It must be time for spring cleaning. Thursday night I got home and my wife announced she had the answer to having had a long, hard two weeks at work. It was time to cleanse the kitchen in our home. Nothing picks up her spirits like a good cleansing. She was on a mission to clear the top of the cabinets of the Longaberger baskets so she could dust, scrub the counter tops, scour the sink, remove the thingy that holds the paper towels, and more. She worked until all surfaces were cleared and clean. No more clutter. More uplifting, she’d made the decision to replace the old dishes with new white ones. After all, you can’t keep the old things in place if you want to establish a new order. She also informed me how important this task was, “Because,” she said, “the kitchen is the heart of the home.” Who can argue with that?
By chance, I was working on my sermon of Jesus cleansing the Temple. He was doing the same thing: out with old, and in with the new. He couldn’t establish a new order and keep the old things in place at the same time. Jesus was driving the animals and moneychangers out of the Temple — driving out the traditions of religious sacrifice and forms of paying for your own sins with your money or your works. The Temple was the heart of their spiritual life and it had become cluttered. Jesus was spring cleaning. Just as in Lent, which means springtime, we try to refresh our lives with a new and better order.
Part of the problem was that the sacrifices people were making were not changing the way they lived their lives. They were not becoming better people because of their regimented religious practices. Their sacrifices and works were not cleansing them. It was time to change the system, time to do some spring cleaning. You can’t work with a faulty system and expect perfection. That’s what is says in Hebrews 8:7 – that the first covenant of laws and sacrifices was faulty. It says, “For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, there would have been no reason to replace it with another.” And in chapter 10: “For the law…can never…make those who approach [God] perfect.”
Israel had been operating under an agreement, a covenant, received in the commandments and other laws on Mt. Sinai. That first covenant God made with Israel was this: (Ex. 19:5) if they obeyed His voice and kept His covenant, they would be God’s treasured possession out of all the peoples. And they would receive the favor of the Lord if they kept their part of the agreement. Of course, the children of Israel agreed, that sounded like a good deal to them. After hearing the book of the covenant read, “they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient’ (Ex. 24:6).
Well, the children of Israel, like us, had a hard time keeping the agreement. They had a hard time following the commands of God. So, to appease God, animals and birds had to suffer and die in the peoples’ place…hoping God might forgive the sins they committed. Jesus came into the Temple and chased out the cattle, the sheep, the doves – “their blood is not sufficient to cover sins if you don’t change your life along with it.” It’s like He was saying, “Enough is enough! This is ridiculous, people! Don’t kill these helpless animals – what did they do? You are the ones who are not keeping the covenant promise. Shedding the blood of animals is not making you better people.”
The Law is Now in Your Heart
Jesus had to get rid of the old system in order to bring in the new. The new covenant was promised by the prophet Jeremiah (31), “For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…for I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
The new law will be in your heart, not in a book or on tablets of stone. The law of love. The fact that there is a new agreement means the old one is replaced, annulled. Hebrews 8:13 –“In that [God gives] ‘a new covenant’, He has made the first [covenant] obsolete.” Obsolete – that sounds too close to needing to be bagged and put in the dumpster. Except, it’s hard to throw out. “We might need it sometime.” It helps to clean the outside of people we think are dirty. So we’d better not get rid of it. We still want to use it…even though it’s like pushing a rotating blade lawn mower instead of a gas powered one.
Another word for covenant in the Greek is ‘testament.’ The ‘old’ testament/covenant and the ‘new’ testament/covenant. The New Testament is the foundation of the new religion – Christianity, based on one man’s sacrifice of blood for us, and ushering in a religion of love, a religion of unity, a religion centered on Jesus Christ who bore the sin of the world on the cross.
Today, the law of Moses is obsolete in determining our future. I didn’t say that, the Bible said that. This doesn’t mean we won’t suffer the consequences of breaking the commandments today. It simply means the commandments are a faulty system of trying to make anyone perfect. We haven’t learned yet that forcing people to act like we want them to act has never worked.
The good news is that much of the law can now be thought of as one of the blessings of God, the wisdom of God given for our benefit, not to be forced on anyone. We who trust in the sacrifice of God’s Son for our sins can receive the ordinances of God in the way the psalmist received it: “[the ordinances of the Lord] are sweeter than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (19:10)
True religion is about Jesus Christ rather than the old covenant laws of Moses. Martin Luther pointed out that people came to Jesus because they were attracted to Him. They heard He could heal them, that He cared for them, and His teachings possessed the wisdom of God. Once they knew Him, they understood how to interpret and live in the spirit of the law so it could give life to those who founded their hope and their religion on Jesus Christ.
So how is the Christian church doing today? Are we centering our life and actions around Jesus Christ with His good news and healing ministry, or are we pushing the laws of Moses and the priestly code of Leviticus on people? Are we still making sacrifices to appease God today?
Most of us don’t sacrifice animals to appease God, I hope. But sometimes I think we consider what we do for God to be a sacrifice that we hope will appease God. Like, “It’s Lent and I’m supposed to sacrifice something, so I’ll give up chocolate.” Jesus might say, “Why don’t you sacrifice an hour of television and go visit your sick neighbor?” Get rid of the cluttered thinking that punishing yourself or someone else is what God wants — go help your neighbor.
A religion based on Christ alone is founded on the grace of God in the new covenant/testament. It’s a religion founded in love, compassion, peace, and caring for each other, not in making demands on each other. We don’t have to punish ourselves for our guilt. We have been cleansed, once and for all. As Heb. 10:9-10 says, “[Christ] abolishes the first [covenant] to establish the second [covenant]. And…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all.” I’m getting the impression the writer of Hebrews was a supersessionist (out with the old, in with the new). Spring cleaning.
What’s going on in your temple today? Does it need to be cleansed of duty or laws or sacrifice?