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A House Of Prayer For All Nations
Key Verse 11:17
“And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” ? ‘But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
These events from the time he entered Jerusalem last— that is, the “Triumphal Entry”— marks the last week of Jesus’ life on earth. It’s the week before the most significant event in all of history, which is “Easter”, where Jesus will be given over to be crucified and die then rise again on the third day. What happens this week shows us a side of Jesus we are not used to seeing. He enters the city riding on a donkey, he curses a fig tree, then rampages through the temple. We’re more comfortable with Jesus the gentle shepherd born in a manger and tending to those who are sick. We’re more comfortable with the Jesus who speaks of love and forgiveness. But this— to curse a tree, to turn tables upside down, and to drive buyers and sellers out of God’s house— to see this side of Jesus is pretty uncomfortable. But what he does and says here on this day challenges us to stand in awe of Jesus— to listen carefully to this Righteous God— to what angers him— that we might examine our hearts and the motives of our hearts— and humbly accept the cleansing he brings to each of us in repentance and in faith.
Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem became known as the “Triumphal Entry”. Let’s consider what “triumphal” means. Jesus had come from heaven to fight for us. He came to battle our enemy Satan and sin. He had come to set his captive people free. He had come to conquer the hearts of those who had strayed away from God and to bring them back to his Kingdom. The battle that Jesus came to fight was not an easy battle. It required fierce fighting because the enemy he came to fight was tenacious and invincible. Usually a conqueror equips himself with an army of warriors to fight the enemy and to bring about his own rule. But look at Jesus’ strategy! He humbled himself and entered the battlefield riding on a donkey. His commanding officers were a handful of undisciplined disciples. His army was a crowd of helpless people waving palm branches instead of swords and spears. Where is the triumph in that?
It was “Triumphal” because the battle Jesus waged with Satan and sin was not a physical battle. It was a spiritual battle. In the world, beasts and dog-like people fight to win by tearing each other to pieces, and the best dog wins when one goes down. But Jesus’ battle was not a dog fight. It was a spiritual battle where he needed different weapons. One of the weapons he needed in fighting was giving his heart and mind and will and all to his Father God. And God’s will for him was that Jesus give himself up to angry people who wanted to kill him.
That kind of battle is the hardest to fight especially when the enemy wants to fight on a human level like a dog-fight. But Jesus didn’t do that— he entered Jerusalem with the full knowledge that he would be torn apart by the weapons of the enemy who fight best on the human level— like a dog-fight. His enemy waited to tear him apart. But Jesus still entered Jerusalem in a humble way. He would hand himself to his enemy. What Jesus was doing though, was handing himself to the will of God. That was the battle— that was the triumph. His march towards the painful cross. It was a triumph that we all need to learn. How to surrender my heart and mind and body to what God’s will is. A hard battle to fight. But there is a triumph there as well.
Jesus would also triumph when he gave himself to death. It seemed like a defeat when he died— seemed that the enemy “death” had won the battle. But when Jesus surrendered to the will of God, “Death” was incapacitated. It could not hold him in. He rose from the dead. And with that, Jesus’ triumph over Satan and the power of sin was complete. With that power, Jesus liberated his captive people— once captive to sin— yet now liberated from sin— and brought about in a new age of spiritual victory for everyone who believes. That is the gospel story, all tied in with Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem the last week of his earthly life.
And all those who love him learned that dog-fighting— fighting on the human level— is futile and does not count for anything. Because even when people win a fight on the human level— they loose— spiritually they lose! Fighting a human battle regardless of what it may be, say— even if you should assert your rights in something— or cow your opponent (or enemy, or antagonist) into submitting to you— even when you win an argument— even when you get your way— or you refuse to forgive someone who harmed you— or whatever dog-fight you find yourself in, it is all fighting on the human dog-level. And that’s always a losing battle— because the Lord himself taught us fighting-to-win when he entered the city to give himself to the enemy. Jesus came to fight, and he lost to win. He fought spiritually. That is the principle of what the Lord teaches us in such teachings as the sermon on the mount. Humanly, forgiveness, love and humility do not seem as winning gambits— perhaps not on the human level. But they are God’s way, and they lead to victory in every way.
