Luke 19:45-48 – Jesus Cleans House

A bronze panel of Jesus chasing the merchants from the Temple by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (New International Version)

Jesus seems a bit like an actor in an old western movie. He’s the sheriff who drifts into town, sizes up the situation, shoots up the bad guys, defends the women and children, and cleans up the town. 

It’s a side to Jesus that might surprise some.

Jesus is no simple one-dimensional person, as if he’s always calm and picking dandelions. Christ is fully human and fully God – a complex person full of both human and divine anger. Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus defies stereotyping, and that we need to see a fuller profile of who he is, and what he is up to.

Jesus is not only the merciful servant who graciously heals at the temple; but he is also a mighty judge who is intolerant of unjust systems and cleans house. 

Because Jesus is superior to everything, he is not some Being that we can domesticate for our own personal use. He did not come to this earth as some sort of spiritual vitamin supplement, or to be on call 24/7 in order to bail us out when we need it, or help us get ahead in life.

Instead, zeal for his Father’s house consumes Jesus. (John 2:13-17)

Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple by Raymond Balze (1818-1909)

Christ sought to please the Father. Jesus oversees what the church and Christians are supposed to be. 

It’s our task to conform to Christ, and not the other way around. 

That happens whenever we let Jesus be the sheriff who drives out our sin, and, at the same time, the town doctor who brings the needed healing to our lives. 

Jesus cleaned house by attacking the system he saw operating.

It was Passover, the time when all pious Israelites made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Cattle, sheep, and doves were used for sacrifices. And the only place where those sacrifices were made was at the Temple in Jerusalem.  This meant that anyone wanting to worship God from outside of Jerusalem would have to do some traveling. 

Over time, a system was set up: Vendors established kiosks which lined the Temple courts; and they sold animals for the required sacrifices, as a matter of convenience. 

Since there were thousands of folks who came from a long way, often from outside of Israel, they brought their foreign currency with them, and it could be exchanged at the tables set up by money-changers.

Perhaps that all sounds practical. A little capitalism which provides a service for the people doesn’t seem all bad. So, what’s the problem? 

Jesus didn’t have a problem with capitalism per se; his problem with the whole system is that it should not even exist – these guys should not be in the Temple, at all! 

Jesus attacked the system and made a western movie scene out of it because the vendors and money-changers, even if using sound business practices (which they weren’t) should not even be there. For Jesus, it trivialized the Temple and took away from its intended purpose as a house of prayer for all nations.

Here’s how the system was supposed to work:

Coming to the Temple from outside of Jerusalem was never intended to be easy or convenient.

Making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was supposed to be difficult. For the past year, since the last Passover, a family raised a newborn lamb in their house. Parents and children all took part in caring for it.

Then, when it was time, they all journeyed to Jerusalem together, taking turns carrying the year old lamb over their shoulders. Everyone knew what was coming. Their precious lamb, now a cherished part of the family, would be given in sacrifice at the Temple.

It was all a very powerful reminder of sin’s cost and how terrible it truly is.

Entering Jerusalem with no animal, and only money to buy one, is a cheap facsimile of real worship.

It misses the entire point of the system. It hinders people from genuinely connecting with God through prayer.  And Jesus will not put up with it – to the point of violently driving the whole system out of the Temple.

Jesus didn’t mess around with the sinful system. He didn’t politely ask the money-changers to move their tables somewhere else; he didn’t strike a deal with those selling animals to market them at cost. No. Instead, he went all town sheriff on them because the whole system was a blasphemous act against the right and true worship of God.

It has been the sin of the Church, through the centuries, to find ways of doing ministry and worship by not actually doing it (e.g., selling indulgences). 

We might feel good by simply attending a worship service, or offering some obligatory prayers, and giving money without having done anything to meaningfully connect with God. Our devotion may not be toward bringing something of ourselves to sacrifice by using our spiritual gifts and laying our lives down for others. 

It’s really a heart issue. For example, we might rightly give to missionaries or mission projects. Yet, if we give without any thought to doing missions ourselves and being missional people, then we are in grave need of having a clean house by overturning the tables in our hearts. 

