4th March 2018 Nijmegen 5.00 p.m.
House of prayer for all nations
Rev Dr Jos M. Strengholt
If Jesus would come here today, would he kick us out for making the house of his father into a den of robbers?
There is nothing wrong with talking about money in church. Jesus preached about money, the apostles wrote about it, and money is a very important part of life. All of life is under God’s wings, including our money matters. We talk about our offerings, the need for money, and we report about matters related to money. In our council meeting last week we discussed money, and we agreed that we must talk more about it, as the church really needs your financial support!
So what to do with that story of Jesus cleansing the temple, what lesson is there for us?
1. Expect prayer – find business
Jesus and his disciples had travelled from Capernaum in Galilee to Jerusalem, during the annual feast of Passover. This was the time all Jews had to go to Jerusalem, and they came from all over the world. It must have been extremely busy.
We know from the Jewish historian Jospehus that in those Passover weeks, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims would go to Jerusalem, from all over the world, both Jews and heathens that appreciated the religion of Israel.
During Passover, all Jews had also to pay their annual temple tax, and for this, large numbers of moneychangers were needed. Temple tax had to be paid in exact halfshekels of the Sanctuary, or ordinary Galilean shekels.
Heliopolis 2012; AN 2018
Currencies of the countries many pilgrims came from, Persian, Tyrian, Syrian, Sermons
Egyptian, Greek, and Roman money, that was seen as unclean and could not be used for paying the temple tax. It had to be changed into Israel’s pure money first. The business of money changing was fully in the hands of the priests; and they did earn a lot in this way. Do you smell the corruption of the system?
And not only did all people need to pay their temple tax, they also had to buy great numbers of animals, because each family had to sacrifice an animal in the temple. People had to pay these animals in that only currency the temple allowed, and the faithful who came from all over the world had to change money for this as well.
And the animals, guess whose animals were the only animals sold in the temple? Yes, indeed, the animals were owned by the priests and their families – did they not have the duty to ensure that the animals were pure and perfect? They managed the exchange rates and they could charge lucrative amounts for the animals.
Jesus was very angry. ‘You have made my Father’s house into a market’, he shouted at the business people in the Temple.
There were sheep, and cows, and stalls of moneychangers everywhere! The place that was meant for prayer was a big stinking, noisy, mess.
So Jesus made a whip, and threw the people and the animals out. The temple was intended for worship, not for business, is what Jesus underlines. And in our Christian life it is good to reminded us of this. Nothing is wrong with money, but the focus of our life should not be on money but on obeying and worshipping God.
And especially the church, the place where we come together for worship, is for the worship of God, not for the worship of the god called mammon. As leadership in church we must be extremly careful to be above reproach and to not use its position for personal gain.
The disciples remembered a verse from the Psalms when they saw the zeal of Jesus for the honor of God in the Temple: ‘The zeal for your house consumes me’ (Psalm 69:9). The rest of that verse in the Psalm says: ‘The insults of those who insult you, fall on me.’
God’s name was insulted by the temple business, and Jesus saw this as an insult to himself. Hence his anger.
2. House of prayer for all nations
But the anger of Jesus was not only because the house of God was not treated with respect – there was a very different aspect to it that we easily overlook. He was not just angry because there were money stalls and dirty stinking animals – he was especially angry because those were put in the area that was reserved for non-Jewish believers in God who came to worship in the Temple.
All stalls were in the outermost court – that is the court of the gentiles. And the Sermons noise of the salesmen, the noise of the animals and the enormous stench made worship for gentiles impossible.
Jesus was particularly angry that the Jews in the Temple did not care at all about the gentiles and their relationship with God. While God’s desire was for those foreigners to serve and wor- ship him in Jerusalem. I read from Isaiah 56.4-7:
For thus says the LORD: [The] foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, […] these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.
So when Jesus was angry, his focus was not only on the fact that the Temple should be a place for prayer, but especially, that outsiders were not welcomed there. All people are welcome in the house of God.
