If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Matthew 21. It is Monday of the Passover week, and the Lord Jesus, after entering into Jerusalem on the foal of the donkey, had returned to Bethany to spend the night. Then, the next Monday morning, He came back into Jerusalem and headed straight for the temple. He had revealed himself as the humble king, the Messiah coming to His people, on that Sunday before Passover, and now He is going to reveal Himself as the righteous king, zealous for God, zealous for His temple, zealous for holiness, but also lovingly merciful to those who are lowly and outcast, and overlooked. And, He is going to go right to the temple.
And His action of heading straight for the temple must not be overlooked. Last time we were together we said don't miss a thing that Jesus does in this final week, it is chock full of significance. And so, Jesus heads right for them temple, and cleanses it. Now John, in John chapter 2 verses 13-17, tells us that Jesus' ministry in Jerusalem began with His cleansing the temple. Now, on the last Monday before His crucifixion, He would cleanse the temple a second time. And so His ministry begins and ends with the cleansing of the temple. This is a message about the importance, the centrality, of worship, worship of the life of God's people, and heart corruption must be removed in our worship, before God's reform proceeds in our hearts.
Lets look then to Matthew 21 verses 12 through 17, and hear God's word.
Our Father, we ask that You would speak to us by Your word this day, that You would not allow us to stand at a distance and pass judgment on those in their actions two thousand years ago, without pausing first to examine our own hearts, and see if there be unclean thing in us. Search us out by Your Spirit, enable us to be attentive hearers of the word, hearers who are ready to submit themselves to the rule of Your truth in the Spirit, and so be transformed by the grace of the gospel. We ask these things in Jesus' name, amen.
In this incident, Jesus reveals something about His kingship. He tells us again what kind of a king He is, but He also reveals something about His kingdom, the nature of it, the people who are part of His kingdom, and He also as throughout this passage, gives us a foreshadowing of what is to come. This whole section of the gospel I have subtitled “The foreshadowing of the judgment to come” because just as His triumphal entry foreshadows a greater and more glorious entry, the entry of His second coming when He comes again on clouds with power, with myriads of angels, to judge the world, that triumphal entry shows us just a little glimpse of what the glory will be like then. So also this passage and His judgment in the temple shows us a little glimpse of the judgment that is to come.
So in this passage He shows us what He is like as a king, He tells us about His kingdom, and He shows us the judgment to come. Matthew Henry observes, “This was the only act of regal authority and coercive power that Christ did in the days of His flesh.” Think of that. Christ had always dealt, even as king, by claims and by persuasion, but in this action, He effected that which was right. He cleansed the temple Himself; He didn't ask them to clean themselves up, He cleansed the temple himself. It is a picture of what He will do when He comes a second time, and He will cleanse this universe.
I. Judgment begins at the house of God.
I want you to see two or three things in this passage which are directly relevant to us as believers today. The first one you'll see in verses 12 and 13. In that passage we see a description of Jesus cleansing the temple, and that is, as we see, a foreshadowing of the judgment day to come, and in that passage, Jesus is revealing Himself as the righteous king. Last time we were together, we saw Him reveal himself as the humble king, coming to His people not as a conqueror, but as the Messiah and Savior, coming towards them for their benefit. Now, He reveals Himself as the righteous king coming to purge sin in the lives in the midst of His people.
And, we learn something very important here, something that we've said before, and no doubt we'll say again many times. In this verse, we learn that judgment begins at the house of God, for the Lord Jesus comes to cleanse. He begins that work at the house of God, symbolically set forth here in the temple, but meaning, of course, ultimately, His people, He begins with us, that's where judgment begins. Hold that thought, we'll come back to it in a minute.
Let's look at this passage for a moment. Jesus has come to Jerusalem, it is Monday morning, He arrives at the temple and a sight greets Him that horrifies Him. The temple is filled with the din of business. There are moneychangers there doing their work, and there are those who are selling sacrificial animals. Now understand where this particular practice grew up. It was required, if you came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, that you bring an unblemished animal. Now if you brought an animal from your farm that was perfectly acceptable, but you might bring that animal all the way from your farm, and then find out that according to the priestly judgment that animal had a blemish. Then you were in a fix. Well, some bright spark along the way decided, what a great idea, we'll set up sacrificial animals to sell that have already been pre-approved by the priests, visitors from far away can come and purchase one of these sacrificial animals, we'll make a modest profit, they'll be able to offer their sacrifices, we'll make a profit for our families and everything will be wonderful. And so they set up in the exterior court of the temple, selling these animals.
