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THE TROUBLE AT THE TEMPLE
Intro: Last week we looked at verses 12-14 and 20-21. In those verses, Jesus pronounced a curse on a fig tree. The reason He cursed the tree was because it promised something it could not deliver. The tree was covered with leaves, but it had no fruit, v. 13. Since the early figs grow with the leaves, the tree should have had some fruit along with its leaves. It didn’t so Jesus pronounced a curse upon the tree, v. 14. The fig tree was cursed because of its hypocrisy.
This event happened as Jesus and His men made their way into Jerusalem on Monday morning. Just the day before on Sunday, Jesus had presented Himself to the people in Jerusalem, as their King and as their Messiah, in fulfillment of Zech. 9:9. The people praised Jesus on Sunday, but the religious leaders refused to honor Him as King, Luke 19:39. When Jesus arrived in town on Sunday, He went to the Temple and looked around, Mark 11:11.
Apparently, when Jesus visited the Temple on Sunday, He saw some things that He did not like. During this visit on Monday, He will address some of those issues. The events that occurred during our Lord’s visit to the Temple on that Monday morning are what I want to look into today.
We are always asking the Lord to “show up here at the church. That is a good thing to pray for, because if the Lord doesnt show up, then everything else is in vain. As we move through this account, you will notice that when Jesus showed up at the Fathers house on this Monday morning, it was not a good thing at all. In fact, Jesus came that Monday not to bless, but to pass divine judgment on the Temple and the practices taking place there.
As we move through these verses today, I want you to know that Jesus does show up at every service. In Matt. 18:20 Jesus promised to be where any two or three believers were gathered in His name. In Rev. 1:12-13, Jesus is pictured walking among candlesticks. The candlesticks represent His churches. Then in Heb. 13:5, He promised us that He would “never leave us or forsake us. Jesus is always here when we come together. His presence is not in doubt.
We do, however, need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. What does Jesus see when He comes to Calvary? Does He like what He sees here, or does He want some things to change?
Let’s join Jesus as He goes to the Temple on a Monday morning. I want to share a few thoughts that we cannot afford to miss. I want to point out A Description Of The Temple; A Dispute At The Temple and A Decision At The Temple.
As these events unfold, I challenge you to look at your own life and your own church. The Lord has a message for every person in this room, if we will receive it. I want to preach about The Trouble In The Temple.
I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE TEMPLE
· We are told that Jesus found people selling and buying goods in the Temple. He found others exchanging currency. And still others were walking through the Temple grounds on their way to other parts of the city. I want to take a few minutes to talk about what was happening in the House of God.
· First, it might help us to have a better understanding of how the Temple and its grounds were arranged. The Temple complex sat on top of Mt. Zion. It covered an area of some 35 acres. The outer walls of the Temple grounds were between 1,000 and 1,300 feet in length.
When a person entered the Temple grounds, they came first into the Court of the Gentiles. This area was open to all people who wanted to worship God. Jews and Gentiles alike were allowed to enter this area to pray and meditate, Ill. Luke 18:9-14.
Had you moved farther into the Temple grounds you would have seen a low wall. Beyond this wall was the Court of Women. On this wall were signs that warned Gentiles to stay out of this courtyard. Only Jewish men and women could enter here.
Beyond that was the Court of the Israelites. Jewish women could enter this court only if they were bringing a sacrifice to give to the priests. Jewish men were allowed here at any time.
Beyond that was the Court of the Priests. This was where the priests worked and ministered. Beyond the Court of the Priests was the Temple itself with the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.
All of the events we are talking about today took place in the Court of the Gentiles.
· The population of Jerusalem was usually around 80,000 people. During this time of the year, at Passover, the population swelled to over 2 million. These people came to Jerusalem from all over the world. They came to the Temple and they came there to worship God.
In those days, part of the Jewish worship involved the sacrifice of animals. These animals had to meet certain standards. Before they could be used for sacrifice, they had to be approved by the priest. Apparently, the High Priest, Caiaphas allowed vendors to sell approved, clean animals in the outer court of the Temple grounds.
