The Cleansing of the Temple

Editor's Note: The following is a sermon preached by Oleg Kostyuk on Thursday, October 11, 2012. It is presented here in its original form.




Thousands of people around the Globe are united and Revived by His Word. So, I would like to invite you to dive into the Word of God.


Let's turn to an amazing and very dramatic action of Jesus. In fact this action was so dramatic that it was a turning point in Jesus' ministry. It is the cleansing of the Temple. This action of Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels, but we will turn to the Gospel of Matthew today.


Matthew 21:12-15:


"Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”


Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant.


Jesus had just triumphantly entered into Jerusalem. This was the time of Passover, which was one of the most important religious festivals. In fact, historians estimate that the population of Jerusalem was about 30 thousand people but during the Passover the population grew to 180 thousand. It was a Big City, and Jesus knew that His Mission was to preach in that Big City.


Jesus was not very well known to people in Jerusalem, it was Jesus' entourage from Galilee who was shouting "Hosanna", which means, Save us now, "to the Son of David". The people in Jerusalem realized that something unusual was going to happen, and those who were around Jesus answered the question that was asked. In Matthew 21:10-11 we read, "And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”"


What Jesus did immediately after entering into Jerusalem is, simply speaking, unimaginable. He goes into the Temple and cleanses it. Well, the temple in the time of Jesus was not just one building in itself, because the entire superstructure on mount Moriah was actually the Temple. It consisted of the Portico to your left, the court of Gentiles around the sanctuary, the court of Women, and the Sanctuary itself in the middle. This area was about 144,000 sq. m. and the total circumference of the place or sacred precincts, was about a mile long.


So, somewhere in the Temple courtyard Jesus turns the tables of the money changers upside down, and drives out those who bought and sold in the Temple. Let me suggest that by doing so not only did Jesus turn the tables upside down, but He also turned tradition upside down. You see, the Temple became the place where the rich were getting richer. The only place where you could buy an offering sacrifice was in the Temple and the only money that you could use was actually temple-money. And the owners of these businesses were the priests.


Those very same priests were also longing to go up the ladder of career and success. They would not put up with some prophet, even if He was the Messiah... In fact, recent archeological discoveries show that one of the wealthiest households in Jerusalem belonged to one of the priests, probably the High Priest. The wealthiest quarter of Jerusalem was the quarter where the priests lived. More than that, to make sure that they did not mingle with the common people the priests even had a private bridge linking their mansions with the Temple. No wonder why the first thing Jesus does after entering Jerusalem is actually the cleansing of the Temple. He wanted the priests to understand a very important lesson. But, what was that lesson?


The first line that Jesus actually says is simply profound, in Matthew 21:13 we read, "And Jesus said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” Jesus here quotes Isaiah 56:7 and this verse in its context actually reads, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'. (Mark has this quote in full) In other words the temple should be a house for Gentiles. The Sanctuary was closed to the Gentiles. In fact, around the sanctuary at regular intervals stood slabs giving warning that foreigners or Gentiles were not allowed; some in Greek, others in Latin. The fragment that you see now actually reads, "No foreigner shall enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death." Now, the court of Gentiles was supposed to be a place where non-believers were evangelized. Where the Good News was supposed to be told to them. But the priests were involved in their agendas so much that instead of preaching the Word and being the light to the entire world they forgot their mission. The rich were becoming richer and those who had power needed more of it.


This is the tradition that Jesus came to break. He detested it.


But the following action of Jesus in the Temple is even more striking. We read about it in Matthew 21:14. Immediately after the temple was cleansed "the blind and the lame came to Him in the Temple, and He healed them." The blind and the lame were not allowed in the temple. The priests were closely following the tradition and forgot about the acceptance and mercy of God. They did not even give those who could be healed a chance.


This detail is actually mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew. In fact, this is the only miracle that Jesus performs in Jerusalem throughout Matthew's Gospel. But, in the Word of God all details are important and they yield tremendous meaning and blessing. In order to see why this line is so important, I would like to invite you to travel with me a 1000 years back from the time of Jesus.


When David was appointed to be a King over Israel, he started looking for a place where he could establish the capital. It could not be one of the cities in his tribal territory, so he decided to conquer one of the cities that belonged to the Jebusites. You can read this story in 2 Samuel 5:6-8. The Jebusites were so confident that David and his people would not be able to conquer their city that they sent David a message, "All the regular guards have gone off duty. We’ve put the blind ones on watch and told the lame ones to take the messages – they’ll do the job all right!" David's general conquered the city by climbing the water shaft. But David did not like this humiliating action of the Jebusites. That is why the text of 2 Samuel 5:8 actually says, "The blind and the lame shall not come into the house." In fact, the word "house," that is used here can also mean "the temple." There is a great lesson in this.


Jesus is not just another King, like David, even though everybody around him shouts, "Save us now (Hosanna), Son of David." Be aware, because when Jesus comes in our midst our plans and our agendas will be changed. And those things that we thought were unchangeable all of our lives will be re-adjusted when Jesus takes control.


When Jesus becomes the King He is not just another King, He re-adjusts human traditions, He even breaks the tradition of the Temple itself...


A few weeks ago I re-read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and one line caught my attention:


"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."


We think, we build decent little houses, churches, plans, expectations. But if we let Jesus triumphantly enter into our midst, we will inevitably witness dramatic changes even though, the process can be abominably painful.


So, I would like to invite you to let Jesus triumphantly enter into our midst today.

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