|Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple|
Painted by Valentin de Boulogne in 1618
It's something our Secularist culture seems to have forgotten. Jesus didn't come to earth and die on a cross just to teach us how to 'be nice.' Though being kind and charitable is certainly part of the Christian gospel, it is not the central part. Lot's of religions teach niceness. If the gospel of Jesus Christ was just about being kind to our neighbours, we could argue that being a Buddhist will make you a better Christian. In fact, why need Christianity at all? Buddhism seems to have 'being nice' pegged all by itself. We could point to other religions that do the same. Perhaps this is the reason why so many people in our Secular world today think that 'all religions lead to the same place.' Indeed, if being nice is all there really is to religion, then we could probably make that argument validly. However, if being nice is really all Jesus set out to teach us, then he certainly had a funny way of showing it.
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a den of robbers.’
-- Matthew 21:12-13
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’
-- John 2:13-17Of all the sins Jesus took greatest offence to, it was sin of religious hypocrisy. In the temple worship of that time, a system of 'money changing' was developed, wherein Roman coins (the standard currency) were exchanged for temple coinage (which did not bear blasphemous images) to be used for buying sacrificial animals. The process itself seems harmless enough, except that the 'money changers' needed to be paid too. After all, they had a living to make. Right? So they took a small percentage of the money they changed as their fee. The only problem with that is that in the process, the poor were not being treated fairly. The poor, who could barely afford to buy a sacrifice in the first place, were left with less money every time it was 'changed' in the temple. What we have here is the sin of greed taking over the currency exchange system in the temple. The whole thing was a racket anyway, because temple coinage couldn't be used anywhere except in the temple. It would have to be changed back into Roman coinage before leaving the holy site anyway, if for example, you wanted to buy anything in the general market. So the system was unnecessary, and only served the purpose of providing a means to people to make money off religion. Jews had to sacrifice as a matter of religious obligation, so it wasn't like they had any choice in this matter. They had to go through the currency exchange ritual, and every time they did it, they were defrauded a little. Jesus despised this. But then, lots of people hated it as well. Still, nobody made a whip, overturned the tables, and drove the money-changers out. What Jesus did, was a first. It was radical and it was violent. Most of all, it wasn't very nice. Jesus did this for two reasons. The first is that is was sinful to sell religion this way. People coming to the temple to make sacrifices were trying to repent of their sins. The last thing they needed was to go through a banking process of exchanging currency, and then having to buy animals approved by the priest. Why couldn't they just bring their own animals? Or buy animals in the marketplace, where regular Roman coins could be used? Again, the whole thing was a racket. The second reason is that Jesus himself had every reason to take this all personally. You see, it's one thing for people like you and I to get offended at such practises, but we're unlikely to take it personally, to the point of cracking a whip, frightening people, and tearing up private property. That, however, is exactly what not-so-nice Jesus did. Why did he do it? Simple. He did it because it was HIS house! You see, the central teaching of the Christian religion, indeed the teaching that makes Christianity what it is, is the teaching that Jesus Christ is God! That's right. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is none other than God Almighty in human flesh.
You remember God right? You know, the fire and brimstone God that brought the Hebrews out of Egypt by destroying Egyptians crops and livestock, inflicting plagues and pestilence, and finally smiting the first born son of every Egyptian household? Yeah, that God. Remember him? Well you see, according to Christian belief, that God of the Hebrews became a Hebrew himself, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth. This is something the modern Secularist world seems to have totally forgotten. So you see, this Hebrew God, who ordered the creation of the Jewish sacrificial system, along with the temple that would house it, was now walking into this temple as a man. He was greatly offended by how people were treating HIS house. He wanted his house to be a place where sinners could come and repent. Instead those repentant sinners were being hindered by a bunch of legalistic nonsense that he never ordered and was clearly a racket. So just like any of us would do with intruders that turned our own personal homes into a marketplace for their own gain, Jesus cracked the whip, overturned their tables, and drove them out! No, he wasn't very nice about it. In fact, he was actually pretty rude. However, he had every right to be, because he is God, and this was HIS house. People had turned it into a circus. He had every right to be rude.
There is a lesson in all of this, and it reminds us of something about the character of Jesus Christ and those who follow him. We have to remember that lots of religions recognise many of the teachings of Jesus Christ. However, only one religion recognises his claim that he is God. That is Christianity. When we understand that Jesus Christ is Yahweh, the same God who flooded the earth at the time of Noah, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah at the time of Abraham, only then do we truly begin to understand the magnitude of Jesus' teaching and his death on the cross.
