Matthew 21:12-17
A House Of Prayer

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. In today's passage of scripture is recorded the facts concerning Jesus' entrance into the capital city of Jerusalem. A great crowd accompanied the journey of Jesus as he ascended into Jerusalem. Then at last when Jerusalem was visible, the expectations of the people flared spontaneously and their fervor reached a peak point. ("The time has finally come! The time has come for Jerusalem to be set free from Gentile rule! The time has come for the land of Israel to be delivered from the hands of the Romans, for the Davidic dynasty to be restored, and for it to be rebuilt!) Some spread their clothes on the road, others cut down tree branches and spread them on the road, the people walking ahead and the people following from behind shouted, "Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest," (verse nine).

2. That's how it was when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Right after that, Christ displayed some astonishing behaviors in the temple. Actually if we go by Mark's Gospel, it would be the following day. Matthew deliberately depicts it right after the entry into Jerusalem. In brief, the very first thing those seeking deliverance while in Jerusalem had seen was the figure of Christ on the temple grounds turning over the money changers' tables and driving out the dealers.

Den Of Robbers

3. Please look at verse twelve. The scripture contains the following words: "After that, Jesus entered the temple grounds, then he drove out all those who were buying and selling there, he knocked down the stands of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. Then he said, 'It is written. My house should be called a house of prayer. But instead, you have made it into a den of robbers.'," (verses twelve and thirteen).

4. It's quite a very shocking scene. It's obviously unusual behavior for anybody watching. Why did Jesus do such a rude thing as that? We must seek for an answer to that from Jesus' own words. At that moment, Jesus quoted from the words of Isaiah that "My house should be called a house of prayer." Looking at it from the Lord's perspective, it would mean the temple was no longer "a house of prayer." Worse still, it wasn't just that it wasn't a house of prayer, but the Lord went even further and said that "You have made it a den of robbers."

5. Isn't the term "a den of robbers" a bit extreme? Even though Jesus used such language, he had a reason. There once was [someone else] in the temple at Jerusalem who had spoken those words in the same manner. It was the prophet Jeremiah. His words at that time were left behind in the Old Testament scripture. Please look at Jeremiah chapter seven beginning with verse three.

6. "The God of Israel, the Lord of the armies says this. Straighten your ways and deeds. Then, I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in the vain words of the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. ... But, look, you will trust in these vain words, but they do not have saving power. While you rob, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow the heretical gods whom you do not know, will you come to this temple called by my name and stand before me and say, 'We're saved?' Aren't you doing all manner of abominable things? Does this temple, which is called by my name, look to you like a hangout for robbers? It does. It looks that way to me too, says the Lord," (Jeremiah 7:3-11).

7. It was about the end of the seventh century B.C.E. when the prophet had spoken. It was the period when king Jehoiakim was ruling the land of Judah. Jehoiakim had been set up as king by the pharaoh of Egypt. As we see from that, it was a period when the Judean people were threatened by the power of the great land of Egypt. The worries of that society drove the people to the temple. At that time period, the worship in the temple was held with great fanfare. The phrase of "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" which was repeated like some spell might be, shows how they made the temple of the Lord as the basis for their minds and hearts. The people sought for peace of mind, they sought for protection from Egypt and rushed to the temple.

8. The temple was crowded with many many people. Wasn't that just wonderful? But, through Jeremiah, God threw them a truly severe message. He said even though they were trusting in that vain phrase [of theirs], it had no saving power. Why [not]? Because during the crisis in Judah, the only thing God required of them was sincere repentance and nothing but that. The Lord said, "Straighten out your ways and deeds." But, while they held elaborate worship services in the temple, they didn't have any sincere repentance or obedience unto the word of God. With their backs turned against God still, they were just a herd of people there seeking only for God's protection [but] in a superstitious way. To them the temple was only a refuge for them to turn to to obtain peace [of mind]. It was hardly any different from a hideout in which thieves might hide themselves and feel free from worry after performing their evil deeds. Thus, God called it "a den of robbers."

9. About six hundred and forty years later, Christ would stand like Jeremiah once did at the temple and speak using the same words. "Thus, it is written. 'My house should be called a house of prayer.' But, you have made it a den of robbers." When Jesus saw the temple, it wasn't "a house of prayer" there. It wasn't sincere and true worship there. They didn't have a living relationship with God there. Just as in the time of Jeremiah of old, the temple had been turned into a den of thieves for just protection and to get peace of mind. For that reason, As Christ entered Jerusalem, he headed for the temple first, and while there he showed rude and drastic behavior.

