Unexpected Jesus #7 - Does God Care How I Approach Him?

Dr. Kurt Bjorklund looks at Jesus coming to the feast of Passover and his interaction with the people at the temple to help show the kind of interaction and approach God desires in our relationship and worship with Him.

Message Transcript

This is an auto generated transcript, please excuse any errors.

Kurt Bjorklund: Welcome. We have been working our way through the first several chapters of the Gospel of John in a series we're calling The Unexpected Jesus, and what we're finding is that a lot of our notions of what Jesus is like, notions that are maybe in our culture, maybe sometimes notions that have become part of church way of thinking about Jesus and the Jesus that is revealed in the Gospel of John aren't always exactly the same. One way to think about this is if you think about the way that Jesus is typically portrayed in Sunday school classes. Usually, Jesus is this meek and mild man with long blonde flowing hair who's pure white, and he loves sheep and children, and he kind of is sitting around with them. The Jesus that we encounter in the gospels is Middle Eastern. This Jesus has some moments where instead of sitting by a stream petting sheep and children that he comes into a temple and overturns the tables and lets the animals go.

Kurt Bjorklund: This is the account that we read about in John 2:13 through the end of the chapter. What we're going to see here is that Jesus is unexpected again. The question that we're asking is does God care how I approach him, does God care how we approach him? What we learn is that the answer to that is sometimes different than we tend to think.

Kurt Bjorklund: But in order to start this, I'd like to show you a clip from the great Theologian Stephen Colbert. This is from a show, his old show some years ago. He's interviewing reggae-rock kind of singer legend Jimmy Cliff. Take a look.

Stephen Colbert: Thank you so much for coming on. I'm a huge fan.

Jimmy Cliff: Thank you.

Stephen Colbert: This is tremendously exciting. You have a new album coming out this fall. True?

Jimmy Cliff: Yes. True.

Stephen Colbert: What is it called?

Jimmy Cliff: It's called Existence.

Stephen Colbert: That's a big subject.

Jimmy Cliff: It's a big subject.

Stephen Colbert: It's at least a double album, I hope.

Jimmy Cliff: Yeah. Well, there's quite a few tracks in it.

Stephen Colbert: Now, speaking of existence, you have studied existence in your life, through your art. You've joined many religions.

Jimmy Cliff: Yes.

Stephen Colbert: Which one is best? Which one won?

Jimmy Cliff: I actually studied them all. I never say I would join them all because it would all break off, but I studied them all.

Stephen Colbert: Are you now a member of a religion?

Jimmy Cliff: No, I've graduated from them, so-

Stephen Colbert: You've graduated from religion?

Jimmy Cliff: Yes.

Stephen Colbert: Well, you know, eventually, sir, eventually we graduate from life, and then God has a little score card. Which score card do you want to be graded on? Christian? Jew? Muslim? Which one?

Jimmy Cliff: I think he would put me on the score card of truth and facts.

Stephen Colbert: Truth and facts. I'll take faith and grace, but I'll see you on the other side. Now, I-

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, reason I joke that Stephen Colbert is the theologian there as you hear Jimmy Cliff and you hear the audience interacting with him when he says, "Hey, I've graduated from religion," people are like, "Yeah, that's awesome. Wouldn't it be great to graduate from religion and get past all of the pettiness that religion is?" The audience cheers, and then Stephen Colbert comes back and says, "But you're going to graduate from life. You're going to die. What score card are you going to use?" He asks about the different religions, and he says, "I'll take truth and facts." Again, the audience applauds, like that would be awesome, that's what we want, that's what we really want is truth and facts, and then Colbert, probably in an unplanned moment, says, "You know what, I'll take grace and faith because that's what I really need and what humanity really needs."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, that may seem detached from Jesus and the temple in John 2, but it's not because what would happen in the time of Jesus is that people would go to Jerusalem during Passover. That's what we're told is happening here in John 2. Jerusalem was a town, at that time, that as probably about 80,000 people. During Passover, it would swell to 300,000, so the town would be jammed with people who were coming for Passover. What Passover was, was an observance of the Old Testament feast, and this is the first of several feasts that Jesus encounters in the Gospel of John, but the Old Testament feast would celebrate when the people experienced the passover of death, in a sense, because the people would put blood on their doors did not experience death of their firstborn. When they would come, they would make animal sacrifices as a way, in a sense, to basically say, "Here we are," saying, "Our score card is going to be punched for another year."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, I think I had a picture here, I don't know if it already went up, about what Jerusalem may have looked like with the Temple Mount. The temple where the Passover was, and this is more modern, obviously, but the grand structure was right in the middle. The people would go, and they'd go into this temple to make these sacrifices as if to say, "I'm good." Now, whether they were looking ahead to the time of Christ or they were looking back could be certainly debated, but either way, when Jesus came in and he saw all of the marketplace and the commerce going on, he makes a whip.

