This Is True Religion
April 19, 2020 | Randy Smith
This Is True Religion
Sunday, April 19, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
Quite often I am asked, why did Jesus have so much opposition and how do I know what teachers I should be listening to and why am I persecuted for being a Christian and why did Jesus part with the Judaism of His day and what is the kind of heart that God desires? Today’s lesson will answer all these important questions.
I plan to cover three sections in Luke that are all somewhat related. Each section will be one of our sermon points. The main point is reflected in the title: What is true religion?
Zeal For His Temple (verses 45–46)
Let’s begin with the zeal that Jesus has for His temple.
We are now in the final week of our Lord’s ministry on earth. The days will move rapidly as will the attitude of the people. As we learned last week, Jesus entered Jerusalem – commonly we call that the Triumphal Entry. He was hailed as a king and the expectation among the thousands of people was that He would take the throne, defeat Israel’s enemies and exalt the nation.
Yet the day ended with Jesus not immediately fulfilling their expectations. He was riding a donkey and not a white horse (19:35). He was weeping when everybody else was rejoicing (19:41). Something was off. Jesus then leaves Jerusalem that evening to spend the night in Bethany with Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Mk. 11:12). The following day He returns to Jerusalem and does the unexpected.
We pick it up in verse 45. “Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling.”
It is interesting that for the first (and last) physical encounter in our Lord’s ministry, He chooses to display His aggression in the temple (also considering He did it a few years earlier in John 2). If Jerusalem was the heart of religious Israel, the temple was the heart of Judaism. With so many injustices going on at the time, why would Jesus take out His righteous anger against religious people gathering in a so-called holy place?
Discussion #1 – This event was so uncharacteristic of Jesus. Why would He act this way in the temple?
On the one hand, God’s Spirit had long left the temple. As compared to the time of Solomon when God dwelt among His people in the temple. Yet due to the disobedience of the people, God’s presence with them had departed. Technically it never returned until Jesus arrived at the temple as a young child.
The temple was as dead spiritually as was the whole Jewish religious system that was built on tradition and dead works filled with hypocrisy without any true heart for God. False religion. Jesus was the true temple of God.
On the other hand, we must remember that the temple did serve a purpose for people to commune with God through their spiritual activities such as prayer and praise and confession and sacrifices. Yet many turned it into a stockyard run by scoundrels. And this is the reason Jesus created such a stir.
As verse 45 says, “[He] began to drive out those who were selling.”
You see, the temple was the term off used to refer to the entire complex. In the heart was the “Most Holy Place” – a place that only the high priest could enter one time each year. Then there was the “Holy Place.” Beyond that was the “Court of the Priests” – where the priests would conduct their daily activities. Outside of that was the “Court of the Israelites” – where only the Jewish men could assemble. Outside that was the “Court of the Women” – where the Jewish women could congregate and then finally on furthest fringe was the “Court of the Gentiles” – where anyone could enter. That is the focus here.
Clearly there was a pecking order. Clearly it was taught that certain people were more privileged before God.
So, it’s the Passover. Hundreds of thousands of people pour into Jerusalem. They will need a sacrifice that meets the approval of the priests. They will need to exchange their money for the local currency to pay the temple tax. You can bet a situation like this brought out all the robbers and swindlers that saw a quick way to make a fortune. Historians tell us it was extortion at its finest. And where was this taking place? In the Court of the Gentiles. And all of it was happening under the direction of the religious leaders.
What an amazing sight this must have been. Let’s remember, Jesus did not look like the Incredible Hulk. So here you have a simple man that had the power to clear out all these hardened criminals. I mean, I doubt any would have moved if He simply said to leave. I doubt they went willingly. This was incredible. We get more detail in the other gospels. Mark 11:15, “He…overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.”
And why all of this? Jesus explains in verse 46 quoting the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. “It is written, ‘AND MY HOUSE SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER,’ [for all the nations – Mk. 11:17] but you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”
Takeaways before we move on? Jesus seeks true worshippers and burns in anger toward those who handicap them. Jesus burns in anger toward those who use religion as a means for their sin. And Jesus takes the greatest offense at false religion.
Would it be safe to say that if Jesus were to return to earth right now (not the Second Coming), the first place He would attack would be many churches with all the heretics and frauds?
But staying with the narrative, you can see where this is going. The King (which they assumed Jesus was) was supposed to represent God and exalt Israel, attacks the very heart of her religious system. He didn’t attack the Romans. He attacked the very one who thought they were favored with God. And the religious leaders who observed this action in the temple saw it as a great threat to their policies and privilege and power.
The storm was brewing, but now a clash is inevitable.
Zeal For His Word (verses 47–48)
So, Jesus has a zeal for the temple. Here we see in the second point we see that He has a zeal for His Word.
Look at verse 47. “And He was teaching daily in the temple.” Stop right there.
