Remember the Story...(day two)
Monday (Nisan 11): The Cleansing of the Temple
Bible Text: Matthew 21:12-13
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
Additional Reading: Isaiah 56:7, Jeremiah 7:11, Mark 11:15-19
While we often focus on Christ’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem before moving to the Last Supper and Good Friday later in the week, the first part of the week was not an idle time during the Passover. This was still a time when ritual cleansing was being done in each one’s household, to ensure that each place in turn was ready for the important feast. The city was absolutely full of individuals in town for the event, and we can only imagine the bustle of all those people trying to get arrangements made, details seen to, and preparing their households for what was to come.
We come, then, to the account above in Scripture, detailing Christ’s cleansing of the temple from the moneylenders and merchants. Why did he do this? Since many Jews came from distant lands to Jerusalem for the Passover, they often bought their animal sacrifices once they arrived in the city. However, an entire industry had sprung up within the temple that was anything but pleasing to God. These were individuals involved in price-gouging, exploitation of the poor, and simply setting up their shops in a place (the Court of the Gentiles) that should have been a place of reverence and prayer. Imagine attempting to pray to God at the temple while someone is loudly haggling over the price of a sacrificial animal next to a large pen of doves and pigeons!
Jesus was cleansing His Father’s house, driving out the self-centered transactions, pagan coinage, and robbers of the poor. He showed not only his authority as Messiah in his purifying and cleansing of the temple, but he was underlining the importance of showing reverence and devotion to the one true God. Remarkably, this was actually the second cleansing of the temple we see by Jesus in the Gospels. The first, recorded in John 2, actually takes place at the start of his ministry. Yet, three years later, again the people have returned to disgracing God’s house with unholy, unjust acts of gouging the poor and showing an utter disregard for the sanctity of God’s house. Even with the Messiah in their midst, they sought material gain and ease over a proper worship of God. The Passover, a remembrance of God’s miraculous deliverance for His people, had become more about commercial opportunity and external displays than it had giving glory to their sovereign God who had done so much for them.
Today, we are in a culture that relentlessly commercializes everything. The church is certainly not immune to this, and it is easy to make Easter an event that has more to do with baskets full of plastic grass and chocolate, or showing up for one of our two Sundays a year than about praising God for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross for our sins. In any age, treating the holiness and worship of God with casualness or apathy is a serious matter. When we think of those last, incredible days of Jesus’ walk before he obediently took the full wrath of God in the place of sinners who had nothing for Him but hate and mockery, where is our focus? Do we seek to purify our hearts and minds, to prepare our homes and families with thoughts of how much has been given? Or has the message of Christ’s Holy Week somehow become muted, casual, secondary? In our own preparations this week, let us come before God with an intentional focus in our hearts and minds on praising and thanking God for the Good News of our Savior!
Lord, we come before you knowing that we have too often put the things of the world over the things of eternal importance. Forgive us, and let us come before You, praising Your justice, mercy, love, and sovereign holiness. You are the God of all, so holy, hating sin, and yet you chose a people comprised of rebellious sinners, gave them a new heart, that they might repent and put their faith in Christ, who suffered on the Cross for all the sins of those He would save. Let our prayers and worship be not mindless or merely displays, but informed and focused on the accomplished work of Jesus Christ and Your remarkable, endless loving kindness and grace. Let this week be the start of a lifetime where give these matters the full weight they deserve in the scope of eternity, and let us praise the God who has given us infinite riches as heirs with Christ. Amen.