Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day 2: Easter Week Devotional

Day 2 Easter Week Devotional
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Matthew 21: 12-13
 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”

So why did Jesus go berserk in the temple?

And no, I don’t mean to be irreverent.  The word berserk means someone who is angry and excited about something.  It comes from an Old Norse word meaning ‘clothed in bearskin’ – a warrior.   Yes, I love etymology.

And it is obvious that Jesus was going to war . . .

He was going to war with ignorance.  Jesus was upset with people who were playing religion and ignoring those who were serious about finding God.

The temple was divided into several different areas.  There were areas for high priests, priests and regular folks like us.  One particular area was a large court a few acres wide that was reserved for those who weren’t Jewish.  It was an area that was separated from the rest of the temple by a half wall.  It was meant to be a place to pray and consider the holiness of God.

Anyone who really loved God would have been there talking to people who came from all over the world to consider the claims of Yahweh and discover more about Him. 

Sadly, that rarely happened because it was also a convenient place for people to cut through the temple from one side to the other.  Since the temple was so enormous you could cut a good 5 or 10 minutes off your walking by cutting through the court of the Gentiles.  So you, your animals, your cart you are pulling - whatever - it became a thoroughfare for people who really didn't value people who didn't know God.

In fact, the religious leaders needed a spot to sell their religious paraphernalia (and what better place than where there is foot traffic?) so they lined the area with points of sale.  Sheep, cattle, birds - all sold in the area that was supposed to be reflective and meditative.  The place became more of a noisy and smelly flea market rather than a contemplative place to pray.

More than noisy and smelly, the place was dishonest. This is why Jesus called it a den of thieves.  Priests who were inspecting animals for the sacrifice avariciously rejected many animals so that they would have to buy the animals sold at the temple.  Prices were jacked up in the thousands when it would have been hundreds elsewhere.  Money was changed on scales that were improperly balanced so that innocent pilgrims were rooked out of money.

On top of all of that, the people who conducted all of this shady business gave kickbacks to the high priest.  It wasn’t an issue of the religious leaders not knowing about the sketchy business, they were lining their pockets with dirty money.

Can you begin to get an idea of why Jesus was so mad?

So listen to the heart of God in Jesus' anger:

"Don't be a barrier to the love of God."

And it is not just the Pharisees that need to learn this lesson . . .

We too line the avenues of God's temple with all kinds of stuff to sell that only gets in the way of the truth.

For years I thought smoking was a sin.  It may be, but when I was in high school I figured it was something that God wanted you to work on in order to come to Him.  I was wrong.  But there were quite a few people that felt my disapproval as they lit up.  I am sure they equated my disapproval with my faith.  I was a barrier to God's unconditional acceptance.  

When I was in my early twenties I was surprised that someone was a Christian and a "pro-choice" Democrat.  I worked really hard to conceal my shock.  This was a woman who was confiding to me that she never feels welcome at her church because of her politics and I was probably giving off the same vibe that led to her leaving the church.  It was about that time that I started to see that I was imposing my ideas on people about what God valued.  Worse than that . . . my prejudices were imposing a barrier to God's love.  I may not agree with her, but that shouldn't be a barrier to God's love. 

As you show up in church today . . . look out for those who feel like foreigners to God's love.

Remember that today and next week there are going to be people showing up at church who routinely don't because they feel like they are being rooked.  Some of them genuinely are.  They are being sold something that just isn't true.  They don't need to clean themselves up.  They don't need to say the right things or do the right things for God to love them.  And the only person they might hear it from is you.  

Care for the person who is coming because it is a semi-annual event.  Show them the love of Christ and the acceptance of the Father.  As best you can, steer them away from avenues of shady theology that makes people feel judged and help them see the light of grace for the first time.  Do everything you can to remove the barriers to God's love. 

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