Jesus Christ vs. Religion that forgets its purpose
Jesus Christ Versus Religion that Forgets Its Purpose (Matthew 21:10-17)
Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God, and this proclamation of necessity confronted and alienated the religious establishment of His day. Religion, particularly the Christian faith, may be institutional in either a good or a bad sense. Christianity is institutional in a good sense when its institutions are prophetically alive and instantly alert to God's presence. Christianity is institutional in the bad sense when it simply absorbs its culture, becomes an entrenched establishment, and perpetuates itself.
The first time He came to Jerusalem, Jesus had pointedly confronted establishment religion. His cleansing of the temple dramatically demonstrates God's reaction to cultural, merely institutional, establishment religion. Christ comes again to His temple, the church, to cleanse and to challenge. What are some marks of establishment religion?
Religion Can Forget Its Own Purpose
Both John and the Synoptics connect Jesus' act of cleansing the temple with His first visit to Jerusalem. It was protest at first sight. Jesus passed by many good things that could have been done in Jerusalem to do the best thing, set His Father's house in order.
The Old Testament ends with the promise that the Messiah will come suddenly to His temple (Mal. 3:1). Jesus identified with that prophetic tradition.
Jesus found the outer court of the temple occupied by the "Bazaars of Annas," a fraudulent con game, a tourist trap for the rural pilgrims. Most grievous was the fact that these "money changers" had set up shop in the one place set aside for Gentile worship, the outer court. Those responsible for the temple had forgotten its purpose—a place where needy worshipers meet God. Jesus challenges them with their own Scripture, particularly Isaiah 56. The ancient prophet had predicted a day when the deformed and the sons of the stranger would all have a part in God's house. Jesus Himself heralds that day. These warnings are a word to us when we make central that which should be peripheral, and peripheral that which should be central.
Christ Can Restore Purpose to Religion
For a golden hour, the temple in Jerusalem became what God intended it to be. With money scattered on the floor, tables overturned, and animals bleating in the confusion, the Son of God becomes the center of His temple. What a picture! It was truly springtime in the temple. The face, a moment ago hard with indignation, is now radiant with compassion, as the temple becomes a place of healing for the blind and the lame. The little children gather about Him to say, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" They look in wonderment at the Godlike face of the Christ, and then on the healed sufferers. At least for a moment, God's temple was what the Father had intended: a place for instruction and healing for all men.
The sensitive church must ever ask Christ to come and to cleanse. No body of Christ will ever be ineffective in worship and witness if it can pray daily, "Lord, come and cleanse Your temple again."
Religion Can Become Indignant in the Presence of the Christ
The reaction of the religious establishment was indignation (v. 15). They found no fault in clinking coins and the bleating of nasty animals at the House of God, but they could not stand the cries of happy children. But, Jesus sees in these children the New Israel of God. "The very stones will cry out if necessary." God will always have a people. May we always be that people.