17th century Ethiopian depiction of Christ cleansing the Temple

Jesus cleaning house was not an end in itself; he did it so that the Temple could be used for its intended purpose: A house of prayer. A place of healing. A gathering of collective praise to God.

Whenever an existing system is challenged, there will be those who push back because they benefit from the way things are.

The religious leaders were incensed by Christ’s systemic change. The behavior of Jesus challenged their authority, and they were angry about losing some of their power – not to mention jealous and envious that the people hung on his every word.

Jealousy rots the bones. Envy and selfish ambition accompany every evil practice and are behind every evil system. (Proverbs 14:30; James 3:14-16)

The real culprit behind the Temple system, as well as our own conflicts and disagreements is our selfish anger, our abject jealousy that someone else is receiving something which should be mine, and our insidious envy of wanting what another has.

Jesus knew he would upset and anger the religious leaders. But he cared enough about the proper place of worship that he attacked the contrived Temple system that fed on obscuring what real sacrifice was. Christ was willing to take on the establishment and reestablish a house of prayer for all people.

The way for us has been made clear through the death of Christ. Jesus has removed the old system and replaced it with the new. (Hebrews 8:13)

Therefore, we ought to be a beacon of hope for all who are coming to God and desire to offer their sacrifice of service or praise. We must eliminate any system, rule, or practice that eviscerates true worship.

May we follow the Lord Jesus by being active and proactive in making the way clear for others to come to God. And the first step to doing so is by having God clean house on our own hearts.

It’s what a good deputy sheriff would do.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Amen.

Psalm 6 – Our Tears Find a Better Way

Please, Lord,
    don’t punish me when you are angry;
    don’t discipline me when you are furious.
Have mercy on me, Lord,
    because I’m frail.
Heal me, Lord,
    because my bones are shaking in terror!
My whole body is completely terrified!
        But you, Lord! How long will this last?
Come back to me, Lord! Deliver me!
    Save me for the sake of your faithful love!
No one is going to praise you
    when they are dead.
Who gives you thanks
    from the grave?

I’m worn out from groaning.
    Every night, I drench my bed with tears;
    I soak my couch all the way through.
My vision fails because of my grief;
    it’s weak because of all my distress.
Get away from me, all you evildoers,
    because the Lord has heard me crying!
The Lord has listened to my request.
    The Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed
    and completely terrified;
    they will be defeated
    and ashamed instantly. (Common English Bible)

“Don’t ever discount the wonder of your tears. They can be healing waters and a stream of joy. Sometimes they are the best words the heart can speak.”

William Paul Young, The Shack

Sometimes, even oftentimes, our tears find a better way.

It seems as if many folks don’t know this. Whenever someone is distraught, discouraged, or in the throes of despair, the advice given to them is often unhelpful, and even hurtful.

“You just need to be strong,” “Keep your chin up, I’m sure you have a lot to be thankful for,” and “Don’t cry, everything will work out okay,” are statements which betray we are uncomfortable with tears and are unsure what to do with them in others.

It can also be worse than that, with exhortations which only harm and don’t assist. “Dry up those tears or I’ll give you something to really cry about,” “Being sad and depressed like that is a sin, you know,” and “God wants you to be happy, so just put a smile on your face and fake it until you make it,” are a misuse of words and an abuse of language’s power.

So, I say again: Our tears find a better way.

To hold back our tears, to stuff our sadness and grief, does not make it go away. It’s still in there. And, if left there for too long, will come out sideways in harming others or even ourselves.

Whenever we put away our tears, we’re setting aside God’s most powerful means of healing, health, and wholeness. Tears are the conduit of integrating body and soul, where what’s going on inside is expressed on the outside.

Often, you don’t even need words when you have tears. The presence of the tears themselves becomes a form of language. They’re just there, and they are beautiful. Tears are evidence of brokenness, and more importantly, of healing and of strength, not weakness.

Tears are the body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Like the ocean, tears are saltwater. They protectively lubricate the eyes, remove irritants, and contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes.

Dr. William Frey is a biochemist and an expert on human tears at the University of Minnesota. He states that our bodies produce three kinds of tears: reflex, continuous, and emotional. Each kind has different healing roles. Reflex tears allow the eyes to flush noxious particles when they’re irritated by smoke or exhaust. Continuous tears are produced regularly to keep our eyes lubricated and protected from infection.

