A House Of Prayer
Key Verse: 21:12
“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.”
These were Jesus’ last days on earth as he entered his capital city in a very unusual way. Unlike all other kings in history, Jesus rode in to victory on a donkey! And instead of demonstrating God’s anger and retribution against a rebellious and renegade people, he rather humbled himself and sacrificed his life on a cross for the sins of all who put their faith in him. Jesus demonstrated God’s amazing grace to anyone who wants to be free from sin and return to God. But there’s something here that we ought to know. Jesus’ demonstration of God’s love and forgiveness doesn’t define all that Jesus had come to do for us. The Bible tells us that Jesus certainly came to us full of grace, but he also came to us full of truth (John 1:14). In other words, he bore two gifts for us, the gift of grace, and the gift of truth. And it’s very important that we know this. When we talk about Jesus coming to us full of the gift of grace, it usually means that he came prepared to forgive all our sins. But grace without truth is no more than sappy love, and we know that God isn’t a sappy grandfather who overlooks our offenses. Christ also came to us bearing the gift of truth. And that means Jesus came to shape our lives with the powerful and eternal truth which is the word of God.
Forgiveness alone usually spoils people, and makes them do worse things. It’s the truth that we learn from the word of God that has the power to discipline and purify our hearts from wrongdoing and shapes our lives to make us spiritual and godly in our thoughts and actions. Without the truth of God’s word working in our hearts and lives, none of us can become the godly person God invites to live and serve his kingdom. Those who talk only of forgiveness and grace, yet refuse to be shaped by the word of God often fall from grace and revert to their old sinful nature and habits. So, God did send Jesus to forgive our sins, but he also sent him to teach us God’s ways, and to discipline us for a godly life of faith and of holy service. Jesus clearly entered his city to forgive but he also did so to restore truth into our hearts and lives— which brings us to this very passage here! After the people welcomed him as their Savior King, Jesus entered the great Temple of God with a purpose to cleanse it. What he did seems bizarre to those who don’t know God. But to those who know what God’s love is all about, Jesus’ actions in the Temple absolutely reflected the truth Jesus brought with him. It tells us exactly what God wants from those who would receive his grace. And what God wants is to chase away from our hearts and lives anything that corrupts them with sin.
Read verse 12. “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” To understand these events, we need to understand what the Temple of God stood for in history. When God liberated his people from slavery in Egypt, they travelled here and there until they got to the Promised Land. During that time, God had them build him a tent in which he might dwell as a symbol of his presence among them. Then after they reached the Promised Land, throughout all the generations they were there before the coming of Christ, God had them build him a Temple where he might continue to dwell among them. And that’s how God’s people viewed their Temple; they looked at it with Emmanuel God faith— that is, God with us faith. But the Temple was a whole lot more to them than God’s presence. It was the center of life, the center of cultural, political and religious life. It was everything to them! And it was impossible to think of them apart from the Temple of God. And as long as they lived the godly lives God called them to live, then God was right there with them at his Temple. But whenever they rebelled against him, and abandoned his godly ways and followed the godless ways of the world, then God abandoned them and no longer was there with them.
This last of the temples built in history, the one called Herod’s temple was especially magnificent beyond description. And the Jews of Jesus’ time were so proud of their temple. Literally thousands of priests and teachers of the law performing their duties came in and went out of the temple every day. All kinds of people, men, women and children came to the temple night and day. Israel was under Roman occupation, but even the Romans left the Tempe of God alone without interfering with its function. It was a wondrous sanctuary for anyone seeking God. It was a home for God and his people. It was a bastion (a stronghold, a fortress) of holiness forewarning or daring anyone or anything to beware of trespassing. No one dared speak against it. Certainly no one dared desecrate, defile or dishonor the Temple of God. Even the great Roman powers and authorities knew better to leave the Temple alone. In brief, the Temple of God was untouchable and certainly indestructible.
