“Purifying Ourselves through Proper Priorities”
Third Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2018
Exodus 20: 1-17
Psalm 19: 7-14
1 Corinthians 1: 18-25
John 2: 13-22
Bishop Ricardo Alcaraz
In the Gospel, the Lord is giving us something of what the Church is supposed to be. We have seen moments of brilliance in the past and we would call them revivals. People would be obeying the Word of God. There are people stricken by conviction maybe ten miles from here simply because people are worshipping. But then, it ebbs and disappears and things go back to normal again.
This time, it is not going to be like that. This is not going to be a visitation, but it is going to be a habitation. Things are going to get brighter; things are going to get more intense. The Church is going to become more glorious. Yes, there is going to be a showdown between light and darkness. It will be like the time of Moses where darkness will try to imitate the Church or it will try to outdo the Church, but then every time they will do something, God will up the temple. Finally, with one of the plagues, Moses gets some dust and throws it, and it became living things. This then the magician and the Pharaoh to say, “We can’t do that. This is the finger of God.” It is going to be a power encounter between Elijah and the false prophets.
When Jesus Christ was revealed, Scriptures says that the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness that He might be tempted by the devil. This was showdown. This was God’s Son and He overwhelmed the enemy, even at His weakest state. What God wants is the same thing for His Church. It is not enough to say, “He is Jesus; He could do that.” We have seen that everyone that was brought to Jesus was healed. God wants what His Son had done be a frequent, constant, and the new normal today. He is bringing us to this position, but before we do that, we’ve got to go through what Jesus Christ is teaching us.
The message that I would like to share with you is this: we are to allow God to use us for His purposes instead of using Him for ours.
In my early days in Kalibo, one lady member of my Church came to me and said, “Pastor, I have a problem. There are seven guys courting me, and all of them are saying to me, ‘The Lord spoke to me and He told me that you are supposed to be my wife.’” I told them that they are just using the name of the Lord to force her to make a decision. I told her, “You pray, and whomever the Lord puts in your heart, that is the one.” Maybe, it was not even one of them.
The situation then was that we would drop the name of God so that there will be additional pressure. We want to take an advantage, but the only advantage we will have in this world is when we let God use us instead of us using Him. We were servants, and we said to God, “God use me.” At one point in time, we meant it. We said, “Lord, wherever You want me to God, wherever You want to do, and whatever You want me to be, I am Your person.” We didn’t pray to Him once, “Lord, Your word declares that the eyes of the Lord are looking to and fro, looking to those whose hearts are loyal. Lord, look no more for I am here.” Maybe, we started like this and we started right, but sometimes if we are not careful, things have a way of straying from the right path.
In John 2:13-17, it says, “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip out of cord, He drove them all out of the temple with the sheep and the oxen and poured out the changer’s money and overturned the tables and He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise.’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’”
What was happening here? In the temple where they were worshipping, the Jews were normally required to report to the temple three times a year. It is not just the Jews in Jerusalem because many of them were scattered in different directions, and they had to bring their sacrifice. According to the law, the animal that they had to bring must be perfect. They did not have planes, ships or the kind of transportation that we do have today. They may have started their journey bringing an animal that is healthy, but by the time they got to Jerusalem, it was already sick or not fit for sacrifice anymore. If these animals are no longer fit, they have to go back to town and buy something and go back to Jerusalem.
The Jews had different currencies and in the temple, they had to pay tax at that time. There was only one currency that was used, probably because of the kind of metal that was used and the value of the silver that was in it. If the Jews came to the temple and they brought the wrong currency and was not accepted, they had to go back to town again which was a long walk. In order to help them, there were people who brought animals and the right currency, and they sold it outside of the temple. It started as a good thing to help the people, but then when Caiaphas became the high priest, he wanted to give his supporters favor over the supporters of his rivals. He said, “If you are my supporter, you can put your booth inside the court of the Gentiles. You can bring your animals into the court of the Gentiles.” If you are inside the court of the Gentiles, it is much more expensive. What started a good thing became a bad thing because of the wrong attitudes of the people involved.
