Opening Up Our Lives to God: Surgery - John 2:12-2

John 2:12-25

Intro: I don't like this!
A. The Need for Surgery
B. The Purpose of Surgery
   Chart: Creating a Heart of Worship
C. The Post-surgical Care

I don't like this!

My wife and I are completely opposite on one thing: watching surgical shows. She rarely watches tv but if she does, good chance it will be one of those gory programs performing some operations. This guy has no stomach for this. I suppose this difference is something most of us can identify with, that is, one side or the other. But I know something which we all could agree with. No one likes to be the one upon whom surgery is being done!

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother, and His brothers, and His disciples; and there they stayed a few days.
13 And the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated.
15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables;
16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a house of merchandise.”
17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR THY HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.”
18 The Jews therefore answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, seeing that You do these things?”
19 Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 The Jews therefore said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”
21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body.
22 When therefore 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.
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing.
24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,
25 and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man.
(John 2:12-25, NASB).

A. The Need for Surgery

This passage in John can be approached in various ways, but when one continues to search its meaning, especially by including the later verses, I see that there is no way to speak about this passage other than focusing on the great need for change in our lives.

We are like most people. We hear of this story about Jesus throwing people's things all over the ground, we really don't understand it. It is not that we can't understand that they shouldn't perhaps be doing such things there in the temple yard, but why did He have to make such a mess of things. Wasn't there a more civilized way at handling their problem of selling things in the temple courtyard?

Jesus Possible Responses

- He could have written a letter to the court officials? "Dear Sirs, ..."

- He could have gone up to them, table by table, gently suggesting, "I think you probably should be doing this somewhere else."

- Or maybe a bit more radical, "He could have drawn a circle in the sand, sat down in the middle of it and then started praying."

This is the gentle protest we might think of. But it isn't true of Jesus' response! He didn't do any of these things. He acted quite radically.

Instead Jesus threatened to upset all of Jerusalem. He alerted the Roman armies, aggravated the relationship between the leaders and the people, and troubled the worshippers of God. Jesus did this. We see the Jews' sharp reaction towards Him when they asked Him for a sign establishing His authority.

The True Jesus: Syncretism Accommodates Falsehood

If I was writing a book on introducing Christ so that people might believe and follow Him, I think I would leave out this 'rough' episode in His life. I would focus on the theme "The Gentle and Caring Savior," But actually each of the Gospel writers used this similar scene from Christ's life. The reason for John is to teach that our faith can go only as deep and strong as our true knowledge of God.

Jesus had cleaned the temple area two times, once at the beginning and once at the end of His earthly ministry.The other three gospel writers used the cleansing of the temple that happened late in His ministry. John used the early episode because he used it somewhat different.

We get a picture that he was trying to stir up his readers as to really think who Jesus Christ was. It sure works with me. Again, like the former event where Jesus turned water into wine, is this what a Christian parent would want their children's Sunday School teacher teach about? Most of our Sunday School materials are dulled down to such a low level, even if our children did believe in God or Christ, it would not be the true One. If the children do not know of God's wrath, can they ever fear Him and plead for a Savior? Did you ever catch how we talk to children as if they are babies in terms of their comprehension of the scriptures but then when they get home they step into the adult world of intergalactic travel, laser sword fighting and the like?

But for that matter, maybe we adults have been dulled down too. After all, if we had to condense the purpose of chapter 2 in a line, we would say that John was provoking us to know who the real Christ is. But we need to be careful. The context is everything. We do not see Jesus acting like this at other times. Only here. Why? Allow me to briefly summarize.

John is showing us how terribly wretched God's people had gotten in His day. Evil was openly done right in the presence of God. If God's people were this way there in the courts, what do you think they would act like at home?! John is not content to stop here. He comes back and zeroes in on our own hearts. The problem was not only in what they did, but why they did it. The problem started deep in their hearts. Do you think our hearts are any different?

In fact, we can summarize a very important spiritual principle here from this passage. Our intimacy with God can go only as deep as our sin is put aside. Something serious had to happen to preserve this intimacy. It was the reason Jesus came to earth. Let's expand on this as we move on to the second part.

B. Purpose of Invasive Surgery

God wanted so desperately to reach the heart of His people. God saw their all of their sin amplified through their covetousness, cheating, and stealing all in the name of convenience. God couldn't even get near to His own temple the sin was so bad. This is like the person who prided himself on stealing owed tax money so he could give it to God! He decided to have an emergency heart procedure. The mission was clear. God went into enemy territory by sending Christ into Jerusalem's temple and take out that big infectious growth.

We all know a little about surgery. We know, for instance, that removing a cancerous lump or diseased portion of the body can help; it can at least hold back death. We also know that unless the originating problem is dealt with, the problem will return. As we walk with Jesus in His journey through John, we will find that this invasive surgery on God's people woke some people up. Many, however, just missed the point. Jesus got in their way.