But look at verse 12 again. “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” Here’s the thing! All people entered the temple humbly and fearfully in reverence to God and in deference and submission to the keepers of the Temple— that is, to the religious leaders and the priests. All people usually came to Temple to perform their duties to God and seeking his favor, and then left feeling renewed and blessed— all people except Jesus! This wasn’t the first time Jesus enters the Temple of God. He did so on many occasions. He entered at times to pray. He entered the temple to teach the Bible to those who had come to worship. But not this time! This time Jesus entered not as God’s messenger of truth. He came to express what’s on God’s heart regarding the Temple. People usually never think about how God views things, especially his views of the Temple and the activities of the Temple. People imagine that God for the most part is happy with the Temple, and its keepers, and all that is going on inside the Temple. But Jesus wasn’t going to be quiet about God’s thoughts and feelings about this Temple, at least not this time, for it was the last time that Jesus would enter it. This time, Jesus really wanted to reveal the truth especially about the condition of the Temple. He wanted to expose the dishonesty, hypocrisy and sin going on in the Temple going on under God’s watchful eyes. He came to express God’s wrath and anger on everything the religious leaders and their servants were doing there, while claiming to do the work of God. So he entered the Temple and wreaked havoc at the Temple, turning tables and driving out those who were buying and selling.
When first the Temple was built, it was clearly meant to be a place of worship. And so God dwelt in his Temple to welcome and to bless anyone who came to worship him in humility and in faith. If someone sinned against God, he or she came to the Temple to repent and to ask for forgiveness. They came to ask God for mercy— to pour out their hearts to God whether in joy or in bitterness of soul. For whatever reason they came, it was with a humble and contrite spirit. It was the sanctuary for the people. But they also came to thank God for all that he‘s done in their lives— to celebrate a new life, and for most of them, also a new beginning. They wept at his feet, and asked for his blessing. But here’s the problem! In time the Temple became a cultural center— a club! So people came pretending to worship. Even those who don’t believe in God nor honor his word pretended to worship while their hearts followed their idols. They came to buy and to sell. They came because others dragged them to the Temple. The priests were supposed to maintain the holiness of the temple. But they too abandoned holiness for greed and for power and for material security.
In Jesus’ time, the Temple wasn’t God’s dwelling place any more. It was no longer holy. It turned into a place where sin corrupted every Temple function. Those who came to offer their tithes and to give from what God had given them now came to offer and to give with a grudge. Those who were helpless and needy weren’t thankful for anything that was given to them, but had become greedy and demanding. In Jesus’ time, the Temple had lost its original purpose and meaning, except of course for a few who truly loved God and worshiped him. And in this last time that Jesus would enter the Temple, he would ravage it and reveal the truth of God. The truth was that the Temple was now worthy of destruction. The Temple and priests alike needed purging. So he came to cleanse them. He would cleanse the Temple of people’s wickedness which had replaced the holiness of God. He would demonstrate how serious and angry God was at how they had abused his House of Worship. We should be able to understand him. They were materialistic and they were using the Temple for personal profit. Jesus loved God. And he would not allow sin and wickedness of all kinds to continue. But what Jesus did on that day was only a shadow of what God was going to do a few years later when he destroyed the Temple and scattered these false shepherds who loved themselves more than they loved God, and who had corrupted the people and the holiness of worship. It was a warning for them to repent and restore holiness to their lives and to the Temple they serve.
The Bible teaches us that Christ is now our Temple. It also teaches us that the church is a Temple where God dwells among his people. It teaches us that our bodies are the Temple of God as well. After Jesus rose from the dead, the Jewish Temple was destroyed. And in its place, thousands of Temples were raised all over the world. Each house church became a new Temple. Each church community and body of believers became a Temple where God would dwell. And each confessing Christian as well became a Temple unto God. But sadly, not many of these temples maintained their purity. Some churches became corrupt in idol worship. Others were consumed in greed and material possessions. Some became self seeking and cheated God of his glory. And personal temples— like a Christian man or woman’s body, heart and soul became infected with corruption. Hearts turned cold, others turned bitter and still others became distant and unfeeling. What I’m saying is that what Jesus did at the temple that day, churches and Christians have always needed since Christianity’s first day.