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, often, when we envision this, we envision Jesus getting angry, hostile, but the fact that he made the whip means that he took time and thought about his actions. He didn't just grab something and go off. He actually made this whip, and so he took some time. There are two different accounts, the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Synoptics are Matthew, Mark, Luke. John's the fourth gospel. This story is different. It's at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. When it's told in the other gospels, it's at the end of his ministry, and there are some differences in the two accounts, so it's likely that this is a different instance altogether. In other words, that Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, cleared the temple and that he did it again toward the end of his ministry.

Kurt Bjorklund: In other words, this wasn't something that once he did it, took care of it, that the outward attempt meant that people got in line on this, but either way, and it's possible that some people read these as the same, either way, what we see here is we see Jesus' displeasure with the approach that people take to coming to him, coming to worship.

Kurt Bjorklund: What's significant is in the Gospel of John, there are only about 20 days of Jesus' life that are recorded, and John, who we've already seen is writing this as a theological treatise, so in other words, he's writing this to say, "I want you to understand who Jesus is, not just as a historical account." He has chosen 20 days very specifically, and so when chooses this day, this event, he's choosing it for a reason, and part of what he's doing is he's saying, "I want you to see that Jesus is not exactly who you always tend to think of Jesus as being."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, here's where we come to maybe our modern way of thinking. Again, this is evident in late-night talk show comments. It's evident when you sit with somebody at Starbucks. It's evident when you hang out and have dinner with people. Here's a modern approach or way of thinking about Jesus, and that is people will say, "Well, doesn't God accept people wherever they are?" meaning anyone can come at any time, and God will accept them. The answer to that is yes, but it misses what's happening here, and that is that Jesus is still displeased with how some people have been approaching worship.

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, you hear that, and you say, "Well, then which is it?" Well, it's possible that it's both. Here's what I mean. If you have a guest in your home, and the guest in your home is from another country, has never been to America, never eaten American food, has never been the manners that we all have, you would welcome that guest into your home, and if they did something that was socially off-putting, you would say, "You know what? That's okay because they're a guest in my home. It's the first time that they come."

Kurt Bjorklund: But if you had a family member who's at your house 17 times a year, and they come in and do something that's off-putting, you have a different experience with them because, all of a sudden, you say, "You know better. You know what's socially expected, and yet, you still come in and act like this. It's time for you to change ... " Do you know what I'm saying? None of you, no one's nodding their head, but you know exactly what I'm talking about here.

Kurt Bjorklund: A few years ago, we had some extended family stay at our house, and one of our guests, who was extended family, was kind of sick, but not really sick, just, I think, didn't feel like participating in all of the family stuff. My wife had worked really hard to prepare meals and make several days of entertaining. You know when you have a lot of people, it's like breakfast, lunch, dinner, like you finish cleaning up breakfast, you start lunch, you finish cleaning up lunch, you start dinner, you finish cleaning up dinner, you go to bed, you get up and do it all again when you have a houseful, that kind of thing? She had done this for days.

Kurt Bjorklund: This one guest was like, "I don't feel well. I'm not coming down to dinner," and as soon as we cleaned it up, she came down and said, "I want some food, and I want to take it to my room." I just had that moment where I was like, "No. No, you won't. We just had dinner, and you can eat when ... " Now, my point is you're like, you need something.

