John tells us his disciples would remember this day. Look at verse 22. The disciples remember Jesus’ cryptic statement after Jesus rose again on the third day, and they finally understand what he meant. The temple was his body. He died and rose again! The disciples remembered what he said, and they believed that Scripture was being fulfilled in him.
What happens next? We don’t know specifically. Apparently the religious leaders choose not to act, not to arrest Jesus. Jesus and the disciples walk out from the huge mess, and they go about their day. In John’s telling of the story, the scene changes. Look at verse 23.
Jesus and the disciples remain in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, and during that time Jesus’ ministry continues unimpeded. Interestingly, he does more miraculous signs, and more people believe in him, which is a throwback to verse 11. In verse 11, at the wedding in Cana, which we studied here and here, where Jesus changed the water into wine, the disciples saw that one miraculous sign and placed their faith in him. Now in Jerusalem, he does more miraculous signs and many people believe in him.
But in verses 24-25, John tells us something about Jesus’ heart and mind. He tells us that Jesus is cautious. While it sounds great that people are placing their faith in him, he is concerned about entrusting himself to the people. What is he concerned about? The people could seek to make him king, and it is not the right time. They could be just gushing over him because they saw his miracles, meaning that they could be focused on what they could get out of him, how he could benefit them, rather than truly placing their faith in him and his mission, his value system.
What about us? Is there any significance in this event for us? What does it matter? Was Jesus’ dramatic prophetic protest in the temple just a waste of time?
Jesus’ act of cleansing the temple matters because there is a great value in prophetic signs. Jesus took action to show the truth. In the temple, Jesus observed injustice. God’s heart was for the Gentiles to have a place to pray and worship. But the religious leaders were trampling on that desire. An injustice was taking place, so Jesus enacts a prophetic sign to show the situation as it really was, unjust, against God’s heart. You can bet the news of Jesus’ actions spread through the city and around the country lightning fast. How many people understood the prophetic sign and remembered it? We know at least a few people remembered.
John tells us the disciples remembered, which I mentioned above. Also, the religious leaders also remembered. They used Jesus’ words about rebuilding the temple in three days as evidence in his trial, blaming him for being an insurrectionist. So you could say that this temple cleansing was part of the reason that got Jesus killed.
What I think is really important to ask, though, is this: Did the people understand why Jesus cleansed the temple? Did anyone get the message about God’s heart for the Gentiles to have a place for worship? Did anyone think, “You know, I think Jesus is right…we shouldn’t have a marketplace in the temple. I think I’m going to speak to the religious authorities about this.”?
I doubt it. I suspect the next day the animal sellers and money-changers were probably right back at it providing their goods and services in the court of the Gentiles. So let’s not miss what we can learn from this story. What do we see that can apply to us?
Jesus was so connected to his father, he knew that the temple marketplace would grieve God’s heart. If it grieved God, and it did, Jesus also felt that grief. What was it that grieved God? An unnecessary barrier to worship had been added. The Jews were not fans of the Gentiles, so they likely didn’t take the court of the Gentiles seriously. You can imagine them saying, “Oh, we can allow people to sell animals and exchange money there, because the Gentiles don’t matter anyway.” There was a barrier that made it difficult or impossible for the Gentiles to worship. This was an ethnic problem. If you are the right ethnicity you could worship. If you are not Jew, you can’t worship. Have we created barriers so some people cannot worship God?
Jesus was about breaking barriers, though. He wanted people to experience freedom. And that leads us to the second thing. What barriers are in the way of our worship? What barriers have we erected in our lives keeping us from worship? What barriers have we erected so those on the margins cannot meet God, cannot worship God? What have we allowed to clutter our ability to pray, to worship, to sit with God? I’m not talking about a building. I’m talking about the pattern of our lives.
One blockade I believe some contemporary Christians have allowed to be built in their lives, keeping them for worshiping God, is political and social ideology. In the last five years, I’ve had numerous conversations with people who have said to me that unless I preach about _____ or say specific words about ______ they will look to worship elsewhere. They have been from both conservative perspectives and from progressive or liberal perspectives. I have responded that as Christians, we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Jesus is our King, therefore we focus on him and the mission of his Kingdom. I believe that means we will bring theology to bear on politics and social issues. But the church should be a place for all. Red and Blue should love one another in the family of faith. Sadly, some cannot accept that kind of selfless unity, and they have moved on. I believe they have allowed ideology to block worship.
Is there some way our worship, your worship, has become polluted and needs to be cleansed? Examine your heart, your mind.
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
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