What is surprising when we read this account of Jesus cleansing the temple is the lack of resistance by the merchants. For some reason, a large number of people allowed one man to walk in and totally disrupt their business activity. One would have expected a fight to break out or the temple police to intervene, but none of that happened. And though Jesus was certainly a strong young man, having worked for years as either a stonemason or a carpenter, no matter how strong or angry an individual may be, a group of furious merchants could have stopped Him. But none did. And I believe the reason is because they were ashamed of what they were doing. Moving these stalls and tables into the Court of the Gentiles was a recent, and still very unpopular decision. Annas, the high priest, had decided to do this, and Josephus (the historian) described him as a great hoarder of money and very rich. He moved these merchants onto the temple grounds as a means of generating personal revenue, and it quickly became a principle source of income for his family (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, E.R. Herrick and Co, 1886). In time that court would come to be called the bazaar of the sons of Annas, and after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, Annas was thought to be the one who caused the destruction of the temple. So what Jesus did was understood as a prophetic act. Everyone understood why He was doing it, and many, even among the religious leaders, were already troubled by a guilty conscience. Its possible Jesus had a crowd of supporters cheering Him on.
The prophetic message (Jn 2:13-17)
v17: Jesus action was actually another sign, like turning water into wine, which confirmed the fact that He was the true Messiah. Among the most important things the prophets said the Messiah would do when He arrived was to turn Israels heart back to God. So when His disciples saw what happened in that courtyard, they thought of one of Davids psalms (Ps 69). Its a lament in which David complains that he is being unjustly persecuted because of his faith. At one point he says, For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me (Ps 69:9). David said he was being mocked because he passionately loved to worship God. He loved to be in Gods presence in the tabernacle which he had set up on Araunahs threshing floor (2Sa 24:18-25). And now a thousand years later, Jesus, one of Davids descendants (with respect to His humanity), single-handedly cleared the courtyard. It was Passover, with tens of thousands of pilgrims filling the temple, and what Jesus did was a nation-shaking call to repentance. Israel had forgotten its assignment.
Cleansing our temple
God designed the temple in Jerusalem so that there would be space to welcome people who wanted to know Him, but Israel had forgotten why it was there. As time went on it appeared to be wasted space that could be used more productively. So they filled it with buying and selling. But that was Israel, and we might ask, What does that have to do with us? Its true, as Christians we dont have a building we call a temple anymore. We are now supposed to worship the Father in spirit and truth (Jn 4:24) wherever we go. Yet the fact that we dont go to a physical structure called a temple, doesnt mean there isnt one. The Bible says we have become His temple. Listen:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1Pe 2:5).
Paul tells us:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body (1Co 6:19-20).
So, if Im a temple of God, is there also a part of me that is intended for others: a part of my life, my energy, my time that God wants me to use to help others know Him? If so, then the example of Jesus cleansing the temple speaks prophetically to me. It reveals a spiritual principle that still applies to me today, not just to the merchants in that courtyard. He forces me to ask myself, Have I filled up with other things, the space (time, energy, resources, passion) that God gave me? If so, what are they, and how do I get rid of them?
The gift of space
God has designed each of our lives so that we will have a Court of the Gentiles. The Bible says God has ordered our steps and numbered our days. In other words, He has a plan for each one of us, but He doesnt force us to walk in that plan. We must choose to participate in that plan by obedience and faith. However, if we choose to do so, we will enter a path that has been planned for us, and part of that plan, one of the precious gifts He desires to give each of us, is the privilege of helping others find Him. So, He sets apart a space for this, and the danger is we too can fill up that space with other activities. We might do exactly what the high priest did; we might use that space to make more money or fill it with entertainment, vacations, hobbies, shopping or media. Its not that these things are wrong in themselves. I think life needs some of each. Whats wrong is that we put those things in the space designed for others.
Some people say, I want to serve others, but I just dont have the time. And yet when you watch them, you might see all sorts of extra-curricular activities going on. It becomes obvious that its not so much that they really have no time available, its that serving God is not a priority. They only think of it as something they would do after theyve done everything else first, and if somehow they ended up with extra time (and energy) left over. In that case theyd be glad to serve others, so long as they werent trapped into any long-term commitments which might conflict with their other routines.
The real issue is indifference, by which we mean a lack of concern, motivation or energy for something. That task seems hard, unpleasant or boring, so we want to avoid it if possible. Wed prefer to use that time for something we enjoy. So, does serving God, making space for others, mean we have to stop doing all the things we enjoy? No, it means we need to start enjoying serving God. If we really dont, its a symptom that other interests have moved into that special space. What was meant for others, is now being used for self.
Much of life is necessarily taken up with practical matters. To begin with, we sleep away about a third of it. And then we have to work so we and our family can eat, have clothes to wear and a place to live. But this space in our temples is not where the problem lies. These are necessities, and unless God calls us into full-time ministry (which, by the way, is a form of very had work), providing these things is an important part of our call to serve Him. On top of sleep and work, there are chores to be done and a day of rest which God said we all need to stay spiritually and physically healthy. Somewhere in this list there needs to be time spent with family, both physical and spiritual family. So, when we look at our list we might think, There cant be any time left! But there is, unless of course, Im a mother with small children or a single parent with two jobs. The proof is that we usually can find time to do the things we enjoy, because we watch for opportunities and plan for it. For most of us, if there is no time left, its a matter of the heart.
What should we do if, as were watching Jesus cleanse the temple in Jerusalem, we realize He needs to cleanse our heart as well? The answer is to welcome Him in and let Him rearrange our priorities. But before we pray that prayer, we should be warned that He hasnt changed over the years. Hell deal with the clutter in our hearts the same way. It will be:
Sudden: He did it all at once, not a few stalls and tables every time He came. Hell draw a line around the space (time, energy, resources, passion) that belongs to Him and demand that everything else be removed. This could be a radical readjustment.
Violent: Jesus drove the merchants out. He didnt politely invite them to leave. He was engaged in spiritual warfare. What was happening in this courtyard was preventing people from finding God. Peoples eternal life was at stake. A place meant for others was now being used for selfish pursuits.
Complete: He didnt remove some of the stalls and tables to make a little more room available. He completely cleared the court. So, this will hurt. Everything in that space has to go.
Pulling weeds (Mt 13:3-9, 18, 22)
Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds
fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.
Hear then the parable of the sower.
the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the [person] who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word; and it becomes unfruitful.
Jesus didnt say that the seed which fell among thorns died, He said it became unfruitful. Its energy was taken from it and given to other matters of daily life and the pursuit of money. He calls those things that drain away our time and energy so that we have nothing left to invest in other people: thorns, or as we might call them, weeds. This parable is teaching the same truth as the cleansing of the temple. Whether you picture it as driving out the merchants or pulling out the weeds, theres a part of each one of us that belongs to those who are lost, and if we give it to them, well bring forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
1) Is there a space in your life (time, energy, resource, passion) which you regularly use to help others find God?
2) Was there someone who helped you find Jesus? Who was that? What did they do? How much time did they give you?