CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
A Sermon by Rev Frederick M ChapinMarch 27, 1994
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. And he said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”, but you have made it a “den of thieves”. (Mt. 21: 12&13)
When the Lord made His final journey into Jerusalem, He was at the height of His popularity. The news traveled swiftly of the Lord raising up Lazarus after he was dead for four days. The general population was convinced the Lord was indeed the Messiah. They were ready to follow Him. And when the Lord rode into the city as a king would enter at his coronation, the people were eager to acknowledge Him as their King. The Lord’s enemies were powerless and afraid. The Lord had the most widespread support than at any other time during His Public Ministry.
However, the Lord did an astounding act. He went into the temple and threw out the moneychangers. As he removed them, the Lord spoke the words of our text, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” (Mt. 21:13) This is not what the people expected. After the Lord threw out those that bought and sold, He healed the blind and the lame.
Of course, after the people realized that the Lord was not going to establish an earthly kingdom, they turned on Him and wanted Him to be crucified. Instead of acknowledging Him as their king, they denounced Him as a traitor. But if we focus on the part where the Lord was widely accepted, we can see a demonstration of the Lord’s power to cast out what is impure and establish the proper order in our lives.
In a general way, the Lord was making a definite statement that the worship of Jehovah had deteriorated into just an external set of practices. Many were profiteering from the worship of Jehovah by selling what was necessary to make sacrifices at the temple. There was no incentive to allow the Lord to change and order the person’s internal loves and delights. And this was all the more difficult when people were buying and selling in the courtyard of the temple. The Lord was making the strong point that He wanted the temple to be a “house of prayer”, where the Lord Himself was focused upon and acknowledged.
If we look at this incident more internally, we can see many personal applications and considerations in our approach towards the Lord. Each one of us is a unique temple. And the phenomenon of the Lord cleansing the temple can be an occurrence that can happen continually to each one of us. The more the Lord can cleanse our inner motivations and attitudes , the more He can enlighten our understanding of truth and give us the strength to move forward in our spiritual lives. As we move forward, our worship of the Lord becomes more sincere. It transforms from just consisting of a set of rituals to one in which there is a real expression of joy and praise towards the Lord.
We start with the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. Here the Lord received complete acknowledgement that He was sent from God. This acknowledgment and acceptance made it possible for the Lord to eventually cleanse the temple. Before the Lord could cast out the moneychangers, He had to first be accepted as a King. The reception by the people gave the Lord the opportunity to show true worship. When we confess and accept the Lord as King of our lives, the Lord will come and cleanse our personal temple. He will cleanse our inner loves and beliefs that will make our rituals and acts of charity more genuine and sincere.
We accept the Lord as our king when He has absolute authority over us. We accept the Lord as king when we are willing to lay aside our selfish desires and comply with the teachings of the Word. When we strive to do what the Word teaches, in all aspects of our lives, we are accepting the Lord as King. We acknowledge the Lord as our king to the degree that we refuse to take part in practices, thoughts, and attitudes that are opposed to the teachings of the Word.
As we put our external lives into order, and accept the Lord’s authority to guide our ways of life, the Lord will enter into our internal loves. There the Lord will cast out all that is impure and insincere. Only the Lord can do this. We can not change our loves. All we do is create the opportunity for the Lord to instill into us heavenly loves and delights. Just as the Lord was the only one to cast out the moneychangers in the temple, so the Lord is the only one to cast out the loves and thoughts that detract us from a genuine worship of the Lord. But we make it possible when we try to put our external actions and desires in agreement with the Lord’s Word.
Before we have truly sincere intentions, everything we do is strictly for the sake of ourselves. And should we know what the Word says, we will twist its meaning to allow us to continue to indulge into what our selfish desires want. Sometimes, this can be done deliberately, other times we are unconsciously doing it. So long as we have the attitude that we will please ourselves alone, at the expense of others, the Lord will not be able to make the fundamental changes in our lives that can allow us to have a role in His everlasting kingdom.
And when the Lord so enters, He will give us a refreshingly new way of looking at what we can do for others. Our goals and priorities will completely change. We are amazed that it is far more rejuvenating to look at ourselves for what we can do for others, than what they can exclusively do for ourselves. When we consider the impact more upon others than just what it will do for ourselves alone, the moneychangers are being cast out of our individual lives.
Specifically, the moneychangers are listed in three categories. First, are those who exchange money. Secondly, are the moneychangers, and third are those who sold doves. Those who exchanged money represent just an external faith in the Lord. This faith is only confessed with the lips, but very little meaning is actually from the heart. If we look more closely, these people represent an “historical faith”. This is a type of faith that merely takes another’s word for what they are to believe in. Whatever is said by the person, or the denomination, they willingly comply with without any thought, reflection, or examination. This is hazardous, not only because the person or group can lead us astray, but also it keeps our worship strictly on the external or natural level. It does not penetrate into the very loves of our lives and make them consistent with the loves that flow forth from the Lord. So long as we allow others to do our spiritual thinking for us, the easier it will be to confirm our selfish loves. We will not see them directly in ourselves. And just as those in the temple bought and sold strictly for personal gain, so will our acts of worship merely be for ourselves alone.
The moneychangers represents the misuse of the Word. As was said before, we twist the meaning of the Word so we can continue in practices and fantasies that please our selfish delights. And those who sold doves represent the appearance of good that is not genuine or sincere, but only for the sake of ourselves. All three of these conditions are within us so long as there is no desire to have the Lord rule our lives. We only keep our worship on the external level and not let it change our inmost loves, we twist the meaning of the Word so we can continue in the way we are living, and our acts of charity are not sincere, but only for the sake of selfish gain and benefit.
However, if we allow the Lord to enter as king of our lives, he can cast out these impurities that prevent us from worshipping the Lord from a trustworthy motive. If we develop the desire to completely obey what the Lord wants us to do, He will make us more receptive of His Divine leading. Our worship will penetrate into our inmost ambitions that will make our worship internal, one that effects our fundamental loves and beliefs. We will accept fully what the Word really says, and not try to make it justify our selfish wants. And our acts of charity will be not for the sake of selfish benefits, but simply because it helps our neighbor. This is the effect that the Lord can produce when we regard Him as king over us and agree to have Him rule our lives. Our worship changes from a den of thieves into a house of prayer. We praise the Lord from a guileless heart that truly enjoys being conjoined with Him. And instead of moneychangers in the temple, there will be children praising God. This is the innocence that replaces a worship that is defiled from exclusively selfish motives. We are in innocence the more we are willing to be led by the Lord and we want to do good things simply because they are from the Lord and they help others. As we are in this attitude, our worship will be a true expression of gratitude towards the Lord, and lead us to an ever greater reception of His Divine leading.
And when our worship is sincere, a healing will take place. Specifically, the blind will see and the lame will walk. We will notice things that we would not have known if we did not have a dedication to have the Lord rule our lives. And we will be able to spiritually move forward and walk towards a closer bond with the Lord.
The more we accept the Lord as the king of our lives, the more He can cast out the robbers that defile our worship towards the Lord Jesus Christ. These robbers will be replaced by children praising God. Our worship will be transformed from one that is strictly for self to that which genuinely does honor and glorify the Lord from a dedicated heart. We need to be innocent for our worship and knowledge of the Word to be spiritually productive. For us to be in innocence, we must be humble. All that is necessary to be in the proper humility is to acknowledge the Lord as God, everything good is from Him, and that we are willing to serve Him.
As we progress in our spiritual lives, we will see areas that are impure. The Lord can come and cast these impurities from us whereby we are spiritually more healthy. This is our lot as we remember these words, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Ps 51:2)