Profanity –Not Just Words
It was Passover, a holy time. In normal times, Jerusalem was a city of 50,000 people—not very large by our standards. But during Passover, when Jewish pilgrims crowded into the city, the population would triple. To get an idea how crowded the city must have been, imagine the population of (your city) tripling for a week. Where would everyone stay? Where would they eat? How many Porta-Potties would we need? How many police? How much emergency medical support? The logistics would be staggering.
I happened to go through Myrtle Beach, South Carolina a few years ago during “Myrtle Beach Bike Week.” Myrtle Beach has a year-round population of about 25,000 people, but during Bike Week 300,000 bikers came to town.
I hadn’t known about Bike Week. I was just driving through town. We began to notice motorcycles when we were still 50 or 60 miles (80-100 km) from town. The further we went, the more motorcycles we saw. Then we saw motorcycles parked in a field along the road—hundreds of them. The closer we got to Myrtle Beach, the thicker the motorcycle traffic. When we finally got there, there were motorcycles everywhere. Motel signs blinked, “Bikers, welcome!”
There was a river of motorcycles on the main street—motorcycles in motion—moving in both directions—thousands of them. I had never seen anything like it.
We found a pizza joint, and sat at an outdoor table watching that river of motorcycles go by in both directions. It really was like watching a river flow. They just kept coming. There was never a break. It was fascinating. I loved it—the roar of the motors––the beautiful bikes—the not so beautiful bikers. It was amazing!
Jerusalem must have been a little like that during Passover—minus the motorcycles and bikers, of course. It must have been an incredible happening—people shoulder to shoulder—trying to find places to sleep—building fires to cook their dinner—a hundred thousand pilgrims crowding into the city to celebrate Passover.
It must have been like a street fair. You’ve been to those—tent-booths selling hot dogs or wood carvings. People everywhere! Vendors making lots of money—but only for a day or two.
But for all the excitement, Passover wasn’t like the Myrtle Beach Bike Week—or the New York Auto Show—or the Marysville Strawberry Festival—or the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Those are parties where people come and to have fun—and to make money. Passover was a religious holiday. People came to Jerusalem to remember their religious heritage—and to honor God.
Passover had its roots in the Exodus. You remember the story of Moses and Pharaoh. Moses said, “Let my people go!” but Pharaoh said “No!” Then came the Ten Plagues. The waters of the Nile turned to blood. There were frogs—and gnats—and flies—and dying livestock—and boils—and hail—and locusts. Then there was darkness—God’s last warning before the last and most terrible plague. The tenth plague was the death of the firstborn in every house.
But the firstborn of the Israelites didn’t die. God told them to sacrifice lambs and to spread the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. Seeing the blood, the death angel passed over their homes. That’s where they got the name Passover—the death angel passed over their homes. Their firstborn did not die.
So every year, Israel observed Passover. They ate unleavened bread and sacrificed a Passover lamb. They remembered the time when God set them free from slavery. In Jesus’ day, they came to Jerusalem. They came by the thousands and tens of thousands. They came from everywhere.
When Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover, he found people selling cattle and sheep and doves in the temple. It hadn’t always been that way. People needed to buy animals to sacrifice, but they didn’t need to buy them inside the temple.
Cattle and sheep are pleasant animals to look at as they graze in a field. That’s the closest that most people get to cattle and sheep these days. We get our meat shrink-wrapped in the supermarket. Someone else does our dirty work for us.
But when you get cattle and sheep inside a building, it’s a different matter. They are large animals, and they eat a lot. Just keeping them fed would require lots of hay and water.
Then—how shall I put this—nobody ever figured out how to potty-train a cow. If you have ever visited a barn with lots of cows inside, you will understand the problem.
The bottom line is that these animals had no business being in the temple. They profaned that holy place.
And then there were the money-changers. People needed their services too, but they didn’t need them to be inside the temple.
So the problem was that these people were guilty of profaning the temple—of making improper use of a holy place.
So Jesus made himself a whip and began driving the animals out of the temple. Along the way, he overturned the tables of the moneychangers. He said:
“Take these things out of here!
Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
When I read through this scripture, I asked myself, “What does this have to do with us? Are we guilty of profaning the holy in our midst?”
The answer, of course, is “Yes!” We do profane the holy in our midst. I could mention any number of examples:
- Christmas is one. I don’t need to tell you about the problems there. For many people, Christmas has become an orgy of spending in an attempt to meet needs that can’t be satisfied with money. We all too often profane Christmas—take something Godly and cheapen it.
- Marriage is another example. Some Christians consider marriage to be a holy sacrament. Other Christians, who might not call it a sacrament, would nevertheless, call it holy. But forty percent of marriages today end in divorce. All too often, even Christian men and women walk away when the romance fades. We have all too often profaned marriage—have taken something Godly and cheapened it.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when divorce is unavoidable. When someone is trapped in a marriage with an abusive or alcoholic spouse, divorce might be the best of the unhappy choices. But divorce should never be an easy solution—one that we take lightly. Marriage is supposed to be a Godly relationship—”till death do us part.”
- Related to that are weddings. Weddings are holy, because marriage is holy. But too many weddings today have become opportunities for ostentatious display. I have seen too many parents spend money they couldn’t afford to impress people who, in the long run, wouldn’t count anyway.
Another thought about weddings. I have seen lots of unhappy people in my lifetime, but brides and mothers of brides often bring a particular brand of misery to weddings—particularly big, showy weddings.
- Or consider our bodies—our human bodies. In his letters to the church at Corinth, Paul told the Corinthians to avoid prostitutes, because their bodies were holy—temples in which the Holy Spirit dwelled (2 Corinthians 6:16-20). Our bodies are holy too—temples in which God dwells. Shouldn’t we honor God by taking care of our bodies! Shouldn’t we not only avoid prostitutes, but also eat modestly and exercise reasonably! Shouldn’t we see a doctor to get a physical exam now and then!
- Or consider our language. We use the word profanity to mean curse words of a wide variety. The Ten Commandments tell us not to profane God’s name by using “God” or “Jesus” as curse words. But there is something profane about the other curse words too. It stands to reason that, if we fill our mouths and ears with garbage, that garbage will poison our hearts and minds as well.
- I could go on and on, but I won’t. You get the idea. We all too often take something that is holy and make something unholy of it.
But I was encouraged by the ending of our scripture today. The Jewish leaders asked Jesus to give them a sign to confirm his authority for driving out the moneychangers. Jesus responded:
“Destroy this temple,
and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19).
He was speaking, not of Herod’s temple, but of “the temple of his body” (v. 21). In other words, he was pointing to his death and resurrection. I find that encouraging, because Jesus intended his death and resurrection to save us.
We have sinned, but Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to be forgiven. We have turned holy things into horrible things, but Christ’s death and resurrection can lead us back to holy ground. We have profaned things that should have blessed us—but the cross and resurrection open the door to restoring the blessing.
When we bring Jesus our brokenness, he can make us whole again.
There is not a person here who has not, in some way, profaned something holy. None of us are innocent. Give some thought during this coming week to the ways in which you have taken that which is holy and made something unholy of it.
Then bring that to Christ and ask him to help. Ask him to forgive you. Ask him to heal you. Ask him to make you whole. Ask him to make you holy again.