March 11, 2012
Third Sunday in Lent
John 2:13-25

“Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market” (John 2:16).

If you tend to think of Jesus only as the meek and lowly Galilean, take a closer look at this Scripture passage. Jesus moved about the temple courtyard with a whip in His hand and with indignation in His voice. He kicked over the tables of the moneychangers and drove their livestock from the sacred precincts.

Everyone from merchants to pilgrims ducked behind columns or scrambled behind the steps as cattle stampeded, doves flew and coins of all nations were scattered. Startled pilgrims looked at each other in amazement. Some probably nodded in agreement as this rabbi from Galilee did what they had long wished someone would do.

What exactly did Jesus protest? Three things in particular offended Him and ought still to offend us.

I. Jesus protested religion made convenient.
The law provided in certain cases for those who lived so far from the temple that it was hardly possible to bring a lamb all the way to Jerusalem. The priests who certified the animal without blemish probably found some disqualifying feature in order to help their business. It was the price of convenience.

However, religion can be made too easy. True, Jesus paid it all and there is nothing we can add to His sacrifice; but are there no duties incumbent on discipleship today?

There was a man who for years had no use for God, then had a change of heart and decided to serve God. His pastor suggested a position as an usher to start. He declined, saying he would serve God only in an advisory capacity.

When King David wanted to buy the threshing floor of Araunah for a place of worship, the owner offered to give to the king. David refused the offer saying, “No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24, NIV).

It is more convenient for a church to hire a professional staff to do the soul winning, outreach visitation, hospital calls and leading activities for every age group. It is convenient—maybe too convenient.

II. Jesus protested religion made commercial and corrupt.
The moneychangers were wrong to be in the temple courts. They looked on the thronging pilgrims as customers. Every transaction had its little commission or collubos as they called it. The priests had the franchise on approving animals as fit for sacrifice. Secular historians of the era write of the collusion between priests and merchants. If you brought your own lamb and a priest declared it unacceptable, there would be someone near to take the animal off your hands for maybe half price. Then it could be sold to the priest who would certify it acceptable and ready to sell at premium price. You might actually buy back the same animal—for a price.

Some who saw Jesus’ protest were indignant. Perhaps others rejoiced. To the devout Jew, Passover was the highest and most holy of all sacred days. To certain calculating merchants, it was a holiday and the pinnacle of business opportunity. Thirty days before the feast, the moneychangers opened their stalls countrywide. Every faithful Hebrew was required to pay his annual temple tribute in the official half shekel of the sanctuary. In this crossroads of the world, Persian, Greek, Roman, Syrian and Egyptian coins circulated. As the pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem, so did the moneychangers.

Did you think 21st century entrepreneurs first discovered there is money to be made in religion? Religion is big business! Religion sells. TV and publishing religion pays. The danger is that commercializing religion tends to corrupt it in the interest of making it attractive to the masses. If the old blood sacrifice offends, out goes the blood. If eternal retribution is unthinkable for moderns, we won’t think of it!

III. Jesus protested against religion made clannish.
Jesus’ words in this text have their source in Isaiah 56:7: “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” When Mark told this same story, he quoted that verse and reported that Jesus added, “But you have made it a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). The sons of Annas the high priest, say historians, were operating these bazars in the Court of the Gentiles. As if Gentiles didn’t matter to God!

Does not the church today need to hear again this strong word of Jesus? I cannot believe God is pleased with churches that turn inward and refuse to reach out. Will we reach across ethnic and racial boundaries and labor to bring them in? Zeal for God’s House consumed Jesus. Shall modern churches be zealous to defend the status quo?

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