For the past year, I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach the third year students of the STEP program at EMU Lancaster on prayer. These students were all preparing themselves for pastoral ministry and I had the great opportunity to journey with them into the great world of prayer using Foster’s book, Prayer, as the primary text. By the way, if you want a really great book on prayer, I highly recommend it. Anyway, as you know some of the greatest benefits in teaching a class is the personal revelation that you as the teacher receive in your preparation. In my reading, I came upon a single Bible verse that has stayed with me for months “My father’s house shall be a house of prayer…” (It is in all four gospels, but I am looking at it from the Perspective of Luke)
It is intriguing to me because in all of my studies of the cleansing of the temple, it was always about that; the cleansing of the temple with very little if anything said about Prayer or the house of prayer. Of course, for me as a pastor who should be tending a “House of prayer”, I wondered what that would look like. I found myself asking questions like: What did Jesus mean by “House of Prayer”? And… are we a house of prayer or are we, like the Pharisees, doing everything but being a house of prayer? What was really Jesus angry about? So I began a journey… a search… a quest… to learn more about this “house of prayer” in the gospel of Luke.
One of the more important events in Jesus’ life on earth was his triumphant entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. So you would think that what he does immediately after has to be pretty important right? If you look in your Bibles at verse 45 in chapter 19, Jesus wept over Jerusalem and then he entered into the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. Now, if we look at the other gospels, we have some more specifics… John tells us that there were money changers and persons selling doves. Now, I don’t want you to think it had become the local central market because they had run out of room in down town Jerusalem. That is not what was going on here. What they were doing was actually very important in temple worship.
This scene happened during the Passover Feast when many Jews would journey from wherever they were in the world to Jerusalem in order to celebrate there. It was a spiritual pilgrimage. But, you can imagine, that for many, it would be really hard to carry live doves or any other animal with them on a trip that could take weeks even months! It was much handier for them to purchase two doves once they arrived. They needed an acceptable offering to present before God.
Now to the money changers, many of these pilgrims came from countries and places that would have had a different currency. For example, they would have been forbidden to use Greek or Roman coinage because of the human image on them so they would need to exchange their money for the appropriate currency in Jerusalem. Now, all of this was necessary for temple worship to happen. You can imagine that a great deal of energy and care went in to keeping all of the rules and regulations in order for their prayers to be presented in the temple. The only problem with all of this, it seems, is that they were pocketing some on the side and making money off of these innocent pilgrims who were wanting to worship God.
So, you might be asking, why was Jesus so angry if they were doing what they were supposed to be doing? And that doesn’t seem near as bad as some of the other instances we read about in the gospels. Why the frustration and anger? It seems a little over the top, Right? Well in part, he names it when he says that the temple had been turned into a den of robbers… but I believe that we have another answer. Jesus says on the road leading into Jerusalem as he weeps: “you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Jesus was saddened even angered that Israel had become so entrenched in the program… the right money, the right offerings, the right form of worship, etc. that they missed the whole point! Him! Here was the Son of God standing right there before them and they were blinded by their temple agenda!
One of the purposes of temple worship was to seek God and to listen for fresh revelation; to pray for the Messiah and for deliverance. All of the stories throughout the Old Testament are about seeking God for direction or revelation, and then following that direction or revelation. Perhaps the greatest example we have of this is the image of the children of Israel following the cloud by day and the pillar of fir by night. God was forming them from the beginning to seek Him for direction and guidance in all things. Almost all of the times that God was angry with the children of Israel were when they turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; when they would quit listening and quit seeking. And when that happened, corruption and sin was inevitable.
So, there was God in the flesh and they completely missed it! Not only that, but all of their selling and trading and bartering was going on in the court of the Gentiles so not even they would have the opportunity to hear and recognize Jesus, not to mention they were pocketing a little on the side and making it very difficult for people. Jesus was loud and clear! Get your heads out of the sand and get about the business of God’s people: prayer! The father’s house is not about the programs or even the right form or style of worship. It is first and foremost about prayer. My father’s house will be a house of prayer; a place of seeking and finding God!
I believe this is an important message for the church today. We all can get so caught up in the program, the correct form, our likes and dislikes, if church is meeting our needs or not, etc. and miss what we are supposed to really be about: being a house of prayer, a place where we together seek fresh revelation from God. What do I mean about revelation? The revealing of God’s self! Our primary purpose as a church is to be praying for and looking for how God is revealing God’s self around us, through us, and in us so that we can faithfully follow Him.