May 12, 2013
You’ve probably had the experience of talking to a skeptic about Christ only to have him say, “If I could see a miracle, I’d believe.” But that’s not true. The problem with the skeptic is not a lack of evidence, but rather his love of his sin. He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
Years ago, the most popular course on a college campus was a first-year chemistry class, taught by a renowned professor, Dr. Lee. Each year before Thanksgiving, Dr. Lee would lecture against prayer. He would conclude the lecture with the challenge: “Is there anybody here who still believes in prayer?” He would add, “Before you answer, let me tell you what I’m going to do and what I’m going to ask you to do. I will turn around, take a glass flask and hold it at arm’s length. If you believe that God answers prayer, I want you to stand and pray that when I drop this flask, it won’t break. I want you to know that your prayers and the prayers of your parents and Sunday school teachers and even the prayers of your own pastors cannot prevent this flask from breaking. If you wish to have them here, we will put this off until you return after the Thanksgiving recess.”
No one had ever stood up to Dr. Lee’s challenge until a Christian freshman learned about it. He sensed that God had given him the conviction to stand up to Dr. Lee. When the skeptical professor threw out the challenge, this brave young man stood up.
“Well,” said the professor, “this is most interesting. Now we will be most reverent while this young man prays.” Then he turned to the young man and said, “Now you may pray.”
The young man lifted his face toward heaven and prayed, “God, I know that You can hear me. Please honor the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and honor me, Your servant. Don’t let the flask break. Amen.”
Dr. Lee stretched his arm out as far as he could, opened his hand, and let the flask fall. It fell in an arc, hit the toe of Dr. Lee’s shoe, rolled over and did not break (Richard Harvey, Seventy Years of Miracles [Horizon House], cited by Bill Thrasher, A Journey to Victorious Praying [Moody Publishers], pp. 48-50).
The book where I read that story doesn’t report the professor’s response, but I seriously doubt that he fell to his knees, repented of his sins, and trusted in Jesus Christ as His Savior and Lord. Skeptics who demand a miracle don’t need a miracle to come to faith. They need to repent of their sins.
Our text reports the aftermath of Jesus’ confronting the sin of those who authorized the selling of sacrificial animals and the changing of money inside the temple precincts in Jerusalem. They came to Jesus and demanded a sign (John’s word for “miracle”) to validate His right to cleanse the temple. In effect, they challenged Jesus, “Who do you think you are to do what you just did? Do you think that you own this temple?” John wants us to see, “Yes, Jesus owns the temple. He is the rightful Lord of it. He has every right to cleanse it from corruption.”
Our text shows us how not to come to Jesus when He confronts your sin and how to come to Him:
When Jesus confronts your sin, don’t challenge Him, but believe in Him as the crucified and risen Lord as the Scriptures testify.
God created us to glorify Him in all that we do, but especially when we gather in worship. All sin may be summed up as falling short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). As we saw last week, Jesus confronted the merchants and money changers in the temple because they were perverting God’s purpose for the temple, which was that His people might worship Him. It was to be a house of prayer for the nations (Mark 11:15), but they had turned the only part of the temple where Gentiles could worship into a place of business.
Jesus was especially incensed with religious sin because these people professed to know the Scriptures. They purported to be obedient to God and to worship Him, but their hearts were far from Him (Mark 7:6-8). No doubt they would have rationalized their temple business by arguing that it provided a needed service for the worshipers. But they were using religion as a cloak to cover their greed. So Jesus zealously drove them out of His Father’s house and upended their money tables.
If you want to stir up someone’s zeal, offend what he loves. If you want to get me stirred up, offend my wife. Because I love her I will defend her if you put her down. Jesus loved the Father and the Father’s house, where true worship was to take place. So when He saw this perversion going on in the temple, it stirred up His righteous zeal (John 2:17), so that He drove them out.
But in so doing, He offended what they loved, namely, their money (Luke 16:14) and their position of authority in the temple (Matt. 23:6-7). So they responded to Jesus’ confrontation by challenging His authority to do what He had done. But that was the wrong way to come to Jesus!
