Abnormalities stick out to me. Whenever something is off, whenever something does not seem to be the way it ought to be, or whenever someone responds in a manner that is uncharacteristically abnormal for that person to respond instantly gets my attention. Whenever a person starts acting in a manner that is abnormal it makes me question the reasoning for whatever response that is seen. When a selfless person begins to act selfish, when a selfish person begins to be overly selfless, when a lazy person begins to be a workhorse, and when an optimistic person begins to let cynicism rule their life are all examples of times when abnormalities in a person behavior make us sit back and question, “What is going on?” This phenomenon plays true in a well-known moment in Jesus’ life.
1. Using one word, how would you describe the personality of Jesus?
Dollars to donuts, I would bet that words like “love,” “Lord,” “merciful,” “caring,” “teacher,” and “perfect” were used, and those answers are absolutely correct. Jesus is sinless, Jesus is holy, Jesus is loving, patient, kind, self-controlled, joyful, and peaceful. During His time on Earth, Jesus was selfless and obedient to God to the point of death. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Jesus is perfect.
However, during the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, there is an “abnormal” moment in the way we envision Jesus, and all four Gospel writers record this moment.
Matthew 21:12 says, “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.”
Mark 11:15-16 records, “And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”
Luke 19:45 adds, “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold.”
John 2:13-15 says, “The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.”
*Fun textual issue would be the timing of this moment recorded by John. John writes this moment at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. While all of the writers agree that Jesus cleansed the temple at the time of Passover, some scholars believe Jesus went to Jerusalem twice, while others think this moment is synonymous with the other Gospel writers’ account. Either way, if Jesus cleansed the temple one time or two, it still shows the heart of Jesus.
2. Does Jesus lose His “spotless” sinlessness during this moment? How was it possible for Jesus to respond in this way and yet still be holy, sinless, perfect, and loving?
If we can come to the conclusion that while Jesus’ response is seemingly abnormal for Him to us, Jesus’ response was merited and without sin. Since this is such a unique way for our Jesus to respond, we have to dive deep into why Jesus would respond like this. I am not in a place to claim, “This is why God did this.” Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Here are a few reasons why I feel Jesus responded the way He did.
First, the temple was no longer operating with purpose.
3. Why were people in Jerusalem during the Passover? Why would they be at the Temple?
Think of Passover in the same light as Easter. For the Jewish nation, Passover is “the” celebration. It brought the less devout and the devout in to celebrate. The church sees this same thing every Easter season. Many people will come to the Easter Gathering who do not regularly attend church.
Matthew 21:13 says, “He said to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.’”
It can be helpful to paint a picture. Inside the courtyards of the Temple (most likely in the Court of the Gentiles) many more people were coming to the Temple than normal. The courtyard would have been full of people, tables of money changers filled the crowded courtyard. On top of that hustle and bustle, animals to be sacrificed would have been housed in stalls, would have taken up more space, created noise, and produced a smell that only a large collection of animals could produce.
4. What was the reason people went to the temple at the time of Passover? How did the temple lose its purpose with all that was going on?
Second, leadership was cutting corners.
Jesus only really showed the flipping tables, driving-people-out-with-whips side of His personality to one group, the religious leaders. While Jesus had a few “stern talks” with the disciples, we do not read in too many accounts where He comes as hard as He does when He encounters the Pharisees. In this temple cleansing moment, while the money collectors are the ones who take the brunt of Jesus’ scorn, we have to remember who allowed the temple to become like that. It was the leaders.
5. Why would Jesus be so hard on the religious leaders?
Now before you “phew” and whip your forehead thinking, “Thank God I am not a leader,” I believe that any person who obstructs a person from getting closer to Christ is on the same page as the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. While we may not have temples and the need for pigeons and goats, Jesus’ Church is still called to ensure that people can properly grow in their relationship with Jesus.
6. How can the church (people, not programs) “cut corners” when it comes to ensuring the environment we set up during a Gathering or a Growth Community maximizes the focus on Christ?
Third, Jesus knew the temple is meant to be more than what people realized.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16, we read, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
7. What does the Word of God say is the temple? How did this become possible?
While Jesus was cleansing the temple in His day, there is a truth I believe every Christ-follower can apply to their lives. The temple of God was always meant to focalize the worship of God. The temple was never meant for personal gain, the temple of God was never meant to cut corners and allow bad practices. The temple was always a place where a person could go to worship God and praise God for His promises, His faithfulness, and His love for His people.
It should be an abnormality for a Christ-follower to live in a way that would distract anyone from seeing the realness of God in their lives. Jesus cleansed the temple because it was distracting people from worshiping God. Sadly, self-professing Christians live in a manner that distracts themselves and others from worshiping the one true God.
8. What are some bad habits a Christian should ask Christ to cleanse from their lives?
9. Why does it seem sanctification is an abnormality in a Christian’s life?
10. Why do you think Jesus was so passionate about ensuring people did not tarnish the purpose of the temple?