10. We must remember that the first actions of the Christ who had come to Jerusalem to bring salvation for humanity to fulfillment was a strong protest against the way the temple was but ought to be. Back in the time of Jeremiah, the people of Jerusalem brought up the question of the threat from Egypt. They sought for deliverance from Egypt. But, Jeremiah brought up the question of what was happening in the relationship between God and each person. In the time of Jesus, the people brought up the question of the government of Rome over them. And they sought for deliverance from Rome. But, the Lord brought up the question of what was happening in the relationship between God and each person. What's going on between us [and the Lord]? When deliverance is spoken about, we always bring up the question of outside forces causing us suffering from the outside. We wish for first that our burdens would be taken away and we would be freed from suffering and pain. But, first things first, the savior brings up the question of our relationship with God. Christ proceeded to the temple first. Christ saw that prayer, worship, and one's fellowship with God was the most important matters in humanity's salvation.

Bringing Back The House Of Prayer

11. While the text thus records Christ's use of force loaded with his indignation and may be quite unusual, yet the figure of the people approaching Christ doing that is described in the text. "On the temple grounds, as the blind and the lame came up to Jesus, he healed them," (verse fourteen).

12. The blind and the lame. They were only permitted to enter as far as the temple grounds. That was because the terminology of "The blind and the lame must not enter the temple" was a tradition going back to David, (Second Samuel 5:8). They were excluded from worship at the temple. But, their eyes and legs were healed by Christ. That meant more than just having their physical suffering removed. The main thing here is that they were restored back as worshippers. In that sense, the event taking place here is one along the same lines as when the Lord had called the tax collectors and the sinners. In one sense, worship in the temple was judged by Christ's words and purified, but then the people who had been excluded from worship services till then were restored back as worshippers and called into fellowship with God. Also, it is described as miracles of healing by Christ. In other words, it is recorded as a work by God's mercy that just only he could offer.

13. Also along with the miracle of the healings, something about children is recorded. It says that on the same [temple] grounds taking place as one continuous event with the whole account, the children were shouting "Hosanna to the son of David" and were praising the Christ. The chief priests and the scribes of the law took issue with that. If going by the authorities of the temple, Jesus' actions were problematic in obviously contradicting their religious authority, and [his actions] were only blasphemous unto God. They could not tolerate one bit even these children speaking of this one who was acting [blasphemous] like that and giving forth praises of "Hosanna to the son of David" [to him]. They said to Jesus, "Can you hear what the children are saying?" In effect, they were telling him to put an end to this blasphemy immediately.

14. However, quoting words from the Psalms, Jesus replied to them with this: "[They] will be heard. Haven't you yourselves ever read the words 'In the mouths of toddlers and babes, he would make them sing praises'?," (verse sixteen). In other words, what was happening here is but the fulfillment of what was actually sung in the Psalms. This is not saying that children seem more sincere or have sharper sensitivity and more power to understand than adults. The main thing here is that "God" would make them sing praises. God would instruct into the children's mouths his praises. In other words, just as what happened to the blind and the lame, as just a work of God, a new thing would happen even upon these children too by Christ's being there. While the people, who were under the impression that they themselves were worshippers, had ended up making the temple a den of thieves, the children, who were not even admitted into the numbers of worshippers, would be made into worshippers. In this manner then, what we see in this passage of scripture is not just the figure of Christ alone judging the reality of how the house of prayer became just a den of thieves. The figure of Christ is also described as bringing back the house of prayer there.

15. Several days after this happened, Christ was crucified. Salvation did not materialize in the form the people had wished for. Rome still ruled over Israel. But, Christ had certainly entered into the capital city of Jerusalem for salvation, and that salvation did come into fulfillment because through means of Christ's cross and resurrection, the true house of prayer was rebuilt, whereby forgiveness of sin is given on this earth and a relationship of life with God is realized. The visible temple would end up destroyed in about forty years after this. But, the house of prayer known as the church, the body of Christ, will go on to exist unchanged to this day. We, too, are called to this house of prayer as true worshippers, that we might live in fellowship with God. Our salvation that we have lies right there in this eternal fellowship with God in Christ.

 
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