A House of Prayer: Mark 11:15-19

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As the week before Jesus’ crucifixion begins, one of the early days in this week finds Jesus doing something significant, while also very disruptive. It is as though leading up to the cross, Jesus starts pushing emotional issues with the religious leaders in an attempt to get them to pay attention, to return their focus onto God, or to seek to kill Him. We know from history, and from our passage for this episode, that they picked the last option, but while it might seem like Jesus pressed for death, when we read our passage closely, He was more focused on something other than death.

The event we will be looking at is found in three of the four gospels during the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, and for our episode, we will focus in on Mark’s version. This passage is found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 11, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 15:

15 When they came to Jerusalem, Jesus went into the temple courtyard and began to throw out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and the chairs of those who sold pigeons. 16 He would not let anyone carry anything across the temple courtyard.

17 Then he taught them by saying, “Scripture says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a gathering place for thieves.”

18 When the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings heard him, they looked for a way to kill him. They were afraid of him because he amazed all the crowds with his teaching.

19 (Every evening Jesus and his disciples would leave the city.)

Several things stand out in my mind when reading this passage. The first is that Jesus opposed commerce in God’s place of worship. While some might be quick to say that it wasn’t the buying or selling Jesus opposed, but the deception and thievery, the impression I get from this passage is that you cannot have one without the other. In other words, not all commerce is thievery, but in this context, thievery can only be present when there is commerce present.

Those in the temple had transformed God’s house into a market place, and a market place where people weren’t focused on God.

The only words Jesus says in this passage are also very profound. Verse 17 tells us Jesus’ message: “Then he [Jesus] taught them by saying, ‘Scripture says, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations,” but you have turned it into a gathering place for thieves.’

In Jesus’ message, we discover what God intended His temple to be known as. Jesus tells us God’s intention for His temple is a house of prayer for all nations. Jesus quotes this from Isaiah 56, verse 7 where God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Then I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them happy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, because my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

It is fascinating in my mind that in the heart of the Old Testament, in the writings of one of the most significant prophets God sent to the Jewish nation, we find the goal that God’s house on earth, otherwise known as the temple, was intended to be a place of prayer for all nations. This meant that everyone would be welcome, regardless of their background or their nationality.

In an odd twist, a group of thieves would be welcome in the temple in God’s eyes if they came not to practice thievery, but to pray and ask for forgiveness. Those coming to the temple with repentant hearts and a desire to be forgiven have been drawn there by God and the last thing God would want is to give them reason to stop short or reject God based on what was happening in His temple.

The biggest issue Jesus has with what was happening in the temple is that it kept people from focusing on God, on prayer, and on bringing their hearts to Him with their gifts.

I’m not sure if it was how Jesus said the statement, or whether it was more based on the chief priests rejection of Isaiah’s message, but when they heard Jesus’ statement, verse 18 tells us that “they looked for a way to kill him”. Other religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus based on His raising Lazarus from the dead, and how that miracle drew large numbers of people to place their faith in Him. Now in this passage, we have another place where the religious leaders resolve to kill Jesus.

Jesus’ presence represented a challenge to the status quo in the religious leaders’ lives, and it appeared as though Jesus was more interested in changing their way of life than He was on simply letting them carry on as they had always done. It seemed that Jesus was there to take away their income and their standard of living – and in a way, this was true.

Jesus didn’t have an issue with the religious leaders earning money, but He did take issue with them earning money in deceitful ways, in God’s name, in God’s house. When coming to God’s house, the focus should be on praising God, praying to God, thanking God, giving to God, and learning from God’s word. Any action or activity present in God’s house that takes our focus off of God should not be present in His house of worship.

Does this extend to today’s churches? Maybe.

I will be the first to say that people meet to pray and worship together in almost every conceivable location, and in some places it is not possible to remove all distractions. A group of people who rent out space in a theater to worship likely are not able to remove all the distractions present when people walk through the lobby. The location of a theater is one example of a place where we can worship God but where the space probably shouldn’t be confused with being “God’s House”.

In contrast, a dedicated church building that was built with the purpose of worshiping God, or a dedicated space that has been renovated with the intent of exclusively being used to worship God probably should be viewed as being a part of God’s house. In situations like these, I believe Jesus’ message to the religious leaders and those present in the temple makes sense. God intends for His house to be a place of prayer for all people, and anything that distracts away from focusing on God should be removed.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

The next time you go to church, pay attention to what you see and feel when you arrive. Intentionally focus on seeking God first when you arrive and if you notice anything that draws your attention away from focusing on God, work to remove it if possible. Remember that God intends for His house to be a place of prayer and acceptance of people from every background and nationality, and if acceptance, love, and prayer are not characteristics of your worship experience, then it may be worth looking for a new place to worship.

However, with that said, also be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself, and let God’s word challenge your heart, your mind, and your life. Just as when we go to church, when we study, know that God loves each of us, and He welcomes us as we are, but He doesn’t ever want to leave us as we are. If God’s word challenges your heart and mind with something it says, that is likely God’s Holy Spirit drawing you to Him and challenging you to leave something that might be sinful or unhealthy for you.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, when God calls you to move forward with Him, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year 4 – Episode 37: Early in the week leading up to the crucifixion, Jesus chases the commerce out of the temple, saying that God’s house is to be a place of prayer for all people. Discover what we can learn from this event that is relevant for our lives today, and how this event gave the religious leaders another reason to kill Jesus.

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