Zeal For Worship’s Purity –
’30 November 2014
A study in the series on the Gospel of John by John Dugas
Grace Bible Church, Tulsa
Full Audio Message
Zeal For Worship’s Purity
Have you ever wondered why Jewish people sway when they pray? We were talking with my parents Thanksgiving Day and having lived in Israel they pointed out that it helps the person concentrate. Jewish websites add that it helps the person to focus on God alone amidst surrounding distractions.
This must have been difficult in Jesus’ day as well. A worshipper walks into the outer courtyard that surrounds the temple. Preparing his heart for worship, his thoughts are drowned out by the noise. During Passover, thousands of animals will be sacrificed and crowded into the courtyard ready for sale. Another worshipper haggles with a salesman over price. Money jingles at the tables and people complain over the cost of changing their money into the approved currency for the temple tax. Thousands push and shove, arguing and complaining. This goes on the whole time this believer tries to worship God. He wouldn’t mind so much if he came to just check worship off of his list. But he was hoping to truly set his mind on God and to dwell on His Lord’s lovingkindnesses.
While our businessmen conduct their business at the office and we all leave our animals at home, we still can find it difficult to concentrate during worship. We play music prior to the service not just as a signal that the service is about to start but so that we might have a few moments to quiet our hearts. But the reality is that for many of us that doesn’t happen. We get wrapped up in talking. Others are trying to herd their little ones to wherever they need to be. We get caught up in the joyous fellowship of reconnecting with someone. It’s hard to protect that preparation time.
My goal isn’t to make any of us feel guilty. I’m merely trying to point out how difficult it is for us to focus on God alone. We have to work at it. We should have compassion on parents with little ones and on those caught up in joyful fellowship. But we do need to be reminded of why we are here. We gather on the Lord’s Day primarily for Him. I hope to fan the flames of our zeal for the purity of worship and for improving our focus on our Savior.
An important part of experiencing life in His name (John 20:31)—abundant life (John 10:10)—is pure, undistracted devotion to God. In John 2:12-25, Jesus gets us started thinking on this theme.
John records an episode in Jesus’ ministry that has this Message: Jealously guard your focus on God in worship. Last time, we studied Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana. John now moves the story toward Jerusalem for the Passover. But first, he tells us that:
I. Jesus spent a few days in Capernaum (John 2:12).
From Cana in the west, Jesus, His mother and His disciples are joined by Jesus’ brothers because they are making their way to Jerusalem to worship during Passover. The elevation drops as they move toward the Sea of Galilee so John writes that they went down even though Capernaum was NE of Cana, along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Contrary to unbiblical teaching, Mary and Joseph had children after Jesus was born. Matthew tells us that Joseph kept Mary a virgin until she gave birth to Jesus (Mt 1:25). Luke reports that Jesus was Mary’s “first-born son” (Lk 2:7). Mark tells us that Jesus had four brothers and some sisters. So Mary had at least seven children (Mk 6:3). After a few days here, the company heads south.
II. Jesus cleared distractions from the temple (John 2:13-22).
From Capernaum, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem (south but to a higher elevation) to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover. Passover reminded the Jews that God had set them free from their Egyptian captivity by killing the first born of all families in Egypt, while passing over the homes of Jews who put the prescribed blood on their door posts.
Other Gospel accounts tell about Jesus cleansing the temple toward the end of His ministry. John here fills in history with an earlier episode where Jesus cleansed the temple near the beginning of His ministry too. There are obvious differences between the two accounts, showing that they are two separate events. Jesus caught people by surprise this first time. But when He cleanses the temple a second time, it will simply push them too far and they will scheme to kill Him.
This event took place in the temple court, the large court of the Gentiles that completely surrounded the temple. For the convenience of the thousands of pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for Passover, merchants had set up stalls across the Kidron Valley on the slopes of the Mount of Olives to sell animals for sacrificing and for changing money. These businesses eventually moved into the outer court of the temple. It wasn’t unusual for animals to be present in the courtyard. This was where animals were prepared for sacrifice. The problem was that businesses moved here.
