Jesus is not nice in the Temple. He is not clever, winsome, gentle, or patient. He is on a mission. He has no time to listen to the opinions and theories of the Pharisees. He is not their to listen or make them feel good about themselves. He gets right to it: “If you loved God you would love Me. You don’t love Me because you are of the devil.”
That makes them quite angry and even though they are unable to convict Him of sin, even though He has never uttered anything false, even though He is in perfect conformity with the Law and the Prophets, and they know His miracles are real, they retort: “You are the devil.”
“What other possibility, is there?” They ask. “Only the devil could make us feel this way. Only the devil could preach the Law so that it scares us, could make such demands, or say such outrageous things. God cannot be so stern or demanding. He must be nice, a gentle old man in the sky who looks down upon us with distant kindness and good will, who does not judge or make demands, who turns babies into angels, who likes kittens and a good effort, but never gets too involved, letting us choose our own way, and being proud of us no matter what we do.”
“But you! You claim to come from God and to speak God’s Words. But your words do not sound like the God who answers prayer in sitcoms or who works things out for George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, who has a special place in His heart for Americans. You do not give us our due. You have a demon and he makes you clever.”
“I do not have a demon,” says Jesus. “I have my Father. I am the Lord over life and death.”
“Now we know you have a demon,” they say. “You are so vain that you think you are greater than Abraham, greater than this Temple. You dare to think that there is only one way to heaven, that your religion is better than others and is actually true. You mock the Law, eating with sinners, touching the dead, harvesting on the Sabbath. You are a disgrace to your people.”
And Jesus says, “I AM the Lord who spoke in the burning bush, who made a people of no people, and brought them through the Red Sea on dry ground. I am without beginning or end. I am the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of steadfast love, of patient mercy, of salvation.”
And they are out of arguments. They pick up stones to kill Him. But His hour had not yet come. He slips through the crowd that is blind with hate. He will come back. When it is His hour He will go with them as a lamb to the slaughter, making no resistance, but suffering their violence and laying down His life as a ransom. He will come back because no matter how much they hate Him, He loves them. He desires to reconcile them to His Father, to make them clean, to purify them. That is His mission.
And what do they think that night in their beds as they replay the day’s events? What made them think He had a demon? It wasn’t His Words or actions. Those were clearly within the Law. It was the way He made them feel. He made them feel dirty, like phoneys, hypocrites, liars. And if people listened carefully to what He said the whole pharisaic charade would be blown apart.
Thus did the Pharisees refuse to hear God’s Voice in Jesus Christ. They were afraid of what it would cost them. He offered them life everlasting, but they were afraid of losing their offices. They had invented a god of their own design, a god they could understand and control and keep at a slight distance so that he wouldn’t cause any trouble. They had made a negotiated peace with the devil and thought they were safe. But the devil is a liar. They were not safe.
Repent. Jesus does not have a demon. But demons are at play. They cloud your thinking. Hear the Words of Jesus. They cut through the fog. He has not come of Himself. He was sent by the Father through the Spirit. He has made you uncomfortable because His Word exposes you when you want to hide or pretend to be something you are not. And scariest of all, His Word calls you to action. There really is no such thing as a passive faith. Faith is always active. The harsh reality is not that no one is perfect, that all men are sinners and make mistakes, but rather that your heart has not been pure. Evil visions and vain day-dreams have darkened your mind. You have aided and abetted the enemy. You have looked the other way. You have been cowardly and taken the path of least resistance, seeking your own honor among men. It is your fault. You are to blame. And you are not worthy that the Lord should come into your house, that you should bear His Name, or that He should love you.
But He does. He loves you. He gladly gives you His Name. He enters into you by way of the mouth. Strange though it seems, He has not come to punish you. He has come to rescue you. He forgives you all your sins and declares you to be as pure as the new-fallen snow, His own beloved child in whom He is well-pleased, the constant object of His interest and affection. It will cost you. There will be a cross like His before you. He will make the devil your enemy. You are an outsider as long as He keeps you in this fallen world, never truly at home, always dependent upon His grace, always waiting for the day when the sons of God will be revealed to all of creation. But that cost is hardly worth being called a cost at all For He provides everything. The harshest law is met and overshadowed by a love so deep it defies reason. His cutting words serve His mercy. And in the midst of it all, He bestows the peace that passes all understanding, He gives joy in the midst of sadness, and He delivers hope and comfort even in the face of death.
Before Abraham was, HE IS. He is forever, without beginning and without end. And His mercy endures forever, without beginning and without end. He has always loved you, even before you were, before Abraham was, He loved you. And He will always love you. Do not be afraid.