Those who really love Jesus and are serious at following him, learn that the real fight is a spiritual fight— while all other fighting is useless. Our greatest fight is the fight to live by faith, and to give myself over to the will of God— where the will of God is often uncomfortable for me. The real fight is whether I can— in faith— surrender myself to God and to his will in and for my life; the real fight is if I am willing to— in faith— humble myself to lose human fights in order to win the spiritual fight. This kind of fighting requires faith— the faith— to trust God’s word above all else— to trust God’s word that tells me that this is the way to spiritual maturity and victory. How many Christians are unable to mature spiritually simply because they will not allow themselves to lose humanly— whatever dog-fight they’re in. They always have to be the best— the first in everything— they always have to be on top— always in the forefront— They have to always be right and everyone else wrong— they have to hold on to their grudges, their anger, their way of thinking, their rights, their way— even when they seem to remain as spiritual toddlers. Of course, they have faith in Jesus! But they have no faith to live by his teaching. Some of them really even do not know his teaching, because they are too proud to give themselves to serious Bible study. And when they do study, they are too proud and end up holding on to their own ideas instead of humbly learning.
Through his entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus taught us many things. He taught us that the Christian life, as much as it is a joyous life in the will of God, is a daily battle of prayer, of humility, of servantship, of love and of forgiveness, of sacrifice and of self-discipline— as we embrace and obey the will of God for us. A Christian sincerely asks; “I want to learn self-discipline— how can I do that?” But what they want is secret formula or some power to discipline themselves— to do this or repeat that. But self discipline begins with disciplining your own pride, your ego, the self in you which wants and craves self glory— and it begins with wanting to rid yourself of it with all your heart. That is where self discipline begins. It is a battle against the desire to magically receive some spiritual gift to make strong or assertive or popular, when it begins with growing-down in pride and growing-up in humility. We know how difficult it is to let go of some bitter root growing in your heart, some injured pride, some stubborn idea. Now that is the battle Jesus fought and won as he entered Jerusalem. Such things lead to spiritual victory— to spiritual maturity, because they are God’s weapons of war for us— for you whom he redeemed and who tells you that the real fight is not a physical fight to have more, or to do more, but a fight to live by faith in the will of God. Those who fight like dogs cannot expect to achieve any spiritual victory. They can rejoice that they have won a few useless arguments and appeased some worthless grudge. But they have won nothing but some self satisfaction for their ego. They have won nothing if they cannot win a single battle over self.
Jesus entered Jerusalem with the noise of a thousand people cheering on! “Hosanna” they were shouting. It was the highest praise they could give a king. They shouted “Hosanna” to Jesus hoping he would save them from the Roman sword and lift them up from the grip of poverty and of social injustice. That’s really ignorant of human beings! As Jesus rode on his donkey in the streets of Jerusalem, his heart was heavy with the shouts of “Hosanna” which said something and meant something utterly different.
Look at verse 11. “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” It was getting dark and so Jesus looked around and headed back to Bethany to spend the night. What did he see at the temple? What was going on in his heart as he saw what he saw? Based on what Jesus did the next day when he returned to the temple, we can imagine what might have went on in his heart at seeing what the temple had turned into. His heart became heavy by what he saw. These people were not only ignorant about who their real enemy was, but that they were also defeated.
It seemed to Jesus that the enemy was not only working hard to destroy people’s lives and souls, but he had even set up camp in the temple of God where he was ruling God’s people’s lives and actions. Jesus was angered at what he witnessed that evening at the temple. He was angered at the religious leaders who were to be shepherds for his flock, but instead were taking advantage of them. He was brokenhearted to see the hypocrisy and abuses in the place of worship. They were deluded by a false sense of worship— which robbed them of spiritual life and fellowship with God. They thought they were okay because they were doing all the right things in their habitual worship. But in reality they had no spiritual life, and no relationship with God. When Jesus walked back to Bethany that evening he was sullen and mournful.
Early the next day, Jesus again headed back to Jerusalem and the temple. But on the way, a remarkable event took place which reflected what was on God’s heart at what he saw the night before.