Because there were animals being sold in the Temple, the pilgrims who came to town would not have to bring their own animals, nor would they take a chance that the animals they brought would be judged unclean by the priests.
Mark mentioned those “who sold doves. Doves were the sacrifice of the poor. Those who could not afford sheep, goats or bulls could offer these inexpensive birds, Lev. 5:6-7; 14:22. Doves were what Mary, the mother of Jesus, brought as her sacrifice, Luke 2:24.
Other items used in Temple worship were also sold here. Items like wine, oil, flour, and salt, that had been pronounced clean, were also sold in the Temple. It was very convenient!
The money changers also provided a valuable service to Temple worshipers. Every Jewish male was required to pay a one-half shekel ransom at each census of Israel. When the Jews returned from captivity under Nehemiah, the fee became yearly and was fixed at one-third of a shekel. A shekel is about one-half an ounce of silver. So, the yearly tax was about $3.50 in today’s money. This tax was called “the shekel of the sanctuary. This tax had to be paid in Jewish money. Other currencies were not accepted. The money changers seemed necessary because the pilgrims from around the world would be in possession of various currencies that would not be accepted in the Temple. It was very convenient!
Verse 16 talks about those who were carrying “vessels through the Temple.” The Temple courtyard provided a quick path between the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Many people who were on business in the city would take this shortcut through the Court of the Gentiles. It was very convenient!
· To most people the things that were taking place at the Temple were necessary and fine. They certainly were convenient. Most people had no problem at all with the system and the way things worked. However, we are about to see that Jesus had a real problem with what was going on at the Temple.
II. A DISPUTE AT THE TEMPLE
· Jesus came to the Temple that Monday morning knowing exactly what He would find. He had been there the day before and had seen what was happening. He comes back this morning to do something about the situation.
· When Jesus came to church that day, He did not come in as the “meek and lowly Nazarene. He came as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. The Lord came to His Own house; and found it in total disarray. He took all the necessary steps to set things right.
· Let’s look at what Jesus did when He came to the Temple. The language of the text suggests violence: “cast out, overthrew, would not suffer. Jesus took control of the situation and dealt with those violating the sanctity of His house.
The phrase “cast out means to force out with violence. Overthrew means to turn over. Have you ever see a full table turned over? It is a violent act! The word suffer means to allow.
So Jesus entered the Temple and began to turn over tables, drive people away and refuse to allow some to pass through the Temple. Try to imagine the scene if you will. People and animals are running around trying to get away from Jesus. Money is flying through the air. The Lord Jesus is ordering people around and trying to get rid of the offenders.
· This isn’t the first time Jesus had done this at the Temple. The first occurred the previous Passover, John 2:19. It seems, however, that His efforts to reform the Temple had not lasted. The same things are still happening and Jesus once again comes to the Father’s House and seeks to restore it to a place of worship, holiness and spirituality.
As we looked at what they were doing in the Temple a few minutes ago, it doesn’t really seem all that bad. Does it? After all, the sellers and the moneychangers are providing what some might call a necessary service for the worshippers. What could be so wrong here that would drive Jesus to such drastic and violent actions? It was very convenient after all.
· I think the answer lies in what Jesus says in verse 17.
In that verse Jesus quotes two Old Testament passages. First, He quotes Isa. 56:7, which says, in part, “…for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. Then, Jesus quotes Jer. 7:11, which says, “Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.
· Let’s take each of those declarations and see what they have to teach us about the Lord’s anger and actions.
Ψ My house - The first problem has to do with the very function of the Temple itself. The house of God was not designed to be a place of commerce, but it was to be a place devoted to the worship of Almighty God. When the first Temple was built, the glory of God filled it, 2 Chron. 7:1-3. God promised His people that He would meet with them in the Temple. He promised to hear the prayers that were prayed in that place, 2 Chron. 7:15-16. It was to be His house where He alone was to be worshipped.
The Temple had ceased to be about the Lord. It had become a house that was man-centered and not God-centered. The Temple was no longer God’s house; it had become a house devoted to the needs of men. This angered Jesus!
