Jer. 7:1-11 #39
Rev. Kit Billings
August 29, 2004
We are blessed this morning to hear about and reflect upon a powerful moment in God's incarnational ministry in Jesus Christ—a scene which ultimately should increase our confidence in the Lord's saving, regenerative work within our minds a hundred fold! This morning we are brought back in time to an inspiring and fiery purification done by the Lord as He descended into the Temple's outer courts following His triumphal entry upon a donkey. This morning we re-enter the period of Christ's life as He entered Holy Week, just seven days before His crucifixion. This scene reminds us that God cares deeply about justice, especially when the innocent are being exploited. For as we can see this morning, when Christ came to the outer precincts of the Temple and witnessed evil and avarice being done, he could not stand idly by and watch the hellish forces continue to worm their way into holy places.
This morning, therefore, we are dealing with the great zeal of God against darkness and injustice. God is not indifferent to bad things happening in our world. On the contrary, the Lord works hard every day to overturn the lives of those who cheat and manipulate. This uproarious scene outside the great Temple of Jerusalem, as Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and released the sacrificial doves, reminds us how truly passionate and active God's Love is for His children, not to mention for the holy seats within the human mind. This blessed scene reminds us of God's earthy toughness that desires not to destroy, but rather to protect and cleanse.
And make no mistake about it: this same kind of purifying fire and cleansing power has its aim most ardently within each of our minds. Those who would allow God's Light to shine into our minds, be aware! It searches out and cleanses all that runs contrary to Divine goodness and truth.
In Jesus' day, there were several degrees or precincts, so to speak, of ministry and ascending courtyards, which surrounded the Temple proper in Jerusalem. In the center was the Holy of Holies, which only the High Priest could enter to commune with the Lord, where the Ten Commandments were originally housed. Around the Holy of Holies was the Court of the Priests, into which only the priests might enter where the great altar of the burnt offerings stood, the altar of the incense, the seven-branched lamp stand, the table of the showbread, and the great brazen laver. Around this precinct was the Court of the Israelites, entered by the great gate called Nicanor's Gate, which was a wonderfully huge gate of Corinthian bronze that needed twenty men to open and shut it. Surrounding this court was the Court of the Women where the Jewish women came to pray and worship. And lastly, circumscribing all of these inner precincts was the Court of the Gentiles, into which anyone might come and worship the Divine and which covered some three acres.
The scene of this morning's story took place at the outermost courtyard of the holy Temple, the Court of the Gentiles, where Jew and non-Jew mixed company. This outer court was always busy year-round. But, during Passover it was thronged to capacity, which made the Roman governor edgy and anxious. Many Gentiles, at whatever time of year one went, would have been there, for the Temple at Jerusalem was admired throughout the world, which is why even the Roman writers of that time described the Temple as one of the greatest buildings on the earth.
Part of the heart of Judaism back then was to show one's love and faith in God by means of sacrificial worship, where an animal without blemish would be sacrificed upon the altar of the Lord. Some people brought their first-best animal from their homeland, but many did not. And so, all sorts of sacrificial animals were sold in the Court of the Gentiles. There were sheep, lambs, doves, oxen and more. Different regions and countries had their own form of money or coinage, some of which needed to be exchanged to pay the sellers of the animals. Also, there was a Temple tax that could only be paid in a certain currency, which was composed of high-grade silver.
These basic forms of trading were not the problem for the Lord. The problem came from the rampant avarice and manipulation, which took advantage of innocent pilgrims. Not every money-changer or animal inspector was greedy and corrupt. But history reveals that many of them were and that avarice often crept in and desecrated the outer degree of God's holy Temple. For example, a pair of doves back then would have cost nearly twenty times as much inside the Temple as they would outside of it. There would have been some honest traders, but many who abused the needs of the poverty stricken pilgrims. Abuse readily and easily slithered in. Burkitt wrote that “the Temple had become a meeting place of scamps,” which was the worst kind of commercial monopoly and vested interest. Sir George Adam Smith wrote: “in those days every priest must have been a trader.” There was great danger of exploitation of those whose lives were already desperate, and that exploitation raised the zealous passion and anger of Jesus.
But before we easily become self-righteous about the corrupt Jews outside of the Temple back then and of Temple worship, let us be reminded of the comments of the great Jewish scholar Israel Abrahams, who has a comment about the too common treatment of this passage: “When Jesus overturned the money-changers and ejected the sellers of doves from the Temple, he did a service to Judaism.... But were the money-changers and the dove-sellers the only people who visited the Temple? And was everyone who bought or sold a dove a mere formalist? Last Easter I was in Jerusalem, and along the facade of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre I saw the stalls of the vendors of sacred relics, of painted beads and inscribed ribbons, of coloured candles, gilded crucifixes, and bottles of Jordan water. There these Christians babbled and swayed and bargained, a crowd of buyers and sellers in front of the Church sacred to the memory of Jesus. Would, I thought, that Jesus were come again to overthrow these false servants of his, even as he overthrew his false brothers in Israel long ago."
So, our story this morning about Christ driving out the money-changers and animal sellers reveals to us many things. It shows us that God detests exploitation and avarice wherever it happens, but especially regarding matters of religion and worship. But also, I believe, it demonstrates how important the universal needs of worship are to the Lord. The Court of the Gentiles was the only place where non-Jews could worship God within the precincts of the great house of God, the Temple. How impossible it would have been back then to find a peaceful spot to pray. The Lord will not hold guiltless those who make it impossible for others to worship Him. And indeed, we in any church must remain weary of anything that restricts sincere worship every Sunday. For example, we must avoid getting so caught up in external differences, or in inter-congregational strife or arguments that corrupt a warm, innocent atmosphere of spirituality and worship. Especially clergy men and women, who disrupt the worship lives of others by means of a corrupt desire to control the lives of others will one day, perhaps, feel the zeal of the Lord against us. Anyone who blocks the approach to God by our fellow man, woman or child is guilty of the sin of the corrupt money-changers.
