And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city. (Mark 11:15-19 ESV)
Every year during the Passover feast, thousands of Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice of a Passover Lamb, along with other sacrifices, at the Jewish temple. They were joined by God-fearers – Gentiles who while not Jewish, worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Rather than bring the animals for sacrifice the many miles they had to journey, these pilgrims often found it more convenient to purchase animals in Jerusalem. It just so happened that the high priestly family had a bazaar set up in the Court of the Gentiles at the temple, where they would sell you preapproved animals. They also had “booths of approval” set up where they would see if the animals the worshippers brought with them on their journey were “good enough” for sacrifice, and just in case they weren’t, they could point you to their booth of preapproved sacrifices. The high priestly family also was aware of the many coming from far-off lands who had images of graven images like the bust of Caesar on their coins. Knowing that these were blasphemous and could never be used in the temple courts, they conveniently set up tables for currency exchange. Of course, these “services” were provided with substantial fees attached.
Imagine a Jewish family entering the temple courts after a long, exhausting journey, intent on celebrating the deliverance God gives His people, and they were greeted by this. What would they think the worship of God looked like? Picture the Gentile family who travelled mile-after-mile at great expense, knowing they would only get as close to God’s throne as the outer Court of the Gentiles, but did so anyway because their hearts were intent on communing with the true God. How could they meet with God surrounded by those intent on making money off God’s holy Name?
No wonder the gospel writers share the story of Jesus rightly and angrily shaking things up! The temple was supposed to be a place where people could meet with God (a “house of prayer for all the nations”). The priests, those who were supposed to help people draw near to God, set up a system that filled their pockets but actually kept people from meeting God! My prayer has always been, “Lord, may what I do in your Name (and may what my church sets up as our system of worship) NEVER keep people from you, but always help people find you.”
Remember, John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is the Lamb, preapproved by the Father as being perfect and suitable as a sacrifice that frees us from death. Him we proclaim this Easter season! May we never do things or set up religious systems that benefit us in some way, but keep others from God. May our homes and churches truly be “houses of prayer” where people of all nations can come to meet with Him.