Emotional tears were the experience of the psalmist. Whereas reflex tears are 98% water, emotional tears contain stress hormones that get excreted from the body through crying. Emotional crying stimulates the production of endorphins – the hormone necessary for happiness and a decrease of pain.

As the only creatures carrying God’s image and likeness within us, humans alone shed emotional tears. And that’s because God cries.

Jesus wept. Real tears. Emotional tears. Tears of genuine feeling and solidarity with the community, lamenting at the death of a dear friend, Lazarus.

“The Teacher is here,” Martha said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him.When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept. (John 11:28-35, NIV)

The Lord Jesus came to the village three days after Lazarus died. He knew exactly what he was about to do: raise Lazarus from the dead in a miraculous resurrection. Yet, he did not come all smiles stating, “Hey, guys, don’t be sad! Watch what I’m going to do!”

No, instead, Christ participated fully in the sisters’ and the community’s grief. Only until he had done this did he proceed to performing the miracle.

The tears, just as much as the resurrection itself, were redemptive.

There was a time, long ago, when the word “loser” meant exactly what the word says – that someone had lost someone. It was a descriptive word recognizing the aching hole in the heart that one experiences from the death of a loved friend or family member.

Now, however, the word “loser” has taken an insidious twist over the years – meaning someone who hasn’t won, somebody who didn’t have what it took to be a winner. It is now a negative term that nobody wants to wear as a moniker, at all.

Perhaps that is one reason why so many people wear plastic smiles, pretend they are strong, and insist on keeping up appearances… And it is killing us with unprecedented numbers of depression, anxiety, and outright despair with nowhere to place it.

Our tears show us a better way. It was the way of the psalmist. It is the way of our Lord. It is the way of life.

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

Psalm 56:8, NLT

Beloved God, since all communion with You is prayer, my tears are psalms of petition and canticles of praise to You. The prayer You value greatly and always hear is the prayer of my tears; for You are a compassionate and kind God.

Surely, all truly great prayer rises from deep inside and springs spontaneously to the surface in the form of weeping. Perhaps, then, our tears are the purest and best worship of all.

May Your people not be ashamed of their tears; may they flow naturally and freely to You, my Blessed Redeemer. In times of joy or sorrow, blessed be the tears as the holy prayers of our hearts. Amen.

Psalm 124 – Help Is Here

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away;
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the hunters;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

As a church pastor, many Sundays I begin the worship service with the ancient confession of faith that “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It is a call to worship the God who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world. 

With each new day, our attention needs guidance toward the positive acknowledgment that the eternal and ever-present God is ready and vigilant to skillfully and lovingly direct us through our waking hours. 

There is no biblical reference anywhere in Holy Scripture that God helps those who help themselves. The Lord is indiscriminate in providing aid for all without prejudice. All we need do is ask for it. Whereas we can certainly make positive choices and advocate for ourselves with effective help, our supreme and ultimate help is in the Lord. 

Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our great need for divine intervention. 

The Lord is our most prescient support. The virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; a deadline that has been looming over your head; the ongoing health issues which seem to never end; these, and all situations, can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in God. Early in the morning, I deliberately affirm and profess my firm beliefs in the Lord, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of God sink firmly into my heart. 

I rely on such rituals because faith does not simply come through checking-off a list of orthodox beliefs, then moving on as if those beliefs have no connection to daily life. Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that God is good – all the time – and that the Lord helps those who intentionally and constantly seek divine help and enablement.

There are a lot of things we do not know: What will happen tomorrow? How will that situation shake out in the end? Will this relationship flower or wither?… a million questions can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. Yet, there is a sure and certain truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: God is with us.

God’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV

Not even the graveyard can limit God. With the Lord, death is defeated. Resurrection is a reality. The enemy is flat on his face. Evil’s power is weakened. We are only in danger if we let ourselves go near our old toothless foe. And even then, we have the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace.

The dangers of water and fire, traps and snares, enemy armies and spiritual foes are all undone by an almighty God. The maker of heaven and earth personally advocates for and helps us. Indeed, the Lord is on our side.

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness. I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just. Amen.

