Before we get to the cross on Good Friday, let’s pause and spend some time in the temple.
Sometimes on our blog, we take a break from program updates and inspiring stories to reflect on why we do what we do. At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, which is also a great time to consider how our lives tell the story of the new life Jesus makes available to everyone! Join us for this powerful and challenging Easter reflection with Content Specialist, Lindy Brown.
In the week between palm branches announcing Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem and the morning His tomb was found empty, Jesus spent most of that time away from crowds. It was the final week of His life. For the most part, there were no notable miracles, no grand spectacles.
But Monday was different.
And what happened on Monday is essential to remember for the work of the Church in the world today.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us this is the day that Jesus walked from Bethany to Jerusalem on that day. It would be Passover soon; preparations were being made. (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:12-17, Luke 19:45-46).
We’ve heard the story: Jesus enters the temple and finds it filled with market stalls and money changers. And then Jesus cleared the courts.
Each of the gospels shares the story in a slightly different way—that Jesus stopped to unbraid a rope, poured out coins or tossed tables. Whatever people were carrying, Jesus threw from their hands. Everyone selling was driven to the streets, along with the sheep and oxen. We can imagine pigeons darkening the sky as they fled cages and bewildered travelers trying to find safety in the chaos.
But all this wasn’t a result of Jesus finally losing His temper or being surprised by what he found there. After all, the gospel of John records Jesus travelling up to Jerusalem for multiple festivals a year over three years—Jesus had seen all this before.
What the Gospels tell us is that this was the very first thing Jesus did in his last week of life, and it was the very last public event before the crucifixion. I believe everything Jesus does is done with intention. So, what can we learn by looking at His last public act before the crucifixion?
Have you wondered why Jesus made such a big spectacle on this particular day?
To understand it all, lets walk through the temple with Jesus, and hear His words. This is one of the very few accounts of Jesus’ life that all four Gospels share in one form or another because it was so important to understanding Jesus. This one event is so closely linked to why Jesus came and what our work in following Jesus is all about, so before we get to the cross on Good Friday, let’s look at what happened on Monday and spend some time in the temple.
The Jewish temple was a place to worship the one true God, and it was a magnificent structure. There was beauty, order, symmetry and abundance. If we were to walk beside Jesus as he made his way to the temple on that Monday, we would have seen it from afar. Tall walls and expansive spaces, all constructed to communicate that God dwelt among His people.
Jesus would have looked at that structure and known how the courts and the structure lead progressively to the Holy of Holies—a place behind a curtain that held the Ark of the Covenant and the presence of the Most Holy God.
As we walked beside Jesus, we would have approached the first of four courts. The four main courts of the temple were designated to include different groups of people, and groups were forbidden from entering a court beyond their own—this simultaneously demonstrated reverence and ensured a place reserved for those with less power in society to worship. There was one court for priests, one for Israel (Jewish men), one for Jewish women and children, and lastly, there was a large, paved area simply known as the court of the Gentiles. It surrounded the other courts so that people from other nations could bring their sacrifices, observe worship, hear teaching that occurred on the steps and offer prayers to God.
It was this first court, the court of the Gentiles, that Jesus entered that Monday of Holy Week. And it was the place where this significant spectacle occurred.
Because it was Passover, faithful people—both Jews by birth and those who worshipped God from other nations—had come to offer sacrifices and celebrate the deliverance from sin that God provides. Many people travelled great distances to do so. The sacrifice of animals was integral to worship at this time, but it was not always possible to bring an animal along on these journeys so devoted pilgrims could buy them at the temple. This became a lucrative business and resulted in tables of money changers exchanging currency. Most significantly, it was a clear exploitation of people’s desire to worship.
This is plenty of reason for Jesus to express holy anger, no matter where it occurred. But the fact that it took place here, in this sacred space of the temple, gives even more reason for holy rebuke—and Jesus tells us precisely the reason.
