Cleaning House

by The Doctor

Have you ever been in a place where you’ve looked around and said, “This place could use a good cleaning”? The Doctor wonders if Jesus was thinking that very same thing based on a portion of Scripture that’s found in Mark chapter 11…

“And so (Jesus) entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple. He looked around carefully at everything and then left -for now it was late in the afternoon- and went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples” (Mark 11:11 TLB).

A few verses later we read this…

“When they arrived back in Jerusalem He went to the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers, and knocked over the tables of the moneychangers and the stalls of those selling doves, and stopped everyone from bringing in loads of merchandise. He told them, ‘My Temple is to be a place of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a den of robbers'” (Mark 11:15-17 TLB).

The outer court portion of the Temple was an area that featured merchant booths where wine, salt, oil, and animals were sold. These items were used for the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies of that day. Animals that were purchased in this outer court area were supposed to be “sacrifice-ready” and guaranteed to be totally perfect as required by the Old Testament law.

Working along with these merchants were people called “moneychangers.” Much of the money that was used in Jesus’ day carried the image of the Roman emperor but using such money for anything connected with the Temple was seen as a violation of the Bible’s commandment against “graven images” (see Exodus 20:4).

This was a problem because every Israeli male 20 years or older had to pay a tax each year for the service and upkeep of the Temple. The solution was provided in the form of a “moneychanger” who took Roman coinage and exchanged it for the Hebrew money that was required for the Temple tax.

Now remember that all of this action and activity was taking place outside the Temple, the house of God. In fact, this whole scene outside the Temple has been described as being something like a bazaar or a marketplace. If you can imagine a cattle market outside a church building then you probably have a good idea of the amount of action taking place here.

The worst part of this whole arrangement was that the people coming to the Temple to offer sacrifices for their sins were at the mercy of the merchants offering these sacrificial animals. This is because the animals that were sold by the temple merchants were the only ones that were guaranteed to be accepted.

Then there was the issue of the moneychangers. These men profited by charging people at a very high rate when converting Roman coinage into money that could used in connection with the Temple. This was a great deal for them but not so good for those who had to pay the tax and it certainly didn’t represent God very well before the people.

So Jesus apparently came to the point where He’d seen enough of this. As we saw in the Scripture quoted above, Jesus went in, turned over the tables and prevented any further buying and selling from taking place. Then he quoted Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 saying, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers'” (NIV).

Unfortunately, this action by Jesus had the effect of getting the religious leaders really, really mad…

“The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching” (Mark 11:18 NIV).

The attitude of these men towards Jesus seemed to be motivated by simple jealousy:  Jesus is becoming more popular than we are. People aren’t looking to us for spiritual leadership any more- now they’re looking to Him! Of course, the fact that Jesus put an end to their profitable business operation outside the Temple probably didn’t help much either.

Yet despite their anger with Jesus over this incident, everything appears to have calmed down- for a while, at least. But after a seemingly quiet night (Mark 11:19-26), things got hot again when Jesus returned to the city the next morning…

“They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. ‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?'” (Mark 11:27-28 NIV).

So Jesus received a visit from a group of high ranking religious authorities with this question: “Who gave you permission to throw these vendors out of the Temple? This is actually a very clever question when you think about it.

You see, if these authorities can establish that Jesus had no official religious training, no official study in the Biblical writings, and was not accepted by any religious authority, they could then go to the people and say, “This man is not qualified to teach religion and he has no authority to change the way that we’ve been doing things here. Don’t listen to Him!!”

But Jesus’ reply was classic…

“Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism– was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’….” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mark 11:29-33).

This is interesting- the religious leaders always seemed to be asking questions that were designed to make Jesus look bad. But Jesus now turns the table asks a question of His own. And don’t miss the brilliance of what Jesus was doing in asking this one simple question about John the Baptist. You see, these religious leaders knew that John’s ministry was authorized by God. But they couldn’t say that because Jesus could then turn around and say to them, “Well then, why didn’t you accept him?”

On the other hand, if they said that John’s ministry wasn’t established by God then they would have lost all credibility before the people. You see, many of the people believed John to be a prophet of God and this was probably even more so since he had already been put to death (See Mark 6:14-29).

But because these religious leaders were so greatly concerned about looking important before other people, they seemed to be hesitant to answer Jesus’ question in a way that might somehow lower their standing. So in answer to Jesus’ question, they responded by taking the coward’s way out: “We don’t know”.

So through this incident with Jesus, these men became a living example of something we see in 1 Peter 2:15: “…it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (NIV). Jesus’ words and deeds clearly had the effect of silencing the foolish talk of these men and since they wouldn’t answer his question, He didn’t answer theirs.

So what’s the lesson for us? Well, when Jesus shows up to start cleaning our house -purifying our thoughts and making our actions and motivations acceptable before God- excuses and self-justifications can sound an awful lot like the lame response offered by these religious leaders. But if you allow God to clean up those areas in your life that need work, you just might find your life and attitude becoming more God-like and less like a cattle market.