Have you ever realized how little we know about the people around us? How many times have you been astonished to find something out about a neighbor, teacher or co-worker? Itís amazing, sometimes, how a person you thought was a good person turns out to be a criminal. Its amazing how we can be fooled by someone around so easily isnít it?
Would you have ever thought Michael Jackson was a child molester? Would you have ever thought Bill Clinton was an adulterer? Or that Jim Baker was an extortionist? Do you know what conclusion I have arrived at? Never judge a man by the color of his clothing.
I should advise anyone who wants to marry to make sure they date for an extended period of time before they are willing to commit to anything. If you want to know someone you must see them in the complete spectrum of life circumstances and settings. You should experience this person when all is well in their world; when all goes wrong. You need to experience this person while they are well rested and while they are exhausted; when they succeed and when they fail. Itís only by experiencing this person in every facet of life that you can truly know them; that you can accurately judge their character and personality.
John was aware of this based on his Gospel. He seems to want his readers to know the true Messiah in a multitude of settings. First he dealt with the Messiah at the feast, at home, and then he focused his readerís attention on the Messiah in Jerusalem in unpleasant circumstances. As we view the text today, keep in mind there is more than one side to our loving savior Jesus Christ. We cannot claim to know our savior unless we have first observed and accepted him for what he was in Cana as well as Jerusalem; being sure to stay away from mutually exclusive attitudes.
Letís read verses 12-17. Iím sure that you have heard many sermons regarding Jesusí ďcleansing of the templeĒ. Itís likely most of the sermons you have heard regarding this story have been focused on righteous indignation. Itís true, Jesus was angry, and itís true he abhorred sin; but today I am going to focus on a different aspect of this than righteous indignation.
As is my habit of doing, I want to try and properly set the stage so that we might understand what is happening behind the scenes. In this story, it is the annual time for the Jewish Passover feast which was one of the primary feasts of Judaism. The Jews came from all over the world to observe this feast. They came not out of obligation however. In fact, the law only requires that an adult male who lives within 15 miles of Jerusalem attend the feast at the temple. The Jews, who were scattered through out the world by now, never forgot their faith or ancestral land. It was the dream of every Jew, no matter their orientation in the world, to celebrate the Passover in their life-time, if only once. Many made it a goal to attend, and as such sometimes 28 and a quarter million Jews were reported to have assembled in the Holy City for the Passover.
There were two specific duties that a Jew was obligated to perform if they wished to worship in the temple.
The first was an obligatory temple tax. They couldnít, however, use just any coin to fulfill this debt. The temple only accepted a Jewish coin of high grade silver. It was compulsory that the temple tax be paid in Galilean shekels or the designated sanctuary shekel as they were, in the Jewish mind, ďclean coinsĒ of a Jewish nature. All other varieties of coin were considered ďuncleanĒ as they found their origins in pagan nations. These unclean coins could be used for all other debts, however debts to God were exclusively paid with Jewish currency.
The travelers of this time period were much like the travelers of today. With foreigners came foreign currencies which filled their foreign pockets. The first thing they were required to do on arrival to Jerusalem was what many of us do in the airports: they would exchange their currency for acceptable temple currency. The temple tax was the equivalent of 2 days wages. Jews had to pay Ĺ a shekel for entrance, but the money changers were thieves. They charged extravagantly expensive fees to exchange the currency. Letís say that the temple tax was the equivalent of 1 dollar and you came in with a 5 dollar bill. They would require that you pay a fee on each dollar to break the five and then an additional fee on the initial entry fee. Because of practices such as these, it was difficult for the poor to get into the temple for worship.
This had become a lucrative and popular business in Jerusalem. Those who were in the money changing trade made a sizable profit on each of their trades. It became intelligent practice to conduct business within the gentileís courtyard of the temple. All Jews passed through that courtyard to worship God. The temple was divided into 4 separate courts: the gentileís courts, the womenís courts, the menís courts and the priestís courts. Due to this arrangement all would pass through the gentileís court to worship. So the money changers set up their books and tables within this courtyard ready to do business and make profit.