Psalm 97 – Celebrate the Lord

The Lord rules! Let the earth rejoice!
    Let all the islands celebrate!
Clouds and thick darkness surround God.
    His throne is built on righteousness and justice.
Fire proceeds before him,
    burning up his enemies on every side.
His lightning lights up the world;
    the earth sees it and trembles!
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of the whole world!

Heaven has proclaimed God’s righteousness,
    and all nations have seen his glory.
All those who worship images,
    those who are proud of idols,
    are put to shame.
    All gods bow down to the Lord!
Zion has heard and celebrates,
    the towns of Judah rejoice,
    because of your acts of justice, Lord,
    because you, Lord, are the Most High
        over all the earth,
    because you are so superior to all other gods.

Those of you who love the Lord, hate evil!
    God guards the lives of his faithful ones,
    delivering them from the power of the wicked.
Light is planted like seed for the righteous person;
    joy too for those whose heart is right.
Rejoice in the Lord, righteous ones!
    Give thanks to his holy name! (Common English Bible)

Being overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of majesty for King Jesus is an appropriate response, especially in the wake of Ascension Day – the Christian holiday celebrating Christ’s return to heaven.

Today’s psalm portrays the Lord as a huge God whose presence impacts the world in cataclysmic glory. God is truly large and in charge. 

Nothing moves God; but God moves mountains. 

This is no wimpy deity who needs creatures to sustain him and his memory. Conversely, all of creation is dependent upon God for life, sustenance, and flourishing.

Our view of God deeply impacts how we think, feel, and live. Whenever people catch a mere glimpse of God’s glory, it causes them to renounce useless idol worship, and brings forth humble celebration from the penitent. 

The sheer dearth of penitence and praise to God in today’s world ought to clue us to the reality that we are not seeing God for how God truly is. And what is the God of Holy Scripture? The Lord is the great and glorious king who is so immense and so concerned for justice that just a snort of his nostrils could thoroughly lay waste to the earth.

Confronted with such a majestic and awesome Being, the ultimate conclusion in how to order our lives is this: Love the Lord. Hate evil. Why? Because we are God’s people. 

Therefore, celebration and praise to God are in order. So, let us collectively make a simple choice to celebrate and praise God in some simple ways:  

  • Acknowledge God in both the big and the small things of life
  • Talk about God’s grace in your everyday conversations– we don’t have to be preachy, just real, genuine, and authentic
  • Praise God in public as well as in private
  • Pray to God with simple heartfelt prayers – they don’t need to be eloquent, because God simply wants to hear the voice we have been given
  • Be generous toward others through forgiveness and tangible help because the Lord is a generous God
  • Read God’s Word because it honors the Lord
  • Give thanks to God and have a predetermined mindset to find gratitude in all things God has put in your life
  • Count your blessings today, and then again, tomorrow, so that it eventually becomes a spiritual habit
  • Sing to God with the joyful noise you are able to make

The power of God is more than enough to bring effective and lasting transformation of body, mind, emotions, and spirit. The might of God is unlimited, able to establish social change, economic uplift, physical healing, relational peace, spiritual hope, mental rest, and so much more.

Celebrating the sovereignty of God is downright good for us. It releases our stress, energizes us, provides a positive way of reflection, challenges evil, and acknowledges realities which we might have forgotten – especially that God is with us, loves us, and has only good plans for us.

Praise and celebration are both organic acts on our part and need to be intentionally planned. That is, celebrating the Lord ought to be both spontaneous and prepared. Liturgical rhythms of worship to God need to be both formulaic and free.

The shape of our worship can remind us that we are in continuity with believers throughout history and in all places on earth. We are not alone. We are joined by the entire community of worshipers, offering our celebration – both old and new.

Having both fixed forms of worship and free expressions of worship enable us to tap into the full dimension of faith. Practicing both personal prayers in our secluded closet and corporate prayers together with others strengthens our faith, makes more sure our hope, and connects us with the God who is Love.

A big God ought to be worshiped with all the means available to us.

Mighty God, you are worthy of all the praise, honor, and glory I can give you. May my life be a simple offering to you, so that your kingdom comes not only in my own life but impacts the lives of others; through Jesus, my King. Amen.