Text: Matthew 21:10-17 Theme: Jesus our King comes to clean house and make space for God's work.
Spring is here. It is one of the most delightful times of the year. The weather gets warmer. We open up windows. The sun pours in.
Then you may notice some dust and dirt that has accumulated. And you get the urge to clean house: mop floors, scrub walls, dust under the bed. We refer to this as spring cleaning.
You might even be inspired to get rid of stuff you never use. Of course that’s only possible if you don’t have a spouse who says Don’t throw that out! You never know when we might need it.
Spring cleaning. In our Matthew 21 passage that’s exactly what Jesus does. After Jesus entered Jerusalem, the very first thing he did was clean house- the temple.
Here’s the background: God called his people to offer sacrifices at the temple. So devout people from all over Israel would make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The standard sacrifice was a lamb. But in Leviticus 12 God accommodated the poor: If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons… Mary and Joseph were poor: when they presented Jesus at the temple they offered birds.
Now, carrying and feeding these creatures on a journey was burdensome. So most pilgrims would buy one from a merchant once they arrived in Jerusalem. This led to a thriving market. The closer to the temple the better. At some point business moved right inside the temple courts.
But now King Jesus arrives! Jesus entered the temple courts + drove out all who were buying + selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers + the benches of those selling doves.
He didn’t care how long they’d been there. He didn’t care about stepping on toes. This stuff didn’t belong there; it was getting in the way. So he drove them all out.
Wow! What a fascinating glimpse of Jesus’ character! Matthew has just quoted the prophet Zechariah- that the king would come gentle. But Jesus can be fierce. As C.S. Lewis pictures it, he is like Aslan: not a tame lion. In this sense we are to fear God: that is take him seriously; we don’t mess with him. God intended the temple to serve as the center of his presence among all people. Jesus reminds them of this purpose: My house will be called a house of prayer. Clearly it was a perversion to turn a house of prayer into a place of business.
But there’s more to it. Jesus actually calls it a den of robbers. The implication is: there wasn’t just business going on, but dishonest business. The merchants were gouging the pilgrims- perhaps doubling the price for an offering. What an irony: in the place where God resided, the God who said: You shall not steal- in that very place the merchants regularly robbed the pilgrims.
Jesus is the light of the world. And now his light shines in the temple. Now Jesus exposes these corrupt activities. Now Jesus comes to clean house.
Still today Jesus comes to clean house. Only his focus is no longer on a temple. We no longer need to offer sacrifices for sin; Jesus was our true and final sacrifice. We no longer need a house of prayer; Jesus provides access to God anywhere.
Today the church serves as the temple of God. In Ephesians 2 the Apostle Paul writes: In Christ the whole [church] is joined together and rises to become a holy temple. We may marvel that the temple became perverted by business interests. But how often doesn’t the church lose sight of its God-given purpose!
Let me give an example from church history- from the early 1500’s. Some Vatican leaders seemed more concerned about building huge cathedrals and wielding political power than about the church’s spiritual well-being. And in some quarters church men made it sound like you were saved by works, and that you could buy God’s pardon with contributions to the church.
So the Lord Jesus went to work to clean house- through the Reformers. The protests of Martin Luther and others sparked a Reformation. This prompted corrections of the worst abuses in the church. On some doctrinal points we still may not see eye to eye; but over time the place of the Bible and the grace of Jesus have been lifted in many parishes.
Here’s another example: forty years ago there were abuses by many televangelists. Some turned into money changers: they wanted to change your money into theirs. Others were robbers, getting rich off the gifts of ordinary people. And some perverted the gospel, treating God like a genie whom they could command to come out of his bottle to grant people their wishes.
So Jesus went to work to clean house. Scandals were exposed. Shysters shut down. Better accountability was installed. Today TV preachers aren’t perfect. But on a Sunday the sick and shut-ins can find some solid, biblical preaching.
What house cleaning might Jesus need to do in our church today? Could it be that we’re too focused on our needs, our own tastes, our own comfort? Could it be that we’ve become too attached to certain traditions? Could it be that we lose focus on Jesus’ mission to seek and to save the lost? If Jesus would visit our church today, where would he clean house?
And notice: Jesus says My house will be called a house of prayer. Not your house. You see, the religious power brokers came to think of the temple as their house- to use as they wanted, to promote their own business interests.
Still today it is possible for us to slip into that kind of thinking: -I’ve been here for years and years. Don’t change too much around. It’s my house. -I’ve served as an elder; I’ve invested my time and energy here. It’s my house. -I’ve been a financial pillar of the church. Listen to me. It’s my house.
But Jesus says: no. It isn’t your house. It’s my house- to fulfill God’s grand purposes.
By the way, the Bible doesn’t just refer to the church as the temple of God. It goes a step further and pictures every believer as a temple. I Corinthians 3 says: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple-that God’s Spirit lives in you?
Let me ask you: what dust or dirt in your life might need a spring cleaning? What needs to be driven out? Bad habits? A self-centered use of your time? Laziness with your spiritual gifts? Impatience? A sharp tongue? A critical spirit? Pride?
Michael Kingsbury, a comedian storyteller in New England, tells of Jesus cleaning house. “I started reading the Bible and attending church again. Slowly but surely, I started noticing subtle changes in my behavior and outlook.
I am not someone who handles… struggles easily. At home, a typical conversation might involve me yelling: I’ve lost the remote control- that’s proof that there is no God! But as I read the Bible, as I thought about Christ and his suffering on my behalf, the more I would laugh at things that once troubled me.” Jesus cleaned up his attitude.
Of course, the specific issue Jesus tackled in the temple was the lure of money. Why were people doing business in the temple? To make money. Money was more important to them than proper worship of God. What about you? Does your money serve God, or has your money become a god? Here’s a good way to test that: do you faithfully tithe? Do you give 10% to the Lord?
People can give all kinds of reasons why they don’t tithe. I can’t afford it. I’d have to cut back on things. I’ll start later when I’m better off. But when we tithe, we show we have faith in God to provide, not our money.
Finally I want you to notice the result of Jesus’ house cleaning. What happened after Jesus cleared the temple from the junk going on? Vs 14: the blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. Once God has cleaned house it’s wonderful to see the people he sends our way. God wants his church and his people to be sources of healing and blessing.
In the book Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario tells about poor Central Americans who make the desperate effort to go north. In El Norte they hope to make enough so their children don’t go to bed hungry. But hopping trains can be extremely dangerous, sometimes crushing limbs. Along the way these poor people are preyed on by thugs, gangs, even crooked police.
But in one village along the way a Catholic priest mobilized his church to help. Some wanted nothing to do with these dirty, strange people streaming through. They just wanted to have mass, say prayers, and enjoy the communion of saints.
But the Catholic priest was determined to help. He had the church open their doors. Every night the church courtyard was filled with migrants hungry for a meal, migrants exhausted + needing sleep, migrants desperately needing basic medical care. On the long, exhausting, dangerous trip, this church became an oasis of God’s love.
One spring day Jesus entered Jerusalem and cleaned house in the temple. Still today Jesus comes to clean house in the church and in our lives. He comes to overturn any barriers to his good purposes. He comes to make space for people to connect with God- and find healing and blessing.
I hope that you will welcome Jesus. I hope you will open your doors to him. I hope that you will collaborate with him in his redeeming work.