Jesus entered the temple courts 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. “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’”. (Matthew 21:12-13 NIV)
What makes you angry? Do a quick audit of your life. What bugs you? What are the things that make you mad? When you know the answer you will also have some idea of what you really care about because we often get most angry when something we really care about is threatened or violated. For example, I am a fan of Arsenal Football club. Insult Arsenal and I suddenly remember I have a blue belt in tae kwan do. I care that people don’t get bullied. When I see someone being bullied I get very angry. What you get angry about is a clue to what you really care about.
Therefore we should take a closer look at the incident of Jesus’s cleansing of the temple. This is a very important episode in Jesus’s life because it is recorded in some form in all the four gospels. Here is Jesus really angry. He is overturning tables and chairs. He is driving out people from the outer court of the temple complex. Why was He so mad? Because the primary purpose of the temple had been betrayed.
Israel knew that God could not be contained anywhere, much less in a physical building (1 Kings 8) but the temple was a place set apart for people to meet with their Lord. It was meant to be a place of prayer. But the outer courts had been transformed into a bazaar. And all that commerce happening within the temple was distracting people from the primary purpose of the temple.
There was nothing wrong with the moneychangers as such. They provided a much-needed service. Since worshippers at the temple came from all parts of the Roman Empire, they needed to change whatever currency they were using to currency acceptable for the temple offerings. Similarly, people who travelled from afar would find it inconvenient to bring along the animals they needed for the temple sacrifices. They would have needed to bring doves or whatever animals they were going to use in their offerings. The moneychangers and those who sold animals for temple sacrifices provided a necessary service. That was not the problem. The problem was where they were doing it.
There were facilities provided on the Mount of Olives for the moneychangers and those who sold animals to ply their trade. We can assume that it was much more convenient to set up shop nearer the temple and I am sure business was better too. By the time of the incident quoted above, the buying and selling were being done not merely near the temple. They were now transacting within the temple complex, in the outer courts. This was distracting people from the very purpose they had come to the temple for — to meet with God. And Jesus/God was chair-throwing mad.
So what does this tell us about God’s concerns? This is how the passage continues:
The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:14–16 NIV)
After Jesus drove out the moneychangers and animal sellers He went on to demonstrate what the temple really was for. It was to be a place where people met with God so that they could receive forgiveness, healing and teaching, and where they could worship Him. And this had been lost in the din and the smells of the buying and selling.
God is the gracious Father (Luke 15), always waiting for His children to come home so that He can forgive them and restore them. He wants to do this. It is His heart. He cares about this deeply. And so He gets angry at anything that prevents or distracts people from coming to Him. Jesus was angry and the strength of His anger was an indication of the strength of the Father’s love for us.
Many who read this column are celebrating the Lunar New Year. For many of us this includes going home for family reunions. Some of us are blessed to have family lovingly waiting for us. Jesus got mad in Matthew 21:12-13 and I am glad He did. It is a powerful reminder that there is someone always waiting for us to come home so that He can bless us. I respond in worship.
A blessed Lunar New Year to all who are celebrating from all of us at Graceworks!!