He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” — John 2:14-16 (NIV)
This certainly blows away images of Jesus as being perpetually mild-mannered and gentle as a lamb! The lamb is also a lion! This one man in action was unimpeded in overturning tables and single-handedly drove several people and many animals out of the temple. He wasn’t trying to clear the temple — only those whose purpose was commerce rather than prayer.
What lessons are we to take from this? Was Jesus angry because money was being exchanged? If so, ought we forbid Christian books and other items from being sold in our churches today? I would suggest Jesus anger had less to do with what was taking place in the temple and was really about what the buying and selling was interfering with.
We get more of a clue about this when Jesus cleared the temple again a few years later, right before He was crucified. At that time, He further clarified His motivation by saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers'” (Mark 11:17, NIV). You see, the merchants had set up shop in the place that was set aside for Gentiles to pray. Furthermore, these merchants had such high prices for the animals that were to be offered as sacrifices that they were impoverishing people who were simply trying to worship God with their whole hearts. It seems that God gets very upset when people do things that make it difficult for others to find God.
While selling Christian books in a church lobby after the service seems to me to be an activity that helps people find God — and therefore is an activity that God would probably be pleased with — I wonder what things our churches do that keep people from finding God?
I know that the temple and our churches are not perfectly analogous, so some comparisons of the two are completely unfair. Still, it’s okay to ask the question and give some thought to the answer. It used to be that churches would be unlocked 24 / 7. Not so today. If you need to pray, going to a church is probably the last thing you should try, because you won’t be able to get in, generally speaking. I understand the reason behind this — we have many valuable articles in the church, and they probably would get stolen. Still, I find this more than a little ironic, and I wonder how God sees it.
But even when we have church services and people can come in, I wonder if we do things that actually work against people finding God? We all ought to think carefully about what obstacles we put in the way of people getting connected to God, then make changes to remove them. For example, is there sufficient time for people to actually talk to God? Some of our services are so highly programmed and on tight schedules that we leave little room for prayer or God. Are we welcoming to strangers? Could a sinner come in and not feel judged by the church people? Let us do all we can for those outside the faith to be able to find their hearts’ home with the one true God!
Originally posted on February 22, 2010