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 2:15-16)
Let’s be realistic – many times many people ( and yes, sadly, many of “us”) all start off by making Christianity into “a house of merchandise.” In other words, when people begin to think seriously about “religion,” the first way that it presents itself is as a present penance for the sake of future gain. A man says, “I am told that Christian people do better in the world, God blesses their business and their bank account. Now, I don’t really get anything out of going to church, but going to church means that I’ll be blessed in my life. If I serve God, He’ll smile on me. If I seek Him on Sunday, He’ll remember me in my business ventures on Monday.”
This is what Jesus calls buying and selling in the Temple of God. You show your face in the church house on Sunday for the chance that He will pay you back by giving you material blessings. And to be honest, God puts up with this for a little while. He lets you think that you can bring your “merchandise” into “the Temple,” because perhaps it’s better to come for the wrong reason than to not come at all. But, there comes a time when He says, “Enough! It’s time to cleanse the Temple.” And He takes a scourge of small cords and He begins to drive out the sheep and the oxen.
What is the scourge? It is a form of experience. What drives our this “mercantile” view of Christianity? Its the discovery that the “good” are not physically rewarded. You see, nothing drives out the merchandise like remembering the experience of Job. One day he’s living the good life, and the next day his sheep and oxen are taken from him just like they are from “bad people.”
Why is that in the Bible? Because it is meant to show him, and us, that true Christianity is not some sort of a business deal where we give our time or talents and God gives us sheep and oxen. That’s why Jesus says to each and every one of us, “Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!”
I like what one pastor pondered, “Why aren’t the white robes of fortune were not reserved for the whitest souls?” I think that I’m beginning to understand why. It’s like what Jesus said of His return, “No man knows the day or the hour,” because if we knew, there would be a mob rushing and pushing to get to the front, just like shoppers at the start of the Christmas sales. We would go up to His house in multitudes, pushing and poking to get to the front; to see who could get in first. There would be a struggle – a survival of the fitness, if you will. The problem is that the “fittest” would be the most selfish. It would be a struggle for the glory of the flesh.
Think of the story of the Prodigal Son.
Most people aren’t looking for the prodigal’s repentance – they’re living for the prodigal’s ring.
That’s why many times while we’re there in the Far Country, the ring is hid. The music and dancing that wait for us in the Father’s House is hid from us as well. When the Father comes to meet us, oftentimes He doesn’t come with the robe – just the song of welcome.
He uses a scourge of small cords to drive out the sheep and oxen from our lives.
Many times, there in the Far Country, He overturns the table of our achievements and accomplishments. You say, “Well, if He loved me, He wouldn’t turn over my tables.” Oh no, He does that exactly because He loves you.
He prepares a table before us in the wilderness so we’ll seek Him and not just His blessings.
He makes us to sit down in the presence of our enemies so we won’t follow Him just for earthly relationships or the favor of men.
He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death so that we won’t be comforted by any other rod or staff than His.
Make this your prayer today – “Oh, Lord, cleanse out the “merchandise” of my soul.”