Clearing the Temple: Matthew 21:12-17

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As we continue moving into the week Jesus was crucified, we come to an event that happened in the gap that we skipped over last week. Last week, if you noticed, we jumped over the daytime and focused on two consecutive mornings, one where Jesus curses a fig tree, and the day after when they pass by the withered fig tree and learn the lesson Jesus wanted to teach them.

In this gap, we discover that Jesus spent some time in the temple, but during this period of time, He didn’t make very many people happy. Let’s read about what happened from Matthew’s gospel. Our passage is found in chapter 21, and we will be reading it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 12, Matthew tells us that:

12 Jesus went into the temple courtyard and threw out everyone who was buying and selling there. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and the chairs of those who sold pigeons. 13 He told them, “Scripture says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you’re turning it into a gathering place for thieves!”

14 Blind and lame people came to him in the temple courtyard, and he healed them.

15 When the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings saw the amazing miracles he performed and the children shouting in the temple courtyard, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were irritated. 16 They said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus replied, “Yes, I do. Have you never read, ‘From the mouths of little children and infants, you have created praise’?”

17 He left them and went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.

In this passage, we discover how Jesus began this week by trying to point people back to God in God’s house. For the most part, while He didn’t make any friends among the religious elite, we do see that after His rampage through the temple chasing the commerce away, He welcomed those who needed healing and those who came to praise God. This paints a beautiful picture of God, of Jesus, and about what God intended His temple to focus on.

Luke places this event immediately after Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on the donkey. If this is when this event occurred, it provides continuity with the praise that the children shouted in the temple courtyard with what they shouted while He was traveling towards Jerusalem. When Jesus rode towards and into Jerusalem, the crowds shouted hosanna, and whether these children followed Jesus into the courtyard on the same day, or if they arrived to praise Jesus a day or two later, we see a beautiful picture of Jesus accepting those that society had rejected, and pointing everyone present towards God.

Regardless of when this event specifically occurred, a phrase in Jesus’ rampage stands out in my mind. Jesus challenged the priests and religious leaders on their focus and their priorities by saying in verse 13: “Scripture says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you’re turning it into a gathering place for thieves!

Regardless of where you believe the line to be regarding commerce within church buildings, Jesus frames His entire rampage pushing the commerce away on the scripture and ideal that God’s house would be called a house of prayer. While prayer is possible in a commercial environment, it is a stretch to connect the two.

Commerce at its core is about exchanging goods/services among people for the benefit of both parties involved. While helping others is one side of commerce, helping oneself is also included. This is the ideal framing of commerce. Some people see commerce as simply one person trying to trick or con others into giving them money. In this case, commerce is only self-serving.

However, prayer stands on the opposite side of both the positive and negative views of commerce. Prayer is all about coming before God, and submitting ourselves to His will. While prayer can include requests for help from God, prayer is inherently focused on God and not on ourselves. An exclusively self-focused and self-serving prayer is unlikely to be answered ever.

Moving to the second half of our passage, after Jesus has finished clearing the commerce out of the temple, another phrase stands out in my mind because of what it says and does not say about the religious leaders. In verse 15, Matthew tells us that “When the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings saw the amazing miracles he performed and the children shouting in the temple courtyard, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were irritated.

While both the miracles and the praise irritated these leaders, they choose to confront Jesus regarding the children’s praise. This is an interesting choice in my mind, but not unexpected, because while they were probably more irritated that Jesus was healing and performing miracles, there wasn’t much they could do about it. The only way Jesus was able to perform miracles, or even heal anyone, was if God was with Him, and the religious leaders know that they don’t have any solid ground to challenge Jesus on this – especially since this wasn’t the Sabbath day.

Other times the religious leaders confront Jesus regarding His healing ability, it was always framed around Sabbath observance and Sabbath rest. Since this wasn’t the Sabbath, they can’t really argue or refute His healing miracles.

But they can challenge Him regarding what the children are shouting about Him, and that’s what they decide to focus on. They really dislike the messianic implications tucked within the children’s praise. They want this praise to stop because it is drawing more people towards Jesus, and away from them.

However, Jesus knows He is the Messiah, even if He also knows that the Messiah He came to be was different from the messiah that the religious leaders were looking for. Jesus was willing to defend the children praising Him with a messianic title because He realizes that the children’s words speak truth. Jesus also knows that this event would add to the pile of reasons that the religious leaders would use to condemn Him.

Jesus knew that the cross was about to happen, and He clearly and deliberately walked along the path that led to it.

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

Be sure to intentionally seek God first and walk the path He has created you to walk. While the plan God has for your life may not be easy in this life, God’s plan and His path leads to eternal life in your future. Know that there will always be people, religious or otherwise, who will dislike your decision to walk with God, but know that God’s truth matters more than the world’s opinion.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your connection with God strong. A personal relationship with God begins with personal prayer and personal Bible study and as I always challenge you to do, make your Bible study personal and don’t let me or anyone else stand between you and God.

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

Year of the Cross – Episode 5: When Jesus arrived in the temple, He found commerce and thievery taking place. Discover what we can learn from Jesus’ reaction to what He saw taking place, and what He chose to replace the chaos of commerce with.

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