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The greatest discovery

"If Jesus were to enter your temple today, what would he find?"

Luke 4:41-52

William Barclay says, "it may be said that there are two great beginnings in the life of every man who has left his mark on history. There is the day when he is born into the world; and there is the day when he discovers why he was born into the world."

The opening verse of our reading makes this journey to Jerusalem sound rather "matter of fact"; and indeed it was a journey that they had made every year, along with every adult male Jew who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem. Passover was one of three obligatory festivals they were required by the law to attend (the others were Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles).

But this was such an important festival in the eyes of the Jews, remembering as it did the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, that Jews from all over the world would attend. Some would have saved for years in order that once in a lifetime they could celebrate Passover in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Such was the importance of this festival that roads and bridges would be repaired, schools would concentrate teaching on the subject for weeks beforehand and no boy of Jesus’ age would be unaware of the significance of the journey they were about to make.

Nazareth is almost 100 miles from Jerusalem, a good week’s journey by caravan. Time enough for Jesus to concentrate his mind on the matter at hand.

But what must Jesus have been thinking as he made that journey? We know so little about Jesus the boy, other than an intriguing verse before our reading which tells us that within the loving protection of his family he had grown strong, was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.

It’s worth considering the sight which greeted Jesus as he got closer to Jerusalem. The early writer Josephus describes the wonder of the temple.

"The outward face of the Temple in it’s front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a fiery splendour, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn away their eyes, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. The temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow, for those parts that were not gilt were exceeding white."

Can you picture the scene then, as Jesus gets to that point in his journey where Jerusalem, that city upon a hill, is suddenly visible in all it’s glory, with the shimmering sight of the temple reflected in the morning sunlight. Did his heart skip a beat with excitement, as must have happened with many of those travellers?

To come from such a small rural community with it’s tiny mud-brick houses and rough roads to this. It would be much more of a cultural shock than a young boy seeing London or New York for the first time today.

It’s still difficult though, to try and imagine what was in the mind of Jesus as he approached Jerusalem and the temple. What was he expecting, bearing in mind that this wasn’t an ordinary 12 year old boy?

Well, to be honest I think whatever he was expecting probably turned to disappointment once he entered the temple courts.

In the afternoon of the day when Passover was celebrated, Passover lambs were sacrificed in the temple, and Joseph along with thousand of other pilgrims would have taken his sacrifice to the temple as demanded by the Law. From that sacrificed animal the blood was offered to God - passed in bowls from priest to priest until thrown at the base of the altar.

We are not talking one or two sacrificed animals here. There would have been hundreds, possibly thousands through the day. The temple courts would have been awash with blood. And in a climate like that can you imagine the smell?

From the excitement and anticipation of seeing the golden walls of the temple Jesus is plunged into the crowds of pilgrims, and the sounds and smells of the sacrificial animals - a temple that must have almost resembled a slaughter house, awash in blood.

What went through Jesus’ mind at that time? Here was a festival that was supposed to bring the people into the presence of God. Where was God among all that blood and smell? Where was the sense of re-dedication, repentance and forgiveness within the ritual slaughter?

Jesus knew God as Father, but where in all this could the people know of the Fatherhood of God, and how could they begin to draw near to God in the way that Jesus knew that they must?

And what of Jesus’ discussions with the teachers? We know nothing of what they discussed, other than he seems to have spent a considerable time talking and arguing with them. Can we assume that other than amazing them with his knowledge, his understanding of the Scriptures and his wisdom they were unable in any way whatsoever to understand just who was sat in front of them?

For Jesus the Passover should have been a remarkable occasion, where Son met Father in a special way. What Jesus would have seen instead was the way that man had taken something which should have been sacred and turned it into something totally different - the meaning and purpose had been lost, and all that was left was ritual for the sake of ritual.

Yet this was something that Jesus had to do, it was a part of his education, his preparation if you like. "Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?" he tells his parents after they eventually find him. This was something he had to see. Jesus as a young boy had to see how far the people had drifted from their God, how far they had gone in turning their faith into something almost meaningless.

And it wasn’t that Jesus saw all this and wanted to tear it all down. His mission, he said some years later, was not to destroy but to fulfil, not to tear it apart but to draw the people back to God.

It’s generally considered that the significance of that Passover was in Jesus the boy sensing something of his ultimate mission, perhaps in William Barclay’s words "reaching that moment when he discovered why he was born into the world."

Perhaps in understanding something of the background to that occasion - the sight, opulence, noise, crowds, smells and ritual that greeted him we can start to understand how Jesus could begin to see why there was such a need in the world for Messiah - to bring mankind back to God and God to His people, in a way that the priests and teachers of the law could never do.

This was for Jesus a moment of real discovery.

So how does this story affect us? How can we relate this to our lives?

It affects us quite simply because of who we are and how important we are to God, our heavenly Father.

Important? You bet! Go back to Genesis chapter 1 if you want to know just how important you are in God’s eyes. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God him; male and female he created them."

You are created in the image of God, I am created in the image of God - there is something of God’s own nature in each one of us. I’ll admit that in some this is often well hidden, but the truth of it is remains unchanged. And if we are created in his image then you can be sure that God is interested in each one of us. He wants us to be fulfilled in the same way that he wanted the people of Israel to be fulfilled - to be made right with him again, to be brought back into fellowship with their creator.

But of course just like the people of Israel, we live our lives quite often to a different set of laws than God’s laws. We drift in our daily spiritual lives, often going our way when it suits us, and only dashing back to God when things start getting out of hand. Or there’s a particular need that we feel only God can meet - an illness maybe or some other crisis that is beyond our control.

Whatever the reason, and perhaps without us even realising it, we’ve turned our faith into a very personal version of Christianity which bears very little resemblance to the one that the bible teaches us - unless we’re modelling our lives on the people of Israel.

And then Jesus walks into the confusion and mess that we’ve created, just as he walked into the Temple. On the outside everything looks fine; we’re wearing our best clothes and brightest smiles, just as the Temple was clothed in Gold and shone with the reflected light of the morning sun. But inside, where it really matters, where the real meeting with our Heavenly Father takes place all is not as it should be.

We may not be sacrificing lambs and throwing blood all over the floor; but where there should be peace there is the clamour of other priorities, the background noise of the world, all those images and sounds which deflect our thoughts from where they should. Where there should be a place for quiet reflection, and space set aside for listening to God we fill our lives with every sort of activity which prevent us from putting aside a little time for Him.

God’s space within us is taken up with the clutter of the world, just like the Temple was cluttered with all the ritual and splendour of the sacrifice. Plenty of noise and action but very little space for God.

We read in the Bible that our bodies are temples - 1 Cor 3:16,1 Cor 6:19

This is serious stuff! And yet so often we treat them in the same way as the Priests and teachers of the Law treated the Temple that day when Jesus visited on the Passover. It should have been a time of remembering God’s Grace and mercies to the People of Israel - His chosen people. Instead it had become a ritual, and a messy one at that.

Our lives can so easily become like that. Our attendance at Chapel or Church can become a ritual, something we feel we ‘have’ to do. Our prayers and our worship can become a ritual, the words and notes come out but our thoughts do not go with them. We say the Lord’s prayer each week, but do we realise the significance of the prayer that we make?

Some denominations recite the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week, but do the words come out empty, or do they place the one who says them into a two-way conversation with God? For a prayer is not a one way thing, although I wonder if that’s how many of us use prayer.

And our lives as Christians are not lived in isolation from God. Just as God should have been that focus of that Passover, so he should be the focus and the focal point of our lives.

If Jesus were to enter your temple today, what would he find?

 

 

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