SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/Getting the message/Matthew 21:12-17
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 1:00 AM
In verse 12 we are told that after Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and benches of those selling doves. Jesus gives us a couple of reasons for his intense action. One reason is that they had made the temple into a "den of robbers." Pilgrims coming from all over Israel and other lands needed sacrifices to offer. The sacrifices needed to be approved by the temple priests. It was convenient to wait until arriving in Jerusalem to purchase an animal. Buying and selling took place in the Gentile area of the temple precincts.
The problem was the opportunity for extortion and cheating was being taken advantage of by sellers and priests. Jesus turning over the benches selling doves indicates the price gouging extended down even to those who were so poor they had to purchase doves to offer as sacrifices. Money changers would trade currency approved for temple offerings for other forms of currency. They too were profiting from the mass amount of temple activity and religious zeal. All of this was done in the name of worshipping the Lord. But it did not please the Lord.
A second reason for the outburst of displeasure by the Lord was that the temple was to be a "house of prayer." Notice that Jesus drives out both the buyers and the sellers. Even if no one was being cheated, the temple area was not the place to make business transactions. It was to be dedicated exclusively to the worship of the Lord. We could draw a lot of application of our propensity to corrupt the worship of the Lord today, but it is important to first recognize that many will perish despite their being religious and regularly worshipping the Lord. The Lord is not pleased with just any worship. Even if we have no visible corruption as was the scene at the temple, he looks at the heart; the motives and intent of worship.
J. C. Ryle makes some important comments: "False worship is a great danger. What Christ does here in the temple is what he will do to the visible church when he returns. He will cleanse it of every false worshipper. He will drive out worshippers of money. No worldly people will remain; neither the vain, nor irreverent. Those who remain will be true worshippers of Christ."
This point is further illustrated when we see that after this Jesus healed the blind and lame who came to him. Notice that some people are expelled (the buyers and sellers) but other people (the blind and lame) are welcomed and healed. The proud (religious but proud) and the worldly are expelled but the afflicted are welcomed. Now we know this doesn't mean the blind and lame were not sinners. The Scriptures teaches us that there are none righteous and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But there is an important analogy being made by the Lord.
The blind and lame were in need. They came seeking mercy. They came as those dependent on the healing mercy of the Lord. This attitude is the foundation of true worship. Healing the blind and lame was one of the signs of the Messiah (Isaiah 35). When we come to the Messiah or Christ we must come as those in need; desperate need. We are in need of forgiveness of sins which is a far greater need than the blind or lame. The good news is Christ meets that need. If you are to truly worship the Lord it must be as one who knows he meets this need. It is from death, (permanent death) Christ delivers. Such deliverance is worthy of worship.
Notice also that when the children shout praises to Jesus (as the Messiah) the religious leaders object to it (verse 16). Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 8: 'Out of the mouths of children and infants you have ordained praise." Psalm 8 is about the glory and majesty of the Creator; the Lord over all. The point is that there is no true worship of God that does not go through Christ. The religious leaders cannot reject Christ and still worship or belong to God. Neither can you or I. "No one come to the Father except through me", Jesus claims. The positive side of that is we can come to the Father through him. But it must be through Him, humbly accepting forgiveness. Sometimes it takes more humility to accept forgiveness than it does to ask for it. But if we will, we can offer true, heartfelt worship.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Union, MS.