“After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 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 2:12-17).
Following the wedding at Cana in Galilee, Jesus, Mary His mother, Jesus’ brothers (Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-3) and His disciples went back to Capernaum. John then records that it was the spring of the year since the Jewish Passover was at hand. As fitting for a faithful Jew, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Passover.
The Passover, commemorating the festival instituted the night before Israel’s Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12-13), was one of three annual feasts of which every male was to appear before the LORD at the Temple. Exodus 23:14-17 says, “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (i.e. Passover). As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD.”
It was when Jesus arrived at the Temple that He drove out the sellers of animals and the moneychangers. Why did Jesus do this? The sellers provided a service to worshipers, enabling them to travel the long journey to Jerusalem without having to haul their sacrificial animals with them. In the same way, the moneychangers served the people by enabling them to trade their currency for shekels, the only money in which the temple tax could be paid.
One commentator explains, “These activities in themselves were not wrong; the problem was the locale in which they were conducted. They made worship impossible in the temple courts, for the ruckus of animals and commerce certainly is not conducive to a reverent atmosphere. The scene prompted the disciples to recall Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (v. 9). In that psalm, David was opposed by those who disdained his respect for true worship and for the temple. The parallels with Jesus are clear, for He encountered opposition for His cleansing the temple (John 2:18–22). Like David, Jesus was opposed for being zealous for God and His worship.”
Another commentator however explains, “During the celebration of Passover, worshipers came from all over Israel and the Roman Empire to Jerusalem. Because many traveled large distances, it was inconvenient to bring their sacrificial animals with them. Opportunistic merchants, seeing a chance to provide a service and probably eyeing considerable profit during this time, set up areas in the outer courts of the temple in order for travelers to buy animals. The money-changers were needed because the temple tax, paid annually by every conscientious Jewish male 20 years of age or older (Ex. 30:13–14; Matt. 17:24–27), had to be in Jewish or Tyrian coinage (because of its high purity of silver). Those coming from foreign lands would need to exchange their money into the proper coinage for the tax. The money-changers charged a high fee for the exchange. With such a large group of travelers and because of the seasonal nature of the celebration, both the animal dealers and money-changers exploited the situation for monetary gain (“den of robbers”; Matt. 21:13). Religion had become crass and materialistic.”
As I sit at my desk writing this devotional, it is the Tuesday morning of Passion or Holy Week, 2018. In another five days it will be Easter Sunday. One of the things I have observed, particularly this year, is the emphasis by churches to host activities, like Easter Egg Hunts, either the day before, or in some cases, actually on Easter Sunday morning as part of their Resurrection Sunday activities.
Easter Egg Hunts and other church sponsored activities, much like the situation in John 2, are not wrong in and of themselves. My family has participated in such activities for years, but not as part of the Sunday morning Easter celebration. When anything is promoted instead of the worship of the One, True God, be it Easter Egg Hunts, blow up bounce houses, church fund raisers, or pony rides for every child who comes to church, it is not conducive to a reverent atmosphere. Why do churches continue to do such activities? Why did I when I was a younger man in ministry?
Perhaps, Dr. Steven J. Lawson says it best in his book The Kind of Preaching God Blesses when he writes, “Lamentably, the church has been taken captive by the deadening influences of worldly mantras such as crass pragmatism, self-sufficiency, positive thinking and the like.”
Pastor and author Dr. John MacArthur explored this trend in his book Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes like the World. He observes, “There seems no limit to what modern church leaders will do to entice people who aren’t interested in worship and preaching. Too many have bought the notion that the church must win people by offering an alternative form of entertainment. Evangelicals everywhere are frantically seeking new techniques and new forms of entertainment to attract people. Whether the method is biblical or not scarcely seems to matter to the average church leader—or church goer today. Does it work? This is the new test of legitimacy. And so raw pragmatism has become the driving for in much of the professing church.”
Dr. Michael Horton, in his book Christless Christianity writes, “The church in America today is so obsessed with being practical, relevant, helpful, successful, and even well-liked that it mirrors the world itself.”
The late Dr. R.C. Sproul succinctly said, “Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it – in His Word. He alone has the power to change lives for eternity, and that power is focused on the Scriptures.”
I particularly recall an individual remarking to me once that preaching should be no longer than ten minutes. Their reasoning was that people’s attention spans can’t tolerate any message from God’s Word longer than that.
May our zeal, much like the psalmists and our Lord, be for Word of God and worship which is in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Puritan commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “If God be our Father in heaven, and it be therefore our desire that his name may be sanctified, it cannot but be our grief to see it polluted.”
We should be grieved to see the church polluted by false worship, entertainment activities, pragmatism and bad theology. And when we see such things, let us work to improve them, or remove them, insofar as we are able.
Soli deo Gloria!