Before we look at their challenge to Jesus, let me ask: Has Jesus confronted your sin? You can’t walk with Jesus, who is holy, without at some point having Him confront your sin. He does it gently with those who are weighed down with the burden of their sin. But with self-righteous religious hypocrites, He gets pretty tough. But wherever you’re at on the spectrum, there is no such thing as having real contact with Jesus without having Him confront your sin. When He does, don’t respond as the Jews did when He cleared their business out of the temple:
John 2:18: “The Jews then said to Him, ‘What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?’” Note 3 things:
The reason the Jews challenged Jesus was that He had just upset their nice little corner on the religion market. There is no sign of repentance on their part for how they had defiled the temple. They didn’t come humbly and say, “Jesus, you were right. We were wrong to sell our goods in the temple. Thank you for helping us correct that.” They knew that He was right, but rather than face their sin, they dodged it by challenging Jesus’ right to do what He did.
When skeptics say, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe,” they’re dodging their sin. They don’t need more evidence to believe, because they aren’t seeking to believe. They don’t want to believe in Jesus, because they know that He would confront their sin.
A campus worker talked with a student who claimed that the Bible was packed with mythology, although he admitted that he had never read it. So the worker challenged him to read Isaiah, which contains prophecies concerning Christ, and Matthew, which records the fulfillment of those prophecies.
He thought that he would never see him again, but the next day he came up and said, “I read Isaiah and Matthew. It was interesting literature. I think it speaks the truth.” “That’s great!” said the worker. “Are you ready to trust Christ for eternal life?”
“No way,” said the student, “I have a very active sex life. I know Christ would want to change that. I don’t want anyone to change that.” (Cliff Knechtle, Give Me an Answer [IVP], pp. 88-89, cited by Lee Stroebel, Inside the Mind of the Unchurched Harry & Mary [Zondervan], p. 113.)
Jesus was the Lord over the temple. It was His Father’s house and He is the heir of all things (Heb. 1:2), so He owned it. By cleansing the temple and calling it His Father’s house, Jesus demonstrated His deity. Jesus’ reply to them (John 2:19) shows that He knew that He would be killed and raised up the third day. He knew His own future before it happened.
You don’t come to the omniscient Lord of the temple as if you are the lord of the temple, demanding answers from Him or implying that you know more than He does. You must assume the position of a subordinate in the presence of Jesus or you will not receive anything from Him except judgment. The problem with skeptics who challenge the truth of the Bible is that they set themselves up as lords over the Word of God. But Jesus doesn’t respond kindly to such critics:
On at least two other occasions, the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, and both times Jesus gave them basically the same answer that He gives here. Matthew 12:38-40 records,
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Again in Matthew 16:1, “The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.” He replied (16:4), “‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.’ And He left them and went away.”
Both times, Jesus gave the same reply: a cryptic reference to His upcoming death and resurrection. So in John 2:19, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” They thought that He was speaking literally of the Jerusalem temple, but John clarifies (2:21), “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.”
Rather than humbly admitting that they didn’t understand and asking Jesus to explain, they challenged Him again (2:20), “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” Some reputable scholars (Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], pp. 109-110; Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Zondervan], pp. 560-561) argue on grammatical, linguistic, and historical grounds that this should be translated, “This temple was built forty-six years ago.” The point then was, “This impressive building has stood the test of time here for 46 years. How could you possibly rebuild it in three days?” But however you take it, it’s clear that these men were not humbly seeking truth from Jesus. Rather, they were challenging His authority.
But Jesus never threw His pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). When the disciples asked why Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables, He said (Matt. 13:13), “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” His parables served to reveal truth to those who humbly sought it, but also to conceal truth from skeptics. He gave such critics enough truth to condemn them on judgment day, but not enough to open their eyes and save them (Matt. 13:14-15).
It’s interesting that at Jesus’ trial, the false witnesses who obviously didn’t understand Jesus’ words here tried to use it against Him. They stated (Matt. 26:61), “This man stated, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days.’” Then as Jesus hung on the cross, Mark 15:29-30 reports, “Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, ‘Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself, and come down from the cross!’” But Jesus had never said that He would destroy the temple. Rather, He made a statement of future fact: “[You will] destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
What did Jesus mean? His reply had a double meaning. On one level, they would destroy the temple of Jesus’ body and He would raise it up in three days. Scripture indicates that all three members of the Trinity had a part in Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:24; Rom. 1:4; 6:4; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:15; John 10:17-18), just as they did in creation. But on another level, through their unbelief and rejection of the Messiah, they would destroy the Jerusalem temple (fulfilled in A.D. 70). It would be replaced by the risen Savior, who is our new temple or dwelling place of God with men. Our worship now centers in Him, not in any building. The sign that these things are true is the bodily resurrection of Jesus on the third day, which is the supreme authentication of His person and work.
