In first century Jerusalem there was huge temple for carrying out the Jewish sacrifices and customs. This was built according to God’s design/blueprint and the intention for it was to be a place of prayer, contemplation, and repentance. Like most things, the original intention for the Jewish Temple was far different from what it had become by the first century. The Sadducees were the ones that controlled the temple and its various components and had become very wealthy as a result. It would have been a hardship to come to Jerusalem from far away in order to make a sacrifice if you had to bring the animal all that way, and the animal had to meet certain requirements as well. Therefore they sold animals for sacrifice in the temple courts…and some have said that they were very picky about the animals people brought in from the outside…insuring that they would have to buy an animal from the temple. They also would not use Roman money in the temple. Roman money was idolatrous in that it had the image of Caesar on it, with an inscription that he was divine. Therefore they had a money-changers table, where they would exchange Roman currency (which was valued everywhere) for temple currency (valued only in the temple) in order that when someone needed to buy an animal or do anything else financial in the temple, they could get the proper money to do so. The rub to this was that they had a very high exchange rate, and they were making a major profit off of the proceeds of the temple.
The people in charge of the Jewish Temple had it made. They had a monopoly on Jewish worship. This was the only temple and they were told by God it was to be the only place of their sacrifices. They had turned this into an absolute goldmine…and it was for this very reason that Jesus was so disgusted. He saw what they were doing, became very angry…enough to make a whip…and began flailing them…running them out and overturning their merchant tables. The reason He became so angry is that they had long forgotten the very reason for this entire system. The reason for it was one of atonement between God and man. It existed for the glory of the relationship between Yahweh and humanity, with a forward look to the ultimate sacrifice that would be made in order to fully inaugurate this glory.
I look at our current Christian industry…what a preacher of old named Leonard Ravenhill called “religious machinery,” and I wonder….would Jesus overturn our tables today? Do we exist in order to keep the business maintained and growing or do we exist to truly be the light of the world? I wonder how much we are fooling ourselves…when I read about ministers that are making exorbitant salaries…and if I’m honest…I’m really not sure if I am angered that they do that or that I’m not able to (just being honest)…or when I see commercials on the religious stations that are essentially promising to sell you a miracle…wow…I just wonder. Some of the Christian bookstores that started off as nonprofit have gone from being nonprofit to being totally for-profit…Christian songwriters have admittedly written music just to keep production going and money coming in instead of solely by inspiration…some Christian publishing companies are charging outrageous prices and charging royalties on, of all things, the Bible…and I keep asking myself…have we rightly applied the adjective “Christian” to these things? It’s almost as if the word has simply become a good marketing tool…and the interesting thing is that all the while…we stand in pulpits week after week and talk about how corrupt the systems of the first century Jewish Temple were…
So now that you’re disgusted and angry and may even be feeling a little indignant…here’s my question: What are we going to do about it? Jesus saw the problem and He did something about it…but He didn’t abandon it. That seems to be our way of doing things…it’s easier…it’s less messy…and really…it’s spineless. The Protestant Reformation started because Martin Luther was disgusted by the abuses of the church in exactly the same way…and He called them out on it. He didn’t leave the movement of the church…nor did he ever intend on anything like that. He wanted to see our faith returned to what it was meant to be to begin with…a relationship based on grace by faith…having nothing to do with how to drive sales higher.
Our churches have many problems…many….MANY problems…and one of those problems is the fact that we have created an awful lot of machinery to accomplish a very simple task…we are to share the Gospel…each and every one of us…not just the ones of us with a title (another subject for another post…)…and in so doing, we are to teach others how to do it. Let’s remember this one calling…it is glorious…and so very rewarding. Let’s stop making His house (which is us by the way…not the church building) into anything other than what it is supposed to be…a city on a hill…a light to the world…preaching the truth about the hope for mankind. The last thing we should ever do is try to get rich off of this wonderful truth…because if we get it…we are already rich beyond our wildest dreams.