Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.
Even a quick look around our house would cause you to observe that I have no business preaching a message entitled “Cleaning House!” I’m afraid matters are worse after Wednesday night.
This sad story begins with God giving me a warning on Tuesday when Dawn stopped by the office to accuse me of working overtime. Of course I denied it. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned how they had to quick get the hose back on their sump pump discharge because it had started running with all the snow and ice melting outdoors.
That is something I had never thought of doing. Take off your sump pump hose? Who does that? The Lord sent Dawn to warn me to check my own hose. But I did not catch the warning, so when I got home after Bible study Wednesday night, it finally occurred to me to check. The answer was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs: at least a half-inch of water all across the basement floor. The sump pump couldn’t run because the hose outside was frozen shut.
So now we have some serious house cleaning to do, especially in the basement. This experience confirms a pair of my sayings:
“Snow is rain on credit. You’ll pay for it later.”
“A basement is a hole under your house for catching rainwater.”
Jesus never had to use a wet-dry vac, but today we’ll look at a time He set out to do some cleaning out of the house of God. It was a dramatic, aggressive act on Jesus’ part but entirely necessary. Let’s see what we can learn from His example.
CONTEXT: This passage follows Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine (vs. 1-12) and precedes His instruction of Nicodemus (3:1-21). In John’s Gospel, these are all precedent-setting events; the first miracle demonstrated Jesus’ power, the cleansing of the temple His authority, and the encounter with Nicodemus the substance of His teaching.
1. Jesus’ actions invited opposition. (vs. 13-17)
The PASSOVER was the ideal time to launch a new ministry and that’s how this incident is used in John’s gospel. The PASSOVER was one of three annual festivals godly Jews were required to attend. At that time the city swelled with pilgrims from around the ancient world. The event probably occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, the most public place in Jerusalem. All lights “green” for launch!
The people doing business there were “authorized sellers” in one sense or another. The sellers of sacrificial animals (CATTLE, SHEEP AND DOVES) were authorized by the Law: Deuteronomy 14:24-26 allowed those traveling a great distance to sell the animal they intended to offer, converting it to cash. Upon arrival at the sacred place, the cash could be used to buy another animal to be offered to God. This avoided the inconvenience and expense of transporting live animals.
The MONEY CHANGERS were not authorized in Scripture, but were deemed necessary under Roman occupation. Roman coins depicted Caesar and described him as god. They were considered blasphemous, unfit for use in the temple. Every adult Jewish male was expected to pay the “temple tax” of a half shekel to support the temple and the priests (Exodus 30:13). Specially minted coins called “temple tokens” were used. The exchange rate always benefitted the exchangers.
No weapons were allowed in the temple or its courts. When Jesus MADE A WHIP, he likely bundled together some of the ropes used to contain the cattle.
He DROVE ALL out. This stampede was a severe disruption of “business as usual.” Jesus threw the tables and coins of the MONEY CHANGERS into disarray.
Why did Jesus do it? The gospels advance three explanations:
Jesus told the sellers of DOVES they’d turned His FATHER’S HOUSE INTO A MARKET. Zechariah 14:21 promises an ideal future where NO MERCHANT would be found in the temple, so turning the temple courts into a marketplace was bad all on its own.
The disciples believed Jesus’ ZEAL for God’s house consumed him. They saw Psalm 69:9 as a prediction, Jesus’ actions as the fulfillment.
In Matthew 21:13, Jesus condemned them for making the temple into A DEN OF THIEVES, quoting the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:11).
2. Jesus’ actions were opposed. (18-22)
Matthew’s reference to THE JEWS in verse eighteen is shorthand for the religious/civil leaders of the Jewish people. They demanded Jesus give them a SIGN - a miracle - that would prove his authority to disrupt the ordinary business of the temple.
Jesus did offer them a SIGN, just not the kind of SIGN they were expecting. Referring to His own body, He offered His resurrection as the ultimate proof of His authority. When they killed Him, he would not remain dead, but be raised to life.
In Jesus’ reply John used the word RAISE, unlike the other Gospels, which used the word REBUILD. RAISE is a more typical figure of speech for “resurrection.” After Jesus was raised from the dead, the DISCIPLES understood Jesus’ intended meaning and believed all had taken place as God had predicted in the SCRIPTURES (22).
THE JEWS’ misunderstanding is in evident in verse twenty. They thought Jesus was referring to the temple. Jesus’ words were later turned against Him: during His trial, Jewish leaders cited them as a threat to the temple (Mark 15:58; Matthew 26:61) and people used them to mock Him at His crucifixion (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:40). After Jesus returned to heaven, this charge was repeated when Deacon Stephen was on trial (Acts 6:14).
3. Jesus backed up His claims with miracles. (23-25)
Ironically, Jesus would not give the Jewish leaders a SIGN when they demanded it (18), but He gave several to the people (23). In reaction to Jesus’ MIRACULOUS SIGNS, MANY PEOPLE BELIEVED IN HIS NAME.
In John 1:12 the phrase BELIEVED IN HIS NAME described those who faith was adequate for salvation. But here, the same Gk words describe people who did not possess true faith. This use of the same words to describe very different spiritual conditions illustrates the difficulty we have in knowing people’s hearts. However, Jesus knew the difference; HE KNEW ALL MEN. There’s no fooling Him.
Knowing their faith was merely superficial, Jesus did not consider them to be trustworthy followers. Their excitement about the miracles would not carry them through the real work of following Him.
The Pharisee Nicodemus is offered as an example of these fair-weather disciples. In fact, He began the conversation referencing the miracles, “FOR NO ONE COULD PERFORM THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS YOU ARE DOING IF GOD WERE NOT WITH HIM.” The good news is that he did come to true faith. In John 19:39 Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus’ body.
Love for God’s “house” (His people) may require a cleansing.
At this point we should all be asking ourselves, “What would Jesus if He walked into our church right now?” Would He thank us for our faithfulness or chase us out of here with a broom? I would expect most churches fall somewhere between obviously faithful and obviously false. And that is a big reason why churches can be so hard to sort out.
Dr. Thom S. Rainer is a church consultant. He published an article on his website five years ago identifying nine traits of “mean churches.” Based on his experience and training, he offered these insights as a means of prayerfully and carefully considering our own life together. Take a moment to think about each one as I merely list them.
Too many decisions are made in the cloak of darkness.
The pastor and/or staff are treated poorly.
Power groups tenaciously hold on to their power.
There is lack of clear accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures.
Leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit.
A number of the members see those outside of the church as “them” or “those people.”
Many members have an inward focus; they view the church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled.
Many people in the community view these churches negatively.
Most of the members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place.
How are we doing? It’s not realistic to think that churches are only going to be places where nice people are nice to one another. Real people in real places having real relationships will often be quite messy.
That said, the point is that we have chosen a direction aimed at Jesus: that we are characterized by love manifest in forgiveness and cooperation. That kind of fellowship is the kind that will attract and retain new life. The question is never “What kind of church do I want?” instead it is “What kind of church is Jesus working to make us?” Like Jesus, we must not let the Pharisees have the final say.
The Anchor Bible Commentary, Raymond E. Brown.