Easter Sunday Temple Model1
by Lee Coleman
After the closing benediction this past Easter Sunday, I stood up, turned around, and confirmed what my ears had already told me during the closing song: the church was packed. There was hardly an empty seat to be found in the sanctuary. The main floor was overflowing, as was the balcony. As conversations spread and the volume in the room grew, I couldn’t help but take in some of the emotions on nearby faces. Joyful smiles abounded, and a few red, tearful eyes were on display, a byproduct of the closing song, “Man of Sorrows,” pushing the Gospel message we had just heard deep into our hearts and minds. From the opening prayer to the final “Amen,” there was a palpable buzz in the room. God’s people were ready to worship Him, and they were there in force.
Then, someone leaned over to me and commented, “Wow, look at the people! I wish it could be like this every Sunday,” and I thought, “Me too.” And, of course, that got me wondering: why isn’t it? That’s a loaded question with numerous answers, but I’d like to focus on one particular reason, one that’s grounded in our lack of belief in Jesus’ statement in the passage from Revelation that Richard expounded for us on Easter:
Revelation 21:5 “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ …”
Recently, I taught a Sunday school class where we explored the ways that Jesus was and is making all things new, and one thing that Jesus has made drastically new and different is the way in which his people gather, and why they gather together in the first place. One way of illustrating this concept was the idea of the “Temple Model” vs. the “Jesus Model,” terminology we borrowed from Andy Stanley. Briefly, the idea is that in many religions throughout history, the followers worshipped and interacted with one another in the Temple Model. The Temple Model says that there are sacred places, sacred texts, and sacred men that form the basis of religion. The scared people must go to the sacred places where the sacred men will tell them what the sacred texts say they have to do to please God (or gods). Some of us are probably thinking, “Well, that sounds a lot like what church is, right?” but unfortunately, that means we have bought into the Temple Model.
The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the Temple Model and the beginning of something entirely new. There are no more sacred places. The most sacred place on the entire planet, the most sacred building or location, is not as sacred as the person you are sitting beside during worship. There is no capital “T” Temple that is the earthly home of God. There are now only little individual mobile-home temples. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
Also, we no longer have to have sacred people that communicate to God on our behalf. Unlike the Temple Model, the Jesus Model has no priests, since we are all called priests of God as we read in 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” And our high priest is none other than Jesus himself, as revealed in Hebrews 4: 14 and 16 “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession … Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
And Jesus took the sacred text and threw all Temple Model devotees for a loop by combining the vertical element of our worship with a horizontal element: love for our fellow believers. Consider John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Think about this: how did outsiders identify the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, during Temple Model times? With Temple Model behavior, of course! Circumcision, ceremonial purity according to the Law, sacrifices at the temple, having the correct beard/haircut/hair covering, staying tattoo-free, avoiding bacon and catfish, etc. But how does Jesus say his followers will be identified under this brand new model he is ushering in? We will exhibit a relational standard: by showing love to one another.
Lest we miss the foundational shift that has occurred, Jesus provides us with further teaching in Matthew 5:23-24. The setting? You guessed it … the Temple. “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Let me get this straight; if you’re at the Temple, the sacred place, and are preparing to offer your sacrifice to make things right with God, but then remember you have an unresolved dispute with some dude in your community … then God, the creator and judge of the universe, the supreme being that you have sinned against … can … wait? Jesus says, “Yes!” Horizontal relationships have become completely integrated with the vertical relationship and in this instance, even take a form of precedence.
Temple Model thinking has a number of negative consequences. The Temple Model is about consuming. Get baptized, so God will bless you. Take communion so you’ll be right with God. Come to church and hear a sermon so you’ll be a better person. Don’t skip Easter because, well … it’s Easter! But the Jesus Model is not about consumption. It’s about loving, giving, and engaging. It’s about gathering together so we can “one another” each other. There are over forty “one another” instructions given in the New Testament covering practically all aspects of community together: service, tolerance, patience, feet-washing, holy-kissing, worshipping, gathering, etc. But the overarching command of Jesus encompasses it all in Matthew 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The Temple Model says the people at church don’t need you. Temple Model thinking says I can stay away because it’s between God and me. But the Jesus Model says why would I want to stay away when I can engage, help, and love others like Jesus envisioned for his body, the church.
Can you imagine the impact of the church on a mission to fulfill Jesus’ command to love one another? Can you picture what that Sunday gathering would look like? What the Singing would sound like? What the conversations after the service would revolve around?
I can. I saw it last Sunday. Easter Sunday.
Let’s make it happen every Sunday, all to the glory of Jesus. See you there!