Read verses 12-14. “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”
Jesus was on his way back to the temple with a heavy heart. On the way, he was hungry. When he saw a fig tree, he wanted to eat some of its fruit. But there was no fruit on the tree. It wasn’t the right season for figs. But Jesus expected to find figs on the tree even out of season. When he found that it had no fruit on it, he cursed it. Why did Jesus behave like this? Because Jesus had the people’s spiritual condition on his heart— the condition of the religious leaders and the people they had damaged by their hypocrisy and false sense of self righteousness. God wanted them to be shepherds for the people. God wanted them to guide the people in the word of God, in the way of truth, in the way of righteousness. God wanted them to protect the people from being spiritually idle and lazy— and from worshiping other things than God— which is idolatry. They were supposed to honor God by bearing fruit to God in their lives in season and out of season. That was their responsibility before God. When you looked at them, their lives looked like a fig tree full of leaves, all green and full and healthy— like a magnificent and thriving house of worship with countless people singing praises to God. But they didn’t fulfill what they were supposed to fulfill— which is to give fruit for God.
They were religious, but they were godless, and ungodly. They looked like a church but they were not. They were idle (lazy, uninspired, habitual, comfortable, mission-less) and they were also idolatrous (loved themselves, money, success, high status, position and authority— all other gods) (They say that the sin of our times now is the sin of laziness— people are lazy and don’t want to do anything with their lives, and (2) media consumption— love affair with entertainment and pleasure and can’t get enough of it— hours and hours wasted on worshiping the wrong God, and (3) indifference— no one cares anymore much about anything but themselves and their own interests— that’s what the sin of our generation is). These religious leaders of Jesus’ time lived religious lives on the outside (did everything they were supposed to do— prayed, worshiped— ran charities, conducted services), but on the inside they lived for themselves and not for God. So, when people live that, they cannot bear the fruit that God wants them to bear in their lives. They couldn’t please God.
They didn’t honor God. They did not produce the fruit of repentance, the natural fruit of faith when one lives by faith rather than by pleasure. They did not bear the fruit of drawing people away form sin and to God. In that way, they had welcomed the devil in their midst and had began to live by the devil’s standards. When Jesus was hungry that morning, he reflected God’s hunger to see his people live a life that pleases and honors God. When Jesus demanded fruit from the fig tree, it reflected God’s absolute demand that his people bear fruit to him according to their divine responsibility. When Jesus cursed the fruitless tree, it reflected God’s anger and justice on all those who refuse to honor God by living the life that bears the fruit to God. Jesus taught his disciples that morning that God will surely demand fruit from every human being in season and out of season, because it is every human being’s duty to bear fruit to God.
Read verses 15-17. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changes and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The gentle shepherd Jesus did such a drastic thing. The corruption of those who pretended to follow God and of those who followed them had reached critical levels. Jesus looked around in the house of God and saw corruption. Where there should have been prayer, there was buying and selling. Where they should have been holiness, there was dishonesty, lies, deceit, adultery, immorality, pride and arrogance, love of money and love of self. In the place of prayer, Jesus saw idle talk and gossip. In the place of worship, Jesus saw ceremony and tradition. In the place of shepherds and Bible teachers, Jesus saw people taking advantage of God’s grace. Where there should have been sacrifice, there were those who were serving themselves promoting their own welfare. The house of God must be a place of holiness and prayer— a refuge for the weary— and a school for those who are searching. But they had turned it into a place of business. It is tragic when the temple or church turns into a place that serves people’s desires and promotes sinful practices. It is tragic when the God’s house of worship becomes a place of mockers and complainers and cheaters and users of each other and selfish people.
Jesus was angry. The temple and church are a place of worship and prayer. They must always remain to be a place of worship and prayer. In the temple, men and women must pray for the nations of the world and for the people of the world. We must give our hearts to God to serve his purpose, to plant hope and to promote faith and to educate people in their love and duty before God. If the church loses its purpose, where can there be a refuge for God’s children!
God’s house— the temple— the church— is not just a building. It’s where God dwells— even in the human heart. Should Jesus enter the human heart, what would he witness? What will he find? For that reason we must consider that the temple is not only the house of God, but our very hearts. If a table needs be turned, we need let the Lord turn it. If there is un-forgiveness or an injustice, or a grudge or a complaint, or sarcasm, or anger or doubt— if there is pride and un-thankfulness — we need invite the Lord to upturn it and case it out. The house of God should be a place of worship and prayer for all people of all nations to know Jesus and his gospel— a place where people can be loved and served and where God can be glorified and praised— a place where God’s children love each other and not despise or avoid each other. The temple of God — our church— our heart— needs be holy with zero tolerance for things that offend or anger the Lord. Please invite Jesus to enter his temple and delight in what pleases him.