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JESUS AT THE TEMPLE

Matthew 21:12-21:17
Key Verse: 21:14

In the previous passage we studied about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, which is written in all four gospels. But Matthew’s gospel was unique in that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey and her colt fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah and so revealing himself as a gentle king promised to come. In this we could see a beauty of Matthew’s gospel account. Today’s passage is about what Jesus did at the temple, which is also written in all four gospels. We will see another beauty of Matthew’s gospel. Matthew’s description of this event reveals Jesus so beautifully and excellently. Let’s see how it is written.

First, Jesus clears the temple area (12-13). Look at verse 12. “Jesus entered the temple area...” When Jesus entered the city Jerusalem, the place he went to first was the temple. The temple was the centre of the lives of the Israelites. Once Jesus was tempted at the temple by the devil to throw himself on the highest point of the temple (Mt 4:5,6). The temptation was to show himself off, taking the short cut to popularity and success. But Jesus overcame the temptation by the word of God. Another time Jesus said to the Pharisees who were accusing him through the event of his disciples eating grains on the Sabbath, “…one greater than the temple is here” (Mt 12:6). Jesus was tempted and tested in his humbleness and gentleness. In truth he is the King over all including the devil and corrupted religious leaders and the city Jerusalem and the temple in it. No doubt he loved the Father in heaven and wanted to pray in the temple of his Father.

But what did he do? Look at verse 12 again. When he entered the temple area, he saw something terrible and did a drastic measure. He drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” This act of Jesus’ clearing the temple area is written in all four gospels (21:12; Mk 11:15,16; Lk 19:45; Jn 2:14-16). This Jesus is quite different from the Jesus who entered the city riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Indeed Jesus is the righteous king as well as the gentle king. He could not bear the corruption of the temple. Righteous anger arose in him and burst out. However, Jesus was not just dragged by his emotional anger. Even in that furious action, he saw the condition of the temple in light of the Scriptures and spoke the words of the Scriptures to them. Jesus said to them, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” Indeed he is the king of truth. Jesus came to this world to restore all things to function rightly according to the truth of God’s words. The temple place had to be restored from a den of robbers to a house of prayer.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Jesus came to restore the righteous kingdom of God and wanted his disciples to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Matthew 12:20 says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory.” He had a clear direction in helping the bruised reed and smoldering wick that in the end God’s justice and righteousness may win the victory in them. Jesus once rebuked some Pharisees who came to investigate him from Jerusalem, quoting the words of Isaiah, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mt 15:8). Jesus wanted their crooked hearts to be straightened and right with God. Jesus will stand on earth again as the righteous Judge: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate one from another…” (Mt 25:31-32).

In light of the king of righteousness and truth, God’s temple must function rightly as the house of prayer. God wants us to faithfully and fervently pray in this temple of God. Each of the churches in Toronto may be a house of prayer. Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” He also said in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you…” Each of God’s people is a temple of God and the gathering of his people is also God’s temple. Each of us or each gather of his people in church, family or campus is to be a house of prayer. That’s why Bible says, “Pray continually” (2 Thessalonians 5:17), “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests…be alert and always keep on praying…” (Eph 6:18). Jesus said to his disciple, “…when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to the Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt 6:6). Matthew wrote the wonderful promise of God concerning prayer, “…I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Mt 18:19). God’s temple in me and among us may be the house of prayer.

There is a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God” by brother Lawrence, the seventeenth-century French monk (1611-1691). It is a very interesting title. We all know the importance of practice in doing all things. It is much truer with the presence of God. The presence of God is to be practiced. Brother Lawrence as a cook, in his monastery kitchen discovered the overwhelming delight of God’s presence. He emphasized the practice of God’s presence, since he is with us and in us (Mt 28:20). He said, "The time of work does not with me differ from the time of prayer. In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper." This was the result of practicing the presence of God. For this practice, he mentioned the importance of small liftings of the heart, a small remembrance of God, simple gaze, habituating oneself, little by little, to the small but holy discipline. And he said, “We must make of our heart a temple of the spirit, where we may worship him continually—the small act of worship in the heart.” As for us, memorizing and meditating on one word of God, using bits and pieces of time and frequent short prayers can be this kind of practice. Through this spiritual struggle the temple of God in each of us may the temple of prayer in his presence, even when our workloads are heavy and daily schedules are hectic.

Second, Jesus heals at the temple (14). Look at verse 14. “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.” What a contrast to the event of Jesus’ clearing the temple area. This is uniquely written in Matthew’s gospel. When he saw the merchants at temple area which showed the corruption of the religious leaders, a righteous anger arose in him. Now when he saw the blind and the lame who came to him at the temple, a merciful and compassionate heart arose in him and he healed them right away. The blind and the lame were regarded as outsiders of God’s blessing. They seemed to have no part with God’s blessing. They were despised and rejected in the society. We do not know how they could come to the temple. Surely they came by faith seeking for God’s mercy. Even in the midst of anger Jesus did not fail to see them at the temple and healed them right away. It was a beautiful thing done in the temple amid the awful scene in the temple area. The healing work had to be done in the temple (2 Ch 7:14). Jesus healed in many places, on the road, in market places, at the house, at the shore, in the synagogues or in secluded places. Then how much more in the temple! Jesus did what was right before God, showing the mercy of God.