Is our way of being church, our community, welcoming to outsiders? Or do we really chase them away with habitrs and behaviour? Should we change things in order to make outsiders really feel welcome in our midst, to worship the Lord together? The leaders of the temple were not happy at all that they were challenged by Jesus. They were fuming and they asked, ‘What is your authority to do this ’?
If you think we do things in church that make it hard for outsiders to join, please challenge me, challenge your council. You have the authority to do this, if we do things that keep people away, or if we do not do the things that attract people to join us in our worship of God.
3. End of the temple
When the authority of Jesus was challenged, he answered the Jewish leaders with a riddle.
“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
The critical Jewish leaders could not understand what Jesus said – and that is not strange. The disciples of Jesus only after his resurrection realized what he had been speaking about – he spoke of his own body – the real Temple of God. The real place where we can find God.
But the Jewish leaders thought he spoke of the buildings of the temple. According to Sermons
Josephus, the one I mentioned before, king Herod had begun with the beautification and renewal of the temple in the year 19 or 20 BC.
So now, when Jesus was in the temple, for 46 years work had been going on in the temple to make it very impressive. That was a long time, at great cost, with hard labor.
And Jesus spoke of tearing it down, and even stranger, of rebuilding it in three days? Impossible!
But Jesus spoke of his own body. In other places in the Gospel we also see that Jesus knew about his coming death but also that it would not be permanent; after three days he would be raised. This is stressed in all of our Gospel versions.
And Jesus, consistently, always refused to give miraculous signs to those who asked for it. He only pointed to his own death and resurrection after three days as the true sign that he was send by God. That is central in the Gospel.
And this is the answer to the question of his authority. That he was send by God would be shown by God raising him from the dead.
The Jewish masses later quoted the words of Jesus, but in a distorted way. They quoted him as saying: ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands’ (Mark 14.58).
Before the crucifixion of Jesus, this was one of the accusations against him. And later, when Stephen was arrested, he was also accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the temple. (Acts 6.14)
Jesus never said that he would destroy the temple. The temple was actually finished in the year 64 AD, over 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But a few years later, in 70AD, it was destroyed by the Roman armies.
But still, there was a link between the destruction of the temple and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Fact is, that the death and resurrection of Jesus did mean the destruction of the temple as a viable religious system.
Leon Morris, an Australian Anglican priestt, in his Reflection on the Gospel of John [Vol I (Grand Rapids, 1986), p. 85], says this:
After Jesus had offered the sacrifice that would put away the sins of the world, what place would there be for a temple in which the central act was the offering of the bodies of animals on the altar? When Jesus died, the temple died as the center of a religious system. Where do we find God? In a temple? In a church building? In nature? Our Lord Jesus Christ taught that He himself was the ultimate temple – the place where God is to be found. A church building, and nature, can point us to God, but not more than that. We truly and only find him in Jesus Christ.
In serving God, we must take care that money is not a stumbling block. Our money, and our buildings, are assets that we must use well in the service to God – to point people the way to God – through Jesus Christ. Not for our own pleasure only. Not using our money for serving God is wrong. To misuse money that is donated for serving God is just as wrong.
The sad fate of the Temple of Israel is a graphic image of the fact that even what was once to the glory of God, can be turned into a shameful thing.
We devalue our possessions, buildings, our organizations, our churches, those are all good in themselves, if we do not have an open heart and open doors for all people who are outside our churches and if we do not use all we have to glorify God.
Our service to God should never exclude other people. God wants all people to know Him and to serve him. What about your life, my life? How do our words point to him? How do we use our possessions for his service and for pointing people to God through Jesus Christ?
What we must do as a church to be a safe haven for more people to find God, to meet with God? May we never be a stumbling block for anyone. The church has a mission to the world around us, and if we mess with that, maybe we should expect Jesus with his whip.