The Words of Jesus
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus shouts above the crowd’s clamour and the cattle, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:17)
Do you see it? This court was the designated place in the temple where someone born outside the Jewish family could come to learn about and worship God. The outer courtyard wasn’t a landscaped garden or a parking lot—don’t think of it as the waiting room or the cheap seats. This generous space was the temple as much as any other part—built with the purpose of declaring what the prophets had spoken about since the days of Abraham—that one day all nations would be blessed. This was the space built for the countries.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
To minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.” Isaiah 56:6-7
Prophesies like this one above spoke of a day when the boundary lines between who belonged to God and who did not would be redrawn and all people welcomed in. But on that day, Jesus entered the court of the Gentiles, He found it full of extortion and exploitation rather than reverence.
No one could seek God or see God in a place like that.
People had turned the temple space into something that was all about themselves and not about God. It no longer told the truth about the purpose of the temple. If the religious leaders didn’t make a space that welcomed the outsider, how could anyone believe that God would? In the eyes of Jesus, filling the court of the nations was an injustice against the outsider and the vulnerable, as it polluted and profaned the purpose of the space that was created for them to worship God. And Jesus refused to let this injustice and irreverence go without making a statement about it. A statement that would’ve been unmistakeable for anyone in the crowd.
That is one of the reasons Jesus came, to bring the outsiders in, to make way for them to draw near to God.
“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” John 1:18 and “Anyone who has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father.” John 14:9 (see also John 7:28-29, Hebrews 1:1-3)
At Easter, we remember that Jesus came to deal with our sin problem and create a space—in a relationship with Him—where all people could truly know God and belong to His Kingdom. This is why Jesus said that He is the true and better temple (John 2:16-22, Matthew 12:6). And why when Jesus left the earth, He gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to reside within us permanently, making us, the Church, the new temple of God in our world.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:20-22)
All that is to say, when the world wants to know who God is and what God wants from humanity, they’ve got us. We’re it. It’s up to us, to tell the truth.
And what made Jesus so furious that He turned ropes into whips was that the place where people came to see who God is was so full of distractions and injustice that no one could see God.
It’s good to ask ourselves—when people look at the church today, what do they see?
How do we make sure our lives clearly show others who God is?
A good place to start is by doing what Jesus did. Jesus pushed far from the holy crowds to sit in the dirt with beggars. He called those living in poverty rich beyond measure. Jesus stopped the self-important speeches of adults to bring babbling babies onto his lap. Rather than ignore the endless sea of empty stomachs, He instructed His followers to hand out sandwiches. Ultimately, He gave up a life of infinite worth so the unworthy could gain eternal life.
That is how we know what the love of God is like. That is what the world needs to see in the Church.
Our actions are something people see—it’s the new court of the nations—and people will make decisions about God based on what they see.
Only sometimes, there isn’t room for them to see at all because we’ve filled that space with other things. Consumerism. Conflicts. Competition. Self-righteousness. Abuses and exploitation of all kinds. Things that Jesus is driving out, one by one.
As we are cleaned by Jesus, we who are God’s temple in the world are also making space for people to encounter God’s presence.
Showing the world that love matters and justice matters.
The voiceless women, the poor, the children, the outsider matter.
And as we spend our lives repairing the things that Jesus called broken and being agents of reconciliation in a world that rarely puts down its fists, we become that space. A place where the world can draw near to a God who has made a space that is clear and wide and beautiful.
This Easter, may we humbly and prayerfully ask Jesus to clean us from anything that doesn’t tell the truth about the God who loves us. May God cultivate in us the same passion we see in Jesus for all people to draw near to God. May we have a heart that loves like His and a capacity for mercy beyond what is possible on our own.
The mission to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name is something we do because children matter to God. Those facing poverty, hunger and injustice are known to Him by name. Loving others is how Jesus said we could love Him, and this is the way the world would know His true followers.
This Easter, consider that Jesus died to invite the outsiders into the kingdom of God, people who couldn’t find their way or earn their place. Is that the truth people see when they look at your life?
Wishing you a blessed Easter from all of us at Compassion Canada