This is the second in 3 parts. The first part is here.
So last time we thought about this scene from the perspective of the disciples. I wonder if we walked into the church with Jesus today, would it be the same?
Just a short warning, I am a pastor and desperately want to feel the conviction of my LORD, so I’m really trying to get into the skin of a Pharisee… as a result I may be long-winded and I am making up part of this story for the sake of feeling the character. Also, I am trying to identify Jesus in the way the Pharisees saw him that day.
Let’s begin today in Matthew’s account. It begins in Chapter 21. Take note, unlike John’s gospel, Matthew shows that Jesus had been around with his disciples for quite some time. Matthew places the account later in his book to show the reader, Jesus has been at work for some time and now He is bringing the message to the door of the Temple. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, or a colt. This is significant because only the King was supposed to ride on a donkey/colt. The people cry out “Hosanna!” which means, “Salvation is Here!” So there is the set up to this account. Let’s see what it would look like from the view of the religious leaders.
You’re a pastor working in your study. Perhaps you’ve even been counseling a young couple about holiness and purity. You strive to teach your people of holiness and the goodness of God. All week you’ve been preparing for the big event this week. It’s Passover! You have spent at least 30 minutes in prayer every day and you have laid your people before the Lord. This morning as you work in your study, your mind drifts to the preparation you must do for the Passover. Your heart is suddenly heavy as you contemplate the spiritual state of the people. Why can’t we understand your mercy God? You think about the myriad of things you want to change. The program times, the fellowship opportunities, the money changers, even the ones who sell the sacrificial offerings at the door. Maybe we don’t need those, you think to yourself. Your heart begins to race and adrenaline begins to flow thinking about the changes you would make to this system. You consider planting a synagogue in Babylon… then you remember Mr. Johnson’s son Kyle and refocus the missionary zeal on these people.
But, how would the Johnsons get their lamb for sacrifice… I mean seriously, he is a fuller (that’s a dry-cleaner), he doesn’t have any other place to buy the sacrifice and we can offer them at a reduced cost. You convince yourself that this is actually a necessary service and disregard the nagging. Or maybe you’ve even thought, “That needs to change, but change takes time. So we’ll just start changing it slowly. I’ll talk to the leadership and float the idea by them. Then maybe in a year, we can move those things outside the temple.” Still heavy from the burden of the state of your people, you glace up and see the morning sun casting a faint glow as it begins its assent into the sky. The other priests are arriving, that young annoying priest is offering to make you some coffee obviously not realizing you have a cup already half empty on your desk. Wave him away and throw one more prayer up to the LORD for the day. “Father, would You please change the hearts of these people!? Would you change mine? I love you, help me please. Save us.” Push back from the desk, rub your knees, sigh a deep cleansing sigh, then stand. You’ve done this every day for years. Chief priest is a big calling that requires a great deal of discipline.
As you walk out to meet the other priests and pick up in the preparations where you left off the day before, you force a smile. Remember when you were loaded with zeal for change. Remember when the people were your greatest concern and not the ritual. The ritual! If the LORD would just change something! You walk out of the small office into the large foyer. Oh no, here comes Fred. You see him from about thirty yards off storming up to complain about something. Doesn’t he know it’s Passover! He always complains right before you’re about to administer some sort of Holy ritual! Fortunately for you, your young priest intercepts him to talk to Fred about the need for more silver around the altar for the priests to use.
As the day has progressed it has been a good day. The priests are in the right frame of mind and everything is running smoothly. Sure, you heard the commotion earlier about this Jesus and his disciples running around playing Savior. But Messiahs had come and gone. After all, Honi was an equally charismatic prophet and he had faded into history. But the power of God and His temple remains! Suddenly, the annoying one comes running to you panting and spewing some nonsense a whip and tables being turned over.
Annoying priest: I told you we shouldn’t have let that guy come in here, he’s out there turning tables over and kicking out OUR money changers.
Chief priest: You’re exaggerating, calm down boy.
Annoying priest: If you had just let me put up the ticket entry booth like I wanted to and charge admission, none of this would have…
Chief priest: NO TICKETS TO WORSHIP! Seriously!? You bring that up now? It’s Passover!
