I was surprised at the passage that struck me as I read this week’s Bible Study Fellowship notes. I had read the passage many times before. Of course I knew that the actions of the money changers were wrong…but I never saw the gravity of it before.
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 the seats of those who sold doves. And 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.’” – Matthew 21:12-13
After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on His way to the cross…Jesus entered the temple. There he found wickedness and hard hearts of men seeking to take advantage of people who had come to obey the law and give a sacrificial offering for their sin.
And there they sat…smug…sanctimonious…ready to condemn and put a hurdle before the people who were coming before the Lord to confess their sin. While a lamb or a goat was an acceptable offering…God made a way for those who were too poor to afford that. Instead they could bring two turtle doves. The doves, lambs or goats had to be perfect without blemish or spot to be considered an acceptable offering. If they didn’t bring their offering from home…they could purchase it outside the temple.
But man…whose heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, sought to profit off the repentant sinners desiring to obey God and atone for their sins. The people would bring into the temple the animal or birds that would be their offering. The offering would be inspected…and if declared unacceptable…the person would be at the mercy of the money changers. If they wanted to have their sins cleansed they would have to get an animal there in the temple…one that had been deemed acceptable. The prices the money changers charged…were many times over what they would pay for an animal outside the temple.
People…for whom purchasing two turtle doves was a heavy sacrifice…would be forced to pay exorbitant rates so they might be cleansed from their sin as specified under the law.
While the Bible never states this…I wouldn’t be surprised that if after they deemed an animal unacceptable as a sacrifice…making pretty penny in the process of exchanging it for an acceptable one…I’ll bet you they turned right around and sold those animals and birds to someone else waiting in line to make atonement for their sins.
They profited from people who were weighed down by their sin…those who wanted to be cleansed.
But what about those people…who didn’t have the money to purchase an animal or bird from the money changes? What about them? Did they leave the temple with their head hung low…bearing the weight sin? Sin that would now not be washed away…as God had commanded?
These people extracted a heavier price for sin than God did. The money changers even kept people from coming to God. How many repentant sinners were kept away from God because of the money changer’s greed and judgmental, condemning attitude?
When I read that passage…I got to thinking about how I might keep people from coming to Jesus? Am I judgmental…because someone doesn’t dress in a manner I think is appropriate? Do I look down on someone…because they don’t know Jesus and are living a sinful lifestyle? Have I so soon forgotten my sinfulness which nailed Jesus to the cross to pay the penalty for my sin? Do I think that there are some sins that are easier to accept like lying or stealing? Do I think that child molester…or murderer…can’t be saved? Am I even relieved to think they are going to hell?
Sometimes it seems like the church…the body of Christ…which should be so loving and forgiving…is critical and condemning. Condemning of both sinners and each other. James talked about the tongue…and how difficult it is to tame. Even for a Christian. God tells us that out of the abundance of our heart the mouth speaks.
So while I might not be out there robbing the local liquor store…shooting up heroin…or stabbing someone to steal their purse…what am I doing with my mouth? Am I robbing someone of their reputation by telling others about their misstep? Am I high on the drug of conceit? Putting others down…so I might feel better about myself? Am I stabbing someone in the back…as I whisper about what they’ve done…to anyone who will listen?
Do I then try to be magnanimous and invite that person who I was just condemning to church? Do I tell them of the love and forgiveness of Jesus…but don’t demonstrate it in my actions and words? Do I forget so easily that God has taken all my sins…sealed them in a bag and tossed them in the farthest reaches of the sea? As Pastor Philip De Courcy said, “Never to be seen again!” Do I desire that others…even the vilest offender be forgiven? Or am I self satisfied…pleased that God saved me but with precious little concern for others?
That’s not to say…that some things shouldn’t be condemned. But perhaps I would do better to walk in grace and love. Condemn the sin…and reach out to the sinner with love, grace and the Good News of the Gospel that Jesus saves!
I can still remember my beloved Pastor Chuck Obremski passionately warning us, “Don’t you ever keep someone from coming to Jesus!” I think those words were uttered in sermon about the realities of hell. How permanent…total and all consuming hell is. That we are never to think that someone can’t be saved. From the vilest offender…like a murderer, child molester, or rapist…to the person who appears good on the outside…but inside is filled with deceit and hatred.
With man it is impossible. But with God…All things are possible!