Mark 11:15-19

This Lenten exercise has helped me to read some very familiar passages in new ways.  By keeping the approaching cross in my view, my eyes have been opened to a fresh perspective on certain events and their significance in the life of Christ.  Today is no exception. 

I have always isolated my reading of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple.  However, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all position this story after the Triumphal Entry takes place in their gospels. (John includes it near the beginning of his gospel.)  Perhaps I am the only one who never noticed this before, but the incident took on a whole different tone for me when I realized this.

Jesus came to Jerusalem to die.

The disciples didn’t realize this, even though Jesus had gone out of His way to explain it to them in frank detail (Mark 10:32-34).  In typical disciple-style, they thought this was just an annual Passover pilgrimage and were far more concerned with issues of status and reputation (Mark 10:35-45).

But Jesus’ face was set toward the cross.  And everything He did in that last week is steeped in greater meaning when we remember this.

His righteous actions in the temple that day were meant to restore the sacred purpose of that place.  It was not meant to be a commercialized and exploitative location.  It was intended to be “a house of prayer for all nations.” (Mark 11:17) 

Changing money and selling sacrifices had always occurred outside the temple, and I do not think that Jesus was necessarily judging those practices in that moment as much as He was judging their place inside the temple courts.  I think His focus was that these acts were allowed to take place inside of the very building where God had promised His Presence would dwell.

And as the Son of God who “came to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), I have to wonder if He felt a greater urgency to restore the focus of those who came to worship there because everything was about to change.

In John’s version of this story, he includes Jesus’ statement, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) 

And John says that “the temple He had spoken of was His body.” (John 2:21)

I will throw this out as complete hypothesis, but part of me thinks that the driving force behind Jesus’ actions in the temple was ultimately about how His sacrifice would be perceived and received.  If people would tread so lightly upon the temple, then how much greater would the offense be when the temple was replaced with His body and blood.

And I think there is a great 21st Century admonition for us in this.

I’m not trying to get into the politics here of what belongs inside church buildings, although I do think we need to examine our hearts and ask why we’ve begun to build self-sufficient structures that could possibly isolate us from interaction with the world where we’ve been called as salt and light.

What I’m trying to get at is the loss of reverence in our approach of God and the casual way in which we approach the cross.

Jesus’ concern was that the temple was infiltrated with things that didn’t belong there.  And it become so natural and so casual for people that they did not even understand why He was so upset about it.

I believe that we can experience great intimacy with God through the blood of Jesus.  But I also believe that we – myself included – can lean too far in the direction of familiarity and forget that He is God.  Our intimacy with Him came at great cost because His holiness cannot tolerate the presence of impurity.  And our worship must reflect this.

I’ve been reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ lately, and there is something that he said about this much better than I could articulate it.  Forgive me for quoting such a long passage, but I think that it could be helpful as we consider how we approach God:

“The kind of God that appeals to most people today would be easygoing in his tolerance of our offenses.  He would be gentle, kind, accommodating, and would have no violent reactions.  Unhappily, even in the church we seem to have lost the vision of the majesty of God.  There is much shallowness and levity among us.  Prophets and psalmists would probably say of us that ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes.’  In public worship our habit is to slouch or squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God.  It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame or tears.  We saunter up to God to claim his patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that he might send us away.  We need to hear again the apostle Peter’s sobering words: ‘Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives … in reverent fear’ (IPet 1:17).  In other words, if we dare to call our judge our Father, we must beware of presuming on him.”  (p. 110)

In a few short days, the curtain in that temple would be torn in two from top to bottom when Jesus took His last breath.  I think He was concerned about whether people would be too busy making a buck to care.