Let me repeat this point lest we forget it. God so much desires to have a people that He can draw close to and reveal His glorious ways to. Remember John 1:14 and 2:11where the word 'glory' is used. The signs pointed to the glory of God in Christ. John used this overturning of the tables of the crooks to show God's real heart. God really does care. God really does want to come close to His people. God in true surgical style came in with a swift and clear incision and pulled out the massive evil.

By the end of Christ's three year ministry, however, we see they are all back there again doing the same thing again. Four sins are obvious:

  • 1) They desecrated the temple by having animals in the temple area filled with the typical market distractions.
  • 2) They used a special temple currency inside the temple area and thus extracted a nice healthy profit from their money exchange program.
  • 3) The temple priests allowed such unjust and unholy things in God's house.
  • 4) The people permitted their leaders to desecrate the temple area.

We can hear Jesus raving, "Stop making My father's house a house of merchandise."

The disciples knew what moved Him, "Zeal for Thy House will consume Me." Jesus Christ, the Son of God, shared His Father's heart. The House, the temple, stood for intimacy between God and His people. But the actual sins made it so that God couldn't get near. If God did get near, He would tear up the place. This is what we find happened.

Now I want you to realize that John was concerned about the Israelites back then, but He was not writing for them. He wrote for you and me. Jesus was in town and doing all sorts of fancy stuff that we would like in our church.

"Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, beholding His signs which He was doing." (John 2:23).

"But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men"
(John 2:24).

But it is said that Jesus just couldn't entrust Himself to them. Now we can talk politely about the oxen, the sheep and the doves. I can explain what we commonly know about the way that they cheated the people. But we would miss the true message that John was trying to communicate. John is trying to move us to deeper faith. If in the first miracle, He was trying to show us the difference between life and death, Christ and religion, here he is speaking to us about close intimacy with the Lord.

He is stating that a lot of people have things in their temples that make it so that they cannot get close to God. Sure the temple is there. They are there. But something else is there that makes it so that God can not be there. That is what makes this whole scene so terrible. God cannot come close to His people because of their sins.

Exodus 33:3 records God's conversation with Moses after the party–going in the Israelite camp. God said,

“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3).

God says, "I can't go on with you anymore Moses. I will send an angel along with you, and you will have all those miracles and signs that they want and need, but I will not be close to you."

The sin we find in the temple is common. We end up using God for our own purposes rather than coming in true worship. Let me give you a few examples of this to help you understand the difference.

Creating a Heart of Worship

Worshiping Self

Using God for self

Worshiping God

Letting God use you

Career I want to be a doctor. Doctors are looked up to. God help me be a good doctor. Lord, you know how you have made me and my desires to serve people. What is it that you have for my life? I am willing to do whatever you wish with my life.
Family God I want my children to be good. I want to have the best children around. I'll bring them to church and you help them be good people. Lord, help us to train our children so that they have a great passion for you. Let us daily pray for them, teach them your word and live before them your great love.
Time God, I hope you are happy with my five minutes with you before the movie started. Lord, what can I do with my time today to please you and serve others? Is there someone new I can visit or a friend or stranger in need?
Purity God, I'm not going to watch those filthy X rated shows. These R rated ones aren't so bad. Lord, you want a pure heart where I see no vile thing. Keep me from watching anything that I would not want to happen to my own daughter. Keep me pure.
Money I'm such a good Christian. Everybody knows I give a lot to the church. Lord, besides our regular giving, what missionaries can we support? This money is yours. Is there anyone in special need? I want to be a giver like Jesus.

C. Care for Post-surgical Care

God is coming down today and doing surgery on us today. There are things that are keeping Him distant. He wants to eliminate them. We use the excuse that this is normal Christianity. This is exactly what John is attacking. He is trying to show us what is not normal so that we might repent. Can you sense the Lord right now coming close to your heart asking you to repent from something? Listen to Him. Respond to Him. He is trying to get closer. He has to open us up and take the diseased part away.

Jesus knows your heart. He knows what you hide from others. It's all there laid out in those heavenly web pages. All the images we have seen and our responses to them are all clearly uploaded. I wonder what was uploaded yesterday?! He is drawing us nearer to Himself. He does this by helping us get rid of those things in His temple area that do not please Him. Today, God's people form His temple. He desires to reveal glory there. This is God's purpose in salvation.

Picture of Herod's Temple during Jesus' time

You might wonder what about that part where the Jews demanded a sign.

This is the hardened response to God's call to give up your sin. They preferred their sin over their love for God. They wanted to use God's temple their way. They were unwilling to reform and seek God's way. They got into arguments with God rather than submitting to Him. This might be happening to you right now. Your arguments might go like this, "Why does this preacher dare say these things about me?!" "God I am too busy right now." "God, I don't like what you did back then. I really don't want to get close to you." "Lord, I remember those good old days, but right now I am ...."

