‘The Father’s House’
The First Sunday in Epiphany | January 9th, 2011
John tells us that if everything that our Lord Jesus did were written, the whole world would could not contain all the books (John 21:25). What we have in the Gospels, then, is a portion of our Lord’s life, glimpses, the things that our Lord Jesus has done and said for us that are the most important. And these were determined by none other than the Holy Spirit Himself, who inspired the apostles to write what they did.
When we see, then, that the only text about Jesus as a boy, in fact the only text that mentions anything about His life between the time the magi visited and His baptism, is the Gospel text before us today then we want to pay careful attention to the teaching and instruction that the Holy Spirit is giving us today.
To really get at the action of the text, though, we have to understand the role of the Temple in the religious life of Israel at the time of our Lord. The temple was the center of everything, the center of worship, the center of life, the center of the entire universe. Consider this. Ask any Jew alive at the time of Jesus this simple question: “Where is God?” If we were to ask each other this question the answer, I’m sure, would be, “God is everywhere.” But ask the ancient Jew, and they would surely say, “At the temple in Jerusalem.” “But isn’t God everywhere.” “Well sure, He’s everywhere, but He’s at the temple in Jerusalem.”
The temple is the place where the Lord has written His name, the place where He has His altar and His priesthood and His Holy Place. Remember what happened after Solomon built the temple and consecrated it:
1 Kings 8:10-11: And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
The same thing happened with the Tabernacle, remember the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night? The presence of the Lord, and His glory, found its earthly dwelling place on earth at the temple.
The importance cannot be overstated. The temple was the place where God lived with the people, as even our Lord Jesus calls it the “Father’s house.”
And remember what happened at the temple: sacrifices. There were other things too, choirs, teachers, prayers, courtrooms and classrooms, even stock shows and moneychangers, but the main thing at the temple was the sacrifices, the sacrificial animals brought to the altar, killed, blood drained (and sometimes put on the altar), and the animal burned, or part of it burned and the rest eaten. There would have been a massive number of sacrifices on a daily basis. When we read the Old Testament it might occur to us that the sacrifices are the center of the whole book, the whole of life centered around these sacrifices, around the temple.
What are we to make of this? The sacrifices and the priesthood and the minute details of the different types of offering seem laborious to us, tedious even to read, and we wonder what it was like carrying out those instructions, knowing that the slightest deviation from the Lord’s prescription would mean punishment from the Lord.
It is most important to know that the sacrifices were instituted by God to be a comfort to His people. This is often very difficult for us to see. If I were to ask you, “Are the sacrifices law or Gospel?” most of us would say “law.” The sacrifices were Gospel, a constant preaching of the Gospel. When the Israelite looked at the altar, at the animal whose blood is being poured out and whose body is being burned, they were to think, “That should be me. That should be my blood being poured out onto the ground. That should be my body being eaten by the flames and going up in smoke. But the Lord is pleased to accept the death of another in my place.” Indeed, the Israelite knew, if they had their doctrine right, that this sacrifice was simply pointing to the greater sacrifice to come, that God would have Himself a body and be Himself the sacrifice for my sins.
Are the sacrifices law or Gospel? It’s like asking is the cross is law or Gospel. It is law insofar as it shows the wrath of God against sin, but it is the most glorious and comforting Gospel because that wrath is not being poured out on me but on someone else.
The sacrifices are the key, and understanding that they are Gospel is so important. This is why the temple can be the Lord’s house, why His glory can dwell there in the midst of the people.
Remember that the raw presence of God is dangerous; He is a consuming fire. God is so holy that to take our unholines into His presence is a dangerous thing. As the Lord warned Moses: “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) The presence of the Lord apart from His promise of mercy and forgiveness is dangerous. For the Lord to be with us He has to first make us holy, and that is accomplished by faith in the blood of Jesus. The temple is the place of the preaching and giving of that promise.
It is to this temple, then, that our Lord Jesus goes, for He must be about His Father’s business, the business of shedding blood and forgiving sin. But imagine this, the wonder, for everyone else was to learn at the temple that their sins are forgiven, our Lord Jesus is learning that He would be the One to forgive, the One who would win the forgiveness of the sins of the world.
If you or I would have going to the temple, we would have learned that the lamb sacrificed on the altar took away our sin. Jesus is learning that He is the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. If you or I were in the temple, we would learn that the wrath of God which burns hot against our sin is poured out on th3e altar. Jesus is learning that the wrath of God (which He neither earned or deserved) would be pour out on Him, that He would be getting what He never deserved so that we could have what we never deserved. If we were at the temple we would learn that instead of death the heavenly Father mercifully gives us life. Jesus is learning that He must die, suffer and die, for no fault of His own. He must be falsely arrested, falsely accused, falsely mocked and tried and executed on anothers behalf, on your behalf.
Jesus is there at the temple because He is about His Father’s business, He is learning the trade, the trade of saving sinners, of declaring people holy, of dwelling with sinners to bless them and give them eternal life. And, dear saints, He learns this business well, for Jesus did accomplish all that the temple promised, He is the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world, your sin. Because of the death of Jesus you will live forever in the love and smile of God.
May we then, have great joy and comfort as we know the very first recorded words of our Lord. “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
+ + +
Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO