Monday, April 2, 2012

Judgement Begins At The House of God

Jesus cleanses the temple in a scene from
"Jesus of Nazareth" (1977)
   Today being the second day of Passion Week, I wanted to look at an event that caught my attention as I was reading through the Gospel of Matthew yesterday. It refers to Jesus' cleansing of the temple on the day following His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which I reflected on in yesterday's post. On a personal note, I particularly like how this event is portrayed in the 1977 movie "Jesus of Nazareth" that I later watched as a child. The film makers imagined Christ paraphrasing the prophetic words of Isaiah 1:21 - "Jerusalem! The faithful city! She that was full of justice, has become a harlot!" - before proceeding to clean the temple.

   This event can be found described in all four Gospels - Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, and John 2:13-17. Of these, I thought I'd use the description provided by the Gospel of John here:

"The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” - John 2:13-17, ESV

   Christ never ceases to amaze. The day before, we saw His soul was in distress during His triumphal entry, as He anticipates His coming suffering under the full potency of the Father's divine anger against the sins of human kind. Now, He almost seems a different man. I used to hold to the popular perception of "gentle Jesus, meek and mild", and imagine Him as a "nice guy" when I was growing up. The more I am coming to know Him through Scripture, the more that I see that He is anything but a "nice guy"; we must never forget that this Person emerging through the pages of Scripture is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, the eternally existing and omnipotent Word through whom all creation was made.

   I was struck that Jesus, after surveying the goings-on in the temple, deliberately sat down and took the time to make a whip out of cords in an act of premeditated aggression. See the fire blazing in the Master's eyes! See the sinews of His strong hands, as He fashions the instrument of His anger! Christ makes no attempt to invoke diplomacy and engage in polite, negotiated conversation. The Lord of glory storms into His temple, people and animals fleeing before the lashes of His whip, as He kicks tables over and flings their money to the ground. What has made the Saviour so angry?

   No one needs ask; Christ Himself roars the accusation with pointed finger - "a house of trade!"; "a den of robbers!"  This is the reason for the Master's potent fury - the desecration of reducing His holy house into a place of commerce and profit; a department store! a foreign exchange counter! When God had first instituted the sacrificial system for worship and sin offerings in the Old Testament, He had commanded that each person was to personally pick and bring the best bull from his herd or lamb from his flock, or if too poor, turtledoves or pigeons. By the time of Christ, worship had lost all sense of truth, meaning or spirit. Corrupted by the emptiness of an external show of religious observances and devoid of true holiness, it had made a mockery of the spirit of God's law by turning the temple into a department store for the worshipper to buy the animals that he needed instead of bringing them himself. For those Jews coming from outside Israel to worship at Jerusalem, money changers had set up business to exchange their currency and buy the animals that they needed. Oh, how the righteous anger of Jesus must have burned as He saw this the previous day!

   It was as I was thinking over this passage that the words from the first Epistle of Peter hit me like a lightning bolt:

"For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” - 1 Peter 4:17, NKJV

   Dearly beloved, let us contemplate this verse during Holy Week - God is not mocked or partial; He will set His own house in order first before He ventures to judge those who do not belong to His kingdom. Christ will cleanse His church of every evil that corrupts and distorts His gospel, with stern measures if He has to. This is a very sobering thought, for the the temple of God is not to be found in humble parishes, church buildings or impressive cathedrals; it is not a congregation or denomination. No, indeed, for the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian church states the truth of the matter:

"Do you not know that you are God's temple and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.” - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, NKJV

   If the Master were to come into my temple today, what would He see? Would I be able to look Him in the eye, or cast my eyes to the ground in shame? Would I hear the words "Well done, good and faithful servant!", or would I hear the kind of words that He used upon those who He drove out with whips in Jerusalem? Knowing that He will begin with me, is my conscience clear? Let us examine ourselves and if we find our temple in disorder, let us repent and confess our sins to Him, knowing that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:19, NKJV

   See you in the next post for Passion Week!
- The Wisdom Seeker