Mark 11:15-19 (NIV): On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, they went out of the city.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem that morning, He already knew what had to be done, because He had looked everything over the previous day (Mark 11:11). So there was no time wasted – He headed straight to the temple.
The temple was a magnificent structure, over 500 years old, and the subject of a nearly 50-year-long refurbishing and beautification project by the Herod dynasty. The average person could never go into the temple itself to see the holy place where the golden oil lamps burned, and the golden tables were stacked with the bread of God’s presence every week. Even fewer, only the high priests, were allowed to go into the Most Holy Place where God’s presence and glory were resident. Regular people could not even go into the courtyard where the sacrifices were made. Instead, they were restricted to a series of outer courts, where they could see the outside of the building and worship the true God.
The Court of Israel was the closest of the courts, and was for the Jewish men. They would bring their sacrifices to this point, and hand them off to a priest or Levite. Then they could watch as those people took their animal into the courtyard and actually made the sacrifice.
The Court of the Women was farther away. From there the women could not actually see the sacrifices being made, but they could see much of the temple façade, and worship from there.
The Court of the Gentiles was even further away, and was separated from the temple complex by a wall on which were signs engraved in three languages, warning gentiles not to approach any closer under penalty of death. This far outer court was the only place where a gentile seeker after the true God could come to worship and learn more. In a sense, it was the one place where an evangelistic connection could be made.
But what Jesus found was that the Court of the Gentiles had been turned into a marketplace. This was where the sellers of livestock and of doves had set up their stands. It was where the money changers had their tables, exchanging Roman coins, contaminated by figures of gods and of Caesar, for “clean” Jewish shekels, which were then able to be taken into the temple for contributions.
Booths and tables filled this whole area with the stench of livestock and the loud voices of the sellers and traders, to the point where nobody could worship or seek God effectively. This one place where people from outside could come and worship, this one place that could literally serve as ‘a house of prayer for all nations,’ had been transformed into a market, filled with livestock pens, and noise, and haggling traders – ‘a den of thieves.”
And so Jesus cleaned house, driving out the animals and those who sold them, and overturning the tables of the money changers. He also stopped those who were carrying merchandise through the court, sending them back the way they had come.
Of course, this did nothing to win over the chief priests and teachers of the law. The temple was THEIR area of responsibility, their purview and, in their opinion, Jesus had no right to barge in and change things around like that. They looked at things from their own viewpoint: what was most orderly, most convenient, and most profitable. But Jesus saw things from God’s viewpoint: what was needed to bring the most people into His kingdom.
Father, sometimes I admit that we, Your people, still look at things in our churches from the standpoint of what is most orderly, most convenient for us, most to our liking, and ,yes, even what is most profitable. But, Lord, those are not Your priorities. You still want to reach out through us to those who are far away, and bring them close to You. You are still primarily focused on seeking and saving what was lost. Help us to look at ourselves, our churches, and our procedures with YOUR priorities in mind. And help us to clean our own houses anyplace that is needed, so that we can once again be houses of prayer for all nations, drawing them in, showing them Your love, and leading them all the way into Your kingdom through the one way of Jesus. Amen.