We cannot deny that for the most part, our churches, even ours, always need cleansing. Our hearts always need cleansing. In the Christian temples, many times there’re all kinds of activity but without spirit. So many things within need be removed and purged for the dwelling of the Lord. Sometimes our hearts are easily corrupted by the things of this world. It’s easy to deceive ourselves thinking that we’re doing good and right. But when I look at my heart and life, I see how often my heart and my life need cleansing from all the things that invade. How often is the heart invaded by greed for material things, or by lusts, or even by thoughts and ideas that seem spiritually sound, but in essence they are really sacrilegious and heretical in nature. And how often is the heart invaded just by indifference towards God or by stubborn rebellion. What Jesus did to the temple should convict us to always invite the Lord and to let his Holy Spirit do the same; to cleanse our heart temple and our church temple and our home temple. Every temple that belongs to the Lord ought to be cleansed. And we must never wait too long because we know how easily our hearts become hard. God in his blessing has given us repentance and faith through which we can be renewed. And the Lord who loves us more than life itself is ever ready to purge our hearts with his blood shed on the cross for our sins. You and I must always check our hearts for what is offensive to the Lord that he might cleanse it.
Read verse 13. “‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” Jesus cleansed the temple to reveal that God was not pleased with what he found there. He was especially offended with the materialistic environment in a holy place. The atmosphere at the temple ought to be spiritual and godly in order to welcome and serve anyone seeking the Lord. But it had turned into a market teaming with thieves and robbers. Maybe those who were buying and selling were honest in their trade. Maybe they didn’t cheat anyone but were honest in their dealings. But the Lord who is the Lord of Truth called them thieves and robbers. Maybe they weren’t robbing each other. But they were surely robbing God. They robbed God of his glory and honor. A heart that isn’t prepared to worship and honor God in his Temple, is a heart robbing God of his glory and honor. God’s House is a house of prayer. What does that mean? It means that one comes seeking God’s forgiveness, his blessing, his favor. It is a place where we come to ask God for his mercy on our lives and the lives of our children and those whom we love, as well as those who do not know God. It’s a place for us to pray for our nation, for those who are lost in sin who need God’s intervention through our prayer.
Our churches are houses of prayer, places of holiness to commune with God. We shouldn’t come with other motives or out of duty, nor with irritable hearts; it would be like robbing God. Jesus wants God’s house to be a house of prayer, as well as our hearts and homes. A Christian family also is established buy God with that intention to be a house of prayer. God wants the Christian family to honor God and bless others in their homes and in their lives. In time, if the home loses its purpose as a house of prayer for all nations, it must recover and rededicate itself as a house unto the Lord. Christian lives and home are not thieves and robbers. We do not defile our lives and homes with worldly things or idols or ungodly things, because we love God and do not want to defile him and his presence. Rather we need to cleanse them of sin and of what’s offensive to God. When we do, then our lives and our church and our homes will be the blessing of all people. We need to remember that the temple as the Lord said is a house of prayer. It’s a holy place where God would dwell.
Look at verses 14-17. Jesus rebuked the temple and its keepers. He is the Lord who came full of grace and truth. He gives us truth, disciplines us in the truth and guides us in the truth to maintain God’s holiness in our temples. And he does so in great compassion. Yes he rebukes but he also forgives and blesses. After Jesus cleansed the temple, the blind and lame came to him and he healed them. God’s wrath rebukes us to wash our hearts clean with the grace of God. But he also pours his compassion on all who come to him. There were some among them who were blind and lame. But there were also countless people there who were spiritually blind and spiritually lame. They didn’t see the sin in their own hearts. Some knew the truth but were too lame to get up and walk by the truth. But many came to Jesus for healing and he healed them. He opened their eyes and made them walk. When you and I are convicted of sin, the only thing to do is come to Jesus for healing and blessing to live the lives he called us to live for his glory.
Look at verses 154-17 again. The religious leaders were proud and in their pride they missed the opportunity to come to Jesus for cleansing and for healing. What they did was to criticize Jesus for his actions. They wanted those who were praising Jesus to stop. How could people who have witnessed Jesus’ grace and truth ever stop praising and thanking God? They can’t. Jesus even quoted Scripture truth to these people in hope that their eyes would open. But they didn’t. As for us, we must never close our hearts to our Lord’s call to examine our hearts, and to ask for regular cleansing, and God in his mercy will flood our hearts, our churches, and our homes with his amazing grace. May God truly make our small church community, our lives and our homes into houses of prayer. Read verse 13. “’It is written’, he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’, but you are making it a den of robbers.’” God bless your hearts with his grace and truth.