Welcoming Jesus

Last week, we looked at how Jesus cleansing the temple can be a metaphor for making our church more accessible to those who are unchurched.  This week, it’s personal!

You will of course be familiar with the idea found in 1 Corinthians 6 that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  The immediate context of this teaching is the licentious lifestyle of some of the Corinthian believers, but the wider context is of our union with Christ who dwells in us and in partnership with us by the power of the Holy Spirit – something we’ve blogged about before.

In physical terms, the temple is the place for worship and witness as we declare the glory of God to an audience visible and invisible who do not worship him.  So to cleanse the temple is to make sure that it is fit for that awesome purpose, and contains no impediments or distractions to its epic task.

So as we approach the Christmas season and plan to welcome Jesus into our cribs, nativities and our very lives, what does it look like to allow him to clean up our lives?

Physically – this is probably not the right time of year to be recommending a detox, but we do need to remember to keep ourselves physically in shape.  As a general practice, eating fresh healthy food and minimising our consumption of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and –sorry! – chocolate) is part of keeping ourselves physically healthy and maintaining resilience).  Do any of these things cause others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13)?  Do we eat and drink forthe glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

Mentally – for some of us, watching a bit of rubbish tv or playing a computer game is an effective way of winding down and de-stressing.  But how easily we can become addicted to our favourite soap opera, youtube, or scrolling through Facebook.  Those apparently harmless activities can easily steal productive time from us.  How can we start to reclaim those idle moments and make the best use of our time (Ephsians 5:6)?

Spiritually – what are the things in our lives that are ‘strongholds’?  Places that are not yet surrendered to Jesus and are holding out in opposition to his rule?  These can be the things that cause us to be ashamed of ourselves and lack confidence in our identity in Christ, and can also be the things which others see and think to themselves “How can he call himself a Christian when he is like that?”  They could be a quick temper, a gosspiping tongue or a greed for fame, power and wealth.  What does it mean to us to kneel in obedience and hand over the keys to him?

So in the midst of this busy season, with all its focus on services, parties, presents, family and holiday activities, I invite you to set aside an hour to make the really important preparations.  Sit somewhere quiet and invite Jesus into the temple which is you.  Ask him to overturn the tables and chase out the traders.  We cannot do it ourselves – we have tried and tired – but when he looks us in the eye and says “I don’t think that should be in here” we have both motivation and authority to clean up our act.

Let’s welcome Jesus into a place which he can truly make his home this Christmas.  Not a stable, but a heart.

Jesus cleanses the temple

 

Source: www.freebibleimages.org courtesy of www.LumoProject.com

We are all aware of the incident when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple and upsets the traders, but we might not be fully aware of what was really going on here and how it can relate to us today.

The public space of the temple was divided into 3 sections starting with the outer court, which was freely accessible to anyone who satisfied some basic requirements and so has become nicknamed ‘the court of the gentiles’.  Then came the ‘court of women’ where only Jewish people were allowed to enter and in which most public worship took place, and then finally the ‘court of Israel’ in which the sacrifices took place.

It seems that there were not a lot of Gentiles coming to the temple, as Israel had forgotten its role of revealing God’s blessing to the nations (Psalm 67) and focused on their exclusivity as the people of God.

At the same time, since it was quite difficult to walk with your ram or bull all the way from your far-flung home to the temple, worshippers were allowed to sell their sacrifice at home, bring the money with them to Jerusalem, change it in the temple for ‘holy’ money, and use that to buy an animal to sacrifice.  What better place for this to happen than in the temple precinct itself, handy for the altar?  So the underused court of gentiles became full of traders and moneychangers.

So, if Gentiles came to worship God, they found themselves not in a place of tranquility but in a bustling market place, full of smelly animals and busy people, and the air full of the sounds of haggling and mooing.  Not a pleasant place to worship.

It appears that this is the focus of Jesus’ wrath – they have not made it easy for to those who don’t yet know God to come and worship him.  And Jesus is blisteringly angry with that.  Of the gospels only Mark (11:17) makes evident the link between this and the verse from Isaiah that Jesus is quoting:

For My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations

(Isaiah 56:7)

In this context Isaiah is prophesying that Gentiles who choose to worship God will be welcome in the temple and their sacrifice will be accepted.  The outsider is welcomed in, a theme clear in the New Testament with Gentiles being welcomed into the early Jewish community of Jesus-followers.

I don’t know of any churches today that have money-changing booths, or indeed cattle markets, but I wonder what practices go on in your church and mine that are obscure, esoteric, or just downright confusing to an outsider today.

For example, I knew one lady who went to church and came out shuddering: “all that talk of blood, it was disgusting”.  Many of us who make the decisions about how we do church have been Christians for a long time, and it can be easy for us to forget the confusion and bewilderment we felt when we first met the church.

In this context, cleansing the temple means making it accessible, both literally and culturally, to those who are outside it.  It means removing abstruse and arcane language (see what I did there?), and explaining clearly where we use symbolism.  It means intentionally creating an environment conducive to spirituality and in which other people, other cultures are embraced and accepted rather than required to conform.

If Jesus walked into your church meeting this Sunday, what would he be overturning?