Eternal God of Light: We praise you for our salvation. We cry out to you in times of need. We sing of your mercy in times of deliverance. Yet, too often, we do not praise you when you must correct us. God our Father, we confess, we don’t like it when you correct us in fatherly love. Forgive us.
All week long, I have have been pondering two events. The first occurred many, many years ago. My Dad was an F.B.I. agent. He was an unusual F.B.I. agent because he really did not like violence, guns, and many other aspects of police work. Dad entered the Navy in World War II and worked for the U.S. government the rest of his career. I think he might have preferred to be a rose grower, which he was. Nevertheless, as an old wrestler and football player, he could be tough as nails when circumstances required it.
I distinctly remember a day just about the time I was a senior in High School. The drug scene had just become popular in Springfield, Missouri, and I was a high school student getting ready to go off for college. I was invited to come to his study for a chat. Our chat turned out to be about drugs. He was opposed. As our conversation ended, he looked at me with this cold blue eyes, and said, “Just in case you don’t agree, I want you to know that if you ever get arrested for being drunk or on drugs, I am leaving you in jail until the trial is over.” I was aware that he meant every word he said.
Not long ago, I became aware of another story about another father. This father’s son had done something very wrong. That father complained about misconduct by the authorities, covered up for the son, allowed him to lie, and arranged for him to avoid the consequences of his actions. Which father do you suppose really loved his son? 
Last week, the blog was about God’s Amazing Love as shown in Jesus’ Servant Leadership. This week, the blog is about Tough Love. Love does not mean being weak, or immoral, or covering up. Love always means doing the right thing. There are times when love cannot remain silent or accept what is happening. Every parent, every teacher, every leader knows this simple fact: there are times when love must be tough. To love is not to accept everything the beloved does. It is to do what is best for the beloved, even if what must be done is difficult or unpopular. God’s Amazing Love is not a weak love, but the strongest love there is. God’s love is never weak, never untruthful, never unwise, never unjust, never immoral. God’s love is shown to be God’s love precisely because all of the failures of human love are never found in the love of God. This can be tough for humans who want God to be a kind of co-dependent parent.
A Story of Tough Love.
One of the most mysterious incidents from Jesus’ life is the story of cleansing of the temple. On the surface, it may not seem that this incident is about love, but this story is about love when things are going deeply wrong. Here is the story:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching (Mark 11:15-19).
Last week, we looked at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On that first day of Holy Week, Jesus went into the Temple to look around (Mark 11:11). In this passage, we learn that Jesus did not like all that he saw. The next day, Jesus reentered the temple courts and drove out the moneychangers. Why did he do that? In our text, he announces that God intended his temple to be a place of prayer and the religious leaders have made it into a place of commerce (Mark 11:17). Behind this simple statement, there is a bit of history to know that explains why Jesus did not like what he saw.
The cleansing of the Temple occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, a place where people like you and me might be found.  Much of the Temple was off limits to non-Jews, but Gentiles could go as far as the Court of the Gentiles. Originally, it was intended that people from any nation could come there to pray. Over time, however, this particular place was made the center of the economic life of the temple. Money was exchanged and sacrificial animals were sold.
In Jesus’ day, the currency of Rome was the currency of commerce. In the temple, however, the temple tax and purchases were made in shekels. Therefore, money was changed from the currency of Rome or some other land to the currency of the Jews in the Court of the Gentiles. It will not surprise anyone who has changed money overseas to know that the exchange rate in the temple was not the best possible rate. In fact, it was a relatively high rate.
Second, sacrificial doves were sold in the temple. If you brought your own dove, it was inspected to be sure that it was without blemish. If you purchased one in the Temple Courts, it was by definition without blemish. Naturally, it was in the best interests of the managers of the Temple to examine doves brought into the temple very closely and reject them if they were not perfect. If the animal was not perfect, it was necessary to purchase a “perfect” temple bird. You can imagine many people had to buy a dove to replace one that did not past muster. The price for these doves was higher than outside the temple grounds. 