Thus, Jesus is in the business of confronting all sin that undermines the true worship of God. When He confronts your sin, don’t come to Him by challenging Him, asking for a sign. Rather,
The Jewish skeptics and the disciples both saw the same person, heard the same teaching, and were given the same sign of Jesus’ resurrection. But the skeptics refused to repent of their sins and eventually crucified the Lord of glory. The disciples’ response was quite different (John 2:22): “So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” That’s the response that John wants us to have. Note four things:
John doesn’t specify exactly which Scripture the disciples believed after Jesus’ resurrection. He could have been thinking of Psalm 16, Psalm 22, and Isaiah 53. But I think he wants us to realize that all Scripture points to Jesus as our sacrifice for sin, whom God raised from the dead. After the resurrection, Jesus encountered the two men on the Emmaus Road. Luke 24:27 states, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Later, Jesus said to the disciples (24:44), “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Luke adds (24:45), “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Being there would have been worth more than all the seminary courses in the world!
The point is, to believe in Jesus, look for Him in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. You need to read the entire Bible, asking God to reveal Christ to your soul (see my message on Rom. 15:4, “Why You Need the Old Testament”).
Beware of conjuring up a “Jesus” of your own liking! Many do that. They pick their favorite verses or stories about Jesus and His love, but ignore the parts that show Jesus in His holiness and wrath against sin. The Bible is our only source of God’s revelation concerning His Son, and we need the balance of taking it all in.
Here’s one example: In Matthew 11:28, we all love Jesus’ invitation, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” But some don’t like what He said just before that. First, He pronounced judgment on the unrepentant cities that had not believed in Him (Matt. 11:20-24). Then He thanked the Father for hiding spiritual truth from the wise and intelligent and revealing it instead to infants (11:25-26). Then, just before the invitation that we love, He asserted His sovereignty (11:27): “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” My point is, we need to embrace these difficult verses just as much as we embrace our favorite verse of invitation. God inspired all Scripture for our spiritual good.
I already mentioned this, but we need to understand: since the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, there are no “sacred” buildings or places. Jesus Himself is our temple, not a cathedral or church building. We meet with God in Jesus. We dwell in Him and He dwells in us. The church (people, not the building) is growing into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:21).
Believing in Jesus is not a blind leap, where you vaguely hope He catches you before you hit the bottom. Rather, faith in Jesus is a step (not a leap) where you put your trust in the credible witness of Scripture and the apostles to the person and work of Jesus Christ. They were eyewitnesses of His glory (John 1:18). Peter testifies (2 Pet. 1:16), “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” The apostolic testimony is recorded for us in the New Testament, corroborated by the Old Testament.
Also, as we’ve seen, faith in Christ is not a once-for-all decision in the past. Rather, the disciples believed in Christ when they first began to follow Him (John 1:50). They believed again when they saw His glory when He turned the water into wine (2:11). Now, after the resurrection they reflect back on Jesus’ words here and “they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” John puts Jesus’ words on a par with Scripture. What Jesus said, God said. The point is, as we understand more and more from the Scriptures of who Jesus is, our faith in Him grows.
Note also that it takes time for spiritual truth to sink in. The disciples didn’t connect all the dots at first. They couldn’t understand Jesus’ predictions about His death and resurrection (Luke 9:44-45; 24:45). But later they remembered what Jesus had said and it all made sense. So if you don’t understand something in the Bible, don’t give up. Keep asking, seeking, and knocking, and eventually the door will be opened for you.
A story is told of a godly but poor old Christian woman who lived in a run-down house. But she was always praising the Lord. An old atheistic man lived next door, who was always trying to prove to her that there is no God.
One day as he walked by the house, he saw through an open window that the woman was kneeling in prayer. He crept near and heard her pray, “Lord, you’ve always given me what I’ve needed. Now you know that I don’t have any money, I’m out of groceries, and I won’t get another check for a week. Somehow, Lord, can you get me some groceries?”
The atheist had heard all that he needed to hear. He ran down to the store, bought several bags of groceries, set them down on her doorstep, rang the bell, and hid beside the house. When the old woman saw the groceries, she threw her hands over her head and began shouting, “Thank you, Jesus! I was without food and you provided the groceries! Praise the Lord!”
At that point, the old man jumped out and said, “I’ve got you now! I told you that there is no God. It wasn’t Jesus who gave you those groceries—it was me!”
“Oh, no,” the woman said. “Jesus got me these groceries and He made you pay for them!” There are two ways of looking at things, aren’t there! The point of our text is, when Jesus confronts your sin, don’t challenge Him. Rather, believe in Him as the One who was crucified for your sins and raised for your justification.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation