Summary: What is the difference between good worship and bad worship?
What is the difference between good worship and bad worship? In our previous text we considered the elements of good worship that the people, knowingly or unknowingly offered to Jesus. It was good worship from the heart and the head. It was given out of sincere joy and desire to honor Jesus, and it was done in the appropriate manner and with the right words. One can be sincere and yet offer inappropriate worship; likewise, one can be theologically correct without sincere desire to please Christ. Good worship is sincere worship offered in the way that God has authorized.
If the previous text presented a case study for good worship, our text this morning offers one for bad worship.
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
The commentator, Mark Lane, describes this verse as the “quiet before the storm.” It is late in the day. He has just enough time to take in a quick observation. Does he see something that disturbs him? If so, this verse does not give it away. The next verses let us know that Jesus is not in a happy frame of mind.
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
We will come back to this incident next Sunday. Let me simply comment that this is not merely the case of a poor tree being in the wrong place at the wrong time – i.e. Jesus venting his bad mood. It is a living parable; it is a lesson acted out – Israel has not produced the fruit that it ought and judgment is coming. We are about to witness one act of judgment.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.
Evidently Jesus did not like what he saw the previous day and was intent on dealing with the matter first thing in the morning.
He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
Let’s try to get a mental picture of what is happening. First of all, understand that this incident does not take place in the temple building. I keep visualizing everyone being inside a building. They are not. They are outside on what are called the temple courts. Only the priests may enter the actual temple sanctuary.
So, where are the sellers and their benches? They are actually far away from the sanctuary and the court where the sacrifices would be made. The temple mount is huge – approximately 35 ½ acres. The moneychangers and sellers of doves and sacrificial animals are most likely situated in the southern end of the temple mount under and near the portico called the Royal Portico. A portico is basically a porch. This “porch” is 197 yards long and 35 yards deep. The roof over this porch was supported by 162 marble columns 27 feet high. It took three men to stretch their arms around a column. The portico was at least 200 yards away from the temple sanctuary and area for sacrifices.
Now then, who are these moneychangers and animal sellers? The moneychangers are exactly what the term means. They exchanged local currency for foreign currency. You are a Jew from Italy who has traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover. You want to pay the temple tax, as well as purchase a lamb for the feast coming up, but the temple officials and retailers only take the coins minted in Tyre. Those are the accepted local coins. You go to a moneychanger who gives you the equivalent of Tyrian coins for your Roman coins, plus an amount for doing business. You may now pay your tax and buy your animals. Moneychangers engaged in a reputable and valuable business.
That leaves the “dove sellers.” They also provided a needed service, especially for the poor. Commonly, where the levitical law prescribes types of sacrifices to be made with a lamb, provision is made for the poor to substitute a dove or two doves. For example, Jesus’ parents offered two doves in place of the lamb normally sacrificed after the birth of a child. Probably more than doves were being sold. John records an earlier incident of Jesus purging the temple, and he mentions the sellers of oxen and sheep as well.