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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What is Happening in Your "Outer Court?"

Mark 11 (Amplified)

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And He went into the temple area, the porches and courts and began to drive out those who sold and bought in the temple area, and He overturned the four-footed tables of the money changers and the seats of those who dealt in doves;
16 And He would not permit anyone to carry any household equipment through the temple enclosure thus making the temple area a short-cut traffic lane.
17 And He taught and said to them, Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have turned it into a den of robbers.
18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard of this and kept seeking some way to destroy Him, for they feared Him, because the entire multitude was struck with astonishment at His teaching.
19 And when evening came on, He and His disciples, as accustomed, went out of the city. 

John 2 (Amplified)

13 Now the Passover of the Jews was approaching, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 There He found in the temple enclosure those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting there also at their stands.
15 And having made a lash (a whip) of cords, He drove them all out of the temple enclosure—both the sheep and the oxen—spilling and scattering the brokers’ money and upsetting and tossing around their trays (their stands).
16 Then to those who sold the doves He said, Take these things away! Make not My Father’s house a house of merchandise (a marketplace, a sales shop)!
17 And His disciples remembered that it is written in the Holy Scriptures, Zeal (the fervor of love) for Your house will eat Me up. I will be consumed with jealousy for the honor of Your house (see Psalm 69:9). 

As young children in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, or Holiday Bible Club, we have each probably heard this Bible story of Jesus cleansing the temple. It seems fairly upfront and understandable. This account is reported in the four gospels. For the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it occurs immediately after Jesus’ triumphal entry prior to the Passover. John places the occurrence of Jesus cleansing the temple at the beginning of his gospel account. It occurs after Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana.  After this wedding, he and his mother, brothers, and disciples went to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13-17). John’s account is more detailed than Mark’s.
Whether we believe Jesus went to the temple during His ministry four times as Luke and John record or once as Matthew and Mark record is irrelevant. What is relevant is why Jesus and the Jews went to the temple at this time. There were three times in which Jews pilgrimaged to the temple in Jerusalem, Passover (Pesach), Festival of Booths (Succot celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness and their total reliance upon Yahweh), and Feast of Weeks (Shavuot is an agricultural celebration). For each of these times, the Jews were to bring sacrifices and offerings, burnt, grain, drink, and peace, for sin, guilt, thanksgiving, communion, and as a gift to the LORD.
What we need to know to understand Jesus’ reaction follows. The rebuilt temple in Jerusalem encompassed about 30 acres, which is about 22 football fields. There were multiple courts, porches, entrances, and rules. The outer court was for Jew and non-Jew alike. It was in this outer court that non-Jews could worship and pray to Yahweh. However, we see in the Gospels that you would find animal sellers, moneychangers, and people using the court as a “cut-through” to get to the city on the other side of the temple wall. It is a general area but it was intended to be a preparation area for Jews and a worship place for Gentiles. The outer court was “holy ground” and was be respected as such. The next court, the women’s court, was intended for Jewish women. No Gentile was to go into that area. Women were to worship the Lord there as well as give to the poor offering. The next area was the court for Jewish men. It was in this court that the Jewish man would offer his sacrificial animal to the Lord and the priest would perform the ritual required by law for the offering/sacrifice. The court of the priests is where priests would read from the Torah, pray, and perform sacrifices. The Holy Place is the first section of the framed tabernacle structure. To this point, the courts were open-air and had pillars that delineated the area of each court and divided one court from another. The Holy Place is where the priest laid out the bread of the Presence (the shewbread). The Holy Place was about 30’x15’x15’. The 12 loaves the priest laid out on the table before Yahweh were a token of gratitude for His provision for His people. Behind the Holy Place was the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. On this veil was pictured cherubim. Only the high priest was allowed to touch the veil or enter the Holy of Holies. Behind the veil was the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat. Everything within the framed part of the temple, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, was golden.

Let us consider now the implications of what Jesus saw, said, and did on the day He cleansed the temple. When Jesus entered the outer courts, he saw people engaged in exchanging foreign and Roman money into Hebrew money so that the temple tax could be paid. He also saw these moneychangers making loans at usury rates. He heard them and the animal sellers hawking their goods and services loudly as if they were in the market area. He saw the animal sellers bargaining and haggling for the price of their oxen, sheep, and doves. Instead of just providing a service and charging a reasonable rate, he saw worshippers being charged higher rates to acquire their sacrificial animals. He saw that reverence was not being paid to the fact that they were on holy ground and people were worshipping the Lord just feet away. He also saw people walking through the outer courts to get to the city on the other side of the temple grounds. Jesus saw that the temple grounds were becoming like the general city where norms and morals were those from outside the temple than from the life of true followers of Yahweh. The scene was a visual, aural, and spiritual cacophony. God is not the father of chaos. He wants His temple to be where nothing can detract from the sole purpose of life, which is to be in communion with the LORD. Jesus responded to this cacophony with zeal. He embodied what is said in Psalm 69:9, “For zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the reproaches and insults of those who reproach and insult You have fallen upon me.Zeal is single-minded devotion. In respect to God, God has zeal for His people and for the honor of His name. Jesus, as the Son of God, one of the Triune Godhead, could not let this desecration of His temple and His name go unchecked. He also could not allow the devotion of His children to be diluted by the populace of humanity. He had to protect His temple, name, and children.

