“I’ll be the merchant first, then you can each have a turn.”
I explained what we were doing to the two second grade girls in my Sunday school class. They grinned, their excitement contagious. Though the class was small in number, we had just enough to do the planned activity, a skit about two travelers entering the Temple to worship God during Passover, only to be cheated by a money-hungry merchant. Both girls hugged and squeezed the stuffed animal birds (rather, a duck and a pelican) that I’d grabbed from Chase’s overflowing stuffed animal stash at home, eager to begin acting out the scene.
Our lesson came from John 2:13-25, a surprising section of scripture detailing Jesus’ righteous anger toward the money-loving merchants corrupting His Father’s house during Passover. The Jewish people celebrated Passover in remembrance of God’s deliverance from Pharaoh and heavy-handed Egyptian rule over a thousand years prior, and many traveled great distances to offer praise and sacrifices to God.
When Jesus, His family, and His disciples arrived in Jerusalem, merchants inside the temple walls were cheating the travelers coming from far and wide to worship. Many of the Jewish people had no choice but to purchase poor quality sacrificial animals at inflated prices, creating a money-focused and greed-driven environment that displeased the visiting worshippers and infuriated God. Filled with righteous anger at God’s holy house becoming a marketplace of money-grubbing, Jesus made a whip with rope and drove out the people and animals, symbolically sending the money flying in all directions.
“Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:13-16)
In his commentary, Matthew Henry noted: “The first public work in which we find Christ engaged, was driving from the temple the traders whom the covetous priests and rulers encouraged to make a market-place of its courts. Those now make God’s house a house of merchandise, whose minds are filled with cares about worldly business when attending religious exercises, or who perform Divine offices for love of gain.” In an act of biblical foreshadowing, Jesus clears the Temple – the place where God’s people come to worship their Creator in awe and reverence, just as he’ll later clear the slate of sin from our hearts through His finished work at Calvary.
Today we don’t need stone or concrete temples to worship God; instead, our hearts are His temple through our faith in Jesus Christ. Because God’s word is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), the lesson I taught to my 2nd and 3rd grade students hit the bullseye of my heart that morning. Conviction squeezed in a tight-fisted grip, loving and painful. I spent needed time praying about my heart’s condition and for God’s help to clear away the material mess cluttered up inside my heart, stealing my security in my Savior as a want of worldly goods walled everything else out.
We have to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), daily fill our mind with God’s word, and give thanks for what He has given us (1 Thess. 5:16-18, James 1:17), in order to keep the temple of our heart clear for Jesus.