January 21: Matthew 21
Genesis 22; Matthew 21; Nehemiah 11; Acts 21
The modern church fancies Jesus constantly obeying an imaginary 11th commandment: “Thou shalt be nice.” But Jesus’ first task upon entering Jerusalem after the Triumphal Entry (1-11) is the opposite of nice. He is angry and violent. He “cleanses” the temple (12-17).
The “moneychangers” were seizing on an opportunity afforded them by sin. Sin had to be atoned for, all year long. So the moneychangers changed the foreign money held by the pilgrims into local currency.
The big problem with this practice was twofold. First, Jesus will call them “thieves.” The temple officials could have received the foreign currency and exchanged it themselves later. Instead they took advantage of those who had traveled far and were tired and weary, and who had no other choice in their vulnerable situation. They were like leaches on the back of God’s system of sacrifice. We can relate today, to those who make their church or ministry into a money-making enterprise and whose mission morphs grotesquely into nothing more than keeping the enterprise going.
But the second, and I would argue more significant problem, is where they were located. The temple was split into two sections. The inner court was for Jews, and the outer court was the “Court of the Gentiles” - non-Jews. And this is precisely where the moneychangers were located. They were taking up the space reserved for the nations to come in and worship God - which was God’s plan all along.
This is why Jesus, when they complain at being literally whipped, quotes them Isaiah 56:7:
Isaiah 56:7 (ESV): 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
Who are “these”? Verse 6: the “foreigners” who “join themselves to the Lord”, to “worship” and “love” Him. When the Messiah is said to offer himself as the sacrifice of sacrifices, thus fulfilling all that the temple pictured, it is said that he will “see his offspring” - Isaiah 53:10 - and “be satisfied” (11). Over the ensuing chapters, there are three surprising offspring, who have many offspring themselves, thus fulfilling the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 15 - the father of many nations.
Those three offspring are a barren woman (Isaiah 54:1-8), foreigners - non-Jews (56:1-3), and the eunuch (56:4-5).
God loves them, like a momma bear and her cub. Do not, by greed, get in the way of that love. Instead kiss the Son, lest he become angry (Psalm 2:12). “Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” Like those in Matthew 21:14.