Whipping Up Something New – Advent in a Divided Kingdom

In preparing for major events, most of us clean house. God is no different.

Do you remember Jesus cleansing the temple?

When we clean, there is a sorting out. What have we accumulated that is unnecessary? What is unlovely and should be discarded? What has entered that isn’t in line with our values or that has overstayed its usefulness? What shall we hide when guests arrive?

Cleaning isn’t a delicate process and sometimes we meet resistance from those who don’t see their offensive items with the same eye we do. But we know that to create the comfort and rest everyone desires when the family gathers, or to create space for a new happening or to usher in a new year, there is an initial purge.

In trying to understand our times, I’ve immersed myself in the divided kingdom of ancient Israel and Judah.

They were a family, a nation, a people split in two. There was ongoing disagreement over what or who might be worshiped, what should comprise right worship, and what God’s Word actually says. There was a continual testing of the Word of God, a relentless temptation to integrate strange practices into the life of those who follow God, persistent power grabs and shifting alliances, threats from outside, and tension within.

But in studying the smaller kingdom, Judah, wherein resided Jerusalem, we’ll discover a pattern that restoration and peace follow a purge. And while biblical writers summarize each purge with only a verse or two, they could only have been disruptive, divisive, and discomfiting in their execution.

Like Jesus in John 2:13-22, cleansing the temple.

The temple was the center of daily life for the Jews. As Jesus approaches, we feel the crush of people, the heat of the day, and the dust on our feet. As Jesus expresses His righteous anger, we hear merchants yelling, lambs bleating, disciples gasping. We smell the dung and the sweat. We feel the panic as doves fly, livestock scatter, and money-changers dive for their coin.

But he has our rapt attention, this whip-wielding rabbi authoring the uproar. We barely breathe as we encounter this demonstration of holy zeal. This rabbi who takes the holiness of God so seriously. This Son who walks with authority, certainty, and power.

And we remember, alongside the Jews well-acquainted with their own history, that a purge of what is wrong in God’s house always precedes a reformation. Prepare ye the way isn’t a Broadway solo, it’s a soul-thrashing, pew-disturbing, dust-up with truth that gets us ready for the new thing God is about.

But Jesus, isn’t just referencing history, He’s making it, by stepping into His role as Messiah.

We can become so distracted by this glimpse of Jesus’ outrage, we miss the message in the emotion. We’re not watching the Messiah force sinners into God’s house, but instead, He’s forcing those who are abusing it, out.

He is fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi 3:1-4 “‘Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.’”

The Jesus we follow, the One we must reflect with our lives, is a refiner’s fire and a fuller’s soap. Cleansing and refining are seldom pleasant, always necessary, and seriously hard to reflect in practical ways – never without causing discomfort.

I will argue that this isn’t the image of Jesus we should pack away during Christmas. This is precisely the story we should tell at Advent because it is a necessary, albeit unsettling truth about our God – one that many seekers are longing to find.

If we resent and recoil at injustice, if we are turned off by hypocrisy, if we reject a spirituality that tolerates greed and corruption then we resonate with Jesus in this precise moment.

To hide this Jesus behind a “tame God” or “infant Messiah” filter is to risk misrepresenting Him to those who are seeking a God who loves justice, integrity, and a religious practice that cares for the oppressed – those who are seeking Jesus.

I’m not normally your table-overturning kind of gal. I like a good sit-down-sermon-on-the-mount-cared-for-sparrows-and-turned-cheeks approach to life any day. But if I’m following Jesus (and I am), then I must also know that God isn’t void of anger, He’s just slow to it, largely out of mercy for us.

Righteous anger is protective love in action. We don’t serve an inactive, disaffected God who is passive in the face of evil. We serve a God of justice, righteousness, and power restrained and channeled by wisdom and mercy.

Jesus was patient with sinners who knew they were sinners. He reserved His displayed anger for the self-righteous and those who were assigned to represent Him but were not.

It’s not that sinners who refuse to acknowledge Christ won’t encounter His anger one day, but now is not the time. The point of this temple cleansing is expressed best in 1 Peter 4:17, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

This Advent, let’s worry less about deep-cleaning our homes and focus more on presenting ourselves to God for the cleansing of our lives and our churches of all that doesn’t represent Him and all that only represents Him in part.

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  1. Carla says:

    Amen!You get a hold of me with your writing, like I’m listening to an on fire preacher! It’s time to tell it like it is. Beautifully written to impact us. We need to stand for justice and do what’s righteous. The church may need a cleaning!

  2. Karen says:

    In his sermon this past Sunday, our pastor read the words in Luke 1 from John’s father. The words speak of Jesus and in one verse, it says he comes to rescue us. Our pastor rightly pointed out that Jesus rescues us from sin. I was touched to my core….what sin does Jesus need to push out of my life? And now you have so powerful described how he cleansed the temple of sin. I wonder if we think of our sin seriously enough. I prefer to call it mistakes and missteps — but I am now praying He will show me the darkest sin so I can also clean it out. Thanks for this, Lori. You are the best!