Up until now I have been paying more of an external kind of attention to this story. Now I need to go even deeper, into the very mind and internal work of the Lord Himself. The deeper degrees of Divine love and truth held within the inner meaning of Scripture, reveals the great drama that went on within the glorification journey Christ experienced daily. Both in the Gospels and in Revelation it is clear that the Lord saw Himself as the Divine Humanity, as the human temple that was to house the Divine Spirit (the Love and Truth) of God the Father. In Rev. 21:22 we read: “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” In John's version of the Lord cleansing the temple we hear Jesus responding to those who wanted another miraculous sign saying of Himself, “destroy this temple, and in three days I shall make it rise again.”
In order for Christ to ultimately obtain the power to drive out yours and my mental, spiritual evils and unholy thoughts and interests, first Jesus needed to drive them out of Himself—that is, out of the infirm, corrupted finite humanity which He received from His mother's lineage. In other words, just as we know that Jesus encountered certain kinds of evil temptations and attacks after His baptism in the Jordan by John, we know that He met up with every sort of desire and selfish thinking dramatically depicted or symbolized by the evil money-changers and animal sellers in our lesson this morning. For in truth, the infirm degrees of Jesus' lower aspects of self were also, “a den of thieves.”
By ardently handling the corrupt people in the Court of the Gentiles six days before the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection, the Lord was sending more than one message but several! He was showing to even the simple-minded observers that the overpowering, natural lusts and cravings within the external mind of humanity had at last met its match. For hundreds of years before the Lord's incarnation, people chickened out of using God's power and Light to overthrow our impure forms of thought and affection. So now, now in the awesome mind of Jesus Christ, D-Day for the hells had come! No more would evil and spurious reasoning win out within the lower degrees of consciousness in humanity, in those who welcomed God's Spirit within them. God's day of reckoning had come, and instead of making famine and earthquakes happen, the Lord brought His cleansing, powerful Light of truth into the lower or outer courts of our humanity…of our consciousness.
The hellishness of so many evil spirits had tempted humanity, before Christ's incarnation, to follow them into thorough and extensive selfishness and hard-heartedness. Your average human being back then, in a symbolic sense, bought and sold what belonged to God and took ownership of things for themselves. And we still see signs of such evil in so many people around today.
How many of us, and others in our cities and towns, consider our bodies our own, to do with as we please, rather than treat them as holy temples that belong to God?
How easy it is for me to grasp a false feeling of ownership over the thoughts in my own mind, and the feelings and love I feel in my heart. Yet God's Word reveals that for true all things actually belong to the Lord. Everything we are is on loan to us for eternity. And how tempting it can be to treat the Lord's church, both His local ministries and the church on the denominational level, as a commodity that we own, something we feel we can treat and tamper with in just any old way that we please.
The Lord understood that His transforming, glorifying Divine Humanity would forever become the visible Temple to house the Infinite Love and glory of the Divine. And so Christ chose to let the infinitely beautiful and purifying Light living in His soul loose within the lower areas of His mind, cleansing what had become corrupt, chasing out that which was profane and evil.
Likewise, you and I are now faced in this life with the same kind of situation we read about in the Gospels. There are areas and aspects of our hearts and minds that are designed by the Lord to house His holy goodness and truth. We must be ready to find well-organized mafias that want eagerly to misuse our desires and thoughts. And it is up to us to invite the zealous Lord of Hosts (the living, moving, substantive power and Light of the Divine) into the outer courtyards of our spirits, allowing God's Divine-Humanity to overwhelm them with His great Love and Wisdom. It can be a somewhat frightening and/or perhaps irritating option of letting the Lord move into a person's inward seat of spirituality, knowing that God will shine His Light into the dark crevices and crannies where some snakes and night-creatures live.
Psalm 139 reminds us that God already has searched us and knows our thoughts. We but need to let the miracle of regeneration have its way with us. The stakes are as high as they can be—our eternal welfare is ultimately in the balance.
No more are we to profane the holy things of God in our minds and our lives. The desecration of the soul is invisible when holiness is subjected to both commercialism and greed. Instead we are called to claim a much higher and better form of life. We are called to let the mighty Holy Spirit of the Infinite One bring living truth to bear inside our thoughts, knowing that real truth (which is much more than a printed law or statement) gives Its Light and glorifies where It enters and remains. Truth in and from the Divine is the Logos, the actual Word by which all things were made, and when it inflows into a devout mind it removes evil forms as illustrated by the scourge of Christ driving out the money-changers and animal sellers and cleanses the temple that man is.
So if or when you begin to doubt or question the POWER of God to transform your character weaknesses, I bid you to return to this lesson in the Gospels about Jesus cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem. Christ chased out those manipulative men back then to show that He cleansed His own mind of such thoughts that wormed their way into His lower degrees of life. And He now makes it abundantly clear that He is here to do the same sort of work in your mind too.
Make ready for the purifying fire and Light of the One who saves, and let Him then minister to the lame and weakened good affections and thoughts who cry out to the Lord within you, knowing that the Lord does indeed heal them. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, `Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.'” Amen.