Summary: When we come to church, remember to get to the right focus - God, and get to the right agenda - prayer, communion with God.
We are looking at a rare glimpse of Jesus today – His anger over something He is passionate about. It pays for us to take note. If it can drive Him to behave in such a way, it must be something we need to take note of today.
The Temple was a good thing. God commanded the people of Israel to build this temple. It wasn’t their idea; it was God’s idea. God commanded Israel to worship in the temple and offer their sacrifices there. The people flocked to the Temple for major Feasts – we saw numerous psalms written about the joy of going to the Temple, the songs of ascent.
But the Temple was always a tool, nothing more. It was a tool for encountering the God of the Temple, a tool for finding forgiveness from God. The Temple was a tool for worship, a tool for praise, a tool for repentance, a place for prayer.
What makes a church a church is her Head, the Lord Himself. There are lots of things we can do in a church – worship, ministry, fellowship, and teaching – but all these doesn’t matter if God is not in it. Our relationship with God anchors all these. Without Him, the place is a clubhouse. Without Him, it would be just a marketplace.
We saw this in Mark 11. Lots of activities but no one is touched by God. People have been distracted. God is no longer central in the Temple. Religious activities have taken over the place of God.
Beware. Don’t let activities distracts us. Evaluate your day’s activities each day or your week’s activities each week. If we do not look at what we are doing, over time, we run the danger of missing our focus in life. We hold on to outward forms but lose its essence. That’s the problem with these people. Their focus has shifted.
(1) Get the Right Focus - God
We go to church, no longer because of God or because we want to commune with Him. For some, going to the Temple has become a business trip, a money-making opportunity. Especially at this time just before the Passover – they expect an influx of pilgrims arriving to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. People will come to the Temple to offer sacrifices.
God is placed on the sidelines as the merchants sought their own profit and people focused more on the sacrifices and other preparation for the Passover. Anyway, it was a religious event.
If the merchants were interviewed that day, they might have said, “We’re providing an essential service to the people. How else are they going to get the required animal to sacrifice?”
They were right, in those times if you live a distance away from Jerusalem, you can’t be bringing your sheep through that distance, down the street of the city to the Temple. The animals and doves were sold for sacrificial purposes. “We’re here to help the people!” And of course, they charge exorbitant prices.
The money-changers would have said the same. “Everybody has to pay the temple tax, and people can exchange the common currency - Greek or Roman currency – for the half-shekel necessary to pay the temple tax. We help people with their currency problems." Again they were making big profits. That’s why it a “den of robbers”.
Everything looks and feels religious, especially in the weeks surrounding the Passover feast. There was nothing wrong with the glamour and joy of the festivities, but it was simply not what coming to the Temple was all about.
The priests, the merchants, and the people have been so used to having the Temple around, right in their city, but the God of the Temple had not truly entered their lives. They had substituted a personal relationship with God – for a cold institution and blind obedience to rituals. The Temple was built to point the people to God. As John Wesley would say, “They had the form of faith, but not the real stuff.”
(2) Get the Right Agenda - PRAYER
Jesus: “My house will be called a house of prayer.” The focus is God. The agenda is prayer. Communion with God is our main agenda. It’s not the rituals, it’s the relationship!
By allowing the courts of the Gentiles to become a noisy, smelly marketplace, they have obstructed what God has provided – for the Gentiles to have the chance to draw near to God. Jesus: It ought to be a house of prayer for all nations!
In the celebration and bustle, they had lost the meaning and purpose to which the event points to. Rather than bringing the people closer to God, the focus has now been drawn away from God to gratifying self.
Have we perhaps fallen into the same trap? We have to be careful not to exchange entertaining music for worship, or lots of activities for serving God. It is so easy for the Temple to get clogged up with the wrong baggage – religious activities. It is so easy for our life to be cluttered with religious activities, and having these activities takes the place of God in our life.