This thought has really been brewing for a while, but it was brought rushing to the forefront of my mind this week in light of sermon prep and other contributing factors. It started this week with a look at the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of these accounts starts of the final week of Jesus’ ministry with a particular event. It occurs in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, and Luke 19:45-46 ( a really small amount of text but big in content) For our purposes take a peek at Mark’s account:
” And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
(Mark 11:15-18 ESV)
As this thought and these verses tumbled through my head, it caused me to use twitter to communicate some snippets (which are on the right side of the blog window) but that just wouldn’t do. So here I sit this Wednesday morning at the kitchen table, laptop open, Mickey Mouse coffee cup freshly filled… onward!
Jesus going into the temples and turning over tables does some things to our minds and hearts, on the one hand we love Jesus when He’s “sticking it to the man” and we love Him as the hero. On the other hand, we also experience the reality of Jesus being righteously angry, and this can be a little unsettling for some, if not many people. I want to get to the heart of this event and look at it from a place that challenges our hearts and helps us to examine the possible tables we are setting up.
Jesus went in and overturned the tables of the money changers, literally these men were crooks taking money from Jew and gentile to sell them “temple coins” at a significantly inflated exchange rate. He also drove out the people that were “buying and selling”, and these men were selling animals for sacrifice, again at inflated rates, for the aforementioned temple coins. It was a crazy racket to be sure and it was going on in the church of the day. These people had turned church into something for their personal private gain and it was an insult to Jesus.
That of course turns a fat spotlight on our hearts and asks this crazy question:
“Have I turned church into something it’s not? Have I turned it into something that’s just for my gain?”
This is a hard question for us to wrestle with and can evoke a number of responses so let’s break it down a little more specifically:
First we have to know what church is for. The corporate gathering of believers for worship is for the glorification of Jesus, the lifting up of Him, His name, and His saving grace. Secondarily the church exists to disciple believers and proclaim the Gospel to the lost, notice these are equally important as discipleship contains both equipping and evangelism. From this community is fostered, service happens, needs are met, burdens are borne.
Enter the problems of the day, and the proverbial setting up of tables. We have in so many ways determined that the church exists to serve us, rather than serve God. When this happens we start exalting things in the church such as programs, buildings, events, formats, styles, and so much more, rather than exalting God. We start to turn the church into something that is for me, rather than having a perspective of “I am God’s and thus I am for Him”. Here are some tables to consider in the modern day…
Consumerism – are we part of a church because of a specific program or person? Or are we part of multiple churches taking part in a bevy of program diversity, never really immersing ourselves into the fabric of the church, yet complaining that we are “not as connected as we’d like to be”? Symptoms of this table would include: Knowing you’d leave a church if the pastor wasn’t there anymore, if they ended or significantly modified your favorite ministry program, or the music changed. “Dating the church” going from local church to local church, usually within the same week, taking from the buffet table of program options and never plugging in or becoming a member of a local church.
Building Dependence – Yes the church needs a local place to meet. There is no advocating doing away with church buildings, but we should consider doing away with depending on the building to house every last program, bible study, small group, coffee meeting, discipleship, mentoring… bleh!!! (you may gather that this one is a big deal to me). Can we stop running to the church facility and return to the home, have bible studies in our homes, do life together in view of our neighbors, heck… include your neighbors! Acts shows us the community of believers meeting both in the temple courts (corporate worship) and together from home to home breaking bread. I realize that it can be inconvenient to clean up the house, and have kids around during groups, but authentic community and discipleship CANNOT happen without inconvenience, discomfort, and stretching. Plus imagine the benefits of your children seeing all of their parents studying the bible together. Or what would happen if they took part? Symptoms of this table: Booking your small group bible study for a room in the church months and months if not years in advance.
Political/Moral Ideology – The church can become a place where some are determined to promote their cause specifically in the political and moral arenas. The struggle here becomes an issue of competition with the gospel. The temptation exists to elevate our agenda item to an equal importance with the gospel and take passionate stances about certain ideas, arguments, and actions. Petitions are highlighted and announced, candidates are trumpeted (but not outright endorsed) measures are rallied for or railed against, and then we make some drastic mistakes. We can elevate certain sin issues into the spotlight offering (sometimes unintentional) condemnation, forgetting our own sin is just as filthy before a Holy and Righteous God. We can also assume that ALL Christians think politically the same, and assign a morality or maturity to our political bent, when in reality Christians are a diverse political spectrum (some are just too polite to say anything). We can no more assign a “Christian way” to vote, than we can determine whether pews or chair are more holy, nor can we rally against a specific sin without realizing that ours is equal, and that someone sitting in the congregation could be struggling and needs the gospel, and we could close them off simply by our tone. Symptoms of this table: Constant attempts to get petitions in the church lobby, political/moral handouts in the bulletin, or flyers on the windshields of cars in the parking lot. Frustration at the lack of “participation” by the church leadership or joy at the level of “participation”.
Check-list Religiosity – Are we in church because it’s the “right” or “good” thing to do? Now understand, to be in church seeking, or searching is a good place to be, but that’s not what’s on deck here. I’m talking about “churchianity” where God is acknowledged but church is simply on the morality check list and serves to keep “The Man Upstairs” happy with me. Believe me when I say that this is indeed a table and Jesus wants to tip it over. Symptoms: Church feels like a chore to accomplish and accounts for all the “bad stuff” that’s done all week.
Realizing that this list could continue to grow, we will close out with these four items. You may be able to recognize and add more from your experience and I’d invite you to do so in the comments section… but more importantly, there cannot be a close to this blog without this important fact:
JESUS DIDN’T JUST TURN THE TABLES OVER… HE DIED SO YOU WOULDN’T NEED TO SET THEM UP!!!
That is the beauty of the Gospel, Jesus died so that we could be set free from the tables, from the agendas, from the “for me” church mentality. The problem exists because we forget the all sufficient nature of the gospel and the freedom that flows from it. We also forget that nothing is as important to communicate as the gospel and its freedom. That we celebrate this weekend that Jesus came and died for us while we were opposed to Him. So please if anything on this list convicts or challenges you… please contemplate and reflect on the gospel.. and for the sake of the gospel, repent and ask Jesus to nail those things to the cross and give you freedom.