A HOUSE OF PRAYER
"Going into the Temple He began to throw out everyone who had set up shop, selling everything and anything. He said, 'It's written in Scripture, "My house is a house of prayer," but you have turned it into a religious bazaar.'
"From then on He taught each day in the Temple. The high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying their best to find a way to get rid of Him. But with the people hanging on every word He spoke, they couldn't come up with anything." Luke 19:45-49 (The Message).
Jesus had made His intentions clear on Palm Sunday when He turned towards the Temple, not Pilate's residence. The Temple, symbolic of God's desire to make His dwelling with His people, was His focus. It was the place where He expected to find people whose hearts were after God and who were there to worship Him in the appropriate way. It was there that He spent time, while He was in Jerusalem, teaching the people about the kingdom of God.
What He found when He reached the Temple, appalled Him. Luke's Gospel gives us few details, but we learn from the other gospels that the opportunists had set up shop in the outer court - the court of the Gentiles, which was the farthest non-Jews were allowed to go in the Temple. The merchants were no doubt there under the protection of the religious leaders who would take a cut of the profits for their co-operation!
So what were they doing? They were making a fine business out of selling 'unblemished' sacrificial animals at Passover. This seems innocent enough but a closer look, coupled with Jesus' accusation, reveals that they were engaged in crooked business.
Every animal had to pass the scrutiny of the priests to be declared fit for a Passover offering. Many animals 'failed' the test which meant that they had to be scrapped and another bought from the merchants. The 'failed' animal was then sold to the next worshipper whose lamb had been rejected. This practice, together with the exorbitant exchange rate charged by the men handling the forex, was a lucrative business both for the merchants and for their religious overlords.
Jesus was incensed by the whole scene. It angered and sickened Him because it exposed the disposition of the human heart. It was the basest thing any human being could pull off on sincere worshippers, and it hijacked the only place in the Temple where Gentiles were permitted to worship God.
Since Jesus' action has deeper significance than simply an outburst of righteous anger, we have to go to John's Gospel to find out the underlying meaning of this incident. John records this event as happening at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. It was a prophetic action which revealed the purpose of His coming. John's record is authenticated by false witnesses at Jesus' trial, which we find in Mark's Gospel (14:57,58). "Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against Him.’We heard Him say, "I will destroy this man-made temple, and in three days will build another, not made by man."' Yet even then their testimony did not agree."
By cleansing the Temple of the greedy merchants in cahoots with greedy religious leaders, Jesus was declaring the purpose of His own death. He had come to uncover and deal with the deep-seated reason why human beings need to be cleansed and reconciled to God so that He can make His dwelling within us. By giving His own sinless life as a sacrificial Passover lamb, He would set people free from their slavery to selfishness, greed and wickedness, and give us the right and power to become a 'house of prayer' for God, a place of loving, intimate fellowship with Him.
It was this 'zeal for His house' that sent Jesus to the cross, and it is still the zeal for God's spiritual house that motivates His passion for people. God has purposed and will fulfil His plan to complete what He began, to build a family of men and women, boys and girls from every nation, tribe and clan on earth who will receive His love, and will love and worship Him in return.
Will you be one of them? It's your choice...
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