Kurt Bjorklund: But my point is this, that is there are some instances where you say, "That's great. Come as you are," and there are sometimes where you say, "You know what? I expect you to be able to live by some kind of norm here." Jesus, in this instance I think, is saying that there are some people who can come just as they are anytime, but then there are times when, as you have progressed in your faith, progressed in your understanding, progressed in your maturity where he says, "Now I want you to come with a little bit of a different approach."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, don't miss where this sits in the context of John. John 2 begins with Jesus turning the water into wine. This is party Jesus. Here, we get Jesus with a whip coming in and driving the money changers out of the temple. What happens for many people is we either want Jesus of the wine or Jesus with the whip. We don't often want Jesus who is both, but what we need to see is that, here, Jesus is challenging an approach to God that is, in many ways, still prevalent in our day. Some of us may think, "Well, I've graduated from religion, and this is what I've moved on because I don't like any of this kind of stuff," but even in that, what we're doing is we're at least in part saying, "I can approach God whenever I feel like it, however I think God is, and that will be enough."

Kurt Bjorklund: Let's look at some of these approaches. I think we see four of them that Jesus challenges, four of them that he's displeased with here in this text. Verse 14 shows us the first one. I'm just going to say it's a mechanical approach. It says, "In the temple courts, he found people selling cattle, sheep, doves, and other sitting at tables exchanging money." You may at first say, "Well, okay, what's the big problem here?"

Kurt Bjorklund: Well, Deuteronomy 12:5-7 says that if possible, what people should do is they should bring something from their own flocks, and the reason for this was that it was a personal sacrifice. It involves something, but what people did is they settled for a convenient, easy approach where they could come in and say, "Let me just buy something here. I don't have to transport something to Jerusalem, don't have to find a way to house it, don't have to bring it to the Temple Mount. I can walk it a small distance and give it to the priest there. They'll slaughter it, and I'm done. In other words, what I can do is I can be perfunctory, obligatory, quickly move through the process of my worship obligation." That's what Jesus, in part, is responding to here.

Kurt Bjorklund: Here's how this can happen in even things that we care about, and that is we can sometimes even with something that we love and care deeply about become perfunctory, become obligatory, become mechanical where we're simply checking the boxes, we're simply moving our way through everything that we have going on.

Kurt Bjorklund: I remember years ago when I was putting my kids to bed one night. My kids are now old enough that I don't put them to bed, but when you have young kids, what happens is you put them to bed, and bed is kind of a big routine for a number of years, and then all of a sudden, it's just gone, like you're done with that, but when they're in that routine, you know it's precious time, you know it's important time, but there are nights where you get to it, and you just want to be done. You just want to move on and do something else. Again, no nods from any of the parents, but I know you know what I'm talking about.

Kurt Bjorklund: There was one night where I was reading the story at bedtime, and I was doing the "yeah, and then this happened, and this happened." I was trying to get through the story quickly, and one of my boys said to me, "Read the story like you mean it, Dad." Do you know what he had called out? Obligatory, perfunctory, and mechanical story time. He'd said, "You're here. You're here in body, but you're not here in heart, so you don't get credit for it."

Kurt Bjorklund: I wonder sometimes what mechanical worship looks like today for us. Does it mean coming with no preparation of heart, just simply showing up and hoping to be inspired by what somebody else does? Does it mean that we come with little passion? Does it mean that we simply check a box as if to say, "I did this." Probably one of the great ways that we know that we approach it mechanically is when it's low on our priority list where we say, "I don't need to do this regularly because, after all, it's not the number of times that I come that matters to god, and I have other things that I have to do."

Kurt Bjorklund: What happens when that's our way of thinking is what we're revealing is that it's a box to check. As long as we think we've checked the box the minimum number of times, then we think we're okay. This, I believe, is exactly what Jesus is doing when he comes in and finds the people here buying their animals, their sacrifices, and making it as easy as possible. He's coming in, and he's saying, "This is how you're going to approach a holy and almighty God?"

