Cleaning out the temple...
"Then 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 seats of those selling doves. And He declared to them, “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” Matthew 21:12-13
This is an interesting story because once again it turns upside down these caricatures we have of Jesus as being a meek, soft-spoken, effeminate young man that carefully teaches people about how to be nice and never violent. Jesus got mad in this story. And the story is recorded in all four gospels. But don’t think that Jesus was not caught by surprise by what He saw in the temple. He had been to the temple before and seen all of this. They were conducting business as usual—and Jesus knew what to do about this.
The Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mark point out that this was not a sudden outburst but something He carefully planned. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing-He was not out of control. And God knows what He’s doing in your life and mine. He loves us, but He can get tough with us if we need it. Is He being tough on you right now? Is He turning over some tables in your life, or the life of our churches, that never should have been there in the first place?
In Mark 11:11-19, Jesus visits the temple but waits until the next day to do anything. John adds that Jesus actually takes the time to make a whip from cords. Here’s what he says: “ When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John 2:13-17 NIV
The whipping is usually depicted as applying to the money-changers themselves—but if you study this closely you can see that the whipping was directed at the sheep and the oxen. Still, Jesus flipped over the tables of the moneychangers, so they were certainly not spared his anger and disgust.
Now the temple was not intended to be some quiet cathedral. There would have been noisy animals and people helping get their currency changed into the legal tender to purchase an animal to sacrifice. But something else bothered Jesus. He knew that the sale of animals was essential for the temple’s main function as a place for the offering of animal sacrifices. Bringing an animal from one’s home risked something happening to it on the way, and so many chose to sell their own animal in his hometown, bring the money with them, and then purchase a replacement in Jerusalem. The money changers were there to convert various currencies into one standard coinage, the shekel, that was used for the payment of the annual temple tax. Both the selling of animals for sacrifices and the payment of the temple tax were activities required by Jewish law and central to the temple’s functions.
So why was He so angry?
I think it was for two reasons. (1)He was setting the stage for what was to come, and (2) He was reacting to what had been lost over the past 1000 years of sacrifices. Jesus was justly angered that worldly commercial activities had corrupted the holiness of the temple. Instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer, here was this bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep. Instead of brokenness and contrition, holy adoration and prolonged petition, there was this noisy haggling about the exchange of various currencies. The religious organizers had corrupted the true purpose of the temple-and the same thing happens today. We’re in danger of turning worship into concerts, and sermons and teaching into motivational speeches. There’s a time and place for both, but a lot of what I see in churches and Christian gatherings smacks of doing all the religious leaders can to drum up emotional enthusiasm—but leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to break in. These folks at the temple were not focused upon a holy God, but a tidy profit for their sales and money changing—-and Jesus hates it still…
And think about this for a moment: It was not only the moneychangers that were driven out but the animals as well. Given that the animals were, in fact, necessary for the sacrifices of the temple their expulsion might seem strange, but Jesus was the last sacrifice needed for the forgiveness of sins. In a matter of hours there would never again be the need to shed innocent blood for sins. The expulsion of the beasts symbolized the new order of worship whose temple will have no sacrificial rite. Their removal was meant to symbolize the end of mediation toward God by sacrifice; the Mosaic system was not condemned but rather it was permanently displaced as a result of its being superseded by the sacrifice of Jesus.
But the bigger point I want to make today is about Paul’s point that it is how our bodies have become the very temples of God. “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” -Romans 8:26, NIV. Have we come to realize that our "body is the temple of the Holy Spirit"? If so, we must be careful to keep the money changers out! What tables need to be turned over in your mind or diet or daily habits?
The Spirit of God intends to use me as a temple in which I offer prayers of intercession for others..The Spirit of God will not allow me to use my body for my own convenience. Jesus ruthlessly cast out everyone who bought and sold in the temple, and said, "My house shall be called a house of prayer . . . . But you have made it a 'den of thieves' " (Mark 11:17). My task is to pray and not be encumbered by the pretty things scattered all over the table.
When Jesus first comes into our lives He saves us and makes us the holy site for His Holy Spirit. But when He comes later, He expects the place to be cleaned up! If not, expect Him to start tossing over tables and beating the things in our lives that don’t belong there! Jesus got angry about the temple being desecrated , don’t expect Him to smile and tell you it’s okay to keep garbage in your body—-the temple. It’s both the physical and spiritual, I think. There are tables and displays in the minds of Christian men that just don’t belong. Jesus comes in and turn our minds upside down until we get our minds cleaned and a proper place for your Holy Spirit to dwell.
So ask yourself this question: Is your body and mind your own… or is it truly His? Are you sold out to let Him have His way, or are you still stomping and pouting and demanding your individual rights? Do you consider what you read, look out, envision and hope for realizing that your mind is a part of HIS holy dwelling? Are there tables in your mind and your body that He needs to turn upside down?
It’s not that we don’t know any better. We do. If we’ve been born again for any length of time, He has revealed, and is still uncovering, those things that don’t belong in a Holy Temple and we know it. What are we putting in His temple that does not belong?
When I was a much younger the adults at my church told me that this was why drinking alcohol was bad for a Christian ——but I knew that they all smoked cigars, or pipes or cigarettes. Today we’re told the it’s drugs that defile His Holy temple, i.e. our bodies. But I think it’s not a matter of keeping out drugs or carcinogenic, or too much salt or carbs, and so on. It’s not so much a matter of what we eat as it is about the game we’re playing with the Holy Spirit—the real things that defile us. If we get our minds right, we will get our diet and habit right.
The money changers we’re playing a game, too. They pretended that they were offering an essential service to those that wanted to offer a sacrifice by selling animals or changing the currencies for the worshipful. But they were there for a profit—-personal gain—-not to spiritual assist those that came to dutifully offer a sacrifice. Jesus knew their hearts——and He was dead-right about His judgment and these profiteers knew it. They did not dare fight back and no one watching defended them. The money changers and merchants were all in the wrong and all the people knew it but those there to worship were powerless to stop it. And the Pharisees, who loved money, were certainly taking a cut off the profits. They knew it was wrong, but they got comfortable with doing things unholy in a holy place. May that never be the case here.
But that’s the same risk you and I take. Our bodies are His Holy Temples. I am not required to keep your temple clean—that’s between you and Jesus Christ. But I had better keep my temple clean and ask Him to not only turn over those tables that are selling inappropriate things to my soul but please remove the tables as well!
“Every Christian can have his body under absolute control for God. God has given us the responsibility to rule over all "the temple of the Holy Spirit," including our thoughts and desires (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are responsible for these, and we must never give way to improper ones. But most of us are much more severe in our judgment of others than we are in judging ourselves. We make excuses for things in ourselves, while we condemn things in the lives of others but only because we are not naturally inclined to do them.
Paul said, "I beseech you . . . that you present your bodies a living sacrifice . . ." (Romans 12:1). What I must decide is whether or not I will agree with my Lord and Master that my body will indeed be His temple. Once I agree, all the rules, regulations, and requirements of the law concerning the body are summed up for me in this revealed truth-my body is "the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Oswald Chambers)