The text is the Holy Gospel, especially the part known as the Cleansing of the Temple.
Why did Christ our Lord cleanse the Temple? A number of reasons are proposed. Perhaps the money changers were overcharging and cheating people. Perhaps having money there was inappropriate to the House of God. Perhaps the noises of the animals and the clinking of coins was a distraction to those who were trying to worship. Or other reasons may be proposed.
These theories might be more or less correct, and we could draw some valuable spiritual lessons from them. The problem is that none of them are explicitly expressed in Scripture. There was no law against changing money in the Temple courtyard, and it was necessary. The foreign money that contained images of false gods would not be acceptable currency in the Temple, so they needed to exchange it. There was no law against buying cattle or doves in the Temple courtyard. How many people had the ability and means to raise a suitable supply of every kind of animal that they would need to present sacrifices? Not everyone. When those people needed to offer sacrifices that God commanded them to make, they would have to buy suitable animals.
Notice also that Christ, when He cleanses the Temple, does not say, “You overcharging money changers! Get out of here!” Nor did He say, “You need to be more quiet!” Nor did He say, “Thou shalt not buy or sell in the courtyard!” Instead He said, “It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”
Now what does this mean? What is a den of thieves? A “den” is not where the thieves did their stealing. It was their lair, the hideout where they went in between acts of thievery. So Christ was not accusing the money changers of stealing in the Temple. Instead, it was their hideout.
That phrase, “den of thieves”, is a reference to Jeremiah seven, eleven. The Word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah the prophet and said, “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?”
Jeremiah chapter seven is all about the judgment of Yahweh upon the hypocritical people of the kingdom of Judah who thought that they could steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal and walk after other gods, and then come and stand before God in the Temple as if they were good and faithful believers. That is the kind of den of thieves that Christ was talking about. The people did all their spiritual robbery outside the house of God, then went into the Temple as if the sacrifices would hide everything and make it all right. But it was not. The Lord called them to repentance, but they did not listen. They went on sinning as if it did not matter, and still claimed to be righteous in God’s sight.
What would happen to these people of Jeremiah’s time? There would be slaughter, and not enough room to bury the corpses. There would be no joy in the land, for it would be desolate. The Temple would be destroyed.
The same thing was coming upon the land in the time of Christ. Their great transgression was not only that many sins were rampant, but also that many did not listen when the Lord in human flesh called them to repentance. Instead, they went back to the Temple with their animal sacrifices as if everything was okay, and then go right back to their favorite sins. Even worse, when Christ came calling people to Himself as the One who would save them, many rejected Him, particularly the religious leaders.
They owed Christ honor and worship. They owed Him repentance and genuinely moral behavior, not the hypocrisy that they rationalized in their pride. They owed God the obligation of being religious leaders, which was to lead the people not only in obedience, but also toward repentance and faith in the coming Messiah. Those things should have been central to the sacrifices made in the Temple. Because they owed all these things to the Lord yet withheld them, they were thieves who stole from Him, and the Temple was their hideout.
The sacrifices of God’s house did not hide their sins, not when faith and repentance were lacking. God saw through their pretense. He was already passing judgment on them in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
So Christ disrupted their sacrifices. He drove out the animals, although Luke does not mention that. He drove out the buyers and sellers, so that the worshipers could not complete their sacrifices. Christ brought their vain, hollow worship to a halt.
Now, we are not sure how many people Christ stopped. Did He clear the entire courtyard? Maybe, maybe not. It was a huge courtyard. Even if He did, they would surely return as soon as Christ left. So He did not end the worship in the Temple completely.
Yet He was making a point. This worship of God was in vain unless the people had faith in the coming Messiah, who now stood among them. That House of God was useless as long as they kept paying attention to the old sacrifices instead of fixing their eyes upon the Lamb of God who came to offer the one final sacrifice on Calvary. The Temple would be destroyed by God who wanted the worship of all who believed in His Son, not those who clung to the obsolete worship of animals that could give no lasting forgiveness.
What will we do? Will we go through the motions of God’s House and act like that makes us right with God even though in our hearts there may lurk hypocrisy, or lack of repentance and faith? Will we sin without restraint in the world, but then come back to this place as if it were a hideout for us, as if we could fool God?
We cannot get away with hypocrisy. We may fool our fellow believers, but God will not be mocked. He wants hearts that diligently heed the Word of His Son with fear and trembling. He wants believers who cling to the sacrifice of Christ, not as a license to sin as much as we want, but as the one hope for sinners who would perish eternally otherwise. He wants humble children who listen attentively to Christ, not proud religious people who are secretly enemies of Christ, like the Jewish leaders who plotted to destroy Him.
I pray to God that each of you have humble, sincere hearts. Only God can know for certain, of course.
By the grace of Christ, we who repent and believe with sincerity will avoid all the destruction that will fall upon the sinful human race. Instead of death and desolation, we will have life in Paradise. Instead, of enmity with God, we have friendship even now, and will see Him face to face forever. Amen.
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