When Jesus enters the temple, He is aghast at what He finds there. There were men selling live animals to be offered as sacrifices; rather than each person offering sacrifices of their own belongings, they would just walk in and buy whatever sacrifice seemed the best, and the merchants convincing them that this would be more pleasing to God than whatever they already had to offer. Consider this thought for a moment; now contrast that to the sacrifice that God demanded of Abram. His own of his own, his very son Isaac, laid on the altar. Consider the very sacrifices of Cain and Abel, one considered worthy of the Lord, and the other rejected by the Lord. Now consider the fact that the very leaders of the temple were allowing this practice here. This sort of illustrates the state of affairs in the temples when Jesus arrives there. Worship and sacrifice had become sort of like this checklist, it became the “what you do” in the culture, with no real meaning or heartfelt intention. People would go to the worship service on the Sabbath so that no one would say anything about them, but their real desire was to not go anywhere else. I’ve seen this in our culture, where people will go, sort of half-heartedly listen to whatever the preacher/priest was talking about, and then sigh and open their wallets when the collection plate is passed.
And beyond that fact, the temples would not accept Roman coins for the tithe, as they bore the face of Caesar, thus the temples taught that to accept these coins would be to defile the temple. So, the leaders would station people who could exchange Jewish coins for Roman coins, at a high exchange rate I’m sure, so that the Jewish people could exchange their money for coins that the temple could accept; with a portion of the exchanges themselves going to the temple. The leaders had managed to completely turn the worship of God every Sabbath into a highly profitable business venture; and the people had accepted this because it freed them from any thoughts of preparation, of reverence; they could merely awaken on the day of worship and half-heartedly wander into the temple with no thoughts or concerns, and coldly enter in and recite the same prayers that they had always been taught but never truly believed.
Even more than removing this sense of reverence to the Lord, these leaders had done something else that was strictly opposed to the Lord. See, in making the temple a place of business, they had brought these earthly concerns into the temple. Part of this lack of reverence was that instead of entering into a heavenly place of worship, those who sought to pay true homage to the Lord must instead be concerned about what nation their coins were from, what their cattle looked like, things which had no place in the worship of the One True God. Jesus referred to the temple as a den of thieves not only because they were being unfair in their business practices, but because they were robbing God Himself of the honor and worship due to Him.
In His cleansing of the temple, we see a two-fold fact. We see, on the one hand, that the Church itself must be free from these earthly pursuits. While there are righteous deeds and actions which the Church must pursue, caring for the needy, feeding the hungry, taking care of the widows and the elderly, etc; things like a profit margin, restaurants, televisions stations, mansions for church leaders, private jets, etc, have no place in the “Church budget.” Secondly, and equally importantly, we know from St. Paul that “you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God resides within you. If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him, which temple you are.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Jesus cleansed the temple because of the earthly desires and cares that had been allowed to intrude on it’s purity and defile it; so too are we each a temple of God, and thus we must allow this same cleansing to take place within our hearts. There is no place within us for these earthly cares, wants and desires; and each time we allow them entrance into us we are defiling the very temple of God.
We need to be extremely guarded against this spirit of the age which constantly knocks at the doors of our hearts; this deceitfulness of Satan beckoning us and tempting us to allow entrance into the Holy temple which God Himself has created each one of us to be. Gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sadness, despondency, vanity, pride; each of these are normal in our culture. Oftentimes, these vices are even celebrated, so much so that we stand labelled as an outcast if we stray from any of them. Yet, each one of those things, whether by their archaic names, or by their modern names; depression, self-esteem, self-love, ambition, passion, desire; once you allow them quarter, will defile the temple of God within you.
May we all, as one Church united, lay aside these earthly cares and pray daily that the Lord would cleanse His temple, our body mind and soul, that we may stand together in praise and hymn of He who is worthy.
May the peace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved family.