Series: Reflections From John
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!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:16-17)
According to tradition, the commercial activity in the temple which had upset our Lord had once taken place outside the temple to support the sacrificial needs of Jewish pilgrims who often traveled long distances to observe the Passover. It was apparently moved into the Court of the Gentiles so that the priests could also profit from them.
But what the priests saw as convenient and profitable violated the strict rules which were designed to maintain the sanctity of the temple and provide an environment that facilitated worship and a focus on God. I don’t believe the priests found a loophole somewhere in Leviticus to allow for this. And our Lord has a low tolerance for placing the concerns of men above the concerns of God. Just ask Peter! (Matt. 16:23)
Under the New Covenant sealed by the blood of Christ, God took religion from the realm of external and made it internal. Our temple is no longer a building. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”
Just as worship must have been greatly hindered by the merchants and money-changers in the temple, the Spirit’s work in our lives is hindered by those things which take our focus off of God and undermine God’s moral will for our lives. While Jesus sacrificed for our sins “once for all” on the cross of Calvary, his death did not negate our need for cleansing of those sins we still wrestle with. Galatians 5:17 says “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
Those sins that beset us may not threaten our salvation, but they damage our relationship with the Lord and prevent us from experiencing the abundant Spirit-filled life Jesus desires for each of us. (John 10:10) The Spirit can never thrive in a heart in which the sinful nature is firmly entrenched.
To quote the great evangelist D.L. Moody,
“I firmly believe that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and self-seeking and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will come and fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and self-seeking and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. And I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else. Before we pray that God will fill us, I believe that we ought to pray that he would empty us.”
And so, just as Jesus cleansed the temple, we must also cleanse our hearts of those things that are contrary to the concerns of God – things that choke the Word and make us unfruitful. This includes trivial pursuits that crowd our schedules, leaving us little time for quiet communion with the Lord and meditating upon the Scriptures which are able to impart Godly wisdom to counteract the daily assaults of the world upon our thinking.
Such cleansing is not a one-time event. John placed this account of the cleansing of the temple earlier in Jesus’ ministry than the Synoptic Gospels, leading many to question if they refer to the same event. Personally, I believe Jesus encountered such activities at the temple on multiple occasions and likely responded similarly each time.
And so it is with us. It would have been convenient if the Lord had removed our sinful nature when the Holy Spirit took up residence in our heart at salvation, but he chose not to. So we must be continually aware of its impact and attentive to emptying ourselves of those things that rob us of our joy and undermine the Spirit’s work in our lives.
And that, my friends, is what cleansing is all about. Ephesians 4:31 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Paul could have easily added many other detrimental traits to that command.
In fact, he provides us a fairly comprehensive list in Galatians 5:19-21. I encourage you to check it out, compare those traits to your own sinful inclinations, and let the cleansing begin. I’m confident you’ll be glad you did.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify (cleanse) us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Note: All Scripture taken from the New International Version (NIV)