This is amazing! So, He clears the temple of the thieves and animals. He infuriates the religious leaders who thought the temple was their domain. He calls the temple, “My house.” He sets up shop in the temple Himself and the only thing mentioned here by Luke is that He was engaged in teaching on a “daily” basis. And His teaching contradicted the very religious establishment!
What a contrast between these first two sermon points! From righteous anger and removing people by force to gentle compassion presenting the Word of God in love. How one Man can frighten the hardened sinner but attract the humble sinner.
And as we work through chapter 20 and 21, we see that this is where Jesus focused His attention. Teaching! He put, as should we, a tremendous emphasis on teaching God’s Word correctly.
Discussion #2 – Jesus put a priority on God’s Word. How do you prioritize God’s Word?
Here we have God’s Word being taught with thousands coming to hear it, but the so-called religious people, becoming more irate with Jesus by the moment. The remainder of verse 47 says, “But the chief priests and the scribes and the leading men among the people were trying to destroy Him.”
They knew very well their ship is sinking and they are losing control. They know very well that Jesus must be eliminated. Destroying Jesus, their wicked desire to rebel against God, but God’s gracious desire to use their desire to fulfill His eternal plans. Destroying Jesus – it seems like that was on a lot of minds including the Triune God. All were setting in motion the events that will lead to the crucifixion.
They tried, but, verse 48, “They could not find anything that they might do, for all the people were hanging on to every word He said.”
You see, these guys were in it for themselves. And when you love your power and popularity, you are dependent on the people and they knew taking the still-popular Jesus by force was not in their best benefit. Self-interest governs all that they do. It is pleasing self over pleasing God. They’ll get Him, but how?
Zeal For His Authority (verses 1–8)
Let’s go to the final point and observe the zeal that Jesus has for His authority.
You see, everything back then operated on authority. There were specific chains of commands down to the minutia for all the responsibilities at the temple working their way up to the high priest. Authority was received and authority was respected.
Enter Jesus. He is not born a Levite, born into authority. No human conferred authority on Him. He never even asked for authority. And when He taught, He taught as one having authority as He quoted only the Scriptures and not other teachers who came before Him. He appealed to no one. He even took authority to forgive sins, something even the Jews claimed to belong to God alone. After the Resurrection, Jesus would exclaim, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). The way Jesus acted was a total breach to their system. And this issue of authority they saw as the golden ticket to trap Him.
Picking up the text in 20:1. “On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple [our Lord teaching in the temple again emphasized by Luke – probably another day – He returns but the robbers do not] and preaching the gospel [a specific kind of teaching – forgiveness of our sins], the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him.” So, a delegation is formed to confront Jesus.
And here is what they say. Verse 2, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”
For what things did they question His authority? Perhaps the teaching Perhaps the miracles. But most likely it was the event that just occurred – cleaning house in the temple. And again, a fair question of the day. You didn’t take a step without respecting the authority above you. And here comes Jesus and He turns the place upside-down and then takes over and repeatedly teaches the people there. Everything was based on authority. They want to know from where He received His authority. Fair question, but diabolical in its attempt to trap Jesus. How would He answer that one? Jesus knows it is a trick question, a doubled-edged sword.
If He says Himself or a person, the question would be which person. If Himself, He’s viewed as an enemy to Roman peace and a troublemaker in Israel (Death). Moreover, if anyone else, it means there is authority over God if He indeed is God. If He says God, they will charge Him with being a false prophet or blasphemer (Death).
What is Jesus going to say? He answers their question in a traditional rabbinic way by asking another question.
Beginning in verse 3, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: ‘Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?’’ They reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’’ ‘But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.’’ So, they answered that they did not know where it came from. And Jesus said to them, ‘Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”
Jesus knew these hardened leaders would never accept the truth from Him. He saw no need to play their games or give them an account. He owes them nothing. He knew His days were numbered and the cross was near. And thorough it all, He shows Himself to be in control of the entire situation.
And just as the religious leaders rejected John who pointed to Jesus, they will soon reject Jesus as well. As He will make clear in the following parable that they are the wicked tenants of the vineyard who murdered the “beloved son” of the owner (Lk. 20:13).
Do they repent? No, the flames are only fueled. The showdown is underway, and it will be over in a matter of days.
So. What is true religion?
- False religion fears people, while true religion fears God.
- False religion preserves life, while true religion loses life.
- False religion loves power, while true religion loves humility.
- False religion is characterized with paranoia and fear, while true religion is characterized with peace and courage.
- False religion invents its teaching, while true religion teaches God’s Word.
- False religion uses people, while true religion serves people.
- False religion is spiritually blind, while true religion is able to see.
- False religion concerns itself with outward appearance, while true religion concerns itself with the heart.
- False religion will be judged, while true religion will be delivered.
Discussion #3 – Before we pray, in your own words, discuss the difference between false and true religion. Then, how did Jesus model true religion?