You see, if we look at the Old Testament, we see a clear pattern in the way the Hebrew God -- Yahweh -- deals with his people. While to our modern Western ears, many of the things he commands sound cruel, they are actually laced with mercy. The Hebrew God of the Old Testament -- Yahweh -- wanted something more than anything else. He wanted his people to repent of their sins. He didn't want to destroy them. He hated to punish them. Chastisement was something we warned them about, over and over again, practically begging them to change their wicked ways. Yet, when they failed to do it, he allowed terrible things to happen to them. From this we learn that Yahweh wept for his people -- the Hebrews -- whenever they did not repent, and he did not like to chastise them. Again, we learn from the earliest stories of the Old Testament, that Yahweh was slow to judge, giving people as much time as possible to repent, sending warnings along the way. At the time of Noah, he waited until the last minute, until there were no righteous people left on earth, besides Noah and his family. At the time of Abraham, God assured the patriarch that he would not destroy the city, if he could find only ten righteous people in the whole thing. When he could not, God had his angels evacuate the last remaining good people from the city, before destroying it. What sounds cruel to our modern Western ears, is actually a story of patience and long-suffering to ancient Semitic ears. This is the real character of Yahweh, and it is this character he fully revealed to us by becoming incarnate as the man Jesus of Nazareth.
The story of the New Testament is the same story of a God who is patient and long-suffering. In other words, he puts up with a lot of crap, especially from his own people. He endures their pride, arrogance, abuse of the religion he created for them, and ultimately, he endures their slander, torture and murder at the hands of those they manipulated (the Romans). Why did he do this though? I mean, why would God allow himself to be beaten and put to death? By his own chosen people no less!?! I'll tell you why. He did it because he wanted to forgive them, and in order to do this, he needed to provide a means for them to be forgiven.
You see, the fact that Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross further demonstrates that he is the same God who ordered the sacrifices of animals in the temple. The sacrifices of animals was designed to foreshadow his own sacrifice. For God had told his people throughout the Old Testament (particularly the Torah) that without the shedding of blood, there would be no remission of sins. Again, this was a foreshadowing, because with these animal sacrifices, a lesson was to be taught. It was not the animal's blood that forgave sins, but rather the blood of another. The animal sacrifices were only a symbol, a foreshadow of a blood letting that would come later, which really would forgive their sins. That blood was none other than the blood of God Almighty himself. The One to whom sacrifices were made, came to earth and took on the form of human flesh, so that he himself could become the ultimate sacrifice.
God hates sin. Man commits sin. God loves man, but the penalty for sin is death. So how does God save man from the penalty of his own sin? Simple, God allows man to kill him. The penalty is paid. God paid it for man. Now man can be forgiven.
It's a radical concept really, but one that elevates Christian religion far above the ancient concepts of animal sacrifices and the modern notions of just being nice. It gives a depth and meaning to the Christian faith that exceeds the expectations of your typical religion. Man's own barbarism, combined with the generosity of God, becomes the vehicle of our own redemption. God saves man by allowing man to kill him. It's a humbling thought really, both terrifying and wondrous at the same time, which highlights both the cruelty of man and the generosity of God simultaneously. Therefore, Christians are called to something much higher than just being nice. Christians are called to be holy, by putting away our sinful (selfish) attitudes, and live for the betterment of others. This in turn leads to the betterment of ourselves. God, through Jesus Christ, becomes our ultimate example of self giving. If we want to follow him, we must in every way we can, try to imitate him.
All of this is lost though, if we dismiss the concept of sin itself. If we say there is no sin at all, then we make God a liar, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ absolutely meaningless. Remember, according to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is Yahweh. He's the same God who gave us the Ten Commandments, and told us that killing babies is sin, as well as adultery, fornication and sodomy (homosexual acts). Sin by definition is anything that displeases God, and God alone is the only one with the authority to define sin. Human beings don't have this authority. I cannot decide for myself what is sin, for if I could, I would make sure that nothing I do is considered sinful. You would do the same. So would anyone, including rapists and murderers. In very short order, everyone would do what is right in their own eyes, and the whole concept of sin would become relative and meaningless. It seems that modern Secularist culture, having forgotten that Jesus is Yahweh, would like us all to believe that the concept of sin is relative and meaningless. The new Secularist 'gospel' is to be nice, and make sure nobody's feelings get hurt. Thus anything that might hurt another's feelings is the new definition of 'sin' according to the new Secular 'gospel'. Under this new 'gospel' sodomy (homosexual acts) are not sin, but rather any criticism of them are, because it might hurt somebody's feelings. The same could apply to fornication and adultery as well.
