This Sunday, we hit the pause button on our series through 2 Corinthians and started a miniseries for the holiday season, which we’ve entitled, Born for the Cross. If there’s one thing we know about the birth of Christ, it’s that he was born to save us through his eventual death on the cross. Our plan this Christmas season is to look at some of the events surrounding Jesus’ final week before going to the cross, and this Sunday we kicked off by looking at his confrontational cleansing of the temple, recorded for us in Mark 11:15-19.
As we looked at this particular event, we learned one main lesson about the temple:
The temple was supposed to be an all-access pass to God
The temple mount itself had several courts. Starting with the furthest court from the most holy place within the temple proper, the court of the Gentiles was the area where anyone could enter, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Next, the court of women was the place where Jewish women could enter. Then, the court of Israel was the place Jewish men could enter. Eventually, there was the court of priests, and ultimately, the most holy place, where only the high priest could enter once a year.
When Jesus approached the temple mount, we’re told that he “began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons” (Mark 11:15). This would have taken place in the court of the Gentiles. Why would he do this?
First, it was the time for Passover, and Jewish men from everywhere would have been travelling to the temple to pay the annual temple tax (Exodus 30:13-16). And while foreign currency was accepted everywhere in Jerusalem, the temple only accepted the temple coin (or the Galilean coin) for the annual temple tax at the temple. This explains the many tables that were set up for currency exchange. The issue at hand was that the money changers unfairly doubled the exchange rate for the temple coin.
Second, officials who sold animals for sacrifice would do so at either 5 or 15 times the actual value (depending on how you translate). This was detrimental for the poorest of Jews who needed to make the most affordable sacrifice (doves or pigeons; see Leviticus 5:7). Even if they brought their own spotless, blemishless pigeon, temple officials would reject their sacrifice, forcing them to buy one of their approved pigeons. Imagine that, the $5 pigeon you brought to the temple just turned into $75!
Verse 16 further tells us that Jesus also “would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” In the Greek, the reference is to vessels for goods, informing us that Jesus wasn’t allowing anyone to carry their merchandise (specifically) through the temple mount. Why? By that point, Jews had become accustomed to take the “short cut” right through the temple mount to the gate that lead to the main road toward the Mount of Olives (thus saving themselves from a significant walk around the city walls). In other words, Jews had become accustomed to nonchalantly passing through the temple grounds, without reverence for the Lord.
No wonder Jesus drove everyone out! And as he did, he quoted the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah (verse 17). What God intended to be “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7), the Jewish religious leaders turned into “a den of robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11). The one earthly location that was supposed to the place where all people could draw near to God in prayer—even foreign Gentiles (Isaiah 56:3, 6) and eunuch slaves (Isaiah 56:4)—was turned into a high-priced market of oppression and theft (Jeremiah 7:6, 9). People were being robbed financially. But worse, with the temple mount being turned into a crooked swap meet, people were being robbed access to God. Hence, the righteous anger of Christ.
Throughout the Scriptures, anytime people are being led away from God in idolatry or anytime people are being oppressed, you find the righteous anger of God. And here, people were being denied access to him. The result: Jesus’ confrontational cleansing. What does all of this mean for us, today?
We are now the temple
1 Corinthians 3:16 and 2 Corinthians 6:16 both remind us that Christians are now the temple of God. This being the case, we are now the all-access pass for others to God. So here’s the challenging question we were confronted with on Sunday: Is there anything that needs to be overturned or driven out from our hearts because its making it hard for others to see god?
One of our goals as a church is to always be an assembly of believers where anyone—no matter their background or walk of life—could draw near to God. We want to be a church where people know they are lovingly welcomed; where they could come to God just as they are.
Of course, this does not mean issues of the heart are overlooked and never dealt with. We know God lovingly accepts people—by grace through faith—just as they are, but we also know God loves them too much to let them stay that way. He wants to grow us in holiness and Christlikeness. As a church, then, we want people to find us to be a place where they could experience a relationship with God as they see Jesus reflected through us, and when sin is addressed, we hope all people will find us to be a place where those matters are dealt with in love and gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
Let’s continue being that all-access pass for others to God. And if there is anything in our hearts that needs to be overturned or driven out, let’s be humble enough to allow the Spirit of God to cleanse us—his temple—so that Christ’s lovingkindness could be reflected through us to all people; so that none would ever be robbed access to God.
May we, “being rooted and grounded in love… be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
With love in Christ,