Is the business of religion OK?

John 2.13-25

Is it true for you that the industry that surrounds religion including the Christian faith is a problem? Does it in any way create a barrier to faith for either yourself or people you know. If so, is the problem where established churches appear to be wealthy and the wealth is not used for the purposes their teaching would lead you to expect? Is it that the churches money is focused on the wants and needs of church members and not on the gospel message and needs of non-church members? Could it be that you believe you cannot trust the people in power in the church to honestly manage the finances? Is it that you believe the business of religion has relegated gospel living and sacrifice to a small dusty back seat in the corner of the church, so much that you believe if Jesus walked in the church he would not recognize it as a people of worship?

Following the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus, his family and disciples go back to his Galilean base, Capernaum, but he only stays there a few days before heading off to Jerusalem for the Passover. John 2.12,13 John mentions Jesus attending three separate Passovers and there is some disagreement as to whether there were one or two occasions when Jesus “cleared the temple”. The other gospels record a similar event in the Passover week of his death. Has John reorganized the order of events to structure his teaching for symbolic and conceptual reasons? This may be so but we cannot be absolutely sure either way. Certainly, conceptually this account fits in well, just before the visit of Nicodemus, as it deals with religion being a barrier to a relationship with God.

When Jesus entered the outer courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem, known as the Court of the Gentiles what did he see? It was noisy, thronging with people doing business selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging currency for the correct money to pay the temple tax.  v14 The business itself was not illegitimate it was where and how it was being done that was wrong. It made sense that people who had travelled great distances, often on foot, bought their sacrifice to worship God on arrival. The payment of the Temple tax was not in itself wrong but by insisting that it was paid in specific Temple currency and then charging exorbitant rates was exploitative of worshippers. The temple was being run for the benefit of the insiders preventing them from being the light to the world that God intended them to be. They had effectively reversed the intentions of God and the place of prayer set apart for all to worship in had become a noisy market place where prayer and worship were no longer possible.

Jesus drove out the animals and stall holders because they had become a barrier between ordinary people and God. These were frequently God fearing people who had come in humility seeking forgiveness. God fearing is how the New Testament described genuine Gentile seekers after God who were not Jews. Acts 17.4 The court of the Gentiles was where such people could come and worship but in the eyes of the religious authorities they were inferior to those born a Jew. They were presented with unnecessary additional barriers for the profit of the religious authorities. Contrast that with Jesus’ own responses to such people as we will see later in the gospel. Before we consider how Jesus prophesied that he was the way to forgiveness and a relationship with God it is worth thinking of the many ways the Christian church has created self-seeking additional barriers to forgiveness and a relationship with God. This can be in the form of hierarchies, rituals, legalism, language designed to exclude and moral depravity.

Have you experienced the church placing barriers in the way of simple faith in Jesus?

Have church rituals made it difficult for enquirers after Christ to feel welcome?

Do we place moral integrity as an essential characteristic for continuing in Church leadership?

How closely do we align church finances with gospel priorities?

Holy ground – David Bilborough

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