When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”John 2:13-17, NIV
In revisiting this passage today, I was reminded that there’s a message in it for those of us who are worship leaders. “In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money” (v.14). It’s likely that business was being transacted in the outer courtyard—the Gentiles’ courtyard. This is where Gentiles were allowed to worship. In Mark 11:17 we read, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.'” Turning the courtyard into a marketplace would have prevented the Gentiles from worshiping.
The Jews had allowed commerce—through the selling of sacrificial items meant for worship—to impede true worship. Here is the message for us. We mustn’t let anything we do impede others from truly worshiping their Lord.
In what ways might we inhibit true worship? I’m sure the ways are endless, but here are two which are connected:
1. Doing all the right things outwardly, but not obeying the voice of the Lord (1 Samuel 15:22)
2. Worshiping in appearance, but not worshiping through our lives. Another way to say it: being different Monday through Saturday than on Sunday. “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to Me. … Take your evil deeds out of My sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (See Isaiah 1:10-20.)
The selling of cattle, sheep and doves would seem, on the surface, like it would help worshipers who came from far away or who didn’t raise animals to bring their offerings to God. We may think that phoning it in on Sunday morning won’t impede others from worshiping because they can’t tell our hearts aren’t there. But they see how we live and love.
The good news is that we don’t have to let the weight of this bring condemnation. It’s all by God’s grace—we mess up but He offers grace and forgiveness. The very next verse in Isaiah says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (v.18). And Romans 8:1-4 says,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (ESV)
Oh Lord, never let me inhibit others from worshiping You! Thank you for Your forgiveness and grace for when I have unknowingly done so. May You be glorified by and in us this week.