It started as a help, as an assistance to help those who were travelling, but because of greed, self-centeredness, it became profit. It became oppressive. When Jesus Christ came along, He made whips and cords and started using them to drive away the animals, which is a miracle as such because during that time of Passover, the streets were full and it was not easy to get everyone out. Jesus did, and nobody stopped Him. Probably, they were thinking that somebody should have done that a long time ago. Jesus said, “You have made My Father’s house something which is not. My Father made this house to become a house of prayer, but you have made it to a house of commerce.” Jesus did what He had to do because as in the Gospel, He said, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” The Lord has a love that is burning hot for us. Zeal connotes fire. It is something that sizzles, that burns, and that blazes. Jesus is not going to rest until His house becomes what God wants it to be.
Somebody challenged Jesus about the authority why He was doing it, and Jesus said, “Tear down this temple and three days, I am going to build it up.” They thought that He was talking about the temple, but Jesus was talking about Himself. Later, the disciples understood this when Jesus rose from the grave after three days.
Going back to the temple, during that time, the temple was a building. During this time, the temple is us. We are the temple of God, and God wants to fill the temple with His glory, but the temple must first be prepared. In the Book of Acts, there was a time when the glory was in full manifestation. People were caught up with the Spirit of God and of what the Spirit of God is made of. God is basically a God Who gives everything, so the people were selling properties and bringing their money and laying them at the feet of the apostles. There was a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold their stuff and decided to keep a part of it. It was not really wrong, but when they came back to the apostles, they said, “That is everything. We are bringing everything to you.” They should have said, “We have some needs and we decided to keep a part of the money.” Have they been honest, it would have been okay and they would still live. It was a lie that some of us could even make. Ananias declared that what he brought was everything, and he fell and died and was carried out. Later, Sapphira came and also lied to Peter, and she died and was carried out, too.
The power of God was in such manifestation that a little bit of sin can’t even stand. God was wanting to up the temple, to be prepared, and to be filled with the glory of God. He had to drive out those things in the temple. Maybe, there were some things that we started out right. In the early days of my ministry, a person lost her job and she was being pressured by the family. It was pressure outside looking for a job, and coming home with pressure from the family. We prayed over this, and suddenly something opened up for her in the tourism industry. She was paid well, and she said, “The circumstances surrounding this job and me getting it is the hand of God.” She was blessed and she was able to bring home things that made people happy. One day when we met again in our prayer meeting, she said, “I pledge to give you monthly a certain amount.” I did not ask for it or even give any hint.
For the first few months, it was happening, then, it stopped. I noticed, too, that she stopped coming to the midweek services. Then, she started missing some of the Sundays. I got the chance to talk to her and I asked her what was going on and she told me that she got busy with things opening up for her. Soon, she didn’t go to Church any more and she went back to her old habits. It started out well with the blessing of God. Her focus was on the One who gave the blessing, but as she continued to receive the blessing of God, her eyes began to focus on the blessing and what it will do. She forgot the One who was giving her blessing. Because of this, she faded from her Christian life. We had a chance to meet again, and she was kind of broken. She is attending a different Church, but at least that is good because she is back with God.
Sometimes this happens in our lives where we want to serve God. Oral Roberts, one of the healing evangelists before, was asked, “What is the secret?” He said, “Don’t believe your own publicity. People will tell me of things, things I deserve, and we say, “Yes, I am entitled to these things.” If we are not careful, we focus on the things which may sound good and feel good, and then, it follows that things begin to go wrong. What started as right become wrong because of the wrong attitude. We forget the One Who gave these things to us.
Jesus Christ tried to clean the temple, restoring it back to what it should be. It is the zeal of the Lord that prompted Him to do this. The zeal of the Lord has not faded. We are now the temple of God, and God does not want us to become what we are not supposed to be. He always dreamt of a Church that would rise up in this hour that would blaze forth in glory that would shatter and push back the darkness. It is not that the Church is on the defensive, but parts of the Church are on the defensive. This is now the hour that God is beginning to cause His church to rise up.
