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Who is this who rides into Jerusalem for the Passover festival on a donkey amid an excited crowd shouting "Hosanna!"? The pilgrims from Galilee were proud to hail him as their native son, the prophet from Nazareth.
When Jesus had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?" So the multitudes said, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee."
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'"
Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant and said to Him, "Do you hear what these are saying?"
Jesus said to them, "Yes. Have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise'?" Then Jesus left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there. Matthew 21:10-17 NKJV, condensed
It Was Legal, But
Jesus normally stilled the storms of life and created peace. But on this day, strong from his ride into Jerusalem, he entered into the corrupted economic system at the temple and created havoc. His actions made a statement and challenged the way business was conducted in his Father's house. He momentarily stopped the profiteering, but it didn't change the way the system operated. Shoppers continued to come; sellers continued their excesses.
The marketplace in the first century temple was very specialized. Merchants sold animals to the worshipers for sacrifices--goats and sheep or to the poor, doves and pigeons. For a fee, moneymen exchanged foreign currency into the required coins for the annual temple tax. All this was done in the courtyard of the Gentiles, the only part of the consecrated place in which Gentiles could worship God and gather for prayer. Thus the house of prayer for all nations was reduced to a noisy, smelly den of thieves.
Instead of offering a service, they were selling convenience. People could purchase everything they needed for the worship experience right there on the grounds of the temple. Just buy it on the way in. What could be easier--for example, wouldn't it be convenient if, when we go to a wedding, vendors would meet us in the church courtyard, also known as a garden of prayer for any who pass by. There, we could purchase a present for the bride and groom, gift-wrapped and ready for us to grab at the last minute. All we have to do is sign our name to the attached card and lay the beauty on the gift table inside the door.
Convenience generally costs more. And it's not difficult to imagine that the temple merchants bilked the out-of-town pilgrims for all they could get. Neither is it hard to believe that the corruption at the bottom went all the way up to the top--in this case the governing body and the high priest himself.
So Jesus cleansed the holy place by driving everyone out and upsetting the wares. He had a score to settle. The buyers could get their goods elsewhere. The merchants, who were making a mockery of all that God is, simply had to go. Legally, they were in the right, but the custom showed neither honor nor respect for God or their fellowman
A house of prayer or a den of thieves--wouldn't you think we could tell the difference! Jesus justified his bold action by quoting from two Old Testament prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah. But it was only a temporary reprieve for a long-term problem. Force imposed from without does not produce the inner transformation needed to bring about permanent change.
After cleansing the temple, Jesus demonstrated the true character of God. He turned the place of worship back into God's house by healing those who came to him. Interestingly, the temple authorities, who weren't bothered in the least by the routine financial exploitation of the worshipers, were very troubled when Jesus used the temple to restore sight to the blind and mobility to the lame!
When the head honchos witnessed the "wonderful works of God" and heard the praises, they became indignant! Jesus and the religious leadership were on two separate tracks. They didn't even come close. The officials at the shrine in the capital city of Jerusalem viewed Jesus as an unworthy rival from the Galilean countryside who didn't belong on their turf. And here he was attempting to take charge and telling them what to do!
The people who followed Jesus into Jerusalem and had cheered him on probably liked the changes they saw at the temple. Now they could catch a free dove and scramble for some change to go with it, too. Yet people who stopped to take it all in knew there would be grave consequences from an upheaval like this. Jesus, anticipating the inevitable, retired to the safety of a small town named Bethany, where his friends--Mary, Martha and Lazarus--lived. One days troubles are sufficient . . . .
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What's wrong with buying the wedding gift from a vendor in the church courtyard?
Make a list of things which are legal in our society which you wish were not. Would a show of force change the status of any of these things? What other options are available to get people to change their behavior?
Routines become so common we no longer question whether it's right or wrong. It's like a dirty house; those who live in it seldom notice the dirt. Name something routinely done in God's name which you think belies the nature and character of God. What happens when you bring something clean into a filthy environment?
The reaction of Jesus in this text is sometimes referred to as "righteous indignation". The chief priests and scribes were also indignant. State the difference between indignation and righteous indignation? What was Jesus' goal in this incident? What were his opponents concerned about?
Is there anything which fills you with "righteous indignation"? What channels do you have to express it? Do you have lots of company or do you feel lonely on this issue?
Is anger a sin? Or when is anger a sin? Explain your answers.
The text says it was the children who were praising Jesus. What is the significance or implication of that statement? Why was the chanted message of these children so distressing to the religious leadership?The praises of children versus the condemnation of authorities-- When and where have you witnessed a scene like that? How do you decide who is in the right?
Do you think these verses say anything to us today about fundraising in our churches? If so, what is the message?
How might the people in Jesus' day have dealt with the issue of supplying the needed sacrifices in a more "godly" way? Work out a plan which Jesus would have approved.