The best spoilers of all
13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
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. (John 2:13-22 ESV)
Spoiler alert! I’m going to be talking about spoilers!
Are you interested or starting to turn off?
Spoilers are controversial – and generally defined as telling the end at the beginning – which some people love and others hate. Spoilers are peculiar because people are selective about endings – they might not want to hear the final result of a sporting match but happy to hear the ending of a film – or they don’t want to hear the ending of their favourite TV show but not really care about other shows. Other people want to hear the ending – in fact the spoiler paradox suggests that many people prefer to know the ending because it helps them follow the story. Some stories do start with the end and the story becomes how the ending has come about.
Stories that you return to and reread are enjoyed just as much with the ending known. In fact we learn from stories – the ones often suggested to us – because of the ending. Good story telling, I think, knows the ending before you begin. And the longform art of storytelling uses foreshadowing to set up future situations which can provide great anticipation and emotion – like it was all planned.
We are here today in worship because we know the end of the story of Jesus on Earth. In Lent we particularly focus on watching Jesus go to his death on a cross. Christian preaching emphasises Jesus Christ and him crucified. Life ends in death and legacies might continue but the person doesn’t. Yet our Sundays are not part strictly part of Lent – of the 40 days – and we get echoes, messages, reminders, revelations still happening these past 2,000 years that Jesus is alive and we are not talking about his legacy while his dust swirls around Jerusalem.
The Gospel writer, John, presents Jesus differently than Matthew, Mark, and Luke who use the general biographical structure, a line from beginning to ending. John’s message is more thematic – at least up to chapter 12. He starts with God and ends with Jesus as the Son of God of central importance to all humanity and his accounts of Jesus always have Jesus in control, Jesus drawing on the Old Testament, Jesus pointing to a future that is scandalous, controversial, heretical, and which gets him into trouble – but is part of a bigger plan that we didn’t see coming.
Having turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana and having his disciples believe in him – it is a learning process for them – and after a stay at Capernaum with his mother and brothers, John takes us south to Jerusalem – up to Jerusalem as it is an elevated place and into controversy as Jesus clears the temple courtyard of the oxen, sheep, pigeons, all the haggling, the business, the smell, and the money changers. We don’t get the reference to the house of prayer – this was where the Gentiles could go to pray – but instead
Jesus says, “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” and it is the disciples who make the link with Psalm 69 and ‘zeal for your house has consumed me’ (v.9a). However there is also the passage in Zechariah – the last chapter, the last verse – about the day of the Lord, about the Messianic reign, ‘And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day’ (Zechariah 14:21c).
Could it be? Could Jesus be the Messiah? And so the Jewish officials don’t ty and arrest Jesus but they want a sign to confirm Jesus is the Messiah, to show Jesus’ authority here. And that is when Jesus says something stupid to their ears, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up’ (John 2:19). The temple was a long term building project and had already been worked on for 46 years and would keep being worked on until just before 70AD – so the scaffolding was taken down just before the Romans took the temple and the whole city down. The Jewish leaders reject Jesus and the disciples don’t understand but when Jesus is raised to life, then Jesus’ words make sense – and so they believe Jesus’ words and the Scriptures about Jesus.
The disciples – and also we – and all the followers of Jesus – can also look again at the reference to Psalm 69 and see how the zeal for God’s house – God’s people – the living temple – consumed Jesus – and again that takes us to the cross – the place no one back then wants to go anywhere near or even contemplate. What we have at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the place of worship, where people could access God and receive his blessings, Jesus saying – predicting – that he is bringing about a new way to be close to God, to receive his blessings, to live with God – and that is through his crucifixion and his resurrection.
That is the spoiler, so to speak, regarding every message of Jesus. That is the foreshadowing in telling the story of Jesus – that everything he did was for us, with us in mind – and then because Jesus is alive – he is more than a history lesson, more than a story from the past, a fable, a moral tale – because he is good news that he is alive today, then the story about us – our story also has a foreshadowing and dare, I say, a spoiler.
With Jesus, those in Christ, those joined to his death and resurrection, now know their ending, and there is a foreshadowing of things which we later come to see – oh that’s what God was doing, oh that’s how God used that situation – in God’s promises of his presence and bringing good to us. And when the world says at our death, ‘Stupid, this is all there is – now there is nothing’ those in Christ know the spoiler and can have a confidence even then for Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die …’ (John 11:25,26a ESV).
During Lent, we contemplate Jesus and his journey to the cross not as misfortune, bad luck, misadventure but as mystery – that God’s plan of rescue when humanity ruined creation and ourselves made us so blind, so cut off from God, so out of step and out of tune with God, that God took the steps he did in Jesus to restore us to himself. We like to be in control of our relationships, not to be surprised, to give out spoilers and surprises but not to be recipients of them when they remind us we are not that much in control. And our blindness and rebellion simply didn’t see the cross as our rescue; and many in the world still do not accept the news of the empty tomb. But that is when we can live the story and share the story – Jesus knew what he was doing. The cross seems stupid and weak and yet it is paradoxically God’s wisdom and power so that we might live – and if you watch Jesus closely and listen to him carefully you will discover that he had your salvation always planned.
Thus like those first disciples, all disciples of Jesus remember his words, dwell on them, meditate on them and believe the Scriptures. Jesus knows what he is doing still – and the cross and empty tomb are the best spoilers to have each day of our life. Your salvation was all planned. How you live that truth each day is very much up to you and Jesus. If God is for us, who can be against us?
- John 2:13 - 22