Jesus attends His first Passover during His ministry. He will see three Passover celebrations, with His death occurring on the third one. So He has been ministering for about six months by now. The only miracle we know about, through John so far, is when Jesus turned the water into wine. But the people at the celebration knew of Him and His works. John has departed from the daily accounting of Jesus’ life and gone more general instead.
Jesus has grown up attending Passover celebrations probably every year. I have no doubt that the merchants and money changers have been behaving like this for years! But this Passover was different. Was it different because He is different or was He always conscious of this issue and was now finally ready to address it?
We know He didn’t simply fly off the handle when He got there and saw the behavior of the merchants and money changers. Jesus took time in preparation for the act He was about to undertake. First, He walked through the temple and saw the state of affairs as they stood. He was appalled at what He saw. There were animal stalls in the courtyard of the temple. Just imagine the smell of all those animals in close quarters. Add to that the merchants calling out to the people that they had the best animals for the sacrifice.
“Surely you are not planning on bringing that inferior animal to the Lord! Come, I have much finer animals. I’m sure we can find something to fit you needs.” The merchant takes the weary traveler by the arm and leads him over to a pen crowded with animals.
A little further in He sees a man barring the path of a young man as he approaches the collection boxes. “You can’t use that here! It’s polluted! Your offering needs to be pure. I can trade out your sin laden Roman coins for holy money, for a very modest price. Step over here my friend. I’ll fix you right up.”
Yes, God had standards in what was acceptable for sacrifice. He insisted on the best from His people. But their best, not whatever some shyster could hustle them into. God wanted the offering to be from their heart. He even made provisions for those who couldn’t afford the sacrificial animals or traveled too far to bring their sacrificial animal with them.
It wasn’t even that the merchants were in the temple but that they were perverting the system God had put in place to line their own pockets. They shortchanged the people at every opportunity and sold them unnecessary items just to make a quick buck. THIS is what Jesus could and would not abide.
After walking through the temple and seeing these “thieves” in action Jesus withdrew to the side for a little while. I’m certain He was speaking with the Father while He was there constructing a whip. These men were going to learn a lesson today that they would not soon forget.
Jesus returned to one end of the courtyard. He opened the first pen He came to and drove the sheep and cattle out of it. He drove them right out of the courtyard. The merchant turned as he heard his animals begin to run and ran after them himself. Jesus continued on to the next stall and loosed those animals too. All the while as He was doing this He was proclaiming loudly that this was God’s house, not a house of robbers! Jesus also turns over the tables of the merchants as He moves from stall to stall. At first people were standing there staring at Him as He worked His way across the courtyard. Then some of the bystanders began cheering Him on. His disciples even joined in with herding the animals out of the temple. The faces of the merchants further on from where He was took on two different looks; some shown fear and others anger. “Who does He think He is interfering in our business?!” “I can’t afford to lose my animals! I better get them out of here before He gets over here!”
The money changers see Jesus hard at work and begin laughing at the merchants. Everyone is scattering before Him. As He approaches those selling pigeons, instead of setting them free He tells them to take them away. “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (verse 16). Merchants are running every which way as they dodge Jesus’ snapping whip. Animals are stampeding through the streets. Temple goers are cheering Jesus on. And the religious leaders are standing there with their mouths hanging open!
Jesus then approaches the money changer’s tables. Men scramble backwards at the look in His eyes. He grabs the edge of the nearest table and flips it end over end. Money goes flying everywhere! He quickly moves onto the next and the next and the next one until ALL the tables are lying on their sides and the coins are scattered all over the ground. Some of the braver money changers bend down to pick up their spilled coins when they hear Jesus’ whip crack right beside them. Before long the money changers are running from the temple along with the merchants.
Things quiet down a little bit and the religious leaders step forward. The chief priest of the hour addresses Jesus with indignation in his voice. “What gives You the right to do this? ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ (verse 18).”
Jesus answers him with the most outrageous statement he has heard all day. “Destroy this temple, and in there days I will raise it up” (verse 19).
With a look of total disdain the chief priest says, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” (verse 20).
Jesus fixes him with a stare and then turns and walks away. His work here is done, for now. The rest can wait for another time. He has planted the seed in the hearts and minds of the people. He will finish His cleansing work in a few more years.
I wonder if the money changers and merchants came back the next day. Were they watchful of Jesus from then on? Did they change their practices? Did they set up outside the courtyard? Were they fearful every year after that? How long did this “lesson” last? And did anyone in the crowd understand and change as a result of Jesus’ actions?
Lord Jesus, I would have loved to be cheering You on that day! Did You let Your newly formed group of disciples help out that day? In many of our churches today we insist on “propriety” or the right kind of behavior. Often the person who needs You the most is barred from entrance because they “don’t meet the standards” set by those in authority. The dirty, the sinner and the poor are turned away. But those are exactly the people You came to save. The ones who recognize that they have nothing to give but themselves. The best they have is often judged as not good enough. WE rob them by insisting on perfection first. When You went into the temple that day You didn’t run those out who had brought their best, even if it wasn’t “perfect.” Instead You ran those out who preyed on them. You welcomed the broken. You still welcome the broken today. In fact, those are the only ones who are ready to come to You. When we recognize our lack, THEN can we turn and have You fill it. I, on my own, am not enough! I NEED You!
Forgive me Father for putting conditions on others seeking You. Forgive me for judging others heart’s. Help me reach out in Your love to those in need. I don’t really know what that is going to look like, but I’m sure there are going to be times I feel uncomfortable too. Please don’t let me walk away in those times. Hold my hand as I move into the places You have prepared for me to walk. Also show me when not to move into some areas. I want to walk in YOUR paths, not ones I “think” You might like. Tune my ears to hear You in this area and not my pride or the enemy. I know I can trust You to care for me wherever You send me.