John 2:12-17 (NIV): After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Jesus was completely observant of the law. He went up to Jerusalem three times each year for the three required feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), and this was the case even during His public ministry. Being “busy” with His ministry never led Him to shirk the requirements of the law.
This was His first trip to Jerusalem since He had begun His ministry. The livestock sellers and money changers were a fixture in the temple, and had been for many years. They set up their booths and tables in the Court of the Gentiles, an outer court that was the only place that the gentiles could come to seek the one true God and pray. The area was spacious, and away from the Jewish worshipers. So it seemed like the perfect place for the sheep and cow stalls, the bird cages, and the tables of shekels that God would accept as offerings instead of the idol-embossed denarii.
But Jesus saw this for what it really was: open disrespect for God and for His agenda. By placing the noisy, smelly marketplace in the only part of the temple where outreach could happen, these merchants were turning away from their commission as God’s people to be a light to the gentiles. So they were contaminating the temple area with something more offensive than animal dung; they were contaminating it with outright contempt for God Himself.
Jesus knew that no subtle sermon would break through the hardened hearts of these traders, or help them to see that their turning God’s home into a market was rebellion. What was needed was action – a dash of cold water in their faces that would make them gasp at its audacity, and perhaps cause them to turn their attention away from their money long enough to hear God’s voice.
So He overturned the tables, sending the coins rattling across the stone pavement. He opened the animal pens and bird cages, and drove the animals away with a cord whip. It was all over before anyone could figure out what to do about it. And then His stern words of challenge while His eyes blazed with passion: “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!””
Through long years of living and working in the shadow of God’s dwelling place, these men had lost sight of God’s presence there. To them, the temple had become merely a place where they went to work each day, worrying more about their profit margin than the holiness of their hearts. Worrying more about who would trade with them than about the one in whose sight they were trading.
Father, how easy it is to grow stale in our perception of Your presence. How easy to grow so accustomed to the idea that You are nearby that we are no longer struck by the wonder of it, and to live as if our livelihoods, our families, and even our church duties are the most vital things in our lives. Lord, shake up our hearts today as Jesus shook up the Court of the Gentiles. Drive from us anything that has taken Your place in our hearts, anything that has dulled our senses to Your presence and Your call on our lives. Purify us and refill us with all the wonder that is due You. Amen.