My kid loves to clean. I’m not sure if Caleb’s obsession with the vacuum, mop, broom, and Lysol wipes is a reflection of my mom’s spotless home, or if his need to clean is a mutiny of my mess (physical and emotional). Either scenario makes for husband Instagram-glory. People enjoy reminding me that Caleb’s love for cleaning is a phase. “Soon,” they say, “he’ll be a typical, dirty teenager.” You know what I think? They’re dream stealers. *Silent death stare.* Maybe, just maybe, my son will beat the odds. For now at least, he likes to clean. Even things that don't need cleaning.
Humor helps me deal. That’s why I showcase Caleb’s cleaning. I’m stalling because today I'm reflecting on the fact that Easter is just a few short weeks away. As I look back to Christ’s first orders of business after His triumphal entry into Bethany I'm reminded that holy week was not all fun and games: Jesus curses a fig tree and cleanses the temple. Jesus, like my Caleb, is serious about cleaning house. I’m hesitant to review history knowing that my own house (literal and spiritual) needs a good spring cleaning. Thankfully, He is a good, good father.
"Then they came to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the temple area and began to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple courts. He turned over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. Then he began to teach them and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a den of robbers!” The chief priests and the experts in the law heard it and they considered how they could assassinate him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed by his teaching." Mark 11:15-18 (NET)
According to verse fifteen, they were selling doves and exchanging money in the temple courts. This disgusts Jesus, and in verse sixteen, he does not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
It's obvious Mark is trying to emphasis a point about the location of this story, the temple courts, also know as the court of the Gentiles. This is what the temple looked like at the time that Jesus cleared it out.
Here's the backstory. If Gentiles (non-Jews) believed in Yahweh (the God of the Bible), they were required to be circumcised (ouch) before worshipping God at the temple along with the Jews, but only in the temple courts/court of Gentiles, where Gentiles would pray and offer their sacrifices to God. The temple courts were also a physical place that explained a spiritual reality about the God of the Bible: He wants a relationship with everyone. The outsiders, the unqualified, those unfamiliar with religion, the defiled, and the dirty, even the Gentiles. He makes space for all of us to worship him.
In just a few days from this moment in history, God was going to make another statement through Jesus. In His death, the distance experienced in the temple would be destroyed, allowing us all to come near to God. Peace with God would no longer be divided into sections of physical space. The veil would be torn, everyone could stand before God and his Holiness unashamed.
All Jewish males were required to go to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover (the religious feast which served as a memorial of the Jews’ deliverance from Egypt) and have a special encounter with God; therefore, it was crowded the day Jesus cleansed the temple. Some historians estimate the city would swell from approximately 50,000 people to 250,000 people.
“It became more difficult for the people in the outlying areas to bring their sacrifice to Jerusalem. So the Levites began raising lambs for the Passover sacrifice right in Jerusalem and selling them at the temple.” (Celebrating Jesus in the Biblical Feasts: Discovering their significance to you as a Christian, Richard Booker)
The leaders of the Jews had converted the temple courts (which were supposed to be a sacred place of worship for the Gentiles) into a marketplace for the thousands of Jewish men in town to celebrate Passover. Jesus' rebuke make more sense now...
"Then He (Jesus) began to teach them (everyone in the temple courts) and said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?' ” Mark 11:17 (NET)
Did you notice the quote within the quote? Jesus is quoting part of Isaiah 56 in his confrontation. "As for foreigners who become followers of the Lord and serve him, who love the name of the Lord and want to be his servants— all who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it, and who are faithful to my covenant— I will bring them to my holy mountain; I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray.” Isaiah 56:6-7 (NET) The title of this chapter in the NET is “The Lord Invites Outsiders to Enter”
When was the last time you felt like an outsider?
How did you feel?
For me it was just last week. I’m attending a new church, in a new life group, and sitting in a new sanctuary with new friends. Often I feel like the outsider. The history, methods, terms, and normalities of this group of believers are foreign to me. “You don’t know us. You just don’t know us,” one young lady said while she was giving me some constructive feedback on one of my Bible lessons. I responded, “You’re right. I don’t.” Each Sunday I am literally sitting in someone else’s seat on accident because I am new. And it’s hard. Now, it's nothing like this.
It's not like that so don't misunderstand me. I love my new church, new life group, new sanctuary and new friends. My spiritual life is en fuego right now, and I could not feel more at home. It just feels like I am one of the newest to arrive at this new home. Socially it takes time to become an insider.
Jesus gets rowdy and starts flipping over tables in the temple courts. He stops shoppers dead in their tracks who are likely holding merchandise and yells, “You have turned it into a den of robbers!”
But those buying and selling in the temple courts that day were not robbing anyone of money or merchandise. The buying and selling was not the problem. They had robbed the Gentiles (the outsiders) of the ability to worship God, to approach God, and to be near to their God. They stole their sacred space.
Jesus won’t have it.
Feeling like an outsider is something you and I will continue to experience in life, but it has no place in our spiritual life once we are Christians. Because of the redeeming work of Jesus, as a Christian you and I are no longer (and never again will be) outsiders to the presence of God.
According to Ephesians 2 we used to be:
- without Messiah
- alienated from the citizenship of Israel
- strangers to the covenants of promise
- having no hope without God in the world
But now because of the redeeming work of Jesus we are:
- brought near to God
- defined by peace
- reconciled to God
- reconciled to each other
- have access in one Spirit to the Father
- fellow citizens
- members of God's household
- a dwelling place of God in the Spirit
Caleb prefers to vacuum when he cleans.
When Jesus cleans house he flips over tables making space for you and me to be near to him. Let that wash over you for a second. You're not an outsider. Not anymore and never again.