Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Sermon 25
Prayer to start
May the words of my lips and the thought of our hearts be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ
" I was glad when they said to me, let’s go to the House of the Lord"
the first verse of our Psalm this evening – expressing the joy and delight of pre-exile pilgrims – when meeting God – in the Temple at Jerusalem – at one of the Jewish Festivals –
Do you feel like that pilgrim this evening? – full of joy and excitment at coming into God’s house? – Does it make your day to come to church and pray?
Today we are – celebrating one of – our church festivals – “ the presentation of Christ in the Temple ” – when Jesus was presented to God – to fulfil the ancient ceremony of redemption according to the law of Moses –
Our two readings – are about temples – no we are not going to look at Temple architecture – but at the behaviour of the people – in those readings – to see if it helps us to decide how we should present ourselves – to God
Our OT reading is from the time of “Haggai the prophet” – " Haggai" – in Hebrew means "sacred festival" – He produced just 4 oracles – in 4 months – and his book dates from the reign of Darius in 520 BC
In 538BC King Cyrus of Persia who conquered Babylon – allowed the exiles to return to Jerusalem – but in the space of nearly 20 years – all their dreams of a new beginning – had been shattered –
a succession of droughts – and pest infestations – led to failed harvests – the people were suffering real poverty and rampant inflation – What had happened?
Haggia reminded them of something they had forgotten –
they were no longer exiles from Jerusalem – but they were now exiles from God – they had stopped worshipping Him –
the ills befalling the community – were because of their failure to rebuild the temple – while they lived in comfort – God’s house lay in ruins – Haggai told them they must rebuild it once –
The people responded – but a month later discouragement set in – because of the contrast between the apparent – Glory of the former temple built by Solomon and the poverty of this one –
but Haggai – urged them to be strong and build
“I am with you says the Lord of Hosts" – and my Spirit remains among you" –
a future day more glorious than that of the completion of the Temple would come – and God’s glory will fill the Temple –
“the Splendour of this latter house will surpass the Splendour of the former – and in this place I shall grant prosperity and peace “–
Haggai reminded them that God’s reputation was at stake – the Temple was the symbol of God’s presence in their community – and of Israel’s priorities as a nation.
The temple was completed in just 4 years
The book of Haggai is one of the shortest books in the Bible – yet it marks one of the few times in history – when God spoke – and His people – quickly and unquestionably obeyed
The third temple – built by Herod was a restoration of this second temple – with some splendid additions – in Haggai’s words – " mine is the silver and mine is the gold " – but the promised glory was still to be revealed –
John puts our NT reading early in Jesus’ ministry – in the context of the cleansing of the Temple – Jesus is placed in the midst of a Passover festival – where thousands of Jews made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt – and their birth as a nation – by law every adult male within 15 miles had to come – at great personal cost – to offer a sacrifice in the great temple –
– and in the middle of the festival was a rigged business operation – controlled by the high priests – the people had to pay a yearly tax – in Jewish coins – obtained from the money changers – and buy a sheep, Ox or pigeon for sacrifice – from the temple herds –
-and all this selling and moneychanging – was taking place in the outer court of the temple – where the Gentiles worshipped – not surprisingly the temple coffers were full -and overflowing
But Jesus drove the market sellers out of the Temple and upset the tables of the moneychangers – fulfilling the prophecy of Malachi (3:2-3)
It was certain that such an act would produce an immediate reaction from those who saw it
from the Disciples – came the words of Psalm 69 v 9 – “Zeal for your house has consumed me "
from the Jews there was a demand for a sign –
what Jesus had done was something new – and unusual – something a prophet sent by God might do – but they still wanted Him to perform a miracle to confirm it
His response – is given in verse 19 –
" Destroy this temple" Jesus replied "and in three days I will raise it up again " –
Here as with many of the sayings portrayed in John’s Gospel – we find a double meaning –
The Jews thought Jesus was referring to the literal temple – the building –
"its taken 46 years to build this temple – are you going to raise it up again in three days? –
but Jesus didn’t mean that at all – although it was destroyed in the Roman invasion of 70 AD –
– He was referring to Himself – after His death – when He – the risen Christ will replace the Temple as the place where man finds God –
the cleansing of the Temple was a dramatic way of showing that the lavish Temple – its rituals – and the sacrifices were all irrelevant – and do nothing to lead people to God – only God Himself can do that
And this He did – by giving His only Son to die on the cross – so that our sins can be forgiven – and we can be reconciled back to Him – and receive the gift of everlasting life –
After the resurrection God can be approached anywhere in the world – through Jesus – He is the "new house of God" – the "house" in which the Glory of God will break forth as prophesied by Haggai – a house – far greater in glory than that built by Solomon –
The disciples did not understand what Jesus had told them – but they kept His teaching with them
– in verse 21
"After His resurrection the disciples recalled what He had said – and they believed the scripture – and the word He had spoken"
Jesus spoke of His resurrection to them – many times – but it was not until He actually rose from the dead – that everything became clear –
So what do our readings tell us ?
That we must put God first – in everything we do – in the words of one of our favorite hymns "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, " – Only when we put God at the centre of our lives will we be blessed with His grace –
With Jesus’ coming – there is no earthly building where God lives – that we are to hang on to – we can approach God through Jesus – where ever we are – at home – in the shops – at work – We don’t have to travel great distances to be with Him – like the pilgrims –
and where we go – God goes – shinning out from us like a candle – "I will be with you said the Lord of Hosts" – and with the help of Holy Spirit – He is changing the lives of those we touch –
sometimes like Haggai – a single voice can stir people into action – but if we don’t see immediate results – we shouldn’t be discouraged – nothing is wasted – Jesus is the real authority of Scripture – and when He comes into peoples lives – they will begin to have a genuine love for the word of God –
Jesus’ first call to us is to Himself – as Martin Luther said – "I do not know the way I take – but I know my guide" – Jesus is the way – the truth – and the life – through Him we have a direct pathway to God – and the promise of salvation – through Jesus we have the Glory of God breaking out into our lives –
The opportunity to meet God in His house is one of the greatest privileges open to us – the Psalmist knew that – and through Jesus we have been given that opportunity every second of our lives –
There is only one way to meet God –
in the words of our collect – “with a pure and clean heart – by His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” –
and through Jesus we are given something far greater than a meeting place – we are given a whole new way of life – that lasts for eternity – and the promise of meeting Him in the Holy City – in the greatest Festival of all
Prayer to finish
In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit