Jesus Cleanses the Temple
Over the past couple years, going back all the way to September 2012, we have been working our way through the Gospel of Mark – and have made it all the way to Mark 7. My resolution this year, even though it is going to feel like lightspeed (to me), is to finish the Gospel of Mark before the end of Summer.
But since we’re in the Lent season, we’re going to do things a little out of order. For the next while, up until Easter, we are going to be working our way through Passion Week. Each Sunday we’ll be talking about a day in the life of Jesus Christ – the last week before His crucifixion and resurrection. Today, I want to talk a bit about Sunday and Monday. I also want to note that this series was inspired by an amazing book called “Crucify: Why The Crowds Killed Jesus“.
Up until this point, and for the past three years, Jesus has been wandering from town to town, preaching, teaching and announcing and explaining the message: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:1). Everything has been about explaining that message. What has been fulfilled? What is the Kingdom of God? What is repentance? What is belief? What is the Gospel?
Over the last three years the teaching has been getting more and more specific. When he started, He was explaining His position as the fulfiller of Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. Then He confirmed His claims through miracles. At first the messages and miracles were private – to individuals and the followers of John the Baptist, changing water to wine and healing small town people in their homes. But His reputation grew quickly and the crowds grew larger and larger.
After a time He was forced to teach from a boat to shores full of people, climb mountains to address thousands gathered to hear Him and have their sick healed. The pressure became relentless so He was forced to hide from the crowds and wake up extremely just so He could get some quiet time.
From these crowds He chose a select group of people, whom we call the Apostles, that would receive special training and a more intimate communion with Him. But even they didn’t fully grasp what He was doing. He had been making messianic allusions all along – explaining that He was intending to go to Jerusalem and suffer, even die, at the hands of the Jewish and Roman authorities. No matter how many times He explained it, no one really understood, no one really believed Him.
For them, He is a King, the Messiah, the Great Prophet, the Healer, the Miracle Worker who can make the lame walk, the blind see, and food materialize out of nowhere. Sure, He had some hard things to say as He preached things like the Beatitudes (What does “blessed are the poor” even mean?), or “Love your enemies”, or “God prefers when you pray privately and no one sees you”, or “if your eye causes you to sin, cut it out”, but this kind of extremism is to be expected from a prophet, isn’t it?
And He certainly had some strange habits for a future King. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He performed miracles for Roman centurions and talked to Samaritans. But so what? He had undeniable power and authority from God, had gathered thousands of followers, and was now marching His way towards Jerusalem!
Surely this would be the One to finally conquer the Romans, destroy their enemies, elevate the Jewish people to be the greatest nation on earth… and have each of His twelve apostles at His side – each on a throne, with a province to rule, the world at their feet – I mean Jesus’ feet… yeah, Jesus’ feet.
Let’s read the events of Sunday from Mark 11:1-11:
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’’ And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’ And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
The Triumphal Entry
Many Bible’s call that part “the Triumphal Entry”. We usually commemorate that day on Palm Sunday, which is 4 weeks from now. It was quite a day, and everything that happened, was exactly what His followers wanted to happen!
Imagine the intensity of the crowd. Jesus slept the night before in the house of His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus – who many followers know because Lazarus’ resurrection. The disciples bring the animal for Jesus to ride on – a very important sign to everyone since it fulfilled the messianic prophecy of Zecheriah 9:9:
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Everyone knew what Jesus was doing and claiming – to be royalty, the king of Jersualem, the Saviour of the city and its people – but they were completely mistaken as to why.
The Passover was only a week away, Jerusalem’s most popular event, and the city is already filling up with visitors – not to mention the entourage following Jesus. The multitude grows as the colt slowly makes the two mile journey from Bethphage to Jerusalem. The anticipation grows with every step with people laying down cloaks waving palm branches like flags in a royal procession.
Soon the large crowd following Jesus joins with the large crowd coming out of Jerusalem – even Jesus’ enemies, the Pharisees, have come to see the spectacle. The crowd’s excitement can’t be bottled up anymore and they shout, “Hosanna in the highest!”
“Hosanna” means “Save us! Please Save us! God save us!” They are shouting their expectation of Him to usurp King Herod and overthrow the Roman oppression of Emperor Tiberius. Some even shout the traitorous slogan: “Blessed is the King of Israel!” which could get you killed under Roman law.
The Pharisees hear this and are terrified. In Luke we read that they tell Jesus to command His followers to be silent! If the Romans hear this they could send their army, start arresting and killing people as rioters and traitors to the emperor. But they couldn’t be stopped, and eventually even the Pharisees give up trying (John 12:19).
The telling of the story in Luke gives us a glimpse into what was going through Jesus’ heart and mind at this time. As the crowds yelled adulations, His enemies were embarrassed, and the whole city chanted praise to Him, it says:
“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’” (Luke 19:41-44)
He’s looking into the eyes of the people, and knows their future. The gate He’s entering, the walls He’s passing, the people who are shouting, in mere days will turn on Him. They will reject their King and their Messiah. And then, in less than 40 years, in 70 AD, Emperor Titus and his Roman army will have enough of this ridiculous city with its rebellious people, will sack the city, and destroy everything, killing and enslaving hundreds of thousands of people.
He’s not revelling in His popularity, He’s weeping over the foolishness and rebelliousness of the people before Him. They just don’t get it. His words come in sobs. And what happens next, no doubt, comes as a surprise to everyone. Look at verse 11.
“And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”
The multitudes around Him are on bated breath , waiting for a word from their Saviour, their King, their Messiah. And what does He do? He leaves. He doesn’t walk up to the palace and demand an audience. He doesn’t perform any miracles. He doesn’t teach. He breaks into sobs of lament, gets to the Temple, looks around at everything, and then… walks away.
This helps to explain what happens the next day – on Monday.
Let’s read from verse 12:
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it. And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying 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 den of robbers.’ And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.”
On the way to Jerusalem we see Jesus do something very peculiar and highly symbolic. It’s no coincidence that the Cursing of the Fig Tree and the Cleansing of the Temple come next to each other. Many times in the Old Testament prophets use the fig tree as a symbol of Israel. scripture Mark is showing us something here.
Jesus is hungry and sees a fig tree with green leaves. He walks up to a tree expecting to find the little, edible buds that come out around March and April, before they fall off and turn into figs. The green leaves implied the presence of something more. This tree had leaves and no buds. No buds meant no fruit.
Jesus curses the tree that looks to everyone like it was healthy and could nourish those who come by. He curses the tree that, from afar, makes the promise of health and fulfillment, but that, up close, is fruitless – an utter disappointment.
And then he walks into Jerusalem. Jesus comes into a very different city than He had left on Sunday. The fervour of the previous day had abated and now it was time to get down to some serious preparations and shopping. Things had to be ready for the fast approaching Passover – which is why there were so many retailers in the temple courts.
The city was in full bloom, activity everywhere, a flurry of religious activity. Pharisees prayed on street corners, women ran to and fro busy in their preparations, men selling religious requirements and exchanging foreign currency at exorbitantly inflated prices. The noise was overwhelming, and Jesus’ heart was still heavy from the day before.
Not a thing had changed since He had cleansed the temple two years earlier. They had all come back and were just as fervent in their sales as before. The poor are being abused, the sick are forgotten, the needful pushed aside so more money could be made, and the religious machine could move forward.
Jesus is heart-sick at this situation. His closest followers don’t understand what He’s doing. The religious elites have forgotten the meaning and spirit of the Law He gave Moses. The Temple, the place that God had set aside so that the world could come and meet with Him, had been turned into a religious market designed to prey upon those who were meant to come and worship.
And Jesus has had enough.
“It is His last opportunity to demonstrate what His Father feels about the religious system that operates to keep the powerful in power, the weak in bondage, and the nation in self-serving blinders. He grabs the sides of tables and flips them over. He kicks the chairs of those selling pigeons at the expense of widows and orphans.” (Crucify: Why the Crowd Killed Jesus, Pg 226)
It’s the same as the cursing of the fruitless fig tree. Jerusalem, and its Temple, looks like they can satisfy the spiritual needs of its people, but it can’t. It’s all show and no substance. A mile wide and an inch deep. They were so caught up in religious activity that they forgot to feed the people. It was empty of anything good – nothing but green leaves.
The current reality of what Jesus was looking at “is so far removed from His Father’s intention that it compels Jesus to react.” (ibid)
Application: A Personal Cleansing
You can already guess at the application today – and it’s something that God has been working in my heart for a while now. In fact, before I started preparing for this sermon, I was asked to share a devotional with some area pastors, and I had come up with the same message to them – though I didn’t figure it out until I started my sermon prep. Unbeknownst to me, the lessons of Sunday and Monday have been stirring in my heart for some time.
And to close today, I want to read to you what I wrote to this group of pastors because I believe it applies to all of us today:
The heart, motivations and character of the worshipper is paramount to God – not the motions and methodology of our ministries. It doesn’t matter how right we get it, how great our churches are, how amazing the music, how far our reach, or how many people we get in the door. If our hearts (and the hearts of our people) are not connected to God, all that we have done it utterly meaningless.
I’m convinced that this is the reason we are not seeing revival in our churches – because we’re trying to find our salvation through methodology. We, the pastors and the churches, are not unlike the hypocritical Pharisees who conduct our rituals in public, open our doors, show off our religion and the trappings of our spiritual ceremonies – but they have not been energized by spiritual consecration, suffering obedience, and private prayer. A few people may be in prayer before we conduct our ceremony, but in my experience, is literally perfunctory – meaning “carried out with a minimum of effort or reflection.”
We give God our perfunctory prayer before the service and music practice, our perfunctory scripture reading at the right time, our perfunctory gathering of the offering, our perfunctory singing of the songs, our perfunctory attention to the sermon, standing up and sitting down when we’re supposed to…. We know it must be done, and we are doing it in obedience, but are we not just like the Israelites from Isaiah 1 who are going through the motions, doing the right thing, saying the right words, but the hearts of our people – and the ministers, elders, deacons, teachers – are in fact far from God? Are not our churches, pulpits, choirs, and pews not full of banging gongs and clanging symbols?
We are so used to the system we have come up with to worship God that we can go through all our religious activity – prayer, bible reading, study, fellowship, visitation, and worship – without even having to think about it. Everyone knows what must be done, when it must be done, and who must do it – and any deviation from the plan causes our little canoe to wobble precariously as people grump about how they “feel” and how they “want to be fed”.
Part of us (part of me) believes that if we keep working the methods, keep performing the ceremonies, that at some point God will bless us. I’m slowly learning that this attitude is fruitless. We need to be cleansed.
I am convicted so deeply these days that I am a mile wide and an inch deep – and I don’t think I’m alone. We pastors are nice people, full of bible knowledge, able to answer a multitude of questions about life, the universe and everything, faithful in our obedience’s, even hard workers – but I don’t think that’s enough.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, every verse takes away our methods and forces us to stay away from perfunctory obedience. In the Beatitudes we see Him stripping us of every worldly help as He says Blessed are the “poor, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted and the reviled.”
In that Jesus strips our ministries of thinking revival will come through riches or emotional displays of happiness. He strips us of believing revival will come through the spectacle of worldly consumerism and demonstrations of how clever we are. He tells us to be meek and takes away belief that revival will come by the force of our own will. He refuses to give us satisfaction, knowing that spiritual revival will not come to the satisfied. He smashes our idols and tells us that revival will not come if we bend the truth and partner with the world. He strips us of comfort, of safety, and even of friends as He tells us that following Him will require us step into a warzone, be amazingly costly, and make a lot of people many people angry. And Jesus’ path of cleansing and away of worldly methods and thinking continues throughout the sermon. He cursed the fruitless tree, He cleansed the Temple, and He cleanses us when we read His Sermon on the Mount.
Being “salt” and “light” means we lose our right to privacy and spiritual contentment Loving our enemies means we are forced to always be the bigger person. Next Jesus strips us of a private thought life as he says adultery is happens in mind, and is not merely an action.
Jesus tells us that we must stay married – even to a horrible, neglectful, bitter, unhelpful, selfish spouse – and that we have to serve them, love them, and give more and more to them every day. Some are stripped of the refuge of marital love.
Jesus says that every word we say matters – we are stripped from meaningless conversation or blowing off unimportant things that we foolishly agreed to.
Jesus says we have to “turn the other cheek”! Which means even if we are wiser, smarter, stronger and more right than our enemies– and could turn our enemies inside out – we aren’t allowed. We must let them strike us again.
I read the words of Jesus, and the actions of Christ as He curses the green fig tree and cleanses the temple, and I’m deeply convicted about the overwhelming depth of my sin and the personal responsibility I take for the lack of revival in my heart, my family, my church, my town and my nation. In a lot of ways, it is my fault. I’m just like that green tree, and those who used religion to their own selfish ends.
I can’t get away from that. I am so full of besetting sin and woeful spiritual inadequacy. The 7 Deadly sins of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony are the air I breathe and the food I eat. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from them. I desperately need Jesus to cleanse the temple of my heart.
I want to be a better man, and I want God to make much of Himself through me – through each of us – but I cry out with Paul:
“I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24)
And in the same measure I lean on the answer Paul gave; the only hope that He found:
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! … There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 7:25; 8:1, 31-35; 37-38)
What else can I do? What else can we do? In Jesus I must put my hope. If we are to see revival, we all must put our hope in Him. Not in our methods, not in our own strength, not in our consistency, friendship, relationship or even our giftings – but in Christ’s power to overcome all of our sins and somehow work good for His glory instead.
I want to take you on a bit of a journey around scripture today. We’re still in the Gospel of Mark, but we’re going to jump around a bit to explain part of what we are going to talk about today.
First, open up to Mark 4:21-25. Let’s remember our context. Jesus was having a teaching time on the seaside and told the Parable of the Sower. Then, after he went inside, he explained the parable to a smaller group of disciples. That parable was what inspired our study over the past 6 weeks. Now, in the same context of understanding the parables and being open to the voice and the word of God, Jesus says:
“‘Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And he said to them, ‘Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’”
Light and Darkness
Now, what we see Jesus talking about here the importance of hearing what God says and then putting it into action. Jesus is the light of the world and He is bringing light to all those in darkness. Light and Darkness – and the human response to Light and Darkness was a big theme in Jesus teaching.
Right after the very famous passage, John 3:16, Jesus says to the Pharisee Nicodemus, in John 3:19-21:
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
He gives a similar message in the Mark 4. Jesus came and brought light. His message of salvation and the coming of the kingdom of God was like light shining on a dark place.
But, as we’ve all experienced, being in a dark place and seeing a sudden bright light causes us to react. No doubt you’ve experienced this. “Morning people” react very differently than “night owls” to the brightness of the sun.
When the “morning people” wake up, they throw open the windows and welcome the day. “What a beautiful day to be alive! Look at all that sunshine! The birds are singing, the sky is blue, the flowers are drinking it in, and the world is a beautiful place to be alive!” I hate those people.
People like me, however, have a very different reaction. My wife wakes up in the mornings, opens the windows – and I grumble as though the light is causing me pain. I hide under my pillow. She pulls away the pillow and I hide under my blanket. She pulls off the blanket and I grumble and groan and start speaking like a caveman. “Light bad… hurt eyes… want sleep… me want dark.”
Jesus says that we have a similar reaction to Him. Except the reason we fear the light He brings is because it exposes our deeds. “…everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Jesus says a very similar thing in the passage we are looking at in Mark today. “Here I am. I’m the light. Here is my message. It is light. Here is my kingdom. All who are part of it are light. It makes no sense to hide the light under a basket. The light is here to make things manifest (to be easily seen), to expose secrets.
Light From Christ
And then he follows up his illustration about light this way in verse 23: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Meaning “Listen up… this is important.” And then he says something very, very similar in the next verse, “Pay attention to what you hear…”. Clearly Jesus has something very important to say. What is it? “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you…”
This isn’t just here. Jesus uses it in Matthew 7:2 when he’s talking about judging others,
“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
And in Luke 6:37-38 He uses it when talking about giving forgiveness and generosity to others,
“…forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you…. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
What does it mean in Mark? Again, in the context, Jesus is talking about the His Light coming into the world. What’s he’s talking about is God’s Voice. God says we need to be careful how we judge others, and how we forgive others, and how generous we are with others, because those actions will be taken into account by God. And then, in the same way here, Jesus is saying “Be careful what you do with the light that you are given (the truth, the message, the seeds in the parable of the sower, the voice of God) because what you do with that light will affect how much light you receive.”
If we see the light of Christ, and then share the light of Christ, then we will receive more light from Christ. If we see the light of Christ, and then hide it “under a basket, or under a bed”, or in our home, or in our church, or in our private lives… then we will not receive any more light from Jesus.
Jesus is so clear in his teaching here. Jesus is the source of light. He gives us access to the light that comes in voice of God and living in His truth. That truth (the light) is not meant to be hidden, but to be exposed. Jesus looks at his followers then, and now, and tells them that the kingdom was concealed for time, but it is out in the open now. The light of the world has come. And what you do with that light – whatever measure you have been given – will be judged. And not only that, whatever light you have – if you share it with others, it will grow brighter. But, if you hide it away, it will dim.
Jesus gives us “the light”. He exposes the deeds of darkness and gives us access to light, truth and forgiveness. But we have a choice. When we see the light we can be like that morning person who welcomes the light, gets ready, sees the beauty in it, and wants more and more of it. Or we can crawl back into the dark, deny the light, get angry at the one who would expose us, and stay in the darkness.
Our Lives Will Be Measured
Our lives, and how we react to – and use – the light Jesus gives us will be measured. I want to share an example of what this looks like. Here is the story of a man who looked at his life, weighed what he knew about Jesus, about himself, and about the world in which he lived, and made a choice.
You can hear his struggle. Do I go back to living in the dark, pretending that this problem doesn’t exists? Do I go back to the comfort of the darkness… more money, more time, more family… or do I live within the light that Jesus has given me, even though it will cost me so much?
I love that quote , “I kept asking myself the question, ‘Is this what a good Samaritan would do’?” That was the light that God had given Him. The parable – the story that Jesus told of the good Samaritan and what it means to be a “good neighbour”. And then he says, “I really sensed in my heart that God wanted me to provide medical care for these people outside of the ER and who was I to question what God wanted to do?”
That’s what it means to “Pay attention to what you hear…” and know that “…with the measure you use, it will be measured to you…”.
He says, “A lot of people thought what I was doing was foolish, and they were probably right. In the eyes of the world… ”
The Foreigner and the Outcast
Let me take an aside and show God’s heart here. The foreigner and the outcast, the widow and the orphan, the hurting and the destitute, the sick and the prisoner, are incredibly important to God (Matthew 25:34, Luke 14:12-14). Hospitality to strangers and friends who need help is commanded (Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:13).
I was reading Isaiah 56 this week and it speaks about God’s heart for the outcasts of this world. Turn there with me.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.’” (vs 1-2)
We’ve been told this many times in many different places in the Bible, right? This is spoken to the people of the Lord – the insiders, the people of God. What about the outsiders? Listen to the words of God to people who are outcasts and who don’t know what God is going to do with them? Can they be saved? Will they always be outcasts?
“Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely separate me from his people’; and let not the eunuch say, ‘Behold, I am a dry tree.’” (vs 3)
They are not Jews, but are foreigners. Is there any hope for them? Many eunuchs were emasculated and were slaves who couldn’t have families of their own, and when they learned about God’s priorities for life they realize that the damage that has been done to them has completely messed up their future. They can’t obey God in some ways because of their past. Some people feel this way. They have a past full of sin, and they aren’t sure if it can be overcome. They are an outsider to the people of God.
They weren’t born to the right family, but they grew up in a sinful, abusive, pagan mess. They are hurting so deeply because they’ve been emotionally, spiritually, physically and sexually damaged. They spent their life worshipping idols and practicing terrible acts of violence against others. Can they be saved? What does God think of them?
“For thus says the LORD: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.’ The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, ‘I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’” (vs 4-8)
Do you see God’s heart here? To those with a history that seems too terrible to overcome, God says, “If you want to be one of my people, and rest in me… I will take away the condemnation of you past and give you a new name. I will take you and give you a future better than you would have ever imagined or asked for. I will take you, who had no home of your own, and give you a place to live within my own house. I will give you a ministry, a purpose, a promise, a place of worship, a joyful house of prayer, and you will be one of my people. My house isn’t just for some people, it’s not just for a certain kind of people – “it shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”!
And just to make sure we completely understand that everyone is invited, in verse 8 God even invites the people who were kicked out or left – the believer who backslid, who grew up in the faith and turned their back on God – and says that He will go and gather them up too and include them in the great crowd that He is bringing together to save. No one is beyond the mercy and the light of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Clears the Temple
Reading that brings new light to Jesus cleansing the Temple, doesn’t it? You know what happened. The people of God had allowed the outer court, called “The Court of the Gentiles” to be turned into a Marketplace! This was the place where non-Jewish believers would come and worship. They weren’t allowed in the inner court, but God had made sure that there was a huge courtyard where all the people’s of the world could come and worship! Even at the very beginning, when Solomon built the first temple (2 Chronicles 6:32-33) it was always a place where the world could come and find mercy in the presence of God.
And yet, when Jesus came there…
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying 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 den of robbers.’’” (Mark 11:15-17)
Jesus is absolutely zealous in protecting the place where people come to meet God. They had forgotten that God isn’t just for the insiders, but is the God of all people! God gathers his people from all over, and Jesus is incensed by the arrogance and absolute cruelty of the Jewish people who would be so selfish as to kick the whole world out of the temple – and replace their place of worship with a place to make money.
So Jesus, with his bare hands, in the time of the Passover – the busiest season of the year – drives the money changers and the salesman from the Court of the Gentiles. He smashed through the barriers that were placed between repentant sinners and a forgiving God – just as He was about to do completely when He would be crucified only days later.
Can you see the passion of Jesus, the passion of God, for the outsiders? He spent so much time with prostitutes, thieves, outcasts, drunkards, the sick and demon possessed, that the nice, religious people couldn’t stand him!
What is their reaction to Jesus clearing the temple? Mark 11:18,
“And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
Let’s kill him. Not because He’s wrong, but because he was right! He blasted the glorious streams of the light of the Kingdom of God all over the Court of the Gentiles, and there were people there who were basking in it. Finally, light has come! Mercy, grace, peace, love, hope, healing… for the world! But the Pharisees saw that light and hated it. They wanted to stay in the dark, and keep everyone around trapped in the darkness with them.
Light Gets Lighter & Darkness Gets Darker
At the end of the video we watched, he concludes by saying,
“It’s been worth the risk, I think, because I’m kind of afraid of the person I would have become had I continued doing what I was doing. To become more hardened and callous and willingly blind.”
Those are incredibly important words. He’s felt the passion of Jesus for the outcast, the outsider, the hurting and broken. And he’s knows what Jesus meant when said:
“For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’”
If he had not acted on the light he had been given – and stayed “willingly blind”, just like the Pharisees, he knows in his heart that he would have become harder and more callous towards the hurting people around him. He’s right. Those who act on the light Jesus gives them will get more and more light. And those who do not, even the light that they have will be taken away. They will get darker and darker.
Pure and Faultless Religion
Please turn to James 1:21-27 and let’s grab our applications from there as we close for today. Let’s read,
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:21-27)
Here again is the same message we’ve been listening to. You’ve been shown the light. You’ve heard the voice of God. The seeds have been cast into your soil. The word of God is in front of you. You’ve looked in the mirror. What are you going to do with what you see?
I see three points to remember:
First, cleanse your temple. God’s light has shone on us, and in our souls. The first thing we must do, therefore, is get rid of the dark stuff. “…put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” If you’ve seen the light, accept the light, and get rid of the filth you’ve seen. Don’t be like the fool who fear the light and prefer to let wickedness run rampant in their souls. Remember, Jesus says, “…everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
So, allow the light of God to shine in your soul, accept what He’s showing you, and get rid of the filthiness. Give Jesus access to your temple and let Him clear out the mess that keeps you from him. Be as zealous about cleaning out your soul as Jesus was in cleaning the Temple.
Second, don’t be a fat sheep that listens to the word and does nothing about it. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”As Jesus says, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Remember, he’s talking about hearing the voice of God. If you’ve been to church services, bible studies, small groups, and have read a bunch of books and listened to even more sermons – then are you acting on what you know? Sure, you’re listening, but are you living in the light you have been given?
If you are not, you run the risk of having that light diminished or taken away. There’s only so many times that you can listen to the Holy Spirit say, “Now go do that” and say “No”, before His voice goes away.
We’ve been talking for the past 6 weeks about how to listen to the voice of God, but it doesn’t end there. Listening is only half of the equation. Hear, and then act. Listen, and obey. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” What does “deceiving yourselves” mean?
It means don’t lie to yourself. Don’t betray yourself with the false thinking that hearing is all that is needed to be saved! Don’t be a fat sheep that merely believes that eating is the way to please your shepherd. You must run, be healthy, produce wool and good meat. That’s the whole point of the book of James. “Faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:17, 26)
And what are those works? That’s the third point: Self-Control, Mercy & Purity. Watch your mouth, live for others, and stay pure. James 1:26-27, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
This is what Jesus taught. This is what the doctor from the video figured out. This is what Paul was saying to the Ephesians. This is what James is saying. If you want to be religious – here’s how to be religious.
- First, watch your mouth because your words matter.
- Second, crush self-interest in your heart.
- Third, have a passion for the power and presence of God that comes through purity.
Self-control, Mercy and Purity are what is expected of a believer. Be religious about them. The world is going to think you are crazy. And you may get hated, just like Jesus was. You may turn into a “pariah” like the doctor. But that is what living in the light looks like!
“What? You gave it all away? You do what with your free time? You gave up doing what? You don’t watch that or go there? Are you fanatical? Are you dumb? Are you in a cult? Are you stupid? You are given the chance to gain, but instead you choose to lose or give it away? What’s wrong with you?”
Weigh it Out
Jesus tells us to consider our life carefully. To weigh it out. At the end, when we face the judgement seat of Christ, our life will be weighed. What a terrible thing to think you have so much only to realize that in God’s eyes, when He shines His light on your life, that in truth you have very little.
Reminds me of Revelation 3:17-19,
“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Will your life, when it is weighed by God, be weighty and substantial – or will it be weightless and foolish?
Are you living in the light Christ has given you, and desiring more? Or do you prefer the darkness?