13 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business.
15 When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.
16 And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
17 Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.”
My house is a mess right now, and I am sure I am not alone in that. Our homes all go through periods of messiness, when we have allowed things–piles of mail, stray newspapers, dirty clothing, random shoes or socks–to just accumulate all over the place. It’s a gradual process, and it often starts with us coming home from work and being too tired to put away just one thing in its proper place. Then a week later we look around and ask, “How did my home get this messy?” It doesn’t happen all at once, and it doesn’t happen every week, but it DOES happen–even to the neatest of homes.
Sometimes our time with the Lord gets that way, too. We start cutting short the time we spend in the Bible, or we substitute time reading a devotional for time actually in God’s Word ourselves. Our offerings at church were once heart-felt and generous and cheerful, and then they become selfish and begrudging. Our worship goes through a phase, too, starting off joyful and loving and then becoming rote and mechanical. Perhaps we even get to the point where we say, “Everyone else is singing, so they won’t miss my voice if I don’t feel like singing today.”
Our spiritual lives degrade as our time with the Lord degrades. Paul told the Philippian church:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things.
But those aren’t always the things upon which we meditate, are they? We allow all sorts of ignoble things to creep into our thoughts and our hearts, things that are not of good report–things we’d rather not have reported at all! Our times of relaxation become the center of our lives, and we look forward more to the next episode of our favorite television show than we do to the next twenty minutes we might spend reading the Word of God. Let’s face it: it happens to all of us. It happens to men and women, young and old, spiritual babes and spiritually mature. We must be ever-vigilant to watch out for such messiness in our lives, and we must know what to do about it.
Early in His ministry, Jesus came to Jerusalem for the Passover. Of all the Jewish holidays, Passover was the most important. Passover is a celebration and time of worship to commemorate the salvation of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Even more than that, Passover was a time when all God’s children were to reflect on their own bondage and to remember that God alone can free them from such things. And so Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem for the holiday His Father had instituted–and He found the place filled with merchants and money-changers.
14 So it shall be, when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
15 “‘And it came to pass, when Pharaoh was stubborn about letting us go, that the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of beast. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all males that open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’
16 “It shall be as a sign on your hand and as frontlets between your eyes, for by strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”
And yet, the people of Israel had gone from being shepherds and farmers to being merchants and traders. When foreigners conquered their land, they maintained worship in the temple, but the people no longer had the proper sacrifices to make. They didn’t all have the lambs and the doves and the grain–the firstfruits of their toil–and their money bore the stamp of Caesar and his pagan gods rather than the mark of the children of the Lord God. So a vigorous trade sprang up in the temple courts for people to BUY their sacrifices and to change the gold of Rome for the silver of Israel–all for a slight fee, of course.
8 “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.
9 “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know,
10 “and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’?
11 “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD.
Jesus saw the things that had accumulated in the court of His Father’s house. He saw the greed and the usury, the falsehood and the half-hearted faith, the adultery and idolatry, the pride of self and the lack of fear of the Lord. And He took several cords and bound them together to make a whip, and He overturned the tables and He drove the merchants and the money-changers out of that place.
The court of the tabernacle had once been a place for the men of Israel to gather to worship the Lord their God, a place where they could bring their families to pray toward the mercy seat of God for deliverance and favor. And men had turned this court of God into a den of thieves. If the people of Israel had read their law and lived by it, they would have known that such practice was against God’s will for His people. (Leviticus 25:35-38) But they had allowed the ways of men to take precedence over the will of God. They had taken to washing the outside of the cup rather than purifying the inside. (Matthew 23:25-28)
But the Son of Man has come to drive out the ungodly things from our lives: the greed and the false religion, the self-righteousness and half-faith, the compromises and the laziness. God desires the firstfruits of our hearts, the beginning of our love–not the dregs, not the leftovers, not the bit that is left after we love ourselves and our worldly goods and our mortal life. God desires us to clean the court of His temple.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20
19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
The price that was paid for our salvation is not something we could ever find in that court of merchants and money-changers. The price that was paid is far beyond the worldly value of all the things we think we own. The price of God passing over us and washing us clean of sin is far greater than anything we might provide from our own lives. God provided the spotless Lamb to die for us and to stand before us as intercessor for our redemption. And now all that God asks is that we honor that sacrifice, that we keep the temple of our souls clean and uncluttered, focused wholly upon Him who is worthy of all glory and honor and praise.
Right now, just like the pile of papers on the footstool in front of me, I know that things have accumulated in my life that are not of God. I have slipped and allowed the detritus of worldly life to enter into the court of my heart. I’m pretty sure most of us have allowed such things to get into this temple of God that is our heart and soul. But Jesus is here with a whip of cords, ready to drive it all out if we would just let Him. Better yet, let us join Him and bind our own whip together, turn over all the tables, and drive out the ungodly people and things from our lives. Let us purify this temple so that we may worship the Lord our God in spirit and in truth.
Precious Lord Jesus, enter into this court of my heart and drive out all that is not of You. Cleanse my heart of all the worldly things to which I cling. Drive out the greed and laziness, and help me to find the firstfruits of my faith to bring to the holy throne of God. Amen.