From the first call of Abraham on down God’s plan had reached beyond just the Nation of Israel. His promise to Abraham was that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. But the part of the promise that had received the primary focus, at least in Israel had been, “I’ll make of you a great nation.” God had promised to Israel that they would be his special people, a nation of priest, God’s holy people. They had pledged to follow His commands and leading wherever they led. But as God led them from Egypt to the promised land and they became a nation, with strength as they relied on God, they became more and more focused on building the nation and their national pride. They were special. God loved them in a way He didn’t love the nations around them.
As they turned from Him to worship the gods of the nations around them, God’s anger burned toward them and He threatened to completely destroy them as a nation. He had prophets to come one after another to call them back to Him and to faithfulness but they seemed to march toward idolatry with greater energy all the time.
The Old Testament had closed with the prophet Malachi pleading with priest and people to take God’s message to heart. They had tried to serve God superficially and God was not accepting that kind of worship. At this time the temple and walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt and there was a semblance of devotion to God. But it hadn’t gotten to the heart. It was still in the realm of doing the outward things but ignoring the real change God called on them to give. Their giving to him illustrates the whole point. They were giving to God the sacrifices of animals that were diseased, weak, cripple and God said, try giving these to the governor and see how he reacts. God pleaded with them to really give to him of the first and best and see if he wouldn’t pour out a blessing on them greater than what they could receive.
When Jesus came on the scene, four hundred years had past, Israel was now under Roman rule and an elaborate temple had been rebuilt by Herod. But the worship was still not at all what God wanted. In John 2 Jesus is just beginning his ministry. He had been in Cana of Galilee where he attended a wedding celebration and he had performed the first of his miracles by turning water into wine to save the embarrassment of the bridegroom. He left there and went to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.” (John 2:13-17)
Two things in this reading have something to do with our whole study in Jesus and and how he interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures. In neither case does Jesus point to the Old Testament background for what he says or does but those Scripture are in his mind and are affecting what he does. When he saw the sorry way they had turned the whole emphasis of the temple worship away from God and his will, from the sacrifice that one takes from his flock that is treasured as the firstborn, a year old, without spot or blemish, they have moved to just bring your money with you and you can buy the lamb right here at the temple. It became a religion of ease rather than sacrifice. Jesus reaction was to drive the whole rotten mess out of the temple, the money changers, the ones who sold doves or sheep and the cattle themselves. He must have looked like a mad man with his whip as he drove these animals out and turned over the tables of those who changed the money.
In the midst of this he declared forcefully, “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market.” Back in Isaiah 56:6-7 the prophet some six hundred years earlier had made a statement that served as the background for Jesus statement here and for the one he made at the end of his ministry when he cleansed the temple a second time. “And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” When Mark would later tell of the day when Jesus cleansed the temple near the end of his ministry he will refer specifically to this Scripture as a background for his actions.
Notice why it is important. Isaiah talked about Gentiles who bound themselves to God and followed his will. They were welcomed at the temple and offered their sacrifices acceptably to God in the house of prayer for all nations. After 600 years, the temple or house of God was more a marketplace than house of prayer. It was exclusive for the Jewish male except for those outer courts where all could gather and that is where the marketers had set up their tables to exchange their Roman money for Hebrew, to sell them the things they needed to offer sacrifices to God. The very area where Gentiles should have been able to come to pray or worship was just an open air market with all the smells of the stable. While the Gentiles should have been invited to follow God, to bind themselves to God and to follow His teachings they had instead been pushed away and every semblance of acceptance had been taken from them.
The temple as God’s house certainly should have been a house of prayer for all people. But it was turned into something completely different. Today the house of prayer for all people isn’t the Old Testament temple in Jerusalem. It is the church of the living God. In I Timothy 3:15 Paul wanted Timothy to know how to conduct himself in the house of God which is the church of the living God. The church was built on the plan to carry the saving gospel to all the nations and every creature in the nations so anyone has the opportunity to come to God, bind themselves to God and follow His word. The church is then to be the house of prayer for all the nations.
While the Jews believed they were following just what God wanted as they had all the forms of worship and followed the letter of the law in how they sacrificed and served God, the truth was they had gone far astray. They missed the heart of the gospel message and made the ritual the main thing. Ease became more important than sacrifice. Convenience took the place of commitment. So they trudged on until Jesus came both at the beginning and ending of his ministry to clean the place out and challenge them to a new way of seeing and doing service to Him. A lesson to learn is that while we think we are following God’s plan because we have some Scripture we can go to to back up what we are doing, we had better be sure that there isn’t another Scripture or over riding principle that we are overlooking in the process. They had grasped the notion of being God’s chosen ones but had missed the thought of “All nations” and that God’s house was a “House of prayer.”
The other significant Old Testament Scripture to consider is when the disciples watched Jesus they remembered the Psalm “Zeal for your house has eaten me up.” This is a quote from Psalm 69:9. It says, “For zeal for you house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” But look at what was going on in this passage to get the point. Back in verse 6 beginning David said, “Lord, the Lord Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me. For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” David was explaining why he was alienated from his family. His brothers or sisters couldn’t understand him. They worshiped God. But he was consumed by God and his will. They felt he had lost his sense of propriety.
When Jesus became so upset at the abuse of the temple, the disciples thought of that Scripture. Here’s what I wonder. Has anyone ever looked at my life and service to God and thought, “I just can’t understand him. He is consumed with God’s house?”
God help me to be consumed by you and your will. I want to know you and see your glory. Amen.