John 2:13 – 16 When it was time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
Many years ago, I went on a mission trip to Mexico. We traveled in buses thirteen hours past the Mexico border. Up and down the sides of mountains we went, over rough terrain, until we arrived at our destination – a town called Acoxcatlan. When we arrived, we set up camp, some of us sleeping on cots in their town library, others sleeping on the bus. Rather than take enough food for our journey, we bought from the local market. It would have been too difficult to carry enough food for the entire group for that long journey. Fortunately for us, the people of Acoxcatlan were generous, often giving us what we needed, or charging us a fair price.
Passover was celebrated once a year at the temple in Jerusalem. Since every Jewish male was expected to attend, many people had to travel a long, long way. Most people didn’t bring animals with them for sacrifice. Even if the animal was perfectly healthy and acceptable for sacrifice at the beginning of the journey, chances were pretty high that the animal would sustain some kind of injury on the trip. So it was more practical to simply purchase an animal once they arrived in Jerusalem.
People also brought with them different forms of currency, and this had to be exchanged as well. As you can imagine, many of the local people saw this as their opportunity to get rich. Instead of selling animals for a reasonable price, they charged exorbitant prices. Instead of changing the money at the fair rate of exchange, they charged well above the current exchange rate. It was highway robbery, right there in the temple courts.
The salespeople and money changers were providing a necessary service. But they were doing it with greedy, selfish ambition. They were taking advantage of people who were simply trying to serve their Lord, and be obedient to Him. Not only that, but they were taking up so much space that people couldn’t even get through! It was not a very worshipful atmosphere, to say the least.
Some people have taken this passage to mean that we shouldn’t sell anything at church. But I don’t see it that way. I don’t think Jesus was angered at the services provided. Rather, I think His righteous indignation stemmed from the fact that His Father’s house was being used to take advantage of people, and that it’s primary purpose – to be a place of worship – had gotten lost in the shuffle.
Our churches should never be used as places to promote our own selfish ambitions. If a musician or speaker wants to sell books or cd’s in the lobby, let them! Those books and cd’s will bless people. But if they are charging more than the local book stores would charge, that is too much. The sin lies in taking advantage of people, and in becoming a distraction so that people can’t worship. The house of God should be a place that cares for the poor, heals the hurting, loves those who need love. It should be a place to meet with God. But even today, many of our churches aren’t living up to those standards. Like the temple on that dreaded day, our churches have become places for people to feed their hungry, greedy ambitions. They have gotten cluttered with programs and propaganda. And would-be worshipers have a hard time making their ways through the clutter of it all.
But let’s take our eyes off the church itself for a moment, shall we?
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own,” 1 Corinthians 6:19. If our bodies are called the temple of God, we had better examine our hearts! Are my motives pure and selfless, or do I take advantage of others for my own advancement? Have I left a clear path for worship, or have I allowed my life to become cluttered with things that aren’t pleasing to God?
Perhaps those animal sellers and money changers just got swept away with the prospect of making a little extra money. After all, everyone else was doing it. In the same way, if we aren’t careful, we can get swept away in self-promotion, in meetings and programs and clutter, and before we know it, we find that our God is not pleased. I don’t know about you, but I want to catch those heart-mistakes before God sees fit to point them out. I’m so glad He is patient. I’m so glad He forgives me when I mess up.
And I’m so glad that, though He doesn’t require perfection from us, He does require pure hearts.
Dear Father, Please help me to clear out my heart, leaving only what is pleasing to You.
For a second cup, see: Deuteronomy 16:1 – 6; Luke 2:49; Psalm 69:9; Matthew 12:38, 26:61, 27:40; Psalm 69:9
***Please remember my dad in your prayers. His biopsy is this coming Thursday morning. Thanks!