Summary: A look at Jesus cleansing of the temple as a social revolutionary act, calling us to be social revolutionaries also.
Jesus the Social Revolutionary – Portraits of Christ series
Matt. 21:12-17 – Steve Simala Grant, Mar. 16/17
As I was doing some research for this week’s sermon on Jesus cleansing the temple, I kept coming across sermons with titles like “spring cleaning.” Here is one person’s introduction: “Ahhh…spring – that wonderful time of year, the snow is gone, the cold weather is gone; birds sing in abundance; grass starts growing…” And I thought, boy, it sure would be nice to be able to say that here in Edmonton… Is that ever going to happen???
Easter is coming very quickly. Unlike Christmas, where our TVs and radios are constantly announcing how many “shopping days” are left, Easter can sometimes sneak up on us, and catch us unprepared. One of the ways we have been preparing for this season as a church is through a series of sermons focused on Christ, looking at a variety of different portraits of Jesus. The goal is for us to know Him better, love Him deeper, and serve Him greater.
This week begins our focus on the last week of Jesus’ life. We are a little out of order, because the first event is Jesus’ triumphal entry, which we will celebrate next Sunday, Palm Sunday. Today I want to look at the second event that week, the cleansing of the temple by Jesus in Matt. 21:12-17. The parallel passage in Mark makes it clear that this happens on Monday, the day after the triumphal entry.
(read Sat; summarize Sun.)
In order for us to really understand the significance of Jesus’ actions, we need to understand how important the Temple was in Jesus’ day. Quite simply, it was the center: religiously, politically, culturally, even economically. It was even the center for the Israelites’ salvation – we know from Jeremiah that there was an attitude that they could live however they pleased, do whatever they liked, and because they had the temple God would overlook all their sin.
(overhead – Jerusalem in the time of Jesus)
(overhead – Herod’s temple). Contrast God’s prescription in the tabernacle and in Solomon’s temple. What should it be like – Ezekiel’s temple (no walls). Note the ever-growing number of walls erected, the ever pushing back of people from God, the growing distance. Why? Good motive – arose out of extension of purity laws. Even Ezekiel reminds us “This is the law of the temple: All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy. Such is the law of the temple.” (Ezek. 43:12). But God’s holiness was never intended to push people away, but rather to draw us to Him for forgiveness and salvation.
All this background for what purpose? Back to Jesus: what was His concern? “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Mt. 21:13). As always, Jesus brought people back to the significant, the important, instead of the periphery. He got to the heart of it. Even in the construction of the temple, it seems the point is being missed. The point is to worship God. But as we see from the evolution of the architecture, there was a growing pushing away, a growing “professionalization” of worship that was contrary to God’s design.
The source of Jesus’ quote in vs. 13 is significant: it is from Is. 56:7. Jesus didn’t finish the quote – He didn’t need to as those in earshot (the leaders) knew the last 3 words: “for all nations.” The temple was to be a place of prayer “for all nations.” God’s desire was that all people would be drawn to Him, that they would all have opportunity, even under the Jewish sacrificial system, to respond to God. Contrast that with the inscription archeologists discovered on the inner wall: “No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.” Jesus doesn’t challenge the architecture here (though He did earlier talk about the temple being destroyed), but He definitely displays indignation that this place, designed to allow people (and I think it is significant that it is in the court of the gentiles) to worship God, has become a marketplace instead.
Notice that the text says Jesus drove out all who were “buying and selling” (vs. 12). It wasn’t just the merchants Jesus reacts against, but those buying as well. This is good evidence that Jesus is rejecting the whole system, the entire “business” that had evolved around worship. There was an entire enterprise here – buyers and sellers and money changers, with priests overseeing the whole thing. Jesus’ indictment is against this whole system that has sidetracked the main purpose: God’s temple being a house of prayer and worship for all people.
What portrait does this paint of Christ?