And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see the great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Mark 13: 1, 2

The temple in Jerusalem was impressive. There were beautiful finishes throughout its interior, and the outer walls were constructed by skilled stone masons and stood in proud relief against the surrounding city. As it was constructed upon a hill, it looked out over the city as a form of both guardian sentinel and also as a beacon to guide those who were seeking God into His presence. At least that was how it was supposed to function. In fact, the temple was just a building. Its impressive architecture and its grand furnishings did absolutely nothing to bring people any closer to knowing God. The leadership was too far gone along a path of corruption to care about what God wanted, and they were so consumed with the pursuit of personal gain that they failed to seek to truly serve His purposes on earth much less to aspire toward heavenly things. As regarded the temple that Jesus and His disciples were visiting that day, it would be gone in only a few dozen more years. Yet, Jesus is looking far beyond that moment, and He is speaking to an audience that was not contemplated by His hearers that day, either.

We, too, are builders. We plan and fabricate wonderful buildings with amazing details and with feats of engineering that would amaze those earlier workers in stone. We also put together plans and ideas in ways that bring into existence entities and organizations to provide order and structure to our worldly and sacred endeavors. As was true of the temple when Jesus was looking upon it, so it is still true today; there is nothing inherently wrong with putting up buildings or with developing systems and structures to operate our businesses, governments, and ministries. When Jesus was looking upon the temple, the problem was not in the structures; rather, it was in the hearts of the people. In our times, the same thing is true. We can also become worshipers of stone and brick idols that are in name alone places where God is to be found. We can craft governance systems and leadership models that make everything work smoothly and that contemplate every possible contingency or issue that might arise, but if these rules and regulations do not direct us to the foot of the cross, then they are worth nothing beyond the ashes that will remain at the end of days.

God desires that everything that we do, each thought that we have, and all of the plans that we devise be focused upon and committed to Him. He does not leave permission or allowance for there to be anything held out or reserved for our personal or secular lives. As we go about our business enterprises, they should operate as if Christ were the final authority in all of the decisions that are made. When we dwell among our neighbors, Christ wants us to place Him fully and clearly on display in that community. The government that we permit and the one that we encourage is to be run out of righteousness, with justice as its great concern, and in a holy fear of the Lord and with regard for the way of the cross. Finally, Christ calls upon us to gather in the fellowship of His Word with grace, love, and peacemaking as our unbreakable bond and with service to Christ as our greatest mission. When these things are true, the temple that is constructed is built up out of eternal materials as it is formed in the hearts of people and is held up for all time by the spiritual bond that is created by the hands of the Master Builder.   

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 

Mark 11: 15

This passage is not about the bake sale in the lobby of a church that helps to fund a missional trip to Mexico, Africa, or to other foreign lands such as coastal cities in California or Oregon. Yet, perhaps it does apply to those modern-day events that take place in many churches, too. The temple was to be a place where people who believed in God could come together to worship and to grow closer to the Lord. It was also to be a gathering place for seekers to draw nearer to God and to be influenced by and taught out of God’s Word. With the temple’s rigid class separations this last purpose was being severely hindered by these acts of commerce, for the Court of the Gentiles was both the place where the buyers and sellers congregated but it was also the only part of the temple where seekers and even where converted gentiles were allowed to join in worship of God.

All of this trade related activity had effectively subverted the purpose of the temple and the mission of the priests. A place, an in-gathering of people, and service to the Lord were all redirected into serving the desires of people over God’s wishes and desires. So, Jesus was troubles in His heart and saddened over how far from the Father’s wishes and intent that His people had strayed. In His sadness, frustration, and anger Jesus took action that was intended to change the situation and to dramatically demonstrate the seriousness of the offense against God that had been committed. The things that Jesus did were not small in their impact or in their scope. He was disrupting a very lucrative commercial system, and He was also calling upon both the operators of these businesses and the officials of the temple to change these firmly entrenched ways of conducting the operations of the temple. All of this would involve big changes in their plans and in their practices, and we all know that change, especially big change in institutions like the church, is never easy to implement or to accomplish.

For most of us, when we read or hear this account of what Jesus did that day in the temple in Jerusalem, we form a Sunday school image of a scene from the distant past; so, this event is set far back in time and far away in place. Yet, the point of this story is not the first century temple or even the nature and the character of the Jewish temple officials then; rather, it is all about the way that people in all times and dwelling everywhere engage in our gathered in worship of God. Jesus cares about our focus and our intent, and He is saddened when God gets lost in the business of doing church so that prayer is made subordinate, singing praises becomes an obligatory time filler, and engaging with the Spirit led study of God’s Word is set aside for the sake of appeasing the clock. Additionally, Jesus is truly angered when what we do and the attitudes that we portray hinder people who are seeking to find God and desiring to get to know Him in the context of the love and care of His body are hindered from that quest in much the same manner as were the Gentiles in Jesus’ day. No, the bake sale is not the same as the example of the pigeon sales that so infuriated Jesus; unless, its purpose and intent are something other than worship and praise for the Lord who provides all, loves, everyone, and sustains all hope.