Last February 21, Billy Graham died. He was known as a real evangelist. He filled stadiums and he preached the gospel and people came to the Lord because of him. There was one who asked how many people he has brought to the Lord and it was said that it numbered to a hundred of millions. Could you imagine the homecoming he gets to heaven? I wonder if it would be that the streets of gold are filled with people welcoming him like a hero’s welcome. When he died, it affected me because he was one of the heroes of faith like that of Oral Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, T.L Osborn, R. W. Schambach, and the Happy Hunters who all are also dead. It is like this generation is fading who had a lot to give and to share.
In Billy Graham’s life, I remembered a video that I watched a long time ago showing a group of people that were hearing from the Lord of His plans. He said, “God is showing us that a time of the Church is coming. The Church of God that we always wanted is going to be there. It is a Church without spot, without blemish, that is operating in the glory of God. It is a Church that is operating in the fullness of God’s power. One guy who was listening then named Benny Hinn said, “The Lord showed me that the sign when these things will take place is when Billy Graham dies.” He said this way back 2012.
I was watching the funeral and Billy Graham’s daughter, Ann Lotz, said, “Lord, I wonder why my father died this day. I know that You are not a God of random things.” She researched February 21, and somehow she was able to connect this to the Jewish calendar and said, “On this day, the Jews are reading about Moses. Moses was a great liberator who brought the people to the edge of the Promised Land. When he was taken, Joshua was the one who brought them to the Promised Land.” She continued, “I also see my father as a great liberator. He preached the gospel that freed a lot of people from their sins. I wonder why he is 99 years old. I wonder why God did not allow him to reach to be a hundred.” But just on the edge of what she feels the great move of God, Billy Graham dies. Ann said, “Joshua is the equivalent of Jesus. Could it be that this is the time that Jesus is going to cause the Church to rise up?
Right now, people seem to scoff what the Church can do. They have become sarcastic about it. In our country, at least we still have a reverence for God, but the time will be in such a way that signs and wonders will become the new normal. There will be a convergence of the visible and the invisible. What was not seen before will suddenly become visible. I don’t know for how long, but it is like in the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was there. The apostles could see Jesus, but at one moment, at one point, suddenly the three disciples saw Elijah and Moses. They belong to the realm of the invisible, but somehow it was clear to them. I don’t know how Peter recognized them as Moses and Elijah were not a contemporary of Peter.
I remember when Bishop Gene kind of died in the operating table where he said that he went to “heaven” seeing the walled city of heaven from a distance. He was on the pathway and he saw a young man coming to him. He was kind of familiar though he was not sure who he was. When he came near, he recognized him as his Dad. He died in his 70’s but he looked like 25.
This is the invisible and the visible coming together. The Church is going to be such a force in the world that the Jews will not be able to ignore it. There will be demonstrations of power. It will no longer be a theological debate. They will see what is going to take place. They will know the power of God taking place.
This is what God wants, but before He does this, He wants us to take out of our lives things that are holding us back. Take the unforgiveness out. Take the grudges out. Take the fears out. Take out all of these things that are holding us back because He wants us to be a glorious Church that will demonstrate the kingdom of God here on earth. Right now, it is like God saying to Satan, “I gave you your chance. It’s My turn now.” Our culture will be shaped by the principles of heaven.
I remember in 2010 when I was preaching to you in Sheridan, and at one point, I saw men and women rising up. From what I saw, they were giants, but they were not. I just know that they were walking in the bigness of God. They are like gods in the world. God wants us to be like Jesus His Son that would bring the kingdom of God in the earth. When we speak, things will happen like God. God will not be threatened by this, but He will be happy that we can do it because finally, we are getting it.
I used to think why God allows so much evil in the world. I am beginning to see the answer. Maybe, it is not the answer or one of the answers. It is probably because we, the Church, are allowing it. Did God not say, “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven? What you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven?” There are things to the authority that we have in Christ that we have not yet fully seen. We see glimpses, but the fullness of it, we have not seen. God is now saying, “This is going to be the time. Now is going to be the hour. We are going to rise up as the Church.”