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Opinion | Mar 31, 2012

RECLAIMING THE PURPOSE OF THE HOUSE OF GOD

MATTHEW 21:12-16
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.

And He said to them, "It is written My House shall be called a House of prayer but you are making it robbers den."

And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple "Hosanna the Son of David," they became indignant and said to Him, "Do You hear what the children are saying?" And Jesus said to them,

"Yes, have you never read, 'Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have ordained praise for Yourself?'" (NASB)

INTRODUCTION
A little boy was saying his bedtime prayers with his mother: “LORD, BLESS Mommy and Daddy, and God, GIVE ME A NEW BICYCLE!!!” Mom: “God is not deaf,” son. Boy: “I know, Mom, but Grandma is in the next room, and she is hard of hearing!”

BACKGROUND
The temple in Jerusalem was already rich with history. There had been three temples on the same site. The first, Solomon's glorious temple, had been built in the tenth century B.C. and was destroyed in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. The second, Zerubbabel's temple, was much smaller than Solomon's temple and had been built on the same site by the exiles that had returned from captivity in the sixth century B.C. The second temple, the one Jesus entered had been enlarged by Herod the Great. Construction on this magnificent structure, much larger and more elaborate than the others, was begun in 20 B.C. and may not have been completely finished before the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70 in response to a Jewish revolt.

In verse 12, what were the people selling and buying in the temple? People came to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, where Jewish sacrifices were only to be offered. The high priest and his associates run the temple. All adult male Jews were required to go to Jerusalem for three annual celebrations: Passover in late spring, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths) in the fall, and the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in early summer. God had originally instructed the people to bring sacrifices from their own flocks (Deut. 12:5-7). However, the religious leadership had established four markets on the Mount of Olives where such animals could be purchased. To put it in plain words, the religious leaders were involved in black market. Some people did not bring their own animals and so they had to buy one at the market. Even those who brought their own, the priests would manage to find some fault with the animals and therefore rendered them unacceptable for sacrifice (it was supposed to be an animal without defect, Leviticus 1:2-3). Worshipers were then forced to buy another animal. The priests and their sons were taking financial advantage of the people in an economic move that surely lined many pockets and enriched the temple coffers.

The high priest had authorized a market to be set up right in the Court of the Gentiles, which was a huge outer court of the temple. The Court of the Gentiles was the only place Gentile converts to Judaism could worship. They could not go further into the temple, because they were not “pure” Jews. However, the market has taken the place of the Gentile Court so that those who had traveled from long distances found it impossible to worship. This lack of worship atmosphere did not seem to bother the religious establishment who were making lots of money at the expense of the worshipers.

The moneychangers exchanged all international currency for the special coins—the only money the merchants would accept. The moneychangers did big business during Passover with those who came from foreign countries to worship in Jerusalem. The inflated exchange rate often enriched the moneychangers, and the exorbitant prices of animals made the merchants wealthy. The moneychangers also exchanged Hebrew shekels for the Roman drachmas for the temple tax. Because the drachmas had the stamped image of Caesar, who was an idol worshiper on them, the Jews considered the money a blasphemy to God.

The poor people who did not have enough money to buy the big animals bought doves for their sacrifice. Doves were also sacrificed for the cleansing of women and lepers (Lev. 12:6; 14:22). Imagine moneyboxes spilling and clattering across the floor as doves escaped from their overturned cages and scattered above the crowd. Jesus became angry because God's house of worship had become a place of extortion and a barrier to Gentiles who wanted to worship.

I. A HOUSE OF PURITY V. 12
Many people including liberal theologians have accused Jesus of a violent behavior because of this event, which took place in the temple. These critics are wrong because they do not have any clue to the background of this passage. Jesus took this drastic measure, because both those who bought and those who sold were going against God's command regarding the sacrifices. Jesus drove them out. This is the second time that Jesus cleared the temple (see John 2:13-17).

The action of Jesus as chronicled by Matthew in this text was part of the reason the religious leaders masterminded the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus has come to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, and surely, this will be His last Passover.

The house of the Lord, which should be a place of purity, has become a place of merchandise. The house of the Lord, which should be a place of worship, has become a black market center. The situation has not even changed today. There are some churches where people carry their illicit drug business. Some hide cocaine and other illegal drugs in the house of God. There are some people, who join churches not because they want to worship the Lord, but because they want to use the sanctuary as an outlet to promote their business. Some people have entered into the gospel ministry not because the Lord has called them, but because they think it is the easiest way to amass wealth. Therefore, today when you go to some churches the gospel is not preached. People have to pay consultation fees to see the pastor for prayer, healing, traveling documents, marriage, and the promotion of their business. They have changed the purpose of the call and work of God into selfish personal financial gain. The extortion prices for doves exacerbated the plight of the poor. The poor people could no longer come to the temple to worship and sacrifice their offerings to the Lord. A similar thing is going on in some churches today that poor people cannot attend services in these churches. There are some churches where the rich people have their own special seats. In such places, poor people are not welcomed. There is no written rule that the poor people are not welcomed, but the reception the poor receive in such places speaks for itself.

There are some churches where members and visitors cannot wear the same clothes or dresses for two consecutive Sundays. Those who wear them are given names. While I cannot bar you from wearing new clothes and dresses every Sunday, I do not want to hear any name calling in this church because a person cannot afford them. We do not come here to show our suits and dresses. We come here to worship the Lord because of what He has done for us and in us.