Jesus had to act. So what did he do? According to Matthew 21:12-13 (AMP), He drove out all who bought and sold in the sacred place and he turned over the tables of the moneychangers and the chairs of those who sold doves. He told them “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” In Mark 11:15-17, He drove out those who bought and sold in the temple area and He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves. He also would not let anyone carry household equipment through the temple enclosure (making it a shortcut traffic lane). He said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all. You have turned it into a den of robbers.” Luke 19:45-46 says He went into the temple and began to drive out those who were selling saying, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a cave of robbers.” John 2:15-16 states that, “He made a lash/whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple enclosure-both the sheep and the oxen-spilling and scattering the brokers’ money and upsetting and tossing their trays. Then to those who sold the doves He said, ‘Take these out of here! Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise’.”
Jesus’ reaction to drive out the moneychangers and sellers of animals was merited on several levels. First, He was protecting the temple of the most high God. This area was to be the place in which Gentiles could worship the God of the Jews. This is the place in which they could worship the One they had come to know to be the true God. This ground was holy ground. Secondly, the sellers had made the outer courts into a market with all the hubbub of a typical city/town market day with the noise and smells. In addition, it had become a place to make money by not only asking higher than normal prices for sacrificial animals but also extracting higher fees to exchange money. Additionally, it became a bank where loans were made and usury was committed. The sight of a multitude of people transacting business, smelling the stench of animals, hearing the yelling of men selling their goods and declaring/arguing their prices made it an assault upon the person who was seeking to worship, but instead was confronted by chaotic secular life. In this chaos, the quiet a person needs of the soul to commune with God and worship and pray to Him was extremely difficult to acquire. This outer court, just like the inner ones was to be a place of meeting God. Instead, secular life and human greed had stormed its way into the temple and shattered the silence of mind and soul. Jesus was righteously angry at them for His Father’s glorious name and for His people. These people had traversed on holy ground with the shoes of secularism. The outer courts were no longer a place of prayer for the nations but were a market and bank. It had become Wall Street and Main Street. Jesus was reinstating the purpose for the temple by taking it with force.
What does this mean for us today then? The obvious message is that we should make sure to offer to our God our whole-hearted devotion and prayers. We should not allow our clothing, bank accounts, or businesses keep us from our relationship with our Creator, Redeemer God. If we will only allow one day to give to God, we should give back to God the Sabbath day of rest as a day of worship. If we are to be in continual worship and prayer to God, one day per week will not be enough. Any extra-Sabbatical days we choose to worship God will not keep us from having clothes, food, or shelter; God always provides for His children. The thing that can most be seen is we should not allow the world to take our one day of prayer and worship of God. The next thing that we can see is that we should not make our churches a place of business, to sell this or that or to promote any particular thing. It should be a place to come together to worship God corporately and to support others through fellowship.
What stood out to me more as I have studied this account in the Gospels this time is that the temple should represent our lives as children of God. At the inner core of ourselves, we should be in continual commune with God as we remember He is almighty, all powerful, all knowing, and always present (This would be the Holy of Holies.) We should also offer up sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, and repentance as we bow before the One True God. (This would be the Holy Place.) We should worship Him in communion with other followers recognizing from Whom we have life, provision, safety, and security. (The inner court of priests and Israelites.) Finally, we should be in a continual attitude of prayer being aware of our surroundings and the people who pass our way and offering up prayers for them, as well as prayers for our continual ability to recognize God’s voice, hear, and obey what He tells us to do in our everyday lives. God did not create a temple first then a world. He created the world, but when humanity chose not to follow His will, another place had to be consecrated and set aside by God for us to turn our hearts and minds intentionally back to Him. God created the whole world to be His temple, but humanity wrecked that with their will. Therefore, in a perfect world wholly devoted to God, the temple should represent our lives with God. When Jesus was cleansing the temple, He was also showing us that we should not allow the secular, worldly way to encroach upon our lives with the Lord. We should not allow things to come in and distract us, such as market affairs of how we are to be fed or to make money. These cares become not only a distraction but also a way for Satan to put a blockage between God and ourselves. When cares come in and we allow them to distract us, Satan has begun to create a wedge between the continual life with the Father and everyday matters. In the child of God who does not have this wedge, the child remembers that the Father provides everything needed to live in this world. This story becomes a parallel to our lives. We need to each stop and look to see if there are things that have gotten in the way of our being in God’s presence, of being able to commune with Him daily. If there are, then we need to allow Jesus to come in and “cleanse the temple of God” in our lives. There should be nothing that separates our minds from God, just as the temple veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. Sin did not separate us from God at the foundation of the world. Sin entered in when we exercised our freedom to choose and chose not to follow God. That is when the veil of the temple occurred. With the death of Christ, the temple veil was torn in two so that we could have access to the Father again.
If your “temple” has become crowded with cares, concerns, and things that distract you in your daily life from commune with the Father, Jesus is there to cleanse the “temple” for you. Jesus became the way for each of us to be able to come before the Father again; we just need to secure our lives from the distractions in the world. Jesus cleansed and His cleansing of the temple allows us to have access to God continually everyday, if we will seek His presence. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple can be metaphorically applied to our lives today. What is in your “outer court,” your everyday life, which has distracted you from your relationship with God and created a wedge in your daily commune with Him?