Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Throwing the Bums Out, Again

Life of Christ 149

          It is Monday morning. Jesus will die in two days. Yesterday, beholding the city, He wept while millions cheered. This morning, on the way into Jerusalem, He cursed the fig tree for bearing no fruit as an illustration of Israel's condition.
          Arriving at the Temple on this Monday morning of Passover week Jesus found a scene of bustling activity. Millions of pilgrims had descended on the city. Thousands of them were taking advantage of their presence at the Temple to offer some necessary family sacrifices while they were in town. Others were clustered around the great offering boxes casting in their money. Thousands of priests were prepping for the biggest week of the year. Hundreds of thousands of lambs were being warehoused for slaughter on Wednesday. Itinerant rabbis were declaiming to their followers. All over the forty acre complex tens of thousands of people were talking, walking, and debating – Sadducees with Pharisees, Pharisees with Herodians, Herodians with Zealots, and the followers of Hillel with the followers of Shammai. These scenes and many others like them filled the Temple to bursting on Monday morning.
          Amongst all of this frenetic activity there would also have been the moneychangers and animal inspectors doing a brisk business. The Jews were commanded to tithe to the Temple, but the Temple refused to receive any money that had an image on it. Thus it was that it was necessary to exchange your Roman, Greek, Syrian, or Egyptian money for Temple shekels. These moneychangers had a monopoly on a religious business, and they soaked the people for all they could.
          In addition, most Jews found it necessary to offer animal sacrifices now and again. If they brought the animal with them to the Temple it had to be inspected, and certified as being without blemish. The other option was to purchase an animal on the premises, and the High Priest made those readily available. In Christ's day, the inspectors were notorious for flunking the animals brought in, and demanding that one of the Temple animals be purchased. In such a case, the forlorn Jew from Galilee had no other option. Thus it was through this system of moneychangers and animal inspections and sales the High Priest had a corrupt chokehold on the nation.
          Jesus had already dealt with this rotten system once. (see Life of Christ 27) Three years ago, in His first national act as Messiah, He had entered the Temple and picked up a few cords of the ground. Plaiting a whip out of them, He proceeded to overturn the tables of the inspectors and chase the moneychangers from the Temple. As an introduction to the people of Israel it was an astounding act. It revealed Him to be fearless. It showed His passion for holiness. And it shouted His claim to be Israel's messiah.

          We find Jesus three years later doing the exact same thing. But what occupies my mind as I look at this story (Mark 11.15-18) is why? What is the reason Jesus chose to end His ministry by cleansing the Temple?
          I offer you two answers today. First, He did it again because it needed done again. The only thing in the entirety of the Christian life that does not need to be repeated is salvation and baptism. This is because of the nature of sin. It is a cancer that is always coming back. It is a weed that is never completely pulled. It is the arthritis that repeatedly flares up. It is the building that is always needing maintenance. Sin must be dealt with again and again and again.
          This is why one of the great keys of the Christian life is a willingness to be repetitious – to read the Bible, again; to go to church, again; to bow your knees in prayer, again; to praise the Lord for His goodness, again; to examine your heart for sin, again; to witness to the lost with the Gospel, again. It never ceases to amaze me how after almost thirty years of being an active Christian my flesh still fights me constantly on these things. Which is exactly why I must do them – again.
          Not only is our own personal spirituality this way, but so too is working with people. This is because the people with whom we work are sinners. You can fix them, so to speak, or help them to fix what is broken, but they do not stay fixed. This is why parenting is often frustrating and why good parents find themselves saying the same things over and over again. This is why a good Sunday School teacher creatively finds ways to teach the same lesson over and over again. Hopefully, you can help people to mature to the place where they learn to work on themselves but either way, whether you always work on them or they always work on themselves, continual work must be done.
          Second, Jesus cleansed the Temple again because Jesus was still the same. You and I change constantly; we are always regressing. God changes never; He is always the same. However you found Him yesterday is how you will find Him today and tomorrow. Beloved, there is great security here, great comfort here, and also great warning here.
          So many things have changed since Jesus first cleansed the Temple three years ago. The nation has rejected Him. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians have united against Him. The Sanhedrin hates Him. The Romans fear Him. His brothers do not believe Him. Tomorrow night one of His own Apostles will betray Him. Tomorrow night ten of His Apostles will run away in terror. In two days He will die a horrible, criminal death. Everything around Him and everyone around Him has shifted dramatically in the course of the last three years.
          …but He has not changed. He is still the Messiah. He is still fearless. He is still holy. And as He boldly overthrows the tables of the moneychangers and chases out the inspectors again He is sending that message to the Sanhedrin loud and clear. He is not provoking them; they are already provoked. He is telling them, 'I am not afraid of you, and I am still the Messiah.'
          You cannot intimidate Christ. You cannot silence Him. You cannot bully Him into submission or buy Him off. Right is still right and wrong is still wrong and Jesus is still the King no matter how unpopular these things may be. And when you set this truth in the context of the spirit of our age we find a tremendous lesson:

Hebrews 10:23–25
23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

          Yet again, He looks on the Temple business with mingled sorrow and anger. Yet again, He plaits some stray cords. Yet again, He charges with righteous indignation into the middle of it all. Yet again, He sends them running from Him in terror. Because sin needs dealt with yet again, and because Jesus does not change.

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