Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Turning Tables to Reform and to Redeem

When Christ the King came into His city He didn't parade into a palace and plop down on a throne. He didn't rush to a regal hall or head to a house of state. No, Jesus made a bee line for the temple - because His rule was to be religious and His kingdom spiritual.

Christ came to reform His church and to redeem His people, and thus He went straight-a-way to the place where God's business should have been going on.  What He found there seemed to be anything but holy labor.  The house of God wasn't filled with priests praying for the poor, it was overflowing with priests praying on the poor.  

The house of prayer had become a den of thieves, and Jesus was about to teach the priestly peddlers a lesson or two by overturning a table or two! 

Here's the scene as Matthew tells it:
"And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  And He said to them, 'It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer;' but you are making it a den of robbers.'
And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them.  But when the chief priests saw the wonderful things that He had done, and heard the children crying out in the temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' they were indignant, and they said to Him, 'Do You hear what these are saying?'  And Jesus said to them, 'Yes;  have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for Yourself'?'
And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there."
Matthew 21:12-17

As I rolled this passage around on the palate of my mind, I was struck by how it is seasoned with lessons of Biblical reformation and of gospel redemption. In these six verses we see Christ the Reformer driving out sinful sellers; and we see Christ the Redeemer drawing in sick sinners.  There is much to savor here. 

Walking through the temple doors, Jesus comes face to face with an almost carnival atmosphere. The place of spiritual interaction had become a place of worldly transaction. People were buying and selling, trading and vending all kinds of "supplies for sacrifice."  You can almost hear the hawkers:  

"Step right up you penitent peasants! Today's special - pigeons for the poor!"  
"Going once, going twice, get a goat to sacrifice! "  
"Not a blemish. Not a spot. Lovely lambs are what we've got!"

It would've made Tetzel mighty proud!

Now please note, the problem wasn't in the selling of these things per se - the problem was with the place from which they peddled and the day on which they sold!  

Purchasing a lamb, or a bull, or a bird was lawful (and even laudable) in the market on the days of labor. Selling sacrifices in the sanctuary on the Sabbath was a practice of profanity. 

By doing so, the priests were stealing profits from the parishioners who made their honest living selling these things outside the temple walls, and they were making the day of worship a day of wanton work.  The clinking and clanking of coins was being heard above the prayer and praise of God. That's just not good.  

Things were amiss and Christ was about to make amends! So, to right what was wrong, Jesus, the Reformer, closed down the market and drove out the sellers.  

When Jesus saw the evil that was happening in His house, He set out to stop it. He cast out the merchants, overturning the tables from which they traded, and setting asunder the seats from which they sold.  As He did the deed He clearly proclaimed to them what the Scriptures taught about the temple: 

"It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer."

I wonder if there's not a lot to be learned from those first three words. "It is written..." 

When we find ourselves embarking on a path of "reformation" - when we come calling on someone to change, enter into debate about doctrine, begin to point an ecclesiastical finger at a group that doesn't do things our way - let us be sure that we are doing so because of what God has said in His Word, not because of what we like or dislike in our own heart. (And let us make sure we are not twisting Scripture in order to create a "righteous reason" for what is really rebellious reformation!)

Christ's actions in this event were clearly grounded in the written revelation of God and not based on any whims of personal preference or "pious" pride.  How often have men and ministers turned over the figurative tables and run off supposed "rebels" based on the latter - and what deep damage has that done? 

May our "temple cleansing" actions be held captive to the Word of God and to nothing else.

As Jesus opened up the Word of God regarding what the temple was created to be, He went further to explain what they had corrupted it into: 

"But you are making it a robbers' den." 

Think about it, the temple was in essence a place of giving - a place of God's giving.  
  • It was a place where God gave glimpses of the grace of Christ which was to come. (Every drop of insufficient blood that was spilled in those hallowed halls was a foreshadowing of the all-sufficient blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.)  
  • It was a place where God gave forgiveness to sinners and granted pardon to penitents.  
  • It was a place of prayer, where people sought the face of this giving God to provide for them their every need, and offered thanks for the ways in which He had.  
  • It was a place where our holy Father gave gifts of grace to His children.
But the corrupt priests were making it a place not of giving but of their own getting.  

The temple, in their time, had become a place where they gained much more than they ever gave. They sold for themselves and took from the people to pack their own purses.  As they did these things, they painted an improper picture of who God is and of how He works. You see, God gives freely.  
  • We don't have to buy our salvation, He bought it for us.  
  • We don't have to pay the price, Christ paid it in full.  
  • We don't have to purchase a thing, for He has provided everything. 
By selling in the sanctuary, they stole not only from the saints, but also from the very name and character of our gracious, giving God. They made the God of grace and mercy appear as a God of greed and merchantry.  