Jesus was the visible representative of God, and God does not only love, God is just. God would not allow the temple to be run like this without doing something about it, and so Jesus did something.  He cleansed the temple, overturning tables, and driving out those who were misusing the Temple for an unfair economic gain. If we skip to the end of today’s text, we learn that this was the very event from the last week of Jesus’ life that caused the religious establishment to look for a way to kill Jesus (Mark 4:18).
Love When Things Aren’t Right.
The problem with the Jewish religion of Jesus’ time can be the problem of our faith today. God intended his people to be a light to all nations, and his temple to be a place of worship for all nations. The Jewish leaders had made it their private place of profit. We can forget that we are intended to be a light to the nations in our cities and neighborhoods, and our churches are intended by God to be places where all are welcome. God intended the Jewish people to be a priestly people, and his priests to be their representative as they demonstrated the character of God to the world. God intends that his church be the same. As Peter put it, we are to be, “… a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). In every era, God’s people are to bear God’s wisdom and love to the world.
When God’s people and God’s Church fail to be bearers of God’s wisdom and love to the world, we fail to be the people God calls us to be. When we fail to be the people God intends us to be and refuse to change, sooner or later, usually after a long time when we think we are getting away with it, God’s tough love is shown.
The Love of God the Father.
In Hebrews 12, the author reminds his readers that God’s love is a parental love—only better. As the author describes the discipline of God, writing:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).
The love of God is the love of a loving parent. All parents discipline their children. Every human parent has disciplined a child in a way that, in retrospect, was shortsighted, harsh, or unfair. God, on the other hand, never disciplines in this way. God disciplines us so that we can be better, more holy, more like Jesus.
This discipline, like any discipline, is not pleasant, but it is good for us. In the passage we are studying, the Jews had allowed the temple worship to become something it was never intended to be. In so doing, they had drifted from God’s intention for the Temple and for God’s people. Jesus’ overturning of the tables, and injunction that the temple was to be a place of prayer not a “den of thieves” was not an act of human anger or piqué. It was an act of love.
Unfortunately, the Jews responded as we too often respond—with anger and rage. Instead of changing, they decided to kill Jesus. Sometimes, God disciplines us in ways we do not like. He overturns the carefully constructed tables in the temple of our life. When God does this, we have a choice: We can rage against God, harden our hearts, refuse to change, and suffer; or, we can humble ourselves, listen to God, change, and grow in godliness.
This has a meaning for our churches. We are called to make of God’s church, and especially of our particular church, what God wants it to be—a place of prayer for all the people of our area. If we do not do that, God is not going to bless us, because we will not be doing the right thing. If we refuse to change, we are refusing to grow in Christlikeness.
A lot of people my age have a hard time understanding and accepting the changes in our society that impact the church. I am old enough to wish we were back in then days of my youth before postmodernism, before screens in worship, before Biblical interpretation became so much more difficult for preachers, before the morals of our society began to change to that proclaiming the gospel became so much more risky than ever before. But our nation has changed, and perhaps it is a good thing. Perhaps God is calling us to return to being a place of refuge, a place of prayer, a place of quiet and mercy for people. If we run from God by running from our church or run from God because of the scariness of our society, we won’t be doing the right thing. The right thing is to make our congregations a “Place of Prayer for All Peoples.” 
Outside of our religious and church lives, this text has direct meaning for our personal lives. Parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, political leaders, and others are given to us to help us become the people we were intended to be. The Bible, our church, and the leadership of our church were given to us to help us become the people we were intended to be. To become wise and loving, as God is wise and loving, whatever our age, we must listen to the voice of God and to those who can help us become the people God intended us to be. Sometimes we will immediately agree with that voice. Sometimes it may be many years before we understand what God was doing when he overturned our carefully laid plan for our lives, our established way of doing things, our easy, worldly habits and customs.