Kurt Bjorklund: I wonder, I wonder if sometimes in our rush to say, "God accepts and welcomes everybody anytime anywhere," if we've also then lost track of the God who says, "But for those of you who have come to know me, don't you come with a mechanical obligatory approach." That's one approach that I think Jesus challenges here.

Kurt Bjorklund: Here's the second, and this is what I'm going to call and irreverent approach. Here, we see this in verse 16. It says this, "To those who sold doves, he said, 'Get those out of here. Stop turning my Father's house into a market.'"

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, I mentioned that there are different accounts. In Matthew and in Mark, this is said where Jesus says, "My Father's house is now, won't be a den of thieves or a place where you're going to take advantage of people." Here, he doesn't say that. Here, he simply says it's a marketplace. If this is one account at the beginning of his ministry, and there's another account at the end that the three Synoptics tell, and this is a unique story, the progression is interesting because it started out simply as a marketplace, not as a den of thieves but now, it moves ultimately to where people are taking advantage of people, but at this point, all he's doing is he's saying, "You've taken my Father's house, you and you've turned it into a complete marketplace."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, I'm old enough that I remember when people would dress up to go to church. Now, sometimes people still do that in different denominations, but some of you might remember this. I remember as a kid if my family went to church, and we were kind of in and out of church as I was growing up, but I would put on a tie. I was the only time I'd wear a tie, dress pants, shoes. Now, here's what happened with that. The idea was bring your best to God. If you've ever been around, it was like, "Try to make this a big deal. Don't come to God flippantly, irreverently. Come to God with a sense of passion."

Kurt Bjorklund: But what happened is, for some people, that became a check-the-box. "I dressed up, and I got here." In a church like Orchard Hill, we've moved away from that. It's "come as you are." You know what, the people on stage wear jeans and comfortable clothes. By the way, it's going to stay that way, just so you know. I'm not advocating for dressing up, but what has happened is, in a sense, sometimes we lose a little bit of the wonder because it's "I dress here like I dress on any other weekend." As a result, what sometimes happens is we don't just slip back into a mechanical view by doing that, but we can also slip into too casual or irreverent of a view of God where we simply say, "I don't bring God my best. I just simply show up, and it's good enough for God."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, notice what drives this. We have a quote in here from Psalm 69. Here's what we see in Psalm 69. This is what drives this for Jesus. It says, "For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me." Now, why does it say that? What's happening here is Jesus is basically saying, "I want you to understand that what I'm passionate about is how people come to me."

Kurt Bjorklund: You see, so often, what we can do is we can treat casually what we should treat wondrously. Sometimes, what we can do is we can use church as a way to see our social network expanding rather than coming for God, or we can use the environment of being around Christian things, and we can come with a sense of judgment or assessment, rather than a sense of being reverent.

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, I'm not saying that we don't come with discernment because there's a lot of things that are taught in churches that either in the worship or in different things that should be challenged, but what I'm saying is sometimes what we can do is we can come, and our whole attitude can be "let me assess what's going on, let me judge what's going on," rather than coming and saying, "I'm here as a reverent act of worship to present myself to God." Again, I think what we see is we see Jesus challenging both a mechanical and a near-reverent approach to worship.

Kurt Bjorklund: But there's another thing that's challenged here, again, back in verse 14. This is what I'm going to call an exclusional approach. Verse 14, "In the temple courts, he found people selling cattle." Now, the temple courts, here's a picture again of this where the sections that are outside of kind of the middle, and that is known, kind of on the left and the right inside the Temple Mount, is known as the Court of the Gentiles. Here's why this is important, because what would happen is the marketplace would be held in the Court of the Gentiles, so what that did functionally is it allowed the Jews to go and have a sacred place to worship, but the gentiles came, and when they got there, it was filled with pigeons and all kinds of animals, and they were there not able to worship. In other words, what had happened was that the Jewish people of the day were more or less taking all of the space for the gentiles and saying, "We don't want to make space for you."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, that may not seem like much, and you may say, "Well, how does that happen in modern church?" Well, let me give you an example. Years ago, I was thinking it'd be good for me to be involved in some community stuff, and so I was invited to go to one of these service clubs, like Rotary, Kiwanis or something, and I went to a meeting. I had one of those experiences that was kind of surreal because I realized it's probably how a lot of people feel when they go to church for the first time, because I was invited by somebody, but when I went, I walked in, and first, it's like, "Am I meeting anybody? Am I going to know anybody?"