Ψ Shall be called of all nations the house of prayer The Temple was designed as a house of prayer. The needy could approach God in that place. The true believer, whether he was a Jew or a Gentile, could come to the Temple and pray to the Lord, and God promised to hear those prayers, 2 Chron. 7:15. Now, the only place a Gentile could approach God had become a marketplace. Imagine the noise that must have filled the Court of the Gentiles with all the animals, the sellers yelling at the buyers, and the buyers haggling with the sellers. There is no way a person could pray, or much less meditate on the things of God. The Jews had effectively closed the doors of the Temple to the Gentiles. This angered Jesus!
Ψ But ye have made it a den of thieves The phrase den of thieves can be interpreted two ways. Both meanings are in view here. First, a den of thieves could refer to a cave where robbers hid themselves away from those who were searching for them. Second, a den of thieves could refer to a place where robbers hid waiting for their unsuspecting victims to pass by.
Like robbers, the High Priest and his followers had hidden themselves away in the Temple, seeking to hide their wickedness under a cloak of holiness. Like thieves, these men were waiting for the foolish to enter the Temple so they could take their money.
You see, while the sale of the animals and other items used for worship seems harmless and even helpful, we need to understand that it was anything but innocent. A dove that cost, say $1.00 on the street might cost $25.00 inside the Temple. The people who came to worship were being charged grossly inflated prices. The money changers were just as guilty. They charged a 10-12 percent exchange rate. They were also guilty of extortion. On top of this, the High Priest and his family were paid a percentage of the profits, on top of the fee the sellers had to pay to gain permission to sell in the Temple. It was a big money racket that preyed on poor. The Temple was nothing but a “den of robbers.
· We are also told that Jesus would not allow people to use the Temple grounds as a shortcut. The Jewish oral law, or the Mishnah, actually forbad the Jews from using the Temple in this way. The Mishnah says, “A man may not enter the Temple Mount with his staff or his sandal or his wallet, or with the dust upon his feet, nor may he make of it a short by-path.
It seems that the Jews had lost all respect for the holiness and sanctity of the Temple and treated its grounds like it was any other place. The house of God was looked upon as a convenience to be used as a person saw fit.
· When Jesus saw the Father’s house being treated this way, He took measures to make this right.
· What are we to take away from this? For years preachers have used this passage to preach against buying and selling on church grounds. While I do not believe the church should make its money from bake sales, yard sales and car washes; that is not what this passage is talking about.
(Ill. Be that as it may, I am, and always will be, opposed to the church selling things to make money. We are not to prey on the public, nor should we expect lost people to help pay our bills!)
However, the church building is not the Temple! The church building is the place where the Temples meet, 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19-20; 2 Cor. 6:16. This passage is talking about the condition of the heart that even allows things like this to take place.
The reason the Jews were defiling their Temple was due to the fact that they had ceased to reverence God in their hearts. They simply did not love Him, adore Him, respect Him, nor did they carry His Word in their hearts. As a result, they traveled down a path that led them away from God and into self-indulgence.
· We are seeing the same things all around us today. Let’s take a moment to consider a few questions that came to my mind as I prepared this message.
Ψ Why are churches looking for new forms of worship?
Ψ Why are churches embracing new, fleshly styles of music? (By the way, not all new music is bad! There was a day when Amazing Grace was new! The standard is not age, but biblical accuracy!)
Ψ Why are churches abandoning Bible preaching to have a discussion?
Ψ Why are churches abandoning doctrine in favor of self-help, therapeutic talks?
Ψ Why are so-called Christians allowing false prophets like Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life), Joel Osteen (Your Best Life Now) and the TBN crowd to rob them blind by selling them worthless drivel disguised as religious help?
Ψ Why do professing Christians refuse to pray and read their Bibles?
Ψ Why will a church meal be well attended while a prayer meeting is nearly deserted?
Ψ Why do some people who claim to be saved seem to have such a hard time living for the Lord?
Ψ Why do people have the mindset that the church exists simply for their convenience?
