It must have been quite a scene: men running in all directions, frightened sheep bleating, wild-eyed oxen stampeding through the crowds, money scattered on the ground and tables upended. In the middle of it all stood an angry Man wielding a self-made whip, at the same time yelling something about His Father’s house.
There was nothing spontaneous, no fit of rage, in Jesus’ actions. In fact, the gospels describe at least two occasions when Jesus forcefully expelled the traders and money changers form the temple (see Mat. 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45). On this occasion early in His ministry John reveals Jesus setting out for Jerusalem from Capernaum, and having ‘found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business’, He drove them out (John 2:13-16). He didn’t find them by accidentally stumbling across them. He knew from previous visits where they would be and it seems He headed straight for them. Then, taking the time needed to weave together some grass rushes into a whip, He physically drove out the money dealers, the sheep, and the oxen, pouring out their money and overturning their tables. To the dove sellers He commanded: “Take these things away!” Both His actions and His focus were deliberate, intentionally thought out and carried through. It’s doubtful that a whip made of rushes would have caused such great alarm. It was Jesus’ authority that was the more frightening.
What was it about the temple traders and money changers that offended the Lord to such deep levels? The mere fact that they were merchandising? Unlikely. The merchants provided a necessary service to the thousands of people arriving in Jerusalem from all over the Roman world to keep Passover. Animals were needed for the multitude of sacrifices. Roman currency needed to be exchanged into temple currency.
However, the fact that this merchandising was taking place on temple grounds motivated Jesus to deep anger. There is a principle here that needs our attention and it’s this: God’s Spirit and man’s flesh should not be mixed. There is only one exception to this and that is Jesus Christ Himself.
Today the temple of God is His people. But the temple is defiled. Called to spiritual life, many of God’s people don’t mind feeding their flesh lives as well. That’s not surprising considering basics like the power of the Blood, crucifixion of the flesh and taking up the Cross are rarely mentioned by church leaders any more. And so the profane is mixed with the sacred in the hearts of God’s people.
“Come buy our wares” call the pious traders. “We have every sacrifice you need to appease God again and again”. “Look at all the money I’ve accumulated” shout the prosperity money-changers, “you too can have all you want. It’s God’s will for you.” The crowds swarm, seldom questioning the cost of the unholy mixture or its lethal effect. The fruit of this mixture of flesh and spirit is compromise and the fallout soon becomes outwardly evident. Most of us have either experienced or witnessed the result, sometimes sadly more than once. Regularly practiced sin goes hidden or excused, leaders fall, local churches become little more than social clubs, while many others feast on a diet of false revivals, errant “prophets” and “apostles” abound, and God’s people wander or scatter, confused, powerless and hungry for truth and righteousness.
It’s difficult to come by a contemporary true gospel message anywhere, and if someone does preach the Cross they are often drowned out by shouts of “it was all done at the Cross so I don’t have to do anything but live by grace.” Well, yes, you do actually. You have to choose. What was done at the Cross secured your freedom and restored your capacity to choose, where previously you had no choice at all because you were sin’s slave (John 8:34). The finished work of the Cross does not take away your free will or your responsibility to exercise it. We are confronted with choices between yielding to the Spirit or indulging the flesh daily. The two are at war within us and we grow, or don’t grow, according to which one we nourish (Gal. 5:17).
This is not an exhortation to the unsaved. The world is already condemned and doesn’t need daily reminding of the fact by those who no longer live under condemnation (John 3:18). This is an appeal to the living stones, the people who are the temple of God.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” said Jesus when Nicodemus tried to combine the two (John 3:6). Flesh and Spirit are not meant to mix. We need to choose which one we want because we can’t have both. Am I saying we have to earn our salvation by good works? No, salvation is free and cannot be earned. Am I saying being crucified with Christ is easy? No, but His grace is sufficient. Am I encouraging legalism? No, legalism is of the flesh, not the Spirit.
By the way has anyone noticed that very intense Man in the middle making a whip?