Miraculous Signs & Belief

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Sceptics & Thrill Seekers

John 2:18 – 25

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

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Earlier in Chapter 2 of John, we read about Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, when He turned the water into wine.  Up to that point, Jesus had been choosing and collecting disciples around Him, men who would follow Him where He went, listen to His teachings, and witness the miracles He did.  It was all done in a relatively quiet manner, with hardly anyone noticing Jesus or what He was doing.

All of this changed rather dramatically when Jesus came to Jerusalem to participate in the annual Jewish Passover celebration.  (Read the article, “What Is Wrong With This Picture”.)  Jesus burst onto the scene in a very public way when He drove out all the people from the Temple area who were selling animals for sacrifice and turned over the tables of the money changers.

This undoubtedly enraged the Jewish authorities (whom John often simply called “The Jews”).  These leaders, who most likely consisted of the Sadducees, the priests and the Levites, controlled just about every aspect of religious life and regulations for the people, along with the Pharisees (the religious leaders of the Jewish synagogues) and the Scribes (those who were the experts in the Mosaic and Rabbinic laws.)

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When Jesus cleared everyone out of the Temple area, it must have been quite a shock at first for these religious leaders.  Such as act could only have been done by a madman, or by ….. well, someone who had divine authority to do such a bold and brazen act in the Temple of God.  But that didn’t make sense to them, for Jesus was not a crazy lunatic on the one hand, but on the other hand, there had been no evidence beforehand of God granting His divine authority to this man.

So instead of arresting Jesus for HIs actions of property damage and personal assault, “The Jews” come to Jesus and ask Him to perform a sign, some miraculous deed, to give some evidence that He was in fact a man whom God had approved to do such an action.  For the religious leaders, this question made perfect sense; if God had in fact sent Jesus with authority to cleanse the Temple, then He must also possess God’s divine power to do a miracle.

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Fundamentally though, there is a serious problem with the request of the leaders.  In their “holier-than-thou” attitude back then, they had already reasoned in their hearts that if someone was not a member of their established religious order, then there is no way that that person could be a man sent from God and so it would be highly doubtful that he could perform any miracle.

These leaders were sceptics from the beginning.  In asking their question for Jesus to show them a sign, they had already made the conclusion that Jesus was not from God.  And when Jesus gave them a spiritual answer, their minds were stuck upon the physical realm only.  How sad that these religious leaders were so spiritually blind.

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, there were some people in Jerusalem at that time that were ready to accept Jesus and put their faith in Him that He was a “miracle worker”.  It may seem strange at first that Jesus does not appear to be happy about this.  It would seem from the text that Jesus knew that His miracles were simply interesting attractions for them.

Could it be that these people, like many people today, were those who simply followed the latest fad or fashion of the day?  There were in fact many so called prophets and “messiahs” before Jesus who came along and claimed divine power and authority, and even performed some miraculous looking deeds.  But when they failed to perform further miracles, or been arrested, or just faded away, so too did the crowds disperse and stop following them.

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So what can we take away from today’s lesson?  We see that God worked through Jesus in miraculous ways and this was an obstacle for those steeped in religious ritual to truly believe in Him, and it was a problem for those who were just seeking the next spiritually exciting event to follow after.  In both cases, neither the sceptics nor the thrill seekers were prepared to establish a personal relationship with Jesus.  They both looked for the amazing “signs” of Jesus, instead of looking at Jesus.

Now we have to ask ourselves, are we much different from these two kinds of people?  Do we get so caught up in our religious rituals that we fail to nurture our relationship with Jesus and the Father?  Do we get “spiritually bored” at times in our Christian walk and we look for the speakers and events that are more exciting?  Either of these extremes can be harmful to our spiritual well being.

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What Is Wrong With This Picture

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Jesus Clears Out The Temple

John 2:13 –  17

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”

17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”

While growing up, I loved to do all kinds of games and puzzles: logic problems, crosswords, find-a-word, hidden objects, etc. Even today I enjoy working on these kinds of mind games. One of them was called, “What’s wrong with this picture?” You compared two pictures side by side and you tried to see what the difference was between them.

As I was looking over the verses for today’s study, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something terribly wrong with this picture, and I think there is much that we can learn from it. In fact, there is a lot wrong in what happened when Jesus went into the Temple area, but to appreciate what was going on, we will need a little background information.

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 In the Old Testament period, during the period of the kings, according to the Laws and Regulations handed down by God to Moses, the people of Israel were to come to Jerusalem at least three times a year to hold a celebration feast that honoured God for what He had done for them in the past. The Temple was seen as “God’s dwelling place among men”, and so Jewish people from all over the land would come to the Temple to offer their sacrifices and thanks offerings.

Certainly one of the greatest Festivals was the “Passover”, which was a time to remember how God had sent a “Destroying Angel” to kill the first-born sons of every Egyptian family for their enslavement of the Israelites. But God would spare the sons of the Jewish people if they killed a perfect lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their house. Seeing the blood, the angel would “pass over” their house and spare their family. (See Exodus 11 – 12)

Thus, when the people came each year to Jerusalem to remember God’s grace and mercy that delivered them from the Angel of Death, it was to be a time of great joy. And part of that celebration was to offer sacrifices to God at the Temple. The only problem was that it was a long journey for most, and so it would be difficult to bring an animal with you on the trip. Instead, you would just buy an animal for sacrifice when you got to Jeruselem.

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Now here is where the picture really starts to go wrong. Over time, the religious leaders had determined that only animals that they considered to be “perfect” could be purchased for the sacrifices. They ended up having a monopoly on “sacrifice animals” and sold them in the outer courts of the Temple.

These leaders further considered that Roman coins (the currency of the day) were not “sanctified” and could not be used to purchase these animals. Instead, people had to use Jewish Temple money. And to assist travellers with this, the religious leaders approved currency exchanging “money tables”. And of course there was a mark-up on the exchange rate which resulted in even more profit for these religious leaders.

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No wonder that Jesus was so upset when he came into the Temple area on that Passover. Not only were the religious leaders “scalping” the people by having a monopoly on the sacrifice animals, but they were gouging them too with excessive exchange rates so that worshippers made sure they had the right currency to buy the animals.

This is one of the few times that show Jesus being outraged by the evil intentions and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day. He demonstrated what we call today “righteous anger”. But note that His anger is not on account of what the leaders or others did to Him. He is angry at how they were abusing God’s Name and His House, and he was angry at how they were defrauding the people of God who had come with the intention of honouring and worshipping God.

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So here is my question for this study: Are there churches and leaders among us today who have used religion to bring profit to themselves, instead of bringing glory to God? Sure! We can think of a handful of televangelists and money schemes done in the name of God that were in it for what they could gain. And we ought to be “righteously angry” against such practices.

But let me bring this a bit closer to home for some of us. Haven’t we built some churches in North America that go beyond presenting God to the people to merchandising God for the people? We have bookstores in our lobbies, and we sell the sermon series on DVDs, and hold sell-out crowd performances, all in the name of “feeding” the people spiritually.

Jesus said that God’s House was to be a “house of prayer”. What has happened to good old fashioned prayer meetings, where people come to lay their lives before the Lord in confession and in worship? Have we perhaps gone too far in our western capitalism and commercialized God too much? Jesus gave His life to fight against this. What are we prepared to do to return to true and honest worship of our God?

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