“Flesh gives birth to flesh and the spirit gives birth to the spirit,” explained Jesus -- but it didn’t help poor, confused Nicodemus. The man without the spirit cannot understand! It does not matter even if you are a qualified teacher or preacher. You cannot truly see or enter the Kingdom of God, except spiritually.
God does not live in temples. It is the truth that Stephen stated and it got him stoned! Paul was standing by that day, listening intently and obviously taking in every word that was said, because he was later to personally repeat the same truth -- “God doesn’t live in temples” -- when he addressed the intellectuals, leaders and philosophers at Mars Hill in Athens. He got mocked and scorned and then later was martyred, too.
Humans obviously don’t like to hear that God does not live in temples because we just love building them!
Jesus cleared out the temple. There was absolutely no doubt about that! In all four Gospels this “scourging” is vividly portrayed and narrated. Whether it is the same incident mentioned four times, or different occasions, doesn’t really matter.
Nor did Jesus need to explain his actions or His statements. It was clearly upfront. It was lucidly all-too self-explanatory. Most certainly, it is an incident that cannot be misinterpreted or manipulated. His righteous “anger” speaks for itself. It does not need clarification. Materially, physically and spiritually the message was loud and clear!
In Mark 11, we are told that the temple was in Jerusalem. It was not out in the country, nor in some outback town or village. The temple was doing business. It was alive and active. Worldly! Carnal! Self-gratifying! It was a veritable hive of activity.
It was very busy. Doing something. Modernly we could, and no doubt would, justify the commercial comings and goings. At least it was being significant and relevant, reaching the people. At the rock-face! In the market place! Seeker-friendly, for the best interests of the gospel. Yes, those would be our explanations or justifications!
The “money-changers” were accommodating “foreign” currency. Exchanging values. Converting values. At a price. At a profit. It all sounds rather familiar. Debate it and deny it with all the excuses at your disposal but you still can’t get away for the blunt truth that we are guilty of the self-same “merchandising” of God’s church as we compromise the gospel with our self-righteous and self-centred “marketing” endeavours.
Sadly, much of the church is “in” the world and definitely “of” the world -- and making it worse by rationalising and convincing ourselves that it’s okay and that God is pleased with us.
But enter Jesus! Immediately there are problems, a melee, a veritable rumpus! In fact, it is chaos as Jesus drives out the traders and overturns the tables. That is exactly what He does. Jesus does “drive out” and “overturn.” He changes lives. He turns them upside down.
Jesus has a real problem with the “money changers” because they do represent business and economics and its consequent greed and pride. We have become obsessed with changing and converting spiritual truth into the material and the physical to suit our selfish desires and lusts. We preach humanism, prosperity and the rich man’s gospel ad nauseam! We are selling doves. Yes, selling religion, methods and systems as we promote men and their churches and ministries. The false prophets proclaim and approve these as mighty “moves” of God, but deep down stirs the ever-constant threat of humanism.
The bottom line: Jesus Christ does not allow the carrying of wares through His temple. It is not for business. God does not want the world contaminating His people. When God called Abraham, he told him to leave behind all the human encumbrances. When Jesus called His disciples He simply told them to “follow Me.”
He didn’t want them to bring any of their carnal baggage along. Leave it all behind! They needed to die to self, to their cultures and to their politics. Maybe we should also be reminded of what happened with Aaron’s two sons when they brought profane fire into the tabernacle. Just how much profane fire lights up modern altars.
My house is for prayer, said Jesus. A prayer life is a way of life. It is consistent and persistent. Prayer is very simply conversing with God. Listening! Being in His presence. Sharing thoughts, feelings, doubts and hopes. Giving thanks! Confessing sin! Immersing in God’s values and desires. Meditating on Him and His Word. Having eyes, ears and a heart for Him alone. It is an attitude. A way of life.
True prayer acknowledges God and His complete and utter authority over all things. If you don’t believe, then you won’t pray. It is as simple as that. If you battle to pray it is probably because of this unbelief.
It is really quite easy to understand that unless you really believe in the fearful and awesome God of the Bible, then you would, in fact, be a hypocrite trying to communicate with Him. Psalm 91 talks of the “secret place,” that very special relationship when, on your very own, you meditate and pray.
That’s where it really starts and where the true foundation of your relationship with God is established and nurtured. God’s true temple is for prayer and we have allowed it to become a den of thieves. As always the problem is that continuous contest between the spiritual and flesh/physical/material.
The devil just loves us to see everything in the context of practical brick and mortar, flesh and blood. Temples, as we know them, are always man-made. We are good at building them and glorifying the builders. And of course, we don’t like anyone coming along and telling us to destroy them.
The Kingdom of God is not about buildings and methods, movements and ministries. It is all about Jesus and the Cross. Jesus threatens temple builders! Jesus always threatens scribes and Pharisees. They hate Him because He always upsets their little domains. Yes, they fear Him and try to destroy Him, even in these modern times.
Can you not hear the modern scribes and Pharisees talking about how long it has taken them to build their temples, all the hard work and pride. Then along comes Jesus and upsets the applecart. They don’t like it!
Jesus and His gospel “cleanse” temples and most certainly rattle cages. Indeed it IS Jesus, NOT the devil, who clears out His temples. Judgement begins in the house of God.
Paris Reidhead preached one of the greatest sermons of all time in 1964, a message he entitled “Ten Shekels and a Shirt.”
In Judges 17&18 we read about a time when there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes. It was sheer chaos! There was this young Levite priest who first served Micah and then the tribe of Dan. He saw it more important to serve a tribe than one man’s family. In that way he would minister to many more, his ministry would be bigger and no doubt he reasoned that God would be pleased. But it was humanism!
The preacher then profoundly discusses utilitarian religion and expedient Christianity. The ruling philosophy was then, and is today, pragmatism. Pragmatism holds that if it works, if it succeeds then its good and must be right! Humanism horrifically suggests, when boiled down to brass tacks, that the only reason for existence is man’s happiness and that it is God’s job to make us happy and seek our approval.
Are we, the church, serving this notion as we make man’s comfort and relief the major motivation of our ministry efforts and concern? Are we serving man or God? It is a very challenging and pertinent question.
Finally, and very importantly, we must not forget that our bodies are “temples” of the Holy Spirit and as such the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not allow anyone to carry wares through it. The Spirit is grieved when you “abuse” your body for your own convenience or pleasure. In simple, symbolic terms, that is also “buying” and “selling” in your temple. It is sin! It is compromise! It is disobedience, and it is living a lie!
One of the first strong convictions that came to me just after I had given my life to Jesus was that I should give up drinking. I argued with God. I even took the Bible and manipulated it my way. I just loved it when Jesus turned the water into wine; when Paul wrote that Timothy should take a little wine with the meal and the fact that it was not what we eat or drink that matters but the circumcision of the heart.
I played around for about seven months, making all sorts of deals with the Lord. But I was only fooling myself. Deep down I knew that I was playing games, cruising around in denial, yet steadfastly I stuck to my destructive ways. Eventually it all reached a head, as it always does sooner or later. Alcohol is a huge problem and I needed deliverance!
God’s is a house of prayer. It is not a temple built by human hands. It is a place of repentance and brokenness before Him. Prayer does place God above all things.
It is awesome, a passion, a way of life. Its absolute unswerving adoration for Him!
Symbolically the old temple was destroyed. The new temple was raised in three days.
Jesus Christ does come into lives. He overturns and cleanses our temples. He opens our eyes and writes His law on our hearts. The old temple must come down. But please not just to be replaced by a new, more modern humanistic version!