Please begin with prayer for an open heart, before you read the passage below. Matthew 21:12-17 – 12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
We have to understand what upset Jesus so much in this moment. As Delton mentioned, the population of Jerusalem swelled from 10,000-25,000 people to 150,000 people for the Passover & Feast of Unleavened Bread. People would journey to Jerusalem and stay for the week to celebrate with fellow Israelites and participate in various ceremonies. The Passover celebration would include the sacrifice of a lamb, which was typically done in families or groups of 15, so they needed a ton of lambs!
Each lamb had to be approved and who better to approve the animals for sacrifice than the religious leaders. Also, you could only buy a lamb with Temple currency. So, you would have to exchange whatever local currency you had for Temple currency and then buy a lamb or dove or whatever else was needed. Now, the religious leaders had tremendous control over this process and it was a sort of monopoly. What they decided to do was fatten their pockets by tacking a profit onto each money exchange (you would exchange back to local currency upon leaving Jerusalem as well) and added to the sale of animals. The leaders had authority to determine what an acceptable sacrifice was and my guess was their animals were the only ones!
This was pretty bad, but not even the worst of it all---the Temple was set up with multiple courts that had limitations to go deeper inside, depending on who you were. There was an outer court, which was the largest, that was for the Gentiles. Gentiles is from the word ‘ethne’, which is where we get ethnicity or it’s literally translated ‘the nations’. There was another court further in that was for Jewish women, another court further in for Jewish men, and a couple other courts in the center for the various levels of religious authority.
The court of Gentiles was for anyone to come and seek God and pray. God’s story has always been bigger than His chosen people and He has always desired the nations (in both Old and New Testaments) to come to Him. Jesus was so upset because they took the court for people of every tribe, nation, and tongue to come and seek God and turned it into a huge flea market! No longer were the religious leaders using it as a ‘house of prayer’ (dependence & seeking God), but turned it into a profit center or ‘den of robbers’! So, Jesus in His righteous anger flips over tables and drives them out. Then notice what happens---the blind and lame came to Him and were healed! Children came in and praised God! Both these groups were pretty low in Jewish society. Once Jesus had cleared out the self-centered religious busyness, the real works of faith could take place. The house of God was intended as a ‘house of prayer for all the nations’ (Mark’s account). Prayer shows dependence on God and nations points us towards mission.
My heart was convicted by this text today. How have I made a mockery of our faith through religious activity centered on my own personal gain? How has our church or the world of Christendom made a mockery of our faith through religious activity centered on our own personal gain?
Church, we need to repent for the ways that we have twisted our faith and taken the focus off of God (dependence) and the nations (mission). We can be so filled with religious activity that we neglect God in the midst of hollow rituals. Maybe the Western Church has complicated our faith so much that we run churches like businesses and create busyness for the staff and members that takes energy away from prayer (dependence) and the nations (mission). Jesus drove out all the religiosity from the Temple courts---not just the leaders making a profit---then invited the broken to have ‘church’.
Father, I repent of the ways I have made my faith about selfish gain and not Your Kingdom. Spirit, guide us in the true ways of the faith and direct our steps, our time, our resources, and our vision. Maybe James 1:27 can be our guide, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’
If Jesus were to evaluate your life, what would He ‘attack’ with righteous anger? If He were to evaluate our church, what would break His heart as religious action centered on self? Are we in the first group being driven out or the second group centered on Jesus? I would love to hear your journey and how this passage impacted you.