In Matthew’s gospel we have seen Jesus’ healing work. Jesus healed so many with various diseases: those suffering severe pain, a man with leprosy, a centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, two demon-possessed men, a paralytic, a woman with menorrhagia, a synagogue ruler’s daughter, two blind men at a house, a mute, a man with a shriveled hand, a blind and mute, a Canaanite woman’s daughter with demon-possession, the sick among the crowds of five thousands, various kinds of sick people among the another great gathering of four thousand, a boy with a demon and two blind men at Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. This healing at the temple is the last healing in Matthew’s gospel. Especially when Jesus healed many in Peter’s town one evening, Mathew saw the fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (8:17).

Matthew caught Jesus’ healing at the temple and wrote it. It is a very meaningful description in the light of the whole Bible. There was Jesus’ furious anger at the temple area because of the corruption, but there was Jesus’ loving compassion at the temple for those who came by faith seeking for God’s mercy. In Genesis there was flood judgment because of the corruption of the world. God’s wrath was poured out in the flood on the earth and every living thing was wiped out (Ge 7:23). However, there was an ark floating on the surface of the flood. The ark was the ark of salvation for those who were there by faith. In the midst of God’s wrath God’s saving love was there. After the devastation of the whole earth, God promised Noah and his sons who survived the flood that never again he would destroy the earth as he had done. As the sign of the covenant, he set his rainbow in the clouds (Ge 9:13). At that time whenever people saw the clouds appearing in the sky, they must have feared heavy rain that would possibly bring another flood. So the clouds were nothing but God’s wrath to them. But their fear would subside when they saw the rainbow in the clouds, remembering God’s covenant. The rainbow was the symbol of God’s love in the clouds of God’s wrath. And God said in Hosea 11:9, “I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.” All this points to the cross of Jesus where God revealed his amazing atoning love in the midst of punishing man’s sin in his own Son.

We should have eyes to see the world. Since man’s fall, it has been under God’s curse. But God showed his love and mercy in Christ. In truth Jesus himself is the temple (Jn 2:21). Now the visible temple in Jerusalem was gone. But there is a universal invisible temple. God wants all people to come to this new Temple. Whether one is in the world or in Christ makes all the difference. Apostle Paul said in Romans 1:18, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” The wrath of God is being revealed in the world. But there is another revelation. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed…” This revelation is God’s saving love in Christ Jesus. In this world people are the objects of his wrath because of their sins, but in Christ they become objects of his mercy and love through faith in him (Ro 9:22,23).

Martin Luther was an earnest, companionable and music-loving student in the University of Erfurt, the most humanistically advanced of the German universities. Following his graduation as master of arts in January 1505, he entered the law school in May. Then he saw the sudden death of a classmate. Afterward he experienced narrow escape from lighting while returning to Erfurt from a trip home. As a result he made a vow to St. Anne to become a monk. Much to his father’s displeasure, he broke off his legal studies and, on July 17, 1505, entered the monastery of Augustinian hermits in Erfurt, confident that the monastic life was the surest path to his soul’s salvation. But about 5 years of his monastic life and people’s recognition could not sooth his fearful soul. It was only when he realized a righteousness from God in the gospel that he could have true peace and assurance of salvation in the right relationship with God in Christ by faith.

May we have insight to see the world without Jesus and realize the amazing blessings in Christ and go deeper in this blessed life. May we also bring the people of this world to Christ for his healing work of the souls through 1:1 Bible teaching and prayer.

Third, Jesus is worthy of our praise (15-16). Look at verse 15. “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.” What Jesus did in the temple was truly a wonderful thing. The religious leaders saw it. But why were they indignant? When they had to praise God, they were indignant. They were not happy with the children’s shouting, “Hosanna, to the Son of David.” Probably they thought the children were shouting thoughtlessly, not knowing its meaning, or wrongly. It was because in their deep hearts they rejected Jesus regardless of what he had done. Being indignant they asked Jesus, “Do you hear that these children are saying?” How did Jesus reply? Look at verse 16. “Yes, have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?’” When the adults did not shout, the children shouted. In the light of these words if the children did not shout, then infants (Clara and Daniela) would shout and praise God. If human beings do not shout, then the stones will shout (Lk 19:40). “Hosanna to the Son of David,” this should be the shout of all mankind and praise to God for sending the Messiah, wonderful Saviour in the line of David according to his promise. He is worthy of our praise and worship.

Look at verse 16. “And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” This was Monday, the first of the Passion Week. After the dramatic events, he went out of the city to Bethany. Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims during the Passover season, and many found shelter outside the city. Most likely Jesus stayed at the home of Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead, and of his sisters, Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-42; Jn 11:1-44). He would return to the city and the temple the next day to engage the religious leaders in extended debate.

In this passage Jesus cleared the temple area and healed the sick at the temple. He is righteous and merciful. May we come to Christ with faith and in him live a life of faith and prayer and praise.

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