How Has the House of God Become a Den of Thieves? #196
Hello friends and welcome to another weekend – happy Saturday to you! Things are confusing, scary and disheartening right now, right? I’ve never seen more disunity in my home country than I’ve seen now, nor have I ever seen so many vocalize disagreements and differing assessments of current events than I have seen over the past couple of months. This is a time to walk softly with our opinions and dig down deep into the roots of our relationship with Jesus – consuming His Word like never before and being sensitive to the leadings and reminders of His Spirit. Roots down, fruit up!
Today’s Bible readings include Joshua 14-15, Psalms 146 and 147, Jeremiah 7 and Matthew 21. Interestingly, and I’m sure our old friend Robert Murray M’Cheyne planned this – our focus passage today is from two different books (Jeremiah 7 and Matthew 21) that both warn about the same issue: God’s House becoming a den of thieves. 2 big questions to consider today: #1 What does Jesus mean when He says that certain people were turning His Father’s house into den of thieves, and #2, why does this action make Jesus so angry.
You might not like the way I phrased the question, or you might have cringed a little bit when you heard it. Jesus…angry?! Surely not…but yes, indeed, I believe that Jesus was angry at this point, and I believe that, contrary to CNN anchor Don Lemon, that Jesus was completely without sin or fault in His life. It is possible to be angry and not sin, as Paul notes famously in Ephesians 4:26. I believe that there were TWO different times that Jesus cleansed the temple in His ministry – one at the beginning (John 2) and one near the end in Matthew 21. Both events are somewhat similar, but different enough that they appear to be separate. Let’s read Jeremiah 7, Matthew 21, and then compare the temple-cleansing scene with John 2.
13 The Jewish Passover was near, and so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and he also found the money changers sitting there. 15 After making a whip out of cords, he drove everyone out of the temple with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. 16 He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” 17 And his disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for your house will consume me.
It seems to me that the episodes in John 2 and Matthew 21 seems to be the fieriest that Jesus gets in His entire human life. I do not know that there is any other place where He shows this high level of emotion, though I suppose Matthew 23 comes close when Jesus excoriates the Pharisees. Why is Jesus so angry/upset/passionate about His Father’s house and what is going on here? Because the focus is on the WRONG TREASURE, and that is a deadly dangerous thing that was leading multitudes astray – away from the true Gospel of Jesus and headlong into some sort of hellish prosperity focused teaching that was all about building up the wealth of those running the temple rather than pointing all to the true wealth of the glory of God and the visitation of His son. Let’s listen to John Piper talk about the John 2 passage, realizing that, even though these two scenes are different, the spiritual application to both is largely the same – keep your eyes and heart on the right treasure and not the shiny, but worthless treasures of the world:
Jesus says, in verse 16, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Jesus does not say that the sellers and money-changers are robbers, or that the animals are defective, or that the place is a place of prayer—though it is. He says that they have turned his Father’s house into a bazaar. An emporium. A market.
The disciples saw this incredible display of fury—he was using a homemade whip of ropes, and loosing the oxen (oxen are big!), and dumping boxes of money on the ground, and turning over tables, and saying (with who knows how piercing a voice over all the bleating), “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” And when the disciples saw this, they connected it with Psalm 69:9 where David the king says, “Zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
Jesus was consumed with zeal for his Father’s house. And reproaches were, no doubt, raining down on him like torrents: “What in God’s name do you think you are doing?!”
What Made Jesus So Angry?
So what made Jesus so angry? The contrast he pointed out was between “my Father’s house” and a marketplace. “My Father’s house” means: This house is about knowing and loving and treasuring a person, my Father. In this temple, my Father has supreme place. He is the supreme treasure here. “A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:11). “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalms 73:25).
But that focus has been replaced by a focus on trade. And there is no reference here to the people who needed the animals—the pilgrims who were buying the sheep and pigeons. The anger is all directed at those who were selling and handling the currency. Jesus could see through the veneer of religious helpfulness to the heart. In fact, in verse 25 John says, “He himself knew what was in man” (John 2:25).
Hypocrisy and Love of Money
What did he see? He saw that this bazaar, this emporium, was not advancing communion with his heavenly Father. It was not flowing from the love of God. It was flowing from the love of money. And what made it worse was that religious ritual, and vaunted helpfulness, were being used as a cover for greed—O the entanglements of greed and religion in our city and in our day! Another story just broke this week of a big church-based Ponzi scheme with a pastor bilking his people of $100 million!
That’s what Jesus saw—hypocrisy. Religion used as a front for greed. Empty forms of love for God plastering over the insatiable love of money. Jesus boils when he sees formal godliness as cover for gain (see 1 Timothy 6:5).
Underneath Pharisaical Legalism
Jesus made it very clear that underneath the religious legalism of the Pharisees, he saw the love of money. Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees in Luke 16:13, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Then Luke comments, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). That’s another form of hypocrisy—shoot the messenger of truth. Rescue yourself with ridicule.
You can hear the zeal of Jesus burning in Matthew 23:25: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” You put up a fine display of religious helpfulness in the temple bazaar. But you are driven by the love of money, not the love of God.
John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (2000–2014) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2014).