Not only did the Jews need to pay a temple tax, but it was also obligatory that they offer a sacrifice to worship. The most common sacrifices were oxen, sheep or doves depending on your financial ability. If you were a traveler from a considerable distance, it was difficult to bring an ox or sheep with you. It was also cumbersome to carry a cage containing doves. They had to travel by ship or by foot on roads infested by thieves! They were required to pack light. On top of that, where would they find grass on the way from Jericho? Where would they find hay and water for the night? It was inconvenient to bring your own animals, and conversely convenient to purchase the temple livestock and doves. If youíve ever rented skis, you know that it is more convenient to rent skis on the slopes than anywhere else. Itís more expensive, but for most people it would the convenience. I say, ďmostĒ because there is another side to the coin.
You must remember that there were people who were poverty stricken and for whom every penny counted. So for these people it was not worth it. It was better to buy doves before the journey and bring them to Jerusalem. The temple had its own interests however.
In the bible God said if you wanted to offer him something ultimately cost was not the issue; effort was the issue. However, the animal had to be a flawless one. So, the Jews in their zeal had established inspections to prevent abuse of sacrifice and imperfect offering. With time, however, the temple workers became crooked. They would automatically refuse and animal brought from outside. They showed favoritism and perfectionism for their own local businesses. So a poor man who had the ability to buy a pair of doves for 4 pennies was forced to pay 15 pennies instead. This made worship impossible for so many!
So imagine walking into the temple courts of that day. It probably resembled one our flee markets. There were stalls everywhere. In the stalls you could find sheep and oxen. Beside the stalls were tables and booths; money changers at the tables and dove peddlers in the booths.
In walks Jesus to this scene in the courtyard. He had been there before. He had been in Jerusalem during other Passovers but this time it was different. Recently he has gone through the waters of baptism and has received the spirit of God! This time he comes to the temple in official capacity. He is beginning his public ministry and he sees all the commotion where people ought to worship and instead they are doing business. The bible says the takes a whip and cleanses the temple. This picture might be scary enough for some as they see the burning eyes and the unwavering steps, but Jesus has constructed a whip.
What sort of implications does this hold for an audience such as us? Are there any lessons for us here? I believe there are!
Letís look at the story of Hezekiah in 1st Kings chapters 18-20. Hezekiah reigned over Judah in righteousness for 29 years. He tried to the best of his ability to walk in the steps of his great grandfather David. He tried to do what was good in the sight of God. Due to that, he was blessed tremendously. Now the scripture gives this as a tribute to Hezekiah, ďnever was there a king over Judah before or after likened to Hezekiah.Ē By the time you get to chapter 20 Hezekiah is very ill. It reminds us that even great people of faith are sometimes ill to the point of death. God does Hezekiah a favor though. He sends Isaiah the prophet to find Hezekiah in his poor state. He tells the king, ďthus says the Lord, put your house in order because you are going to die and not recover.Ē Do you remember how Hezekiah responds to that? He looks at the wall and begins weeping and praying. God sees his tears and he hears the mourning and he honors Hezekiahís request. He sends Isaiah to tell Hezekiah that He grants his request and that he has another 15 years. But listen to Isaiahís words, ďHezekiah put your house in order!Ē
Now I know he was talking about the physical affaires of life. You go to the New Testament and you read that God says ďyouíd better put that spiritual house in order and keep it that way!Ē because our God will not live in a dirty house! Maybe thatís what Paul was taking about when he wrote to the Christians, donít quench the spirit!
He knows that we can get involved with Satan after the watery death of Baptism. He knew that we can dirty our house so much that we drive away God! Have you ever been in a dirty house? It made me feel like I didnít want to be there. God feels the same way! Thatís why Paul was saying in 1st Corinthians 9:27 I beat my body into submission so after I reach others I might not be cast away. That idea of beating the body is kinda like a boxer who beats somebody around the ring until they are black and blue, and thatís what Paul said he did to himself! His idea was that he wanted to keep his body in a fit place where God could dwell. Do I do the same? Am I making sure my house is a place where God can continue to dwell? I tell you a secret today, if God canít live in your house right now, donít think for a moment that God will let you live with Him later!
So every Christian has a responsibility to stand up to Satan and keep his house clean for God. Look at your house today and see how clean it really is, because if God canít live in you right now, you canít live in him later. How clean is your house? Is it fit for the Lord?