Making a House of Prayer

Matthew 21:12-17

12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
   but you are making it a den of robbers.’

14The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry 16and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
   you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
17He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

It is humbling to try to describe that last week in Jerusalem, the final days of Jesus’ mortal life. Things of far greater import occurred than I can understand. However, perhaps two of the most important things for us to know are that God’s radical grace was always at work and that His Son was resolute and courageous throughout, unwavering in living out his call.

It was a week when the powers of heaven and earth engaged in a great cosmic war. Roman forces and Jewish leaders were battling against the Forces of Heaven in trying to kill the Son of God. For a few days or weeks, they may have thought that they did. But Jesus was alive. He had risen. And, in not too many years, the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish leaders killed or scattered. Later still, Jesus came to conquer the Roman Empire around 325 A.D. when the Emperor Constantine came to call him “Lord.” God’s radical grace had triumphed.

Matthew tells us that Jesus went to the Temple immediately after entering Jerusalem that week. The Temple was the center of action for most of the week, but what unfolded that day is one of the better-known gospel stories. Jesus entered the Temple courtyard and immediately drove out all the money-changers and all who were buying and selling there. At the same time, he overturned their tables and chairs. It was quite a scene, with Jesus knocking over furniture and scattering the offenders!

Thousands of pages of sermons and commentaries have been written about on this drama. But, if we read on, we discover that more was at stake than the buying and selling of money and doves. The Temple’s very purpose was at stake. This also meant that the doing of God’s will on earth was at stake.

Turn your eyes to what happened following the courtyard drama: the blind and lame came into the Temple and Jesus cured them. Then, little children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” They were shouting out to the Messiah, saying that the One who was supposed to come had come.

Did you notice that it was at this point that the chief priests and scribes became angry and the tension between them and Jesus increased? They did not like what he was doing or the recognition he was given. He was threatening their standing in the culture.

Jesus had his reasons. You see, about twenty years earlier, the sole function of the Temple was to be the center of Jewish worship, as it had been for centuries. However, Rome then ordered the chief priests to make the Temple the center and collection place of all taxes, both Roman and local. Soon, the chief priest compounded the problem by setting up shop in the Temple courtyard, exchanging foreign currency and also selling animals for Temple sacrifices. This, in turn, undercut businesses on the Mount of Olives that had been doing the same thing for years. With all that money sloshing about the Temple, corruption followed. The Temple became a place not of worship, but a “den of thieves.”

The Temple’s very purpose had been perverted. God’s will had been denied. Jesus had come to restore the Temple’s purpose and do God’s will.

Moreover, there is evidence that the blind and lame—and other disabled, unwanted or rejected Jews—were not welcome in the Temple. Now, Jesus not only welcomed them but also healed them. At the same time, children were of little value back then. Now, they were both welcome and were praising Christ.

Yes, Jesus had come to restore the Temple to be a “house of prayer for all peoples” and a place not only of prayer but of grace and healing and, dare we say, love for all humankind. And, also a place where great truths, divine truths were declared by the innocent and uncorrupted, “Hosanna to the Son of David.”

Prayer: Holy and Almighty God, we are awed by your sacred purpose and your relentless power. Just as Jesus was true to his calling, help us be true to our calling. May our churches—and our individual bodies, souls, hearts and minds—be places where your will is done, your people are loved and valued and your great and eternal truths are declared and cherished, all to the glory of your name. Amen.

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