The action of Jesus in driving out and turning over the tables of those who were selling and buying also has a spiritual application for us today. What corruption has been going on in your life? Are you involved in pornography on the Internet or any kind of pornography? Are you involved in some sort of illegal relationship? Are you involved in drugs, using them either yourselves or trafficking them? Are you involved in some smuggling? Are you involved in any credit card fraud? Are you involved in any secret sins? You might have said to yourself, “nobody knows this secret.” You are mistaken, because Jesus knows everything that you are doing. He wants you to get rid of them and turn to Him for help. However, if you persist in that sin, one day the Lord will blow your cover, He will expose you for who you really are and your shame will become public knowledge. You see the black market and the deception of the priests and their sons were not a one-time event. It had gone on for several years before Jesus exposed them. Sin does not just happen, it takes weeks, months, and years, and if you do not do something about it, it becomes a disaster (James 1:13-15).

When you come to the house of God to worship, your whole mind and heart should be focused on Jesus Christ. The house of God is not a place to promote or transact business, whether legitimate or illegitimate. Christians must allow ourselves to be cleansed from any defilement of sin. You are to desist from any unwholesome act, such as smuggling, gambling, bribery, or black marketing (Exodus 23:1-8). Every Christian must live a life of purity. The Bible says, your body is the temple of the Lord (1 Cor. 6:19). Without purity, you cannot see God (Psalm 51:10; Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2-3).

II. A HOUSE OF PRAYER V. 13
Obviously, Jesus' actions stunned the many people, who had crowded into the temple area and probably drew spectators from both inside and outside. Jesus chose this opportunity to teach some spiritual truth. He quoted from Isaiah 56:7 and used it to explain God's purpose for the temple. God's house was meant to be a house of prayer, but the merchants and moneychangers were using it for other purposes. This was an indictment on Jerusalem and the corrupt system that governed the temple. The temple was meant to be a place of spiritual worship, but the Jewish leaders had allowed it to become a market where extortion took place. Jesus' indictment of the religious leaders is quite revealing. What He is saying is that no organized band of robbers along the treacherous stretch of road leading from Jericho to Jerusalem could possibly match the robbery that is going on in the temple. The merchants have turned the temple into their den. This was a horrible desecration. Anyone who enters the gospel ministry or the church for that matter with the intention to deceive or extort people of their money is worse than an armed robber. No wonder Jesus was angry. Today, some people with dubious practices and ulterior motives have invaded the church. I have great concern for those of you who claim to be Christians but robbing God in tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:8-10). If you use what belongs to God for yourself, you are robbing God. Jesus said, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer.” This new building in which we worship is a house of prayer. Therefore, we are to spend most of our time here praying than arguing or criticizing others. The success of the early church was their devotion to both the Word of God and prayer. Prayer changes things. Prayer can turn a coward into a bold person. Prayer can set those who are under the bondage of the devil free. Prayer can make a big difference in your life. Where human efforts and persuasion have failed, prayer can make a change. Prayer will revolutionize your life; it will set you on fire for Christ. A praying church will stop sinning. A sinning church will stop praying. A praying church will thrive, but a prayerless church will die. Constant prayer will move the hand of God to act in this church. How much time do you devote to prayer? The temple of God was not fulfilling its God-ordained role as witness to the nations but had become a center of corruption and deception.

III. A HOUSE OF POWER V. 14
It was significant that the blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple. Before the ministry of Jesus, the blind and the lame were barred from the temple. Their exclusion from the temple was based on laws stemming from 2 Samuel 5:8. However, with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Himself welcomed them in the temple, and healed them, for He Himself was greater than the temple (Matt. 12:6). In this miraculous act, Jesus was saying, the Messianic Age has dawned (Isaiah 35:5). When the church reclaims its purity, becomes a house of prayer, then, the power of God can be released in people's lives. When Jesus took care of the corruption in the temple, supernatural healing occurred in people's life. Could you imagine the joy that flooded the temple when the healing took place? This physical healing had spiritual application. This miracle means that Jesus alone can heal you of your spiritual blindness. He alone can remove your chronic spiritual deformities. Jesus has brought hope of forgiveness, healing and restoration both physically and spiritually. Jesus wants to release His power on His church but the church must remove everything that hinders the power of God.

Perhaps you want to see a breakthrough in your life, marriage, family, business, or career. Have you gotten rid of anything that inhibits the power of God in your life? Jesus comes not just to occupy your life, but also to take over completely. I want to warn you that when Jesus restores power in the church and the church begins to thrive, there will always be opposition. This brings me to the final point in this message.

IV. A HOUSE OF PRAISE VV. 15-16
When Jesus exposed the sinful practices of the religious leaders, they resorted to criticism and the blame game. These spiritually impotent leaders began to blame Jesus of noise and pandemonium from the children in the temple. Their question indicated that they objected to the concept of Jesus as “the Son of David.” They knew the meaning and implication of that term, but they did not want to submit to Jesus' authority and power. Have you noticed that always those who are not right with God are the ones who criticize the work of God? Instead of criticizing the man or woman of God, ask God for forgiveness and let Him have His own way in your life. Those who are out of fellowship with God are quick to find fault with the man or woman of God who is walking in the Spirit. Jesus rebuked them by quoting from Psalm 8:2. The innocent praise of the children glorified Jesus.

God inhabits the praise of His people. This Palm Sunday are you going to join the children in praising Jesus Christ, or are you going to be with the religious and corrupt leaders who are protesting and finding fault with Christ? The choice is yours to make.

Kennedy Adarkwa
Kennedy Adarkwa, © 2012

This author has authored 258 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: KennedyAdarkwa

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