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This is the Taj Mahal...
In 1629, when the favorite wife of Indian ruler Shah Jahan died, he ordered that a magnificent tomb be built as a memorial to her. The shah placed his wife’s casket in the middle of a parcel of land, and construction of the temple literally began around it. But several years into the venture, the Shah’s grief for his wife gave way to a passion for the project. One day while he was surveying the sight, he reportedly stumbled over a wooden box, and he had some workers throw it out. It was months before he realized that his wife’s casket had been destroyed. The original purpose for the memorial became lost in the details of construction.
Sometimes we start out with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the line things get a little out of wack. That’s the story today.
Jesus comes into the temple in Jerusalem, and he is appalled at what he finds. Here in the Gentile courts are people selling sacrifices....
Now, let’s get a few things squared away before we get too far into this text...
The setting is in the temple in the city of Jerusalem during Passover Week- literally the busiest time of the year, in the biggest temple in the modern world. This is a HUGE DEAL for Jesus. Andy Stanley’s church in Georgia has around 40,000 people in attendance each week. This would be like Jesus walking into his church on Christmas- traditionally the largest Sunday of the year- and confronting their hypocrisy
This is not an abnormal scene. There were always people selling animals and exchanging money in the Gentile courts. People would travel for hundreds of miles to sacrifice in Jerusalem; so it was not always easy to bring a sacrifice with you. Therefore, many people would opt for the easier task of buying their animal sacrifice once they arrive to Jerusalem to keep from traveling all that way with an animal. The money changers were present to exchange money to pay the temple tax. Moses had called for a tax to help with the upkeep of the temple. This was carried on across generations, continuing to early Christian history; the temple tax at this time was 2 drachma, which was standard pay for 2 days work. The exchangers were there because temple tax could not be paid with a coin bearing the image of any may, so they would exchange any coins with the image of a ruler on them, like Roman coins, for their Tyrian coinage which did not bear the image of a man.
As time went on the practices of these merchants and money exchangers got more and more questionable. The prices of the animals climbed to ridiculous rates, and the exchange rate on the money climbed to unheard us proportions.
So, in walks Jesus and all of this hits him right in the face- the dishonesty of people running amok in the temple. People being taken advantage of, people being hurt, people using a temple built to hold the presence of the glory of God for their own personal gain....So we see one of the most famous Biblical images of Jesus come to life. Jesus starts flipping tables, he grabs some cords and makes a whip and starts clearing the temple yard.
Can we pause for a second, because there is one thing I feel like we need to confront from these images- Jesus’ use of the whip was for animals, not people. I have heard people in the past suggest that Jesus was going to use the whip on the people; but come on; surely the only reason Jesus needed that whip was to control the animals.
John then tells us that the Disciples remembered a prophecy. John is alluding to prophecy written about Jesus’ love for the temple.
Jesus’ actions in the temple that day remind us that Jesus has a passion for the temple, the place where God’s Spirit rests. In the past few decades the Christian teaching has really started to change about “the church.” Our emphasis has become on the people. We have all heard people say “the church is not a building, its people” and that is 100% true- the church is people we are the body of Christ. However, the church is a building as well, one that for 2000+ years has been set apart from the rest of society, and Jesus knew that, and affirmed that.
Jesus didn’t flip tables in the market, or the trade center- NO he flipped them in the temple because the House of God is held to a different standard, and so are the people in it.
So, let me ask you, if Jesus walked into Mt Zion CoB today, what tables would He flip?
You see, the people in the temple that day started off with really good intentions, they wanted to make sure everyone who came to church had an sacrifice and the proper coins to pay the temple tax. The problem was that soon they lost perspective and their really good intentions became sinful and soon they were hindering the very Spirit of God in that place.
So what would Jesus flip in this place? WWJF if you will...
Would he flip chairs, because we could never come to church if we had to sit on those uncomfortable pews....
Would he flip the drum set? Because we have let the way music is conducted become a distraction to hearing the voice of God.
Would he flip a pew full of people, because they have allowed their attitudes to become stumbling blocks? They are so busy worrying about what clothes they are wearing, or how their kids are behaving they cant even focus on the real reason they are in church.
Maybe he would flip the offering plates, because we are too consumed with meeting the budget....
Or the attendance board, because we are too busy counting people...
Maybe, just maybe, he would come up here and flip me out of this pulpit because people are more focused on the preacher than God....
I don’t know; I hope not.....
Last year I read an amazing book called Worship for the Whole People of God by Ruth Duck. In her book Duck contends that the Church in the USA has a major Idol problem. Now, that is not news to most of us, but the kind of idols she speaks of are not money, power, or any of the other major culprits we talk about frequently in church. No, she talks about the idols we make in the life of the church as a group. For example-
We worship the God of friendliness. We can become so preoccupied with being friendly that we miss so many other things. I know that I have heard people who are searching for a church say the most important thing is to feel welcomed…well please hear me, that is important and I think that Mt Zion is one of the most welcoming and friendly churches I have been a part of, but friendliness is not our first priority.
We worship the God of music. We want to make sure the music is good. We HAVE to sing hymns, or we HAVE to sing Praise songs. There HAS to be a praise team or there HAS to be a piano. Music becomes an Idol....
We worship the God of comfort. Are the pews cushion-y enough? Is the carpet a good color? Is there A/C? Am I hot or cold? Do they have enough space…etc....
Please hear me, all of these things are good, but they are not primary in the life of the church.....the primary thing is one thing and one thing alone. As the pastor of this church I want you to feel welcome and at home, I want you to be comfortable when you are here, and I want to have good music, and a well maintianed building, and all of those things. But the most important thing to me when you are in this place....
Can I tell you, if you come to church and don’t like the songs that Sunday, we are sorry....
If you come and you are too hot or too cold we aresorry....
If you come and you have the worst parking spot all the way at the bottom of the hill and you have to walk up hill both ways in the snow to get into the church we are SORRY
But if you come into this place and you do not have a change to meet with God....we HAVE FAILED..
If you come to this place and the name of Jesus is not lifted higher than any other name, word, or idea....WE HAVE FAILED...
If you come to this place and I preach a message that is contrary to this Bible I HAVE FAILED....
Jesus does not flip tables until we FAIL....
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