A crowd has gathered and several of your closest advisors clamor for you to do something… so you go. As you walk to the courtyard, you see a mad man waving a whip around and driving people and animals out of the temple. For a moment you think this is some practical joke put on by the other priests, but no one is smiling. Your eyes search the crowd frantically seeking a face that might identify an instigator to this entire event. It is obvious that the mad man is acting alone. You see Peter, James, Andrew, and John with a few other men running off to the side and muttering, “don’t say anything about the bread!” They had not been seen in temple for a while, and you had just excused their absence as needing some time for soul searching. But here they are with this mad man! Then you see Kyle. Kyle is only about 13 years old and he has tears running down his face. Clearly this mad man had driven away the sacrifice that the Johnsons were going to buy.
Chief Priest: THAT’S ENOUGH!
Jesus flips another table and screams, “MY HOUSE IS TO BE A HOUSE OF PRAYER!”
Chief Priest: STOP IT!
Emboldened by rage for Kyle you stomp forward as the mad man spins and raises his finger toward you. He locks eyes with you and everything is suddenly gone, just you and Him.
Jesus: YOU HAVE MADE MY FATHER’S HOUSE A DEN OF THEVES!
Something in his eyes breaks you. Your heart begins to shatter as you hear the words of Jeremiah 7:11 pierce your soul. Could it be that you missed something? Could it be that your inclinations to remove these trappings of religious activity were correct and you simply should have followed your leanings? Could it be that God really wanted you to lead the people to Him and all these religious conveniences were getting in the way? In order to please our people have we set forward a religious system that caters to a consumeristic mindset and fails to challenge the core of their hearts?
Stunned that anyone could speak to you piercing your soul so deeply, you turn to see Kyle. You had hoped he would run to you for a comforting hug, not because he needed it but because you did and if he came to you, you could continue to look strong in the face of such turmoil. But Kyle didn’t run to you, the mad man knelt down almost instantaneously calm and locked eyes with Kyle and his parents. “You don’t need that sheep, I have come. Would you like me to tell you about the Kingdom of Heaven?” Kyle nodded his eyes growing big and tears vanishing.
Anger fills your heart and you challenge, “Don’t you hear the people saying Hosanna to you!? That’s wrong!” The moment has passed and you recognize that you can say nothing to regain control of the crowd. Jesus seems not to notice the question and continues to teach the crowd. The crowd was enraptured with him. Some even pushed right past you, their priest, to get a closer seat as the mad man transformed into the most engaging teacher you’d ever seen.
You hear a sing song voice over your shoulder say, “Tick-et Booths.” Resisting the urge to punch him in the nose, you spin to see your team of priests is standing behind you. They’re grumbling.
Priest 1: Where is Niccodemus! Never standing with the rest of us!
Young Priest: Who is this crazy man with a whip! We are not in the temple of doom and he is clearly not Harrison Ford!
Priest 2: We’ve got to stop this mad man!
Young priest: Come on! Not even a chuckle at my Indian Jones reference!? Seriously though, this guy is gonna be a problem
Annoying priest: Well, what are you going to do? (singing) Tick-et booths!
Priest 1: He must die. Look at this crowd, even the Johnsons hang on his every word!
Priest 2: false prophets are to be stoned! How dare He prevent people who need sacrifices from buying them.
Emboldened by their rage, you contemplate what must be done next! Imagine the internal conflict. This man spoke directly to your soul and yet, you are infuriated and ready to have him stoned because of His disregard for the religious system you’ve worked so hard to serve! He challenges all that you are, and yet, you cannot grasp what needs to change.
We know how the priests respond. Mark 11:18 tells us they plotted to destroy Jesus. How would you respond to Jesus tearing down your religious systems? What if God likes rap? What if Jesus cares very little whether or not you like sermons? What if Jesus thinks small groups are awesome? What if Jesus thinks small groups are silly? What if Jesus thinks your worship is creating a den of robbers? What will you do? The way I see it, we can do one of two things. 1. We can ask Jesus to reveal in us where our areas of false religious worship are and drive them out. Or, number 2, we can drive Jesus out…. (ok, so I admit that was a loaded statement, only a fool would try to drive out the one holding the whip.)