We’ve all heard the story about how Jesus ran the money changers out of the Temple. He got angry when he saw business being conducted in the Temple courts, and he made a whip out of cords and chased out all the scoundrels. He shouted: “Get out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market?”
But did you know it wasn’t the business in the Temple that made Jesus so angry? That was bad enough, but it really was just the symptom of a much deeper problem.
Mark’s Gospel records it best: “Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the Temple and began to drive out 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 would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the Temple. And he began to teach and say 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 robbers’ den.” (Mark 11.15-17)
My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations.
The Temple was composed of several courts. The innermost court was the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest entered here, and then only once a year. Outside of that was the Holy Place, where the priests offered daily sacrifices. Beyond that was the Inner Court, which was divided into areas for the priests and Israelite men. Outside that was the Women’s Court. Encircling the entire Temple was the outer court, called the Court of the Peoples.
The Court of the Peoples was the only part of the Temple where non-Jews could come to worship and be taught about God. Entering the inner courts was punishable by death. Signs were posted to warn gentiles to stay out.
When Jesus came to the Temple that day, he didn’t find a holy place filled with gentiles seeking God; he found a marketplace. The Court of the Peoples was supposed to be the world’s house of prayer. It symbolized Israel’s mission of bringing the world back to God. Yet it had been turned into a marketplace.
Israel prided themselves on being children of Abraham and heirs to the Promise. But they failed to understand that God’s promise to bless them was based on his earnest desire to rescue his lost children. Bringing his lost children back to himself was what really mattered to God.
God had said he would bless Abraham so all the nations of the world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12.1-3). But generation after generation of Abraham’s children failed to be the “light to the nations” God had intended. So the day came that God’s own Son stood in the Temple and told the chief priests and the elders, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21.43)
We’re familiar with the idea of bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15.5)
But Jesus also said that his Father, the Gardener, “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (John 15.1). He said, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15.6).
And have you ever heard a sermon on this next passage?
“A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'” (Luke 13.6-9)
If it hadn’t been for the caretaker’s interceding, the fruitless tree would have been cut down right then and thrown into the fire.
Cut down and thrown on the fire – like Israel in Jesus’ day.
Paul said children of Abraham “were broken off for their unbelief.” And then he told the Roman Christians: “Do not be conceited, but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” (Romans 11.20-21)
Israel had kidded themselves into thinking God had blessed them because they were special – but God had blessed them so they could be a blessing to all the peoples of the world who had not heard of God’s glory, love, and forgiveness. They weren’t bearing the fruit of the Kingdom. The Temple wasn’t serving as a house of prayer for all nations. So Jesus said the Kingdom was going to be given to a people who would produce the fruit of the Kingdom.
He didn’t say, “I will give the Kingdom to another people and maybe they will produce the fruit.” He said the Kingdom would be given to a people who will produce the fruit!
We mustn’t kid ourselves that we can be God’s people and not be a light to the nations. If we are going to be God’s people, we must bear the fruit of the kingdom. If we aren’t being the light, we aren’t being God’s people. If we are not a house of prayer for all the nations, then like the Jews of Jesus’ day, our “church” is a den of thieves.
Hey, that’s pretty harsh! We have a good fellowship here. We take care of each other. Reaching the lost just isn’t our spiritual gift. That’s what our pastor does. We give our offerings and send some of it to the missionaries. Who are we robbing?
Sorry, Israel, but God didn’t call us to have a good fellowship and leave it to our pastor to bear the fruit of the Kingdom. He called us to be his people on his mission to tell the whole world about his glory and love and forgiveness.
If our church isn’t doing that, then our “church” isn’t a church at all. Our “church” is a den of thieves.
Our “church” is a den of thieves because we are keeping the good news of God’s glory and love and forgiveness from all the world’s peoples. We are robbing God of the honor he is due among them.
Our “church” is a den of thieves because we are robbing lost souls of their opportunity to have a relationship with God.
And our “church” is a den of thieves because we are robbing ourselves of the joy of bringing a lost soul back to its Creator, robbing ourselves of the satisfaction of being the blessing God called us to be, and robbing ourselves of the thrill of actually completing our Great Commission task – making disciples of all nations.
God’s heart is broken over every one of his lost children who suffers in slavery to sin. His people are the ones who give themselves wholeheartedly to the mission of rescuing their lost brothers and sisters.
What would please your Father more than devoting yourself to bringing his lost children home?
Indeed, if you refuse to help with his mission, is there anything at all you could do that would please him?
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