Kurt Bjorklund: I sat at a table. You know what they did to start? They sang songs. You know what, I don't really like singing songs in public. I'm not very good, especially songs I don't know, and so I had this immediate, like, "This is uncomfortable. I don't want to sing songs that I don't know." I had this moment where I'm like, "Isn't that what we do at church every week? We ask people to sing songs that they don't know?"

Kurt Bjorklund: Then what happened was they got up, and somebody got up, and they started finding people to contribute to some good cause, so it was like, "Hey, if you have blue on, you owe $5 to the pot," or whatever. I'd been here like 10 minutes, and they're already saying, "Give us money." Again, I had that moment where I'm like, "We take an offering very quickly in a service." Then there were a whole host of things that were filled with insider language and jokes, like if you hadn't been around, you didn't get the drill.

Kurt Bjorklund: I remember leaving that and thinking that's probably how a lot of people experience church. Now, there are some things like singing that we're going to do, and not everyone will know every song. I get that. We're going to receive an offering, but my point is this, and that is Jesus, part of his passion and his zeal here was to say, "My Father's house is a house for all people, and some of you have turned it into a place of your preference, some of you have turned it into a place where you exclude people who aren't like you because you want what you want and you're willing to subserviate the message for the sake of your preferences."

Kurt Bjorklund: In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is writing, and he says that he became all things to all people in order that he may win some. If you go through, he says, "To the Jews, I became like a Jew. To the gentiles, I became like gentile," and the heart of God has always been to say, "I want to include all people," so don't misunderstand. When Jesus here is driving people from the temple, what he's doing in part is he's saying, "I want you to understand that it matters how you approach me, but my arms are open wide, the arms of God are open wide."

Kurt Bjorklund: One of the things that we value here at Orchard Hill is that we will always want to be a place that's accessible to anybody in the community wherever you're coming from. Now, that doesn't mean that we're going to do un-church-like things. We're a church. But it means that in our language, in our approach, we're always going to strive to say, "We want to be a place that's inclusive because religion ultimately produces barriers, but a strong belief in the person of Jesus Christ and his work will actually eliminate barriers," because we're going to think about how other people experience coming, and part of worship is saying. "I don't let me preferences trump people's experience."

Kurt Bjorklund: Then we see one more thing here, one more approach that I think Jesus counters. I'm just simply going to say that this is superficial, a superficial approach. We see this in verses 23 through 25. Here's what it says, "Now, while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover festival, many people saw the signs that he was performing and believed in his name." John 2 begins with the sign of turning water into wine. It's the first of seven signs in John, and so John is here saying that these signs matter. At the end of the book, he says that Jesus did many other signs, but he only recorded some of them. He recorded some of them so that people in all posterity would be able to say, "I believe because of this."

Kurt Bjorklund: But here, what he does is he says, "Because of these signs, many people believed in his name." Verse 24, "But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people." The word believe and entrust are just a twist on the same word, so he's saying, "Many people believed in Jesus, but Jesus didn't believe in them." That's what he's saying here. "He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person." This is, in a sense, Jesus saying he knew what people were like; therefore, he didn't trust them. In other words, people were superficial in their worship, and this ended up being a very predictive statement because in John 6:66, we read this. It says, "From that time forward, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."

Kurt Bjorklund: What this is pointing to is that, for many people, the way that worship works is we come, and as long as everything's working, as long as the signs are lining up, as long as our marriage is right, our finances are right, our health is right, then we're willing to say, "I sing praise to Jesus," but as soon as something goes wrong, what we do is we turn and say, "Well, where is God? Why isn't God here? What has God done for me lately?"

