By J.R. Miller
Over and over again in the Gospels, we read of Jesus going to the feasts of the Jews and to their synagogue services. In this He set an example for us. We are to follow Him, putting our feet into the prints of His shoes. One of the things we may learn from Him, is the habit of attending Christian worship. He was always faithful in attending religious meetings. He began at the age of twelve to go to the Passover, and went every year as long as He lived. We ought in youth to form habits of faithful attendance upon the ordinances of religion. If young people do not learn in childhood to attend church, it is not likely they will ever form the habit. Children learn readily, and childhood habits do not easily forsake one. There is a great protection for moral and spiritual life--in regular church attendance. It keeps one continually under the influences of holy things. It brings one into the presence of God, where all the impulses are toward the better things. It aids in brotherhood life and Christian fellowship, by which great good comes to every Christian. It helps us to be more useful, tying us up with other good people in work for Christ. Every Sunday-school pupil ought to attend the church services. The example of Jesus should be followed in this as in all other things.
When Jesus entered the temple precincts, He was grieved by what He saw, "In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money." No doubt the evil practice had grown by degrees. Jews coming from foreign countries needed animals to offer as sacrifices. They would have to buy them at the market in the city and bring them to the temple. Men with an eye to business would establish themselves near the temple, so as to get business. By and by they would begin to herd their animals at the gate, and then soon within, in the court of the Gentiles. So gradual was the encroachment of the business, that no one felt shocked when at last the traffic was firmly established in the temple court. It was such a convenience, too, to have the animals and the money-brokers just at hand, that the people were slow to want things the old way.
It is thus that most wrong customs come in. First only the camel's nose is admitted, then he gets one great foot in, and then another, and by and by his whole immense body is in the tent--and the man has to get out. Thus the world creeps into the church and into the Christian's life. Thus perfectly legitimate business encroaches on the heart's sacred places until all that is tender and holy is driven out. We need to watch lest the world's traffic sets up its stands in the very temple of our lives, and desecrates the place where only God would be admitted. It is against the beginnings of the encroachments that we should guard. When the first approaches have been permitted, it is hard to check the advance.
Our Lord's act was not a mere outburst of temper, but an expression of His righteousness indignation. It was His Father's house in which He was standing, and He was also Lord of the temple and had a right to cleanse it. He was the Messiah and had authority.
The singular manifestation has an application also for us who are studying the story. Our hearts are now temples of the Holy Spirit. Christ comes to them to see if they are kept clean for the divine indwelling. What does He find when He comes? Does He hear the clatter of the world's noisy traffic, where only holy voices should be heard? Does He come upon herds of cattle driven up into the sacred precincts, where only God and God's messengers should tread? Does He see the broker's table--where the altar of incense should stand? If our heart is the temple of God--we should see to it that nothing undivine, nothing that is unworthy of God, shall ever invade its courts.
How is it, just now, in your heart? Is there any need for Christ to come with His whip of cords to drive out the traders, the sellers of cattle and doves, and the money-changers?
Very picturesque is the scene. "So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables!"
His next word set forth the character of the offense of the men He was reproving. "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" Marketing is legitimate business in the proper place. It is not sinful. There was nothing wrong in selling animals and doves for sacrifice, or in changing people's money for them, from foreign to Jewish coin. If these sellers and money-changers had been somewhere else, on some of the city streets, Jesus would not have disturbed them. It was because they were where they ought not to be--that His anger was so kindled against them. This is an important distinction. "If I regard iniquity in my heart--the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18).
Two or three years later, Jesus repeated this act in substance. This was at the beginning of His ministry, and the other was at its close. Whatever impression was made in His first cleansing of the Temple, had been forgotten. Things seem to have grown worse. Jesus said they had made the temple court a "den of thieves." His charge implied that the dealers and brokers were dishonest, overcharging, cheating and defrauding. Too often the same may be said of hearts made for God. Into them has come all manner of wickedness. But here we learn that things which in themselves are right enough--may become very offensive to Christ, because they are where they ought not to be.
It is right to have business and worldly work--indeed, not many are doing their whole duty in the world, unless they are carrying some share of what are called secular duties. However, there is a proper place for these things. Meanwhile, no matter how full our hands are of the common tasks, there ought to be a sacred place in our heart into which nothing of this world ever shall come. We are to be in the world to do our share of the world's work--but we are not to be of the world. The world is not to be in us. The problem in sailing a ship is not to keep the ship out of the water--but the water out of the ship! We are commanded, "Love not the world." Christ is to have our love while we are busy doing the things in the world that come to our hands.