No wonder He turned the tables and cast them out!

So, how are our "temples" today?

Are our churches places of prayer or of profit? Are they businesses where "things of God" are sold, or are they centers of praise and preaching where the grace of God is given?  

May we ever be reforming to the ways of the Word that we may ever be making a difference in the world!   

Once Jesus, the Reformer, closed down the market and drove out the sellers, Jesus the Redeemer, opened up the hospital and drew in the sick

It's a beautiful antithesis!  

After Jesus had cast the money changers out, He called the disabled inVerse 14 tells us that "the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them."  

Suddenly, this place of "dealings" became a place of healings; and rather than money being taken, mercy was handed out. Broken bodies were being repaired, and as they were, sin sick souls were being redeemed!

Isn't this the gospel way?  

But is this our way? 

As we seek to see reform in the church, or in society, or in a soul do we long merely to drive out or do we equally long to draw in?  

Are we as much about redeeming what is wrecked as we are about ridding what is wrong? 

You see, it would seem that Jesus drove out sin in order to draw in sinners - that sinners might be saved!  By His grace and in His steps, may we see these as two sides of the same coin and never seek to sever redemption from reformation!

Sadly, the chief priests and the scribes responded to this reform and redemption with... well, shall we say they were a wee bit less than enthused at the events that had unfolded!! 

They saw the "wonderful things that He had done" and they were enraged!  

They heard the praises of the children and became indignant.  (It would seem that proud men can't stand for anyone other than themselves to be honored.) 

I am always struck that those who should have loved and lauded Christ the most (the leaders in His church) loved and lauded Him the least! Truth is, they utterly despised Him and sought to destroy Him.  

Running up to Jesus, they said, "Do you hear what these are saying?!?!?!"  (Can't you almost see the steam pouring out of their ears and the red flushing up their faces?!)

In response, He who had just reformed and redeemed now had to rebuke. Jesus, the Reprover, silenced the priest's protests and supported the children's praise.  

They could pitch a hissy fit, throw a temper tantrum, stew and seethe, and fume ferociously in their frustration at the "Hosannas" that were wafting in the temple air, -  but Jesus wouldn't be intimidated and He was going to speak the truth to them.  

Jesus never sides with sin. But some way and some how, He always confronts sinners with an honest assessment of their situation, speaking the truth in love that they might repent and find salvation.

As Jesus confronted the error that was abounding in the hearts and minds of the chief priests, He once again went to the Word.  They were screaming, "Have you not heard what these children are saying?!?!?"  Jesus responded with "Have you not read what the Scripture has said?!" 

The Scripture was the standard upon which Christ stood.  His reproof was grounded in God's revelation. Let us learn from this.  

Let us check our own attitudes and examine our own protests regarding the things that bother us in church (as well looking at the things that "bless" us) in light of the Scripture. Let the revelation of God be our standard. It is not what pleases or displeases us that should determine what happens or doesn't happen in our congregations.  The elements of worship aren't fashioned by our wants - they are formed by His Word.  Our duty is that we conform to the Word in worship - not that we conform worship to our wishes.  

The priests didn't like these praises, 
            all - but that didn't matter. God had spoken and He had said, "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for Yourself?"  Jesus not only allowed the praise of these children, but He accepted it, savored it, and, through the Scripture, supported it.

And it would seem that it left the scoffers speechless!  

There's not a recorded response from the chief priests and scribes and we simply see the scene close with Jesus leaving them.  (As an aside: do you think that protesting the praise of God might have an affect on remaining in the presence of God?)

Jesus, by His reproof, tied their tongues and then turned His back, heading over to Bethany to rest before the duties of the next day.  

Jesus wouldn't be hindered by their hatred.  He had a job to do in Jerusalem and as He inched closer and closer to that great act of selfless sacrifice - His crucifixion at Calvary - He faithfully reformed, redeemed and reproved along the way.  

Over two thousand years later, Jesus continues to reform, redeem and reprove - through His pastors, through His people, through His Bible, through His Spirit.  I suppose the question is, how are we responding?  As the sellers or as the sick?  As the chiefs or as the children? As the priests or as penitents?

Oh Lord, when You turn the tables in our own hearts, give us ears to hear Your Word, and wills that bow the knee to it!  And as you drive out the sin that still abides in us and in our churches, may You also draw in us and others to Yourself.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoy your blog. I had never really thought about Jesus in the role of reformer AND redeemer from this passage. I had only thought about him turning over the tables and not about him caring for the blind and the lame. I liked the "driving out" "drawing in" point you made. It has made me see how the ministry of the gospel needs to always be a part of any house cleaning we set out to do.