Kurt Bjorklund: Jesus is challenging a superficial worship. I believe what he's ultimately doing is he's pointing and saying, "You want to know a real sign?" He says, "I'm the sign." Here's where you see this, verse 20, starting 19, "Jesus answered them, 'Destroy this temple, and I'll raise it up in three days.' The Jewish leader scoffed. They're like, 'It took 46 years and thousands of workers to build this. You're going to raise it up in three days?'" Says this, verse 21, "But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said, and they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken."

Kurt Bjorklund: You see, what Jesus is doing here is he's saying, "If you want to know what real belief is, it's believing in me. Jesus is saying, "I am the sign. I am the temple." You see, by claiming that he would be raised up in three days, that he was the temple, what he was doing is he's saying, "I'm where men and women really meet God, and I am where real sacrifices are made, not this structure." So often, you see kids who will have an idea of saying, "I can do something," and they'll say to their mom or dad, "I do it. I do it. Let me do it." It's almost like Jesus is looking and saying, "You can say that, but I know that you right now can't."

Kurt Bjorklund: You see, religion in our world is basically the way of saying, "I can do it." In Buddhism, there's The Eightfold Path. In Islam, there's The Five Pillars. What they all point to is this self-trust. In Christianity, there's the 10 Commandments, and what people do is they say, "As long as I do these things, then I will be enough."

Kurt Bjorklund: But here's what Jesus, I believe, is doing, again, why this is unexpected is Jesus brings this whip, and he drives out religion in a sense. What he does is he says, "Approach me not through religion." You see, this isn't a message or a story that tells us to get better at religion, to work harder, to redouble our efforts. This is a story that tells us, in essence, about the end of our religion. The whip is something that we don't often use as a symbol. Very few people wear necklaces with a little whip on it to symbolize Jesus, but I wonder if it might not be a good symbol because the cross signifies his death and is a great symbol, but the whip signifies the end of religion, self-effort.

Kurt Bjorklund: Here's how one author put it. "What role have I left for religion? None. I have left none because of the Gospel of our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ leaves none. Christianity is not a religion. It is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things, believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing, that the human race has ever thought or had to do to get right with God. Everything religion tried and failed to do has been perfectly done once and for all by Jesus in his death and resurrection. For Christians, therefore, the entire religion shop has been closed, boarded up, and forgotten. The church is not in the religion business and never has been and never will be in spite of all the ecclesiastical turkeys through 2,000 years who have acted as if religion was their stock and trade.

Kurt Bjorklund: "The church, instead, is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. It is not here to bring the world the bad news that God will think kindly about us only after we've gone through certain creedal, liturgical, and ethical wickets. It's here to bring the world the good news that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. It is here in short for no religious purpose at all, but only to announce the Gospel of free grace."

Kurt Bjorklund: Now, you may say, "Well, then what's the point of church?" Well, in Hebrews 10, we're told that we're not to forsake the assembly together. In other words, it's not the end of church, but church is not to be in the religion business, and the point of this is not to say, "Let me try to come and be less mechanical, more reverent, let me try to come and be less superficial, or let me try to somehow work myself into a place where I'm not exclusional in my approach instead." What this is, is see who Jesus really is and understand that what Jesus was doing with the whip, that what the whip symbolizes is that all of our efforts are met in the perfection of what Jesus did. In three days, the temple will be raised up. Jesus said, "I'm the temple. I'm what you really need."

Kurt Bjorklund: When you and I see that, when we come to celebrate that, what will happen is we won't come mechanically. We won't come irreverently. We won't want to exclude anyone. We'll say, "I want to be here to celebrate what God has done and be reminded of the way that God is working in my life and in this world, and I'll come wondrously, rather than with a sense of duty and obligation and a mechanical approach." See, Jesus wielded the whip because people were making it all about their efforts and their performance and their goodness. Jesus wanted them to begin to see that it was going to be about his.

Kurt Bjorklund: Father, we ask today that you would help each one of us to not settle for the idea that any approach is good enough but understand only a perfect approach is good enough, but that you're the one who does that on our behalf. God, thank you that that's what Jesus does and that that's why and how we can come and approach you. God save us from religious activity that bolsters our self-esteem to such an extent that we start to feel worthy rather than activities that point us to you, the one who is ultimately worthy. We pray this in Jesus name, amen.