Now of course, there was one other problem. In the temple precincts, they did not accept foreign money. They didn't even accept money from the towns around Galilee, you had to have the Hebrew coinage of Jerusalem in order to purchase and to ply in this certain setting. And so some moneychangers came along and said, you know, what a wonderful service we could render to the pilgrims at the time of Passover, we could exchange that money for them, and for a modest profit, we would give them the type of coinage they needed in order to purchase these sacrificial animals. We will be assisting them in the spiritual worship of the living God.
When Jesus sees this scene, He is absolutely horrified, and He says, this house of prayer that was intended for the spiritual worship of My heavenly Father has become a robbers den, a marketplace. Jesus condemns the activity, and He proceeds to overturn the tables of the moneychangers, and the booths of those who were selling the sacrificial animals. He comes to the city, He goes straight to the temple, and He judges that which He sees to be wrong. What is going on? Corporate worship is being profaned. That which is to be the highest example of God's people communion with him, solemn and joyful worship, has degenerated to a bizarre. There is a den of activity, just like in a marketplace, and there is no solemnity for worship.
Now many people have speculated on the specific things that Jesus was upset about. It is, for instance, known that these people who were plying these trades in the temple courts were very unpopular with the Israelites, because they were thought to cheat them regularly, by overcharging them for sacrificial animals, to charging exorbitant rates of interest, and this may be one of the things that the Lord Jesus was upset about. It is also possible that it was the very atmosphere that had been created by this buying and selling and trading and exchanging, that had absolutely undercut the purpose of the temple itself and cheapened the process of worship in the sacrificial system. But whatever the case is, Jesus is clearly concerned that the worship of God not be profaned. There is nothing more spiritually detrimental to us than at the very heart of our relationship with God, and we've been made to worship Him, that there be a prostitution of that worship, a secularizing of even the context in which we worship Him. And so Jesus' judgment is simultaneously a declaration of His deity and a foreshadowing of the judgment day, showing us now what God thinks of unspiritual unholy worship.
And so the Lord Jesus brings judgment against these activities in the temple. And as He does so, He explains what He is doing by appealing to Scripture passages in the Old Testament. He turns us to Isaiah chapter 56, verse 7, the second half of that verse, and He quotes, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” This temple was meant to be the place where God met with His people, and they communed with him, and offered up prayers and praises, but it has turned into a marketplace. And so, the Lord Jesus is reminded of another passage in Jeremiah chapter 7 verse 11 where the words “robbers den” are used with regards to Jerusalem and the temple and He says, “You are making this into a robbers den!” In other words, you have fallen from the high ideal of spiritual communion with a living God by prayer in this place which is the symbol of His presence with His people, and you have absolutely turned it into a den of thieves. And so the Lord Jesus brings judgment. This reforming action highlights the centrality of worship in the life of God's people.
Isn't it interesting, and by the way, Philip Schaff mentions this in his History of the Christian Church, that Jesus' ministry begins with a cleansing of the temple, and the purging away of worship abuses in the first century. And that the Reformation in the sixteenth century begins with Martin Luther cleansing the abuse of the indulgence system in the Roman church. And so we see a parallel here for God's reforming and refining and sifting work begins with His people, and especially with the way that they worship.
You see, this is passage is a picture of the spiritual state of Israel. Israel thinks she is doing fine with God, but in fact, her worship is empty. It has all the external forms, but it is emptied of the heart, and the very context in which they are worshiping it is almost like a cattle show. The context in which they are worshiping is a visible picture of how empty that worship is. And the Lord Jesus makes a beeline for that in order to give them self-consciousness about their spiritual state. God's reforming and refining and sifting work begins with the people of God, and with the way we worship.
Now before we stand back in judgment of the chief priests and the scribes who condone this practice, and with the people who are carrying on the practice, the people who are specifically judged by Jesus, and before we stand back and judge ourselves to be superior to them, we need to ask ourselves a question, and that question is, “What is the state of our own heart?” If they Lord were to come to His temple today, and we are by His grace the temple of the Holy Spirit, not this building but this people that are gathered to worship here, what would He find in our hearts? Would He find us selling doves and exchanging money in our hearts as we are gathered to worship him? Tasker says this, “In the symbolic action described in verse 12, Jesus gave forcible expression to the truth that no external piety practiced within the supposed sanctity of a saintly building can ever render unrepentant sinners immune from divine judgment.” When cheats imagined that they could salve their consciousness by the mechanical offering of sacrifices without any change of heart, they were in fact turning the house of prayer into a den of thieves. How are our own hearts before the Lord Jesus as we come to worship him? And this passage, this picture of judgment on the temple, is not only a reminder to take stock of our own hearts, it is a reminder of the judgment to come. J.C. Ryle says this, “Let us see in our Lord's conduct on this occasion a striking type of what He will do when He comes again a second time; He will purify the temple. He will cleanse it of everything that defiles and works iniquity and cast every worldly professor out on its tail. He will allow no worshiper of money or lover of gain to have a place in that glorious temple which He will finally exhibit before the world.” May we all strive to live daily in the expectation of that coming.
