Summary: Part 8 of 8 on Jesus preached during Lent with this message focusing on the transformative power in placing ones life in Jesus’ hands.
Jesus Transformed People and Institutions
Sunday, April 28, 2002
TEXT: Mark 11: 15-17
Last week we completed a series on Celebrating Jesus. As I looked over the whole series and pondered the things that really drew people to Jesus, there is one that I think was missing on the list. I find it very common in conservative publications that they leave one particular aspect of Jesus’ ministry out, and I understand why but it is mentioned 294 times in scripture. In the latter half of all the epistles, there is application to this issue. Fourteen books of the Bible were written on this issue itself. The issue is justice–Jesus’ justice.
Conservative churches aren’t sure how to deal with this because you tend to get a knee-jerk reaction to it. What we hear in our denominational publications are things you would expect to hear on NBC, CBS, CNN, ABC, Newsweek, Time, the U.S. News and World Report. Shouldn’t the church’s voice sound different than the world’s voice? We want to get back to the gospel and back to salvation. In some churches, the entire Bible is reduced to politics and social action. Sometimes we can throw the baby out with the bathwater. Conservative churches tend to re-emphasize the gospel and the Bible, and yet justice is a Biblical issue. Jesus deals with justice during his life, and some of the most beautiful passages in scripture deal with justice:
Amos 5: 24: “Let justice roll like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Micah 6: 8: “What does the Lord require of you but to justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Justice by definition is synonymous with righteousness. They are inter-changeable terms. It simply means to do the right thing. Spike Lee made a movie called, “Do The Right Thing.” That’s what it’s all about. It is the basis by which God judges leaders in the world. It is the purpose for good government. The image of justice in the Bible is the balanced scales, and there is integrity and honesty in those scales. Oddly enough, that’s the symbol for Lady Justice in the United States–a blindfolded statue holding balanced scales. This means that justice is fairness for all, honesty for all, equity for all. And Jesus deals with this.
Now, we are frustrated with how Jesus deals with justice because he does not take on the Roman cast system which was terribly inequitable towards the poor. Jesus does not abolish slavery, Jesus did not overthrow a very corrupt government in Herod’s regime. Jesus had a very unique mission. His purpose was justice, but he knew in order to create a just system, one has to create just people. The only way he could create a just people was to take God’s goodness and righteousness and change the human heart with them. When a person is changed on the inside, they become just on the inside. Then when those people become just on the inside, they can display justice on the outside and become part of a system that is just itself.
Jesus plants the seeds for justice in his ministry. We see an example of his taking on a justice issue in Matthew 11: 15-19. This is the cleansing of the temple, and in this passage Jesus seeks to reform what is going on in the temple in Jerusalem. There are two problems and a lot of surprises.
What was the problem with the money and the animals? Was it the money-changers? So often people use this text to illustrate why there shouldn’t be fund-raising efforts in the church. It’s why little boys and girls shouldn’t run around during church or after church selling pizzas and cookies and stuff. Is this a correct application of this scripture? Is the issue money in the church? If so, we should probably stop taking up a collection. The finance committee wouldn’t like that at all and I am not advocating that at all.
Then what is the issue? Was it the animals in the church? Well, actually no. Both of these things were necessary to the ministry that they were taking on at that time. Imagine if it was required of you to bring an animal sacrifice to the temple–sometimes a bull, sometimes a lamb, sometimes a dove. Imagine that some of you would walk for hundreds of miles to get there and what would happen if your dove flew out of the cage, or the bull was lost, or the lamb became defective? You’ve traveled hundreds of miles and now you have to turn around, go back home and get another sacrificial animal. How inconvenient that would have been.
Therefore, the people decided that it was easier to carry money with them to purchase an animal. It was lighter, and they didn’t have to carry all that feed. They didn’t have to worry about the animal. They just purchased one when they arrived. It was so much more convenient. Likewise, moneychangers were a convenience. Imagine that you traveled so far to make your sacrifice and when you arrived you had to find a bank and determine the real rate and value for your money. You had to shop around to find the best deal. Again, how inconvenient, so they decided to put everything right on location so that when people arrived at the temple it would be so easy to change your money and get your animal and make your sacrifice. Plus, it only took place three times a year. This market only existed three times during the entire year. It really was on par with large-print bulletins or handicapped accessibility or visitor’s parking spaces or having a nursery or kids bulletins. This was just a way for the temple priests to help people in their lives to make worship more convenient for them.