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Jesus: The Law & The Temple

Welcome back to this series on holiness! This week we are talking about Jesus' role in regard to the idea of holiness. We have already established over the past few weeks that holiness is the essential characteristic of God's being, that God is set apart in how he loves and in how he calls us to love, and that the people of Israel were set apart not just from the other nations and other gods but for something: like Christmas decorations, they were to display and invite people into the Kingdom of God. So we continue on this week, but feel free to click the links below if you need a review or reminder about one of the topics from previous weeks.

Now, the topic for this week's sermon was Jesus and holiness. Holiness can be easily understood to be a limited concept: limited to the glory of God the Father as he sits on his heavenly throne. Jesus somehow feels a lot less holy. He walked dirt roads and slept on straw mats and ate what he was given. Yet Jesus in all his human-ness was and is holy, and offers for us a fuller understanding of holiness.

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? There are many ways to answer this question.

For example, in Hebrews 1:3, we see this definition of Jesus as the Son: The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of his nature.

In Colossians 1:19, this same idea is expressed differently but in an equally poetic way: For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Finally, the Articles of Faith for the Church of the Nazarene offers this explanation for who Jesus is: We believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Triune Godhead; that He was eternally one with the Father; that He became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood, are thus united in one Person very God and very man, the God-man.

The God-man. That's a pretty cool nickname for Jesus, isn't it? But in all three of these definitions, we see a common thread: that in Jesus, the full reality of divine nature and the full reality of human nature coexist. Jesus is both fully human and fully God. Majesty, power, and holiness now in the flesh in a limited, ordinary existence. A hinge point between a holy God and a holy people.

Consequently, how Jesus lived his life as the "God-man" is worth considering when we ask ourselves what is holiness.

This leads us to our next question: What did Jesus do? Well, if you read the gospel of John, you will find at the very end a verse that reads like this: Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)

Obviously, then, trying to summarize what Jesus did is a pretty big task. But it is important to recognize that for us in our limited attention and understanding it will not be possible to understand or describe every thing that Jesus did in his time. We can, however, look at a few highlights to help us develop this idea. Where we will focus today is on two realities: the Law and the Temple.

The Law

As we examine Jesus' relation to the Hebrew Law, we can see at least three things that it does: it fulfills, it extends, and it invites.

First, it fulfills. In the book of Matthew chapter 5, Jesus in his teaching proclaims that the purpose of his coming is to fulfill, not to get rid of, the Law and the Prophets:

17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

So, Jesus came to fulfill the Law. But the audience sitting on the mountainside also heard that you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless your righteousness is better than the religious leaders of their day. That must have been shocking for them to hear!

This leads into the second point, that Jesus extends the Law. Now, throughout this sermon, known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says several times something like this: "You have heard it said... But I say to you..." Jesus is taking the Law and not only reading it literally in relation to our actions but extending it to our inner character.

To explore this idea a little more, let's read Mark 7:5-6. The context of this passage is that Jesus and his disciples were about to eat a meal. The disciples, however, did not first wash their hands or perform a ritual that was meant to purify. Then the religious leaders say this:

5 So the Pharisees and teachers of religious law asked him, “Why don’t your disciples follow our age-old tradition? They eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony.”

6 Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,

‘These people honor me with their lips,

but their hearts are far from me.

Later, he says this to the crowd that had gathered around him:

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.”

So Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets. All of the things that were prophesied about him came true. But even more than that, he extends them to say, it's not just about what you do on the outside, about your performance; I care about what is inside your heart. I care about who you are becoming.

We also see in the life of Jesus an invitation. Let's look at a passage from Romans 3:21-25 to explore this idea even more.

21 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses[a] and the prophets long ago. 22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.

So not only is Jesus here to fulfill and extend the holiness of the Law, he is here to grant access through his life, death, and resurrection. So throughout the book of Romans you get this idea that just because Jesus has freed us from the restraints of the Law, that does not mean that we can just live however we want because of his forgiveness.

The Temple

In Jesus' day, the Temple was an incredibly important place. It was the lifeblood of the community, a place of great spiritual significance, and a place for economic and social opportunity. Everything in the Jewish community life centered around the Temple.

Why was the Temple so special? Because at this point in the story of the Scriptures, the Temple was where the presence of God dwelled. The Temple is where people went to be with God. The setup of the Temple, however, was interesting because the presence of God dwelled in a room called the Holy of Holies, which only the High Priest could access once a year.

The High Priest would have to go through this massive veil or curtain that separated the presence of God from the rest of the world. He could only enter this space one day out of the year, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, when he made sacrifices for the sins of the people.

So what is Jesus' relation to the Temple? Once again, we have three things to notice here. Cleanse, shift, and new reality.

First is cleanse. As we studied in previous weeks, holiness for the people of Israel had quite a lot to do with the concept of being clean or unclean. And Jesus in his ministry encountered a lot of people that would have been considered unclean and, through his power, made them clean. He healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, restored sight to the blind, cast out demons, and raised the dead.

As if that was not enough, he restored these peoples' relationship to their society. Before they were outcasts; now, they could participate in society. In many of these stories of healing, you see Jesus telling the person that was healed to go and present themselves at the Temple to be pronounced clean. Jesus cleansed the marginalized to invite them back into society.

We also see Jesus literally cleanse the Temple. John 2:13-22 describes Jesus' cleaning out of the Temple grounds.

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”

18 But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”

19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said.

The Jewish leaders asked Jesus what authority had had to do this, and here is where we see a shift. Jesus responds, but he is not talking about the physical building of the Temple. He is talking about his body. The Temple was synonymous with a place, with rituals and traditions, but Jesus is now shifting the reality and saying, I am the Temple.

So Jesus cleansed the temple by healing people and bringing them in to society and the holiness and the glory of God. He also literally cleansed the temple by clearing things out that did not belong there. And the authority by which he did this, the miraculous sign that he would do to prove his authority in that place of God's glory was that he was now the temple which would be destroyed, and three days later, raised again.

This shift in conceiving of the presence of God leads to a new reality. And we see this most clearly in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. All of the Gospel texts have this story, but we will read from Matthew 27:50-51 here.

50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

At that moment when Jesus died and gave up his last breath, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple, the thing that separated everyone from the glory of God, was torn into two from top to bottom. The reason why top to bottom is pretty significant is because of the

size and magnitude of this curtain. The top of the curtain was so high and the fabric so thick and heavy that no one could even get up to replace it without a team of people helping them up.

Jesus' death ushered in a new reality, that no longer is the presence of God only accessible to one person, but that it is available to all because of his sacrifice.

Jesus is the hinge point between a holy God and a holy people. He is the one that came to fulfill and extend the Law, and to invite us into a new understanding of the way of God. He came to cleanse us from sin and shift the reality of how to access the presence of God. No longer are we separated; through Jesus, we can access God directly if we believe in him.

So what happens when the holy, majestic, powerful God takes on human form? He changes just about everything.

Original sermon written by Pastor Susan Morrill

Blog post published by Allison Freytes

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