And of course the temple that He is speaking of there is not a physical temple sitting in Jerusalem, He is talking about us! Are we ready? Are we looking forward to that coming, and do we perceive it even in Jesus' cleansing of the temple. That is the first thing we learn here. Judgment begins with the house of God. The Lord wants our worship to be in spirit and truth, He wants us to worship him in light of His grace, pouring out our gratitude because of what He has done, realizing that we don't inherently deserve His favor, we have been given it to us by His grace, we have received it according to His mercy, and we are simply saved blood-bought sinners, coming into His presence to lift up our hearts to Him in prayer and praise. And those hearts are to be pure hearts, because He has sprinkled them clean with the washing of the water of repentance.
II. God’s grace extends to marginalized people.
Now let's see a second thing here. In verse 14, the Lord Jesus, while He is in the same temple precinct, stops to heal that blind and lame. So even while He is displaying His judgment He is displaying His grace. This is the same loving Lord Jesus who entered into Jerusalem the day before, and even as He is indignant at the empty worship of some, He is enfolding others who are themselves outcasts in the eyes of many, and so He reveals himself not only as a king in judgment, but also as a king in mercy. And again, we learn in verse 14 that Jesus shows the gracious nature of His kingdom in the cleansing of them temple and the healing of the lame and blind, showing us here the gracious nature of His kingdom. Jesus is ministering to marginalized people.
In the next passages that we read in Matthew 21 and following, we are going to find Jesus ministering to prostitutes, we are going to find Jesus ministering to blind and lame, those who are handicapped, we are going to find him ministering to those who are least significant, most marginal, most peripheral, most unimportant in the eyes of the people who think themselves to be the most pious, the chief priests and the scribes. And Jesus is going to minister directly to them. Craig Peters says, “From the aristocratic standpoint, seeking followers among the weak was a foolish place to try and establish a kingdom.” And so Jesus is saying, My kingdom is made up of such as these. Those who are humble, those who are in need, and yet who have availed themselves of Me, and they have now been brought into My kingdom. Traditionally, the blind and the lame didn't even take part in the sacrificial worship of the temple. Blind and lame priests were not allowed to take part. From the time of David, that had been extended to all the blind and lame. They were not allowed into the inner court of the temple to participate in the sacrifical system, but here in the wake of Jesus cleansing them temple, the blind and the lame hear of what Jesus is doing, and they begin to make their way to the temple, and Jesus begins to heal them, showing that His kingdom is made up of such as those!
Hence we learn something of the importance of deeds of mercy towards those who are perceived to be unimportant and marginal in our experience in the life of the church. The Lord Jesus doesn't see that as something that is incidental to His ministry; it is central to His ministry. Over and over in Matthew we have seen Him, as He has proclaimed the truth through deeds of mercy, and to draw in those who are considered to be little people , considered to be marginal, other than us, different from us, and He draws them in and He makes them part of His body, part of His kingdom. He ministers to them. And our ministry is to reflect Jesus' ministry in word and in deed.
Here we are learning something of the importance of mercy ministry in the church. Our Lord Jesus, when He ascended on high after leading captivity captive, gave an entire class of officers to His church in order to insure that His church never forgot mercy ministry. Those officers are called deacons, and their job is not only to implement programs and projects in order to minister mercy, but also through their relationship and through their attitude, to foster that attitude of mercy ministry in the church. That is the church looking out for those within its bounds who are hurting and needy, who are marginalized, who are lonely, who are in need of help and assistance.
Then you say, we live in a congregation that is middle class, upper middle class, and upper upper middle class, certainly we don't need that here, wrong! There is a tremendous need for mercy ministry in our own midst. There are in the pews today people who have come with broken hearts and broken marriages, there are folks who are here who are in desperate need of being ministered to through the ministry of mercy. And we as God's people, if we are going to reflect the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, must minister to one another in this way, and a very basic way for this to start is in the area of hospitality. Where we look out for one another, because we are a part of this body, whether we know one another in our social circles or not, we stretch across those lines and we seek to minister to one another as a family.
Part of this ministry of mercy is really seeing one another, every single one of us, as family! Do we do that? What would the Lord Jesus say if He came back, would He recognize our ministry here in light of the kind of ministry He was doing here in the temple? Again, the old Puritan Jonathan Trapp said, “Our lives as well as our lips should speak us to be right and real in religion.” Is our religion real? And Tasker said, “Service rendered to the afflicted is worship more acceptable to God than multitudes of sacrifice.” A truth brought out in Matthew when He, alone, of all the evangelists reports that Jesus miraculously healed the blind and the lame that came to him in the temple. Is that our attitude? Are we on the lookout for mercy ministry amongst our own congregation? And then, beyond that, are we on the lookout as to how we can minister to the broader community, and display the mercy of the Lord Jesus to them? are we creatively and actively and immediately looking to do that? If we follow the Lord Jesus, we will.