'What would Jesus do?' That's the common saying people like to throw around these days. Obviously, anyone familiar with the gospels knows that cracking a whip, overturning tables, and frightening the daylights out of people, is not beyond the realm of possibilities. We would expect this from the God who terrified his people at Sinai (Exodus 20:18-20). So immediately, anyone familiar with the gospels should know that being nice isn't always the correct answer. Jesus is Yahweh, and Yahweh opposed sin. At the same time Yahweh preferred that people repent, and Jesus (who is Yahweh) wanted the same thing. There are two instances in the New Testament that shed light on 'what would Jesus do?" when it comes to the issue of the popular sins of our time. In John 5:1-15 we learn about the invalid that Jesus healed at the Pool of Bethesda. Sometime later, Jesus found the man again, and said to him: 'See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you' (John 5:14). Then in John 8:3-11, after Jesus had driven away all the accusers of the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus said to her: 'Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again' (John 8:14). The Apostle John is teaching us something here. He's teaching us that while Jesus has the power to forgive sin, he also chooses not to redefine it. He doesn't say: 'Don't worry, it's not sin any more, I've changed my mind. Go back to what you were doing.' Rather, he says: 'I forgive you of the sin you committed, now go and don't do it again.' This is huge distinction, because the Secular world would have us believe that Jesus redefined sin, but the plain teaching of the gospel says that he didn't redefine anything. Rather he just chose to forgive, and tell people to stop doing it. In other words, the central teaching of the gospel is that Jesus came to forgive our sins, not condone them.
You see, Jesus reminded the religious leaders of his day that he did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but rather to fulfil it totally in his own life (Matthew 5:17). You see, only Jesus could do that, because he is Yahweh, the Law Giver himself (2nd Timothy 3:16). In saying to those whom he forgave: 'go and sin no more', he wasn't telling them to live a life of perfection. Rather he was telling them the whole purpose of his law was to teach them what is right and what is wrong. It was to help them feel guilt and shame over the things that displease God, so they could change, and come to repentance. That way God could forgive them, which is what he wanted all along. It's no different than a small child really. In order for a child to know that something is wrong he has to be taught first. Parents spend the early years of a child's life teaching right from wrong. Then as they get older, the art of forgiveness must be demonstrated and taught. That's what the Old Testament was all about -- teaching mankind what is right and what is wrong. Then the New Testament is about repentance and forgiveness, teaching us that when we do wrong, we should repent so we can be forgiven. Jesus didn't come to change the law, and he most certainly didn't come to redefine right and wrong. Jesus is Yahweh, the same God of the Old Testament. He does not contradict himself. This is the message of gospel, and it has been the teaching of Christianity from the very beginning. The Secular world does not understand this, because the Secular world does not understand the gospel. That's why they want to redefine sin, and that's why they think the most important virtue of Christianity (or any religion for that matter) is the virtue of 'being nice'. They just don't get it.
Jesus is the Hebrew God -- Yahweh -- who defined right from wrong for us through his Law. His whole purpose of coming to earth as a man was to pay our penalty for breaking that Law, so we could repent of our wrongdoing and live a better life. Being nice is only a small part of that better life. Being holy (abandoning sin) is a bigger part. Serving others (by sacrificing self) is the biggest part. Part of sacrificing self means being willing to tell others about the dangers of sin. People don't like to hear the truth, and so sometimes just doing this will be have consequences. People might get mad at you. Or they might not like you. Even worse, they might use social pressures, or the government, to try to make you stop. This is part of what it means to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of others. Christians oppose sin for one reason, and one reason only. It's because Jesus Christ opposes sin. He doesn't oppose sin because he wants to condemn people. Quite the opposite really. He opposes sin because he wants people to be sorry and repent, that way he can forgive them. You see, God isn't looking for a perfect people, just humble people, meaning people who are willing to admit they aren't perfect, don't always live up to God's standards, and are willing to try to change their ways as much as possible. To them he offers forgiveness, a warning to 'go and sin no more', and an example of how to give of themselves to the fullest.
Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'
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