So we get our lesson--that Christ did not condemn merchandising as something sinful--but found fault with it because it was in the place which ought to have been kept altogether for God.
And His disciples saw their Master's intense earnestness and heard His words, they were impressed with His holiness and His zeal in behalf of God's house. "His disciples remembered that it was written: Zeal for your house will consume me." (see Psalm 69:9). These words well describe not this one experience alone--but the whole of the human life of Jesus. The zeal of His Father's house consumed Him, wore Him out. It burned in Him a flame, like the flame of a lamp--until it burned out His whole life. He lived intensely. Love for God and for man possessed Him and ever constrained Him. He did His Father's will--until that will led Him to the cross. He so loved men--that His life was utterly consumed, poured out, in service for men.
One of His words was: "Whoever will save his life--shall lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake--shall find it." He never saved His life. He kept back absolutely nothing He had, which anyone needed. He never withheld Himself from the sick, the leprous, the demon possessed. He went everywhere, at every call. He never took rest. Virtue went out of Him continually, as He healed and comforted and helped others. His own life was poured out--to become life to those who lacked. His own joy was given--to be joy to those who were in sorrow. His own love was given--to fill the hearts of those that were loveless. So He lived--giving, giving, giving; loving, doing, and serving--until at last He died on Calvary to save sinners! So this sentence really tells the story of all His years. It becomes also a fitting motto for every follower of Christ. Zeal for Christ should consume us. "I have only one passion," said Zinzendorf, "and that is Christ!"
The Jews demanded "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" He answered in words which we are to hear again, as they were used with perverted meaning by the false witnesses on the trial of our Lord: "Destroy this temple--and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews quibbled over His words, and the Evangelist gives us the Lord's meaning: "He spoke of the temple of his body." Then he went on to tell us how in the light of the Resurrection, the mystery became clear. "When He was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had said." This is an illustration of the need of the "afterwards" to make many things plain. At the time, the disciples probably understood their Master's allusion to "this temple" no better than His enemies did. But by and by events occurred which threw light upon His saying, and then its meaning flashed out plainly and clearly. When the temple of His body had been destroyed by the Jews, and He had indeed raised it up in three days--then they understood.
Many other of Christ's words were in like manner enigmas to the disciples when they were spoken. All His references to the cross were such. They never realized that He must die, although many times during His last months He spoke of His coming death. However, when the cross had been set up and taken down, and when the grave had been sealed and then opened--the mystery vanished.
To all of us, even yet, there are many truths and teachings which cannot be made plain--until we have passed through certain experiences. We could never know that there were stars in the skies--if night never came. We cannot know the beauty of the divine promises--until we enter the needs the promises were given to meet. The same is true continually of events of our lives; their meaning is wrapped in mystery for us--until afterwards. The early story of Joseph of the Old Testament was dark and sad. It could not be understood. It seemed all strange and wrong. It was hard to see divine love and goodness in it. But when the story was finished--the wisdom, the love and the goodness are apparent. There are things in every life which, at the time, seem tangles and puzzles--but which afterwards reveal divine love and grace in every line. The lesson is: When you cannot see His hand--trust His heart, and wait.
"Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men." Evidently Jesus made a deep impression at this Passover. He performed many miracles or signs. What these were we are not told--but many believed on Him. Their faith, however, seems to have been impulsive, and not based on strong conviction. It was not such believing, as in the case of the disciples. Jesus saw into the hearts of the people who were ready to believe--and did not accept Him as true followers. "Jesus did not entrust himself unto them." Nothing came of His work at this time.
Our Lord's knowledge of men is very clearly stated here. "He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." We should not forget this. There is immeasurable comfort in this truth--if we are living truly. He knows our love for Him, thought it is so feeble that the world can scarcely know that we love Him at all. This was Peter's refuge when, after his threefold denial, Jesus plied him with the threefold question: "Do you love Me?" "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." It is a comfort for us to know that Jesus understands all our struggles, all our temptations, how hard it is for us to be godly; and that He has infinite patience with us. It is a comfort, too, for us to know that He is acquainted with the innermost things of other lives as well. He knows the plots, the schemes to do us harm, and is able to shield and protect us from them. What folly is hypocrisy, when we remember that Jesus knows all that is in man! How silly it is to talk about "secret sins," when the deepest thoughts of all hearts are known to Him with whom we all have to do!