III. The Poor in Spirit see God.
And finally, we see here in verses 15 through 17, a third thing. In this passage we see Jesus worshiped by outcasts and children, while those who are supposedly pious are outraged and condemn Him. They oppose Him. And Jesus here reveals Himself to be the King even in the way He responds to their criticism. We learn one last thing in this passage. We learn that the poor in spirit see God. Now let me say that again, because I've just confused some of you who have already memorized the beatitudes. The poor in spirit see God. Now I know that the beatitudes say that the poor in spirit inherit the kingdom, theirs is the kingdom of heaven, it says. And I know that the beatitudes say that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness see God, but it is also true that the poor in spirit see God. Those who have humbled themselves see God, and we see it in living color in this passage. Jesus, after casting out those who were denigrating the worship of God, after healing the blind and the lame, after receiving the praise of the children, Jesus is very severely criticized by the religious leaders, they are outraged. What is their response to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? They are mad about it! And they say to Him, “Do you hear what they are saying. Do you hear what those children are saying about you?” They are asking Him a question designed to shame Him into keeping the children quiet. Jesus, you know that they are ascribing to You a messianic title in that singing, now You are doing a very dangerous thing to their spiritual state; You are letting those little children think that You are the Messiah. Isn't it amazing how suddenly concerned for reverence and love to God these men became. A moment ago, they were countenancing the selling of doves and exchanging money in the temple of God, but they don't want these little children to be praising the Lord Jesus.
And the Lord Jesus says to them, haven't you ever read Psalm 18? And by quoting Psalm 18, He does three things at once. First of all, He indicates the biblical basis for the children's praise. He goes right back to the Psalms and He says, what you are seeing here is the fulfillment of what God already said in the Psalms. Secondly, He is testifying to His own deity, because Psalm 18 is praise directed towards God, Jesus knows that. So as these children cry out, Hosanna, the Son of David, Jesus is saying, and by the way, I am the son of the living God, they rightly worship Me.
Finally of course, He is indicating once again that it is the humble, it is only the humble who perceive spiritual truth and reality and worship God. In this case it is the children; the adults, the pious religious leaders, they don't see God! But the children, they see Jesus clear out the temple, they see Jesus heal those outcasts, and they instinctively know that that is true religion, and they instinctively know that He is the son of God. See, Christ's glory is hidden from the prideful. But it is revealed to the humble. The chief priests and the scribes were indignant, that Christ did not take notice of this display of irreverence within the temple precinct, even though they weren't concerned with all the trade being conducted within the same bounds. And so Jesus makes it clear that in fact the praises sounded by these children were in the nature of a rebuke to those religious superiors, and He drew their attention to that truth expressed in Psalm 8, that God has called children and infants to sound aloud His praises.
How do we know if we are humble before the Lord? What indication is there that rather than pridefully relying on ourselves, that we have humbled ourselves before God, and truly rested in Jesus, seeing ourselves as just little children that have been saved by His greatness? Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers that question with these words: “Do I know God? Is Jesus Christ real to me?” That is the question. I'm not asking whether you know about things, the things about Him, but do you know God? Are you enjoying God? Is God the center of your life, the soul of your being, the source of your greatest joy? He is meant to be. He made man in such a way that He was to have that position, that man might dwell in communion with God, and enjoy God and walk with God, you and I are meant to be like that, and if we are not like that, it is sin. That is the essence of sin. We have no right not to be like that. That is sin of the deepest and worse kind.
The essence of sin, in other words, is that we do not live entirely to the glory of God. Of course, by committing particular sins, we aggravate our guilt toward God, but you can be innocent of all gross sins, and yet be guilty of this terrible thing, of being satisfied with your life. Of having pride in your achievements and looking down on others and feeling that you are better than others. There is nothing worse than that, because you are saying to yourself that you are somehow nearer to God than they are, and yet the whole time, you are not. If that is your attitude, you have become the chief priests and the scribes in the temple.
Have we humbled ourselves before God, trusting in Him alone, and bringing nothing to him in our hands, simply clinging to His cross? In a few moments we are going to pray a prayer, we are going to sing a prayer, and in that prayer we are going to ask our Holy Spirit to work that true trust and humility in Jesus Christ in our hearts. May the Lord bless His word. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we pray as we see this foreshadowing of judgment that we would be numbered with the little children on the last day. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.