Ψ Why do church members feel they can treat the church like they do? They tithe when they can afford it. They come when they feel like it. They refuse to participate in the outreach ministries of the church. They sit back and let others do all the work? Why?
Ψ Why are Sunday evening and Wednesday evening not as important as Sunday morning?
Ψ Why do church members ignore Sunday School when it is the time we study the Word of God?
Ψ Why do church members believe they can come into the services whenever they please? (Services start here at 9:45; 11:00; 6:00 and 7:00 on Wednesdays. When the service starts, you should be in your seat ready to worship!)
Ψ Why do church members believe that their business is more important than God’s business?
· There are many more questions that could be asked here. The reason we do the things we do is the same reason the Jews did the things they did.
Here is the real issue. The things we do are not the problem. They are merely symptoms of the problem. We do the things we do in our day for the same reason the Jews did them in Christ’s day.
The Jews treated the things of God like they did because they held a small view of God; as a result, He occupied a small place in their lives. I am afraid that many people in our day also have a small view of God. That is why He comes in second, third, fourth, even if He comes in at all.
That is not the way things should work! God demands first place in our lives, Matt. 22:35-40. Nothing in your life or mine should come before the Lord and His work. We should treat Him, His business, His Word, His worship, and His house like they are the most vital and important possessions we have, because they are! Everything we do and are should be determined by what brings God the most glory. That is why we are here and nothing less will satisfy Him!
When God is first in your life, it will show. And, when He isn’t, it will show! What does your life show about the place God holds in your heart?
III. A DECISION AT THE TEMPLE
· When the Jewish leaders heard about what Jesus did, they are resolved to put Him to death. They would succeed, because before the sun sat that Friday, Jesus would be dead and buried in a borrowed tomb.
· It is interesting to note that the people were amazed by what they saw Jesus do and by what they heard Him say. No doubt, many of the people there that day were sincerely trying to worship God and they were being fleeced by the very people who should have been there to lead them to the Lord. They were interested in the reforms Jesus was trying to make in the Temple because they were tired of being taken advantage of by the High Priest and his followers.
· In the end, it didn’t matter. The Temple had been defiled, God was offended and judgment was coming. The fig tree that Jesus judged was a living illustration of what was about to happen to the Temple. Because they promised life, but delivered only death, they were destined for judgment. Because they were all leaf and no fruit, they were destined for judgment. And, in less that forty years judgment did come. It came in the form of a Roman general named Titus and his Roman Legions. Judgment came to the Temple and those who perverted the things of God. Judgment came and it could not be stopped.
· The lesson for us is very clear. We can be a people God will bless, or we can be a people God will judge. Which we are will be determined by how much we love Him. Because how much we love Him will dictate how faithfully, fully, and fruitfully we will serve Him.
· God can either use us and this church for His glory, or He can write “Ichabod over the door and find Him a people who do love Him. I say we search our hearts and if there is a problem, we need to do what Jesus told the people of Ephesus to do, Rev. 2:1-7.
Conc: It seems to me that the Lord wants us to know that He is not playing games. His business is serious business. It is high time His people treated it that way!
The whole issue in the Temple was a problem of the heart. The Jews had abandoned authentic worship.
The problem in the modern church is exactly the same. Most people have abandoned authentic, spiritual worship for something more convenient; for something of their own making! All the while, authentic worship is exactly what we need to strive for in the church.
When the Word of God is read, we should hang on every word, seeking to absorb it all. When we sing we should open our mouths and sing. When we listen to singing, we should seek to find God in the words. When we hear preaching, we should seek God’s message for our life. When we pray it should become a corporate event, as we attach our “Amen to the words of the prayer being prayed.
William Temple defined worship this way, “To quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to fill the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.
Empty worship was the trouble at the Temple the day Jesus visited. Empty worship brought divine judgment to that Temple. What does He see when He looks into the temple of our heart?
Where does this message find you? Are you saved? If not, come to Jesus, He will save you. If you are, has the Lord spoken to you about your commitment to Him? If He has, come to Him today. He loves you and He wants to use you in a special way. He will if you will yield to Him.