In John 2, Jesus enters the temple for an act that would signal the beginning of his public ministry. What takes place next is quite dramatic:
“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (John 2:13-17).
What Jesus does here is more than radical. Tell me, if you wanted to announce your ministry, would you go into a megachurch and start turning over tables and driving people away? Jesus was up to more here than just showing his authority. He was demonstrating that he was about to turn things upside down in every way.
Yet when Jesus began this upheaval, he was overturning more than the moneychangers’ trade. He was overturning a religious system that for millennia had relied on animal sacrifices to please God. Christ was stating in essence, “Your relationship to the Father will no longer be based on sacrifices of sheep and goats and doves. It’s going to be based on my once-for-all-time sacrifice for you.”
That scene in the temple offers an analogy for our time. A lot of congregations today are filled with noise and activity. They have many programs in place, from overseas mission trips to local outreaches to dozens of small fellowship groups. The worship services can be full of bright lights, powerful sound and amazing energy. Yet sometimes amid all this lively activity something is missing at the center: Jesus himself.
I’m not suggesting we start turning over book tables in church foyers. But without Christ as the focus of our activities, our church is dead. No matter how hard we work to do things that serve and honor his name, none of our “sacrifices” in themselves can achieve true kingdom results. From the outside our fellowship may look righteous, but if we don’t maintain a focus on Jesus we’ll be a church full of dead men’s bones.
As Jesus overturned all those tables he cried out, “Take these things away!” (John 2:16). Likewise today, our temples are to be cleansed of anything that takes the place of his rightful lordship. God sends Jesus to rid us of those things, to prepare room for the things he wants to fill us with. He wants our temple to be once again a house of prayer, faith and kingdom victory.