Our intimacy with God can go only as deep as our sin is put aside.

John is demanding a response from us. Either we will harden ourselves or we will respond in deepening our faith in Him. He wants us to believe. Why do we have to be so stubborn?!

Does God have a right to perform surgery on our lives? Does He need us to scribble out our names on the release forms? Our Lord has shown that He indeed has authority to do whatever He wants in our lives. We are responsible to follow through what He has started. In this case, He didn't ask for permission to clean out the temple there in Jerusalem. That is fine. But if they don't really want Him to do it, it will return. These hearts are unchanged. They do not seek the Lord.They will die in their sins.

You might wonder why Jesus refused to give them a sign other than the cross and the resurrection. The cross was the biggest sign that He could have given them. If you were upset with the attack on the temple crooks, then surely you will get upset with the real surgery that was yet coming. God knew this temple cleansing would ultimately fail. He needed a more thorough cleansing of the temple so that He could come close and stay close to His people.

The Lord knew our hearts. He knew that the temple would be filled up with idolatrous material in a short time. There was a different kind of operation that needed to take place. It was more than any many could do. Only God could do it, and He did by Sending Jesus into the world. I said that no one likes going into surgery. I would say even more firmly that absolutely no one would go into surgery if you knew you were certain to die. But this is what happened with Jesus. He came into the world knowing that He would die.

The only way the temple could be cleansed was if the temple was torn down and built anew on a new foundation – the New Covenant. The old way was not adequate. The new way through Christ's death and resurrection, though, is quite adequate. In John 2:1-11, Jesus is described as better than the Law. Here is is portrayed as much better than the temple.

Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2:19).

God would not only restrain our behavior to act somewhat righteous, but He would totally cleanse us from our sins and give us a heart to love God. This is the heart of the New Covenant which Jesus is alluding to here. Do you see how important the cleansing of sin is from our lives? God is not acting in some legalistic fervor for show of power and control. He could simply have judged us all and called it over. But God's goal is close intimacy, but in doing this He must deal with our sins. They get in the way. Remember our spiritual principle?

Our intimacy with God can go only as deep as our sin is put aside.

Many of God's servants are now together saying that revival is not dependent on God but man. God has done everything that He needs to. Listen carefully as to whose turn is it to respond.

If ... My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:13,14).

Opening Up Our Lives to GodWhat he means is that God has already done everything that we need. We just need to respond with welcoming hearts. If we don't, the temple area will be crowded out with things as quick as we are sewn up. There is no hope for those who trample upon Christ's blood. They don't want Christ. They want convenience. They want fame. The really don't want closeness with God because that means they need to 'humble themselves ... and turn from their wicked ways.'

Let's be like those believers who put their sin aside. Let's be like those brave souls who see the inconsistencies that we tolerate within our temples. How? We admit we have allowed wrong things in our lives. We confess that we need to have them cleansed up. We ask God through Jesus Christ to forgive us of these sins. We change our habits, our talk, our watch (what we see) and do what pleases Him.

God doesn't need anyone to tell Him about your or my heart. He probably doesn't want to hear, "Oh, I'm not that bad!" This is what He desires to hear, 'I have made more room for You, please come closer. Whatever it takes, keep coming closer."


John was the most intimate of disciples and wrote to increase our intimacy with God. Many of us think getting in the gate to heaven is the only important thing. If this is the case, we have really missed out. John is trying to make room for a growing and exciting relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Has He recently pointed out something that needs changing in your life? Is He now performing surgery on you? Agree to put it away. It will stay away that way. Furthermore, you will grow in your love for God and mankind. That is what true Christianity is all about.

Other Gospel of John articles:

John 2:12-25 Turning the Tables Also by Paul J. Bucknell
Introduction to Gospel of John: Purpose, Power (7 signs, miracles), Penetration (I Am), Plan (Outlines)
John 1:1-13 The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ Bible Study Questions
John 2:1-11 The Great Transformation: Biblical Perspective on Drinking and Drugs Bible Study Questions
John 2:12-25 Opening Up Our Lives: Intimacy with God Bible Study Questions
John 5:18-23 Affirming Christ's Deity
John 5:19-20 Christian Living by Understanding Christ's Mind Bible Study Questions
John 7:37-39 Rivers of Living Waters Bible Study Questions
John 8:32 Finding Life in God's Word
John 10:30 I and Father are One
John 12:20-36 The Investment of Your Life Bible Study Questions
John 14:6 Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life

John 15:1-17 Abiding in Him Bible Study Questions
John 15:15-16 Genuine Friendship
John 19:17-30 Bible Study Questions
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Biblical Foundations for Freedom

Rev. Paul J. Bucknell