing into a complete new thing. If the first half of the chapter is about transformation then this second half of chapter two is about the power behind such a transformation – the power of resurrection through which dead things are raised to life.
When Jesus is asked for a sign proving his authority to rebel and act in the manner in which he did, his response was to tell them to tear the Temple down and he would rebuild it in three days. Of course, Jesus was not referring to the literal rebuilding of the bricks and mortar which formed the Temple, rather he was referring or pointing to his own resurrection. John is dropping in another sign post for his readers here: The light who has come into the world; the Chosen one of God who can transform water into wine has come to do a new thing among God’s people and all of humanity. The old ways must come to an end (destruction of the Temple); they must die their death in order for this new work of God to rise up in to life. The Temple has become a market place more than anything else. The activity taking place there is so far removed from what the Temple was set up to be (the place where heaven meets earth, where God is present for the people) that things must change. This is the reason that Jesus is overturning tables and chasing out traders. Jesus has come to bring light to all the world and in a place where people have taken the very symbol of God’s activity among them and turned it into a market place, Jesus’ task is impossible. Tables must be turned. Traders must be chased out. The old ways must die so that the new work of God can rise to life.
John is pointing to this simple fact: the transformative power, which Jesus displayed at Cana, is only possible through death and resurrection. Old ways must die in order for new ways to rise to life.
In your life, what old ways must die in order for the new work of God to take place?