Real Tough Love is…..
I entitled today’s message “Tough Love” because most all of us have heard the term and can remember this message just from its title. However, real tough love is not what we may immediately think it is. It is not necessarily about being “tough” at all. It is about being courageous. Real love is not about feelings, emotions, human desire, or even what we call “parental love.” Real love is doing all that can be done for the beloved whatever the personal cost. It is doing the right thing, not just the popular, or easy, or instinctual thing. Real love is not cut off from what is true, right, good, just, or equitable. Real love is doing what truth, or righteousness, or goodness, or justice, or equity demand at personal cost.
The parent that never disciplines a child does not love the child. He or she is weak. Going back to my initial illustration, my Dad was more loving for treating me harshly about a potential problem than the man who facilitated his son’s dishonesty. I am confident at the moment his son felt better about his dad then I felt about mine. But almost half a century later, having avoided a number of possible mistakes because of my parents discipline, I am glad they were mine—and I am sorry for those whose parents covered up for their failures to do homework, their speeding, their driving after drinking, their drug use, etc.
One more illustration may help. When I was young, I had a math teacher who really did not like me and did not treat me fairly. She actually ruined my love for math. When we get together, my friends always remark on how unfair this teacher was to me in seventh grade. She gave me terrible grades—and they were unjust. My parents did not have any better a feeling about this person than I did. But their advice has never left me since that day. “Chris, you are going to deal with a lot of people in life, some of them are going to be unfair. You just have to make this teacher happy.” I got one year of bad grades and a lifetime of good advice.
Kathy has taught in private schools a lot during our marriage. I cannot tell how many times notes have been written to parents explaining that homework was not being done, tests were not being completed, and grades were not good. In one school, there were all sorts of procedures that had to done before someone could receive a really low grade. I cannot tell you how many parents come at the last moment blaming a teacher for their child’s not doing their homework and getting a bad grade. Every time this happens, I think back on my parents, and I am glad that they never defended me for failing to do homework, for skipping class, for not doing assignments, or for any of the many other mistakes that I made that by the time I entered college had narrowed my academic potential dramatically. Wisely, and lovingly, they made me pay the consequences, and ever so slowly, I became a good and even diligent student.
Real Love Costs the Lover
At the end of our text, the Chief Priests and teachers of the law determined to have Jesus killed. I think it likely that Jesus understood that his actions were going to have repercussions. In fact, I think he knew very well they might lead to an early death. However, love demanded that Jesus point out the problem of temple worship, and he did. One way to know if our actions are in accordance with God’s love is to ask a simple question: “What is this costing me?” Jesus was willing to pay the cost of his love—his life. This is why John can say in one of his letters, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Real love is never a costless love for the lover. Love costs, and the most Amazing Love of all, cost the savior of the world his life. It cost God the incarnation of the Word, the rejection of his Son, and a commitment to bear all the sins of the world. God’s love was real love. This is why John can say in one of his letters, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Real love is never a costless love for the lover. Love costs, and the most Amazing Love of all, cost God his Only Begotten Son.
Copyright 2015, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 This story is a combination of several stories, only one of which did I learn of recently. It is true in the sense that it happens all the time. At the end of the blog, I talk about teachers and parents excusing their children’s academic failure by blaming it on someone else. It is an example of the same phenomenon.
 James A. Brooks, “Mark” in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1991), 185.
 See, William Barclay, “Mark” in The Daily Bible Study Series rev. ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1975), 272-275.
 Jesus foretold that the temple would be destroyed—and it was. This is but one instance of the reality that God is not hasty, and God allows our sin to continue for a time, sometimes a long time. But there is justice for people, for nations, and for other groups.
 In the Greek, the word translated “Nations” comes from the root word, “Ethnos,” which more properly means, all “ethnic people groups.” This word does not refer to geographical areas but to people groups.