“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Mark 11:17
It is the second day of what is now called Holy Week. The previous day Mark records Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in a way prophesied in several places in the Old Testament. He arrived as a king of peace on a donkey, hailed by the crowd who were very aware of the many miraculous signs he had performed including the feeding of the five and four thousand and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The greeting of Jesus arose spontaneously from the crowd of pilgrims, quoting Old Testament scriptures. He was hailed by people with anticipation and excitement but they had not grasped his full identity and the nature of his mission to restore people of all nations to an eternal relationship with God. Mathew records the words of the crowd, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’ Mathew 21.11 The crowd had not understood he was the Son of God.
Jesus had now returned to Jerusalem after a night in Bethany and gone into the temple’s outer courtyard where people of all nations were allowed. It had been turned into a money-making market place with the temple authorities exploiting people from around the known world who had come to seek and worship God at the most holy of Jewish festivals, the celebration of the Passover. A celebration of God freeing his people from slavery. There are several important lessons from this short record of what is called, Jesus’ clearing of the temple.
Jesus opens up equal access to salvation and God. The temple was a place where access to different areas was limited to the privileged few. It was in the area where anybody could come from anywhere in the world to worship. There was virtually no respect for worshippers, no place of quiet to pray. The people who came were treated as people to exploit and make the temple authorities money. There was a total contempt for humble God fearers. Jesus was enraged. In a few days he was to die to open the way for all to freely come to God, have their sins forgiven and receive eternal life. His love for the people of the world and the sanctity of enabling people to pray whatever their origin or status enraged him to forcibly drive out the traders. Sadly and terribly, the organized Christian church has repeated this sin throughout the centuries and continues to do so in a host of ways. The church often creates its own elites valuing one group over another. Various forms of prejudice have not been eradicated from the church. Neither has the use of Christian mission to make prominent figures personally wealthy at great cost to humble, poor church members. Where Christian leaders follow exploitative, self-promoting practices putting obstacles in the way of God seekers, Jesus has shown in the clearing of the temple that it will attract the wrath of God. Salvation is for all nations and all people on a completely equitable basis. It is the sinful human heart that repeatedly tries to raise one group or individual above another.
The authority of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus driving out the money changers and pigeon sellers has often been portrayed as Jesus in an out of control rage. This is not the picture that Mark communicates. Rather this is Jesus acting with great authority. A single man losing his temper and turning over tables would have been quickly physically overpowered by stall holders. Jesus had an authority about him that could not be resisted. He did not drive away the crowd of worshippers from many nations. He cleared out what was wrong and then taught the people. His teaching went to the core of the purpose of the temple it was to be a place of prayer for all nations. He taught with authority and the crowd were astonished by his teaching. Mathew informs us that Jesus called the temple, ‘My house’ a claim to be Divine. Jesus then showed his divine power over sickness by healing all the blind and lame who were brought to him in the temple courtyard. Mathew 21.13-14 The chief priests and scribes heard him and were frightened. v18 What did they have to fear? They feared their own positions were being publicly undermined. They had been humiliated by Jesus clearing the temple. They were afraid that Jesus’ authoritative teaching challenged the huge array of additional demands they had placed upon the people and exposed their own lack of understanding of what we know as the Old Testament. They were frightened by his capacity to miraculously heal when they could not.
The chief priests and scribes behaved as most leaders who have their sins exposed do. They plotted against the truth speaker. v18 As the week progresses we read how they cheated, lied, planned, physically abused and eventually succeeded in killing the righteous one. This last year has seen a number of prominent Christian leaders publicly exposed for their sin. The ones they sinned against were often people who came to them seeking God. All too often they have denied, plotted and schemed against the ones who spoke the truth. The church has a responsibility to protect people, to be vigilant and demonstrate authority in the face of sinful leadership. In contemporary society this means fully and openly collaborating with civil law and authorities as well as internal church governance.
Are we prepared to have the Holy Spirit expose where sin has entered the church?
Have we asked God to eradicate prejudice from our own heart?
What obstacles do we place in others’ way to seek and find salvation through Jesus?
Hosanna (Praise Is Rising) – Paul Baloche