Animals were needed for sacrifices and Jews traveling long distances found it more convenient to buy animals once they arrived. Also, the temple tax had to be paid in a certain (Tyrian) coinage which many people did not have. So, moneychangers charged a percentage to exchange their currency into the required currency. Jesus isn’t rebuking them for the business itself. He rebukes them for conducting business in God’s house.
Seeing the business commotion, Jesus quickly makes a whip and starts a small stampede and overturns tables. Moneychangers scramble to retrieve their spilled coins from the dirt. Animals and people make all sorts of noise. Having their attention, Jesus rebukes those who were selling doves saying, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.” The whole character of temple worship had changed.
Being in a fixed location, temple worship taught the people to focus their worship. So, it needed to be free of unnecessary distractions. But focus alone was not all that Jesus was concerned about. Worship must be pure in its focus on God. Biblical worship is pure, focused attention on God. Our heart must jealously guard God as the only worthy recipient of worship. Look at this zeal in v. 17.
Jesus exhibited His zeal for God’s house when He cleansed the temple and later on, His disciples connected this event to Ps 69:9. David would pay the price for his zeal for God’s house and so would Messiah. Zeal can refer to striving after something. It can also refer to jealousy like being jealous for one’s spouse. God is jealous for His peoples’ devotion. In Ps 69, David sacrifices his own welfare for the welfare of God’s worship. Jesus felt that same sacrifice here.
Jesus jealously guarded the worship of His Father. He wouldn’t tolerate it becoming a market place. He showed His burning passion for the interests of His heavenly Father and for keeping worship as undistracted, reverent devotion to His Father. Notice the reactions in John 2:18-22
The Jews understood this to be a Messianic act so they demanded a sign. What right has Jesus to do this unless He is the Messiah? The religious leaders knew that Messiah would be authenticated by performing signs so they wanted Him to perform a sign on the spot. But God does not perform on demand. Jesus had just fulfilled Ps 69:9 but they wanted more. No sign was ever enough.
So Jesus responded to those hardened hearts with words designed to puzzle them. They were not willing to receive plain truth, so He hid it from them. But He also wanted those of faith to ponder His words and consider their significance. He tells them to “Destroy this temple” and He would raise it up again. They responded with contempt that one man couldn’t do what many men hadn’t been able to accomplish in 46 years.
Of course, John points out that Jesus was speaking of His body. It too was God’s dwelling place. God became flesh and dwelt among men (John 1:14). It wasn’t until Jesus had been raised from the dead that His disciples understood this referred to His body. But when they did put two and two together, John reports that they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken. Their faith was built up by the fulfillment of OT Scripture and Jesus’ own predictions. This is why the NT goes to such great pains to show when the OT has been fulfilled. At Jesus’ resurrection, another Messianic psalm of David’s (Ps 16:10) was fulfilled: “For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.” But not everyone bases their faith on Scripture.
III. Jesus understood the fickle hearts of men (John 2:23-25).
While He was in Jerusalem, Jesus performed other signs that John chose not to record. In response to these signs, many believed in His name. They believed that Jesus was a great healer, but not necessarily that He was truly the Messiah. As the all-knowing God, Jesus was well aware of what was in the hearts of men. As Creator, He had a thorough knowledge of human nature and how it had been corrupted by sin (Jer 17:10; 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kgs 8:39; Ps 139; Acts 1:24).
Jesus knew that men can be temporarily excited by miraculous signs. He knew how fickle sinful people can be. Such “faith” is not saving faith at all. It is merely excitement. We’ll see how quickly they turn on Him when He doesn’t immediately take up the role of Messianic king (John 6:15, 60, 66). We’ll see that these people merely had an enthusiasm for spectacular displays of power.
In the next two chapters, Jesus will demonstrate that He knows men’s hearts. John 2:23-25 transitions the story from this event to the next three interviews that Jesus will have.
Let’s return to purity in worship. 1) Worship should be free of those things which can distract us. 2) God must be the focal point of worship. 3) God Himself must be the subject of worship. Our whole inner man must be engaged in worship. The mind must take the lead by contemplating God’s worthiness to receive our worship. The heart must set its affections on God as the sole focal point—jealously guarding God as the only worthy recipient. Emotions can then be a gauge as to how focused we are. Do awe, wonder, humility or joy follow? Jealously guard God as the focal point of your worship.