The Claims of the Christ: The Passion For Purity
The Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of the characters meaning “danger” and “Opportunity.” We are looking together at the crisis moments in Jesus’ life—those critical, decisive, shaping moments which reveal to us precisely who He is and why He came. Each one of those crisis moments in His life was fraught with both danger and opportunity. Nowhere do we see that more clearly than in His encounter with the moneychangers in the Temple. I will show you what I mean, in a moment, after we pray…
You are aware, I am sure, that out of the horrid fires of the Holocaust there emerged a number of great writings. The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Anne Frank, Victor Frankl, Elie Wiesel and other great people of faith have moved and inspired millions all over the world. But do you remember a pointed and poignant piece written by Martin Neimoeller? He was a German Lutheran pastor who was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau. Amazingly, he survived in that concentration camp for seven years until he was liberated by Allied troops in 1945. But out of that horrible experience, he wrote these haunting words:
“In Germany, the Nazis came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”
The point is clear. In the face of the evils of this world we cannot bail out or run away. We cannot claim neutrality and stand off to the side. We cannot stagnate in indifference expecting others to correct the situation for us. If we are going to live for Christ in the world, then we must live like Christ in the world—we must face the evils of this world squarely, regardless of the cost, and deal with them redemptively. We must, like Jesus, possess a passion for purity.
Look at the last Monday of Jesus’ life on this earth. He went to the Temple in Jerusalem and what He saw there caused Him to explode in anger. Two things in particular distressed Him. First, there was the business of the moneychanging. Every Jew had to pay a Temple tax at the time of the Passover, but this tax could not be paid with “the coin of the realm” because those coins had on them engravings of the Caesar. The function of the moneychangers was to exchange this unsuitable currency for coins which bore the holy signs of the Temple. The problem was that they charged an exorbitant rate to make the exchange and thus they were exploiting the people who had come to the Temple to worship. But the selling of the animals for sacrifice was just as bad, if not worse. According to Temple rules, any animal offered for sacrifice had to be without blemish, and the Temple inspectors made it clear that only those animals purchased through the Temple itself were acceptable. Needless to say, the Temple merchants charged a king’s ransom for the purchase of their animals. More abuse and more exploitation.
The result of all this was that the Temple grounds became a place of such bickering and dickering, such bargaining and arguing, such chaos and confusion that the people who genuinely wanted to meet God found it impossible to do so. When Jesus saw these abuses, His passion for purity exploded within Him. Then, armed with nothing more than a cracking whip and a blazing tongue, He turned over the money tables, and set the animals free, and sent the Temple hucksters scattering like a flushed covey of quail. He cleansed the Temple to restore God’s house to its original purpose. It was a costly thing to do. Initially, it cost Him His popularity. Ultimately, it cost Him His life. But He was so committed to God’s will and God’s Word and God’s way that when He saw what was wrong, He could not stand idly by. He had to hit it, and hit it hard.
We must do the same. The greatest danger we face as Christians is not that we shall become fanatical, but that we shall become lukewarm, insipid and indifferent. The danger is that we shall be content to be spectators rather than participants in the fight against evil in the world. The danger is that we shall be silent when we ought to speak up. The story of the cleansing of the Temple warns us against that danger.
For this story reminds us that when we stand for purity and righteousness, we commend the Church of Jesus Christ to the world.
By the lives we live, by the words we speak, by the ministry we render, we are continually commending or condemning the Church of Jesus Christ to other people. To be sure, the church today has many critics. Some accuse it of being filled with hypocrites. But we are under no illusion about ourselves. We in the church make no false claims as to who and what we are. We are not perfect; we are only forgiven. However, as we seek to follow the Saviour, we must by the lives we live and the deeds we do, as well as the words we speak, commend Him to a lost and dying world.
In his autobiography, the Duke of Windsor told of his early life as the Prince of Wales and his abdication of the throne of England. He said that his father, the king, often during the years of his childhood would draw the young prince aside and say to him: “Remember your position and who you are.” In other words, his behavior was to be consistent with his identity as the child of the king. The same should be true of us. My friends, we cannot commend the church to others unless we are struggling to live with purity the Gospel that we claim to preach.
And what an opportunity is ours! Even the secular media is making it plain that increasing numbers of people today are acknowledging the spiritual hungers which exist in all of us. Just one example. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an alumni magazine called Technological Review. Last fall, in an issue of that magazine, amongst articles on such things as chemical warfare and environmental crises and the development of the spaceplane was an article on “God and Students at M.I.T.” Understand, please, that M.I.T. is not only a leading school of science and technology, it is a thoroughly secular university. It has never had any religious affiliation. It does not even hire chaplains to minister to its students. Yet the article states that hundreds of M.I.T. students, hundreds and hundreds of them are engaging in worship and seeking spiritual counsel and studying the things of the faith. Why? The writer of the article who interviewed many of these students says it is because they are looking for guidance in morality and ethics. They are looking for wisdom in dealing with the implications of the very technology they are developing. They are looking for the claim of ultimate truth upon their lives—and they are finding it in God through Jesus Christ. Isn’t that amazing? Young scientists, young engineers, young technological wizards by the hundreds seeking the One who says “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”
In a world searching for the truth of Jesus Christ, we who claim to live for Christ must begin to live like Christ. In our lives, the authority of Jesus must be absolute or it will become obsolete. In our lives, either Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all.
