John 2:14-16 “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!'”
The issue for Jesus was not that these men were selling cattle and sheep and doves. Like modern day America, Israel had become a very urban nation. Many people lived in cities instead of farms. They needed to get animals for the sacrifices at the temple in some way. God demanded it. Many people at the Passover came from hundreds of miles away. They couldn’t just throw a cow or sheep in the back of the chariot and drive to Jerusalem. The men who sold animals for sacrifices were providing a necessary service.
The same was true of the moneychangers. People came to Passover from all over the world. Because most foreign coins had pictures of foreign gods and inscriptions praising them, few of them were considered proper for use at the temple. The money changers made it possible for these people to bring an offering to God.
The reason Jesus became so angry was not the business, but the location. All these things had become an obstacle to worship in the temple. Imagine trying to worship and pray while people are shouting, “Pigeons, two for a dollar!” “Best deal on sheep in town right here!” “Get your Shekels! Get your drachmas!” It didn’t make for a reverent, meditative atmosphere. The people’s minds were drawn away from their heavenly Father.
We don’t have problems with animals and salesman disrupting our worship services. But you and I still have distractions to remove. Some churches have been known to turn the pulpit over to a politician on Sunday. Rarely does the focus remain on Christ, then. Sunday service is not the time to be reading the bulletin announcements or the material from your church mailbox.
Then there is another place of worship that concerns us. Each of us is God’s living temple. We fill our lives with hundreds of distractions to worshiping and serving him: hobbies, careers, entertainment, civic involvement, responsibilities at home, personal projects. Most of them aren’t sinful. All of them can draw our attention away from God.
In the Jerusalem temple, Jesus dramatically removed the distractions. There was no way to be quiet and discreet about driving out the animals and pouring out the change. But if this grabbed the attention of everyone else, then he accomplished his purpose. After all, Jesus is where attention belongs when God’s people gather for worship.
Jesus has overcome the distractions in our worship life, too. He doesn’t come to each of us physically and drive them away. He overcame them with his own focused praise. This cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem didn’t last. Three years later, the week of his death and resurrection, he had to do it again (Luke 19:45-46). But by cleansing the temple, Jesus was also offering God the heart-felt service and worship his Father in heaven is looking for. This incident reminded the disciples of the passage, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Jesus provided God with the worship he wants, and he did that for us, as our substitute. We have been guilty of giving in to distraction, but Jesus’ was totally devoted to his Father in everything he did. His every move was an act of worship. That’s why God doesn’t see us as tuned-out hypocrites going through the motions of worship. In Jesus God gets the worship he seeks from us. In Jesus we are the zealous worshipers acceptable to God.
That’s good news that begs for our attention!