House of prayer (part 3)
A few days before His final Passover meal, Jesus cleared the temple in a symbolic gesture which represented the reform needed within the Jewish religious practices.
Mark 11:15-17 They came to Jerusalem, and He went into the temple complex and began to throw out those buying and selling in the temple. He overturned the money changers’ tables and the chairs of those selling doves, and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple complex.
Then He began to teach them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!”
Growing up in Israel, children were educated and taught to read using the Old Testament Scriptures. Constant repetition was considered an essential part of their learning process. As such, all Israelites would memorize large portions of the Old Testament. The priests and scribes of Jesus’ day would have the entire Old Testament, as well as the Jewish traditions, perfectly memorized. So when Jesus quoted Isaiah with His question “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?”, everyone knew what He was quoting.
While Jesus quoted Isaiah with His question, His audience would have also recognized that He quoted Jeremiah in His emphatic statement “But you have made it a den of thieves!”. The Isaiah passage was an encouraging invitation to foreigners, but the Jeremiah passage is one where God rebukes Israel for living for their own desires while showing up on the Sabbath and verbally praising God. The Israelites at that time also believed that the physical presence of the temple was proof enough that God was satisfied with how the nation treated Him. Jeremiah was warning the nation that if they did not change their hypocrisy, judgment would come:
Jeremiah 7:3-11 “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: Correct your ways and your deeds, and I will allow you to live in this place. Do not trust deceitful words, chanting: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.
Instead, if you really change your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, if you no longer oppress the alien, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors forever and ever. But look, you keep trusting in deceitful words that cannot help.
“Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and insist: We are safe? As a result, you are free to continue doing all these detestable acts! Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view?
For their hypocrisy, judgment and exile came on those in Jeremiah’s time. By referring back to the Jeremiah passage, Jesus was indicating that the priests and scribes of Jesus’ day also acted this way. Of course, they did not take kindly to Jesus’ teaching.
Mark 11:18 Then the chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to destroy Him. For they were afraid of Him, because the whole crowd was astonished by His teaching.
As a result of their hypocrisy, the priests and scribes missed the fact that Jesus was the Messiah…and Jerusalem was soon after destroyed. We would be foolish to think that we modern believers would never see judgment like they did. Do we live hypocritical lives and then show up for an hour on Sunday to offer verbal praise to God? Do we acknowledge Jesus with our lips, but walk out the door and deny Him by our lifestyle?
Will we persist in making God’s house a den of robbers, or will we take the necessary – even painful – steps to ensure that God’s house is as it should be, a house of prayer for all nations?