My friends, if by the lives we live and the words we speak, we stand for purity and righteousness in life, then we commend the Church of Jesus Christ to the world.
But the story also reminds us that when we stand for purity and righteousness, we defend the Church of Jesus Christ.
The burning passion of Jesus was to defend God’s house against perversion. It was to keep the Temple for God’ s intended purpose—a place of purity and righteousness, a place of worship for all nations. I think it is no accident that the only time Jesus ever used force in His ministry was not to drive sinful people into the Temple, but to drive profane people out of it.
We must ever give ourselves to defending the Church of our Lord against creeping perversion and to keep it pure and holy. Someone has said that erosion is not as fast as explosion, but the results are just as devastating. It is easy to ignore the state of the church until its original purpose is eroded and people are no longer meeting God there. We tend to drift, almost imperceptibly, from the course God has called us to follow. And history is littered with denominations which have ceased to preach and to teach the Bible and now are on the dust heap of time. The same, I fear, could happen to us.
Let me speak straight from my heart. There is a small group of people in the Presbyterian Church who albeit unwittingly seem bent on destroying our denomination. They are preparing to make recommendations with regard to the moral standards and conduct of human sexuality which run counter to the teachings of Scripture and to the beliefs of our great Presbyterian Reformed theology. At three places in the Old Testament, we encounter a withering word from God. Speaking of His people who have gone astray, He says: “They did what was right in their own eyes.” Well, there are those in our church who want to encourage us to do what is right in our own eyes, regardless of what is right in God’s eyes. They want us to jettison the Bible as the supreme authority for our living. They want us to adapt to the realities which exist in society rather than calling society to adjust to the realities which come from God. My friends, if we pursue that pattern of logic, then the Presbyterian branch of the Body of Christ will cease to exist. But I declare to you that the powerful and faithful witness of the Presbyterian Church, so clear in history, is worth preserving now.
You see, I love the Presbyterian Church. For four generations, members of my family have been ministers in this denomination. I was born in a Presbyterian manse—not in a hospital, but in a Presbyterian manse. I was brought up by Presbyterian parents. I was taught the stories of Scripture and the songs of faith in a Presbyterian Sunday School. I was educated in a Presbyterian college. I was trained in a Presbyterian seminary. The Presbyterian Church introduced me to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I have given my life to the service of the Presbyterian Church, and it is the Presbyterian Church from which my body shall be taken when the last trump shall sound and I am called to my heavenly home. Therefore, I cannot stand idly by, I cannot remain silent when the purity of the Presbyterian Church is being diminished and when Christ’s call to righteous living is being devalued. As long as God gives me breath, I will stand to proclaim what we as Presbyterian have always cherished, upheld and believed. I plead with you to join me in defending this church we so dearly love.
Can we make a difference? You bet we can. Consider, for example, what one man armed only with faith in Jesus Christ did a long time ago. His name was Telemachus. For nineteen centuries now, the Colosseum in Rome has stood unused, and that is a monument to what this man in obedience to Jesus Christ was able to do. During the gladiatorial games in Rome, on one occasion this Christian named Telemachus was present. When he saw those men preparing to do one another to death for the pleasure and entertainment of the crowd, he knew it was wrong. So he stood up in the crowd and began to cry out his protest. The crowd shouted him down. He then left his seat and went down to the edge of the stadium, just above the sand floor of the arena. From there, he appealed to Caesar to stop the games. Again he was ridiculed. People began to throw things at him. Someone reached up and pushed him and he fell down onto the arena floor. But he would not be stopped. He walked over and stood right between those two gladiators. The gladiators looked at Caesar, and Caesar gave them the “thumbs-down” sign. Their short Roman swords flashed in the sun. Telemachus fell dead—and the sand ran red with his blood. Some of the people there, sickened by what they had just seen, got up and began to leave the Colosseum. As they began to leave, Caesar, embarrassed by what was happening, got up and left as well. And when Caesar left, everybody else left. And from that day to this, the Colosseum in Rome has never been used for such a bloody purpose as that, and the city of Rome went on to become one of the great centers of the Church of Jesus Christ.
My friends, when in defense of the Church we stand for purity and righteousness in life, we cannot fail. Why? Because Christ cannot, and will not, fail.
The Chinese word for “crisis” is a combination of the characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” This is a time of crisis for the Presbyterian Church. In the example of Jesus Christ, let us forswear the danger and seize the opportunity. Let us stand for purity and righteousness in life. Let us who claim to live for Christ begin to live like Christ. For then, the Church shall be everything that Christ means for it to be.