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.’” – Matthew 21:12-13
The city of Jerusalem was buzzing. The divisive prophet from Nowheresville, Galilee, who had been stirring up masses of people as of late, was now riding through the city streets on a donkey being hailed as a king. All eyes were on him. There were whispers that this man could be Israel’s Messiah, but no one knew for sure. What would the prophet’s first move be? How would he establish himself as the rebel leader everyone wanted him to become? The next part of the story would tear down all expectations.
In what has become one of my favorite scenes in the New Testament, we see the Son of God rushing into the temple courts, woodworking muscles flexed, and turning over the tables and benches of those upholding systems of spiritual injustice. Coins were scattered to the beaten floor. Animals were disturbed. Merchants stood aside baffled. Jesus was wrecking the temple, and no one knew what to do.
The timing of this table-turning was no accident. Jesus waited until the final week of his ministry, when he had everyone’s attention, to carry out this seemingly treacherous act. The Jews would have interpreted this as an act of betrayal. The Messiah was supposed to turn the tables over on Rome, not their own religious leaders. But perhaps Jesus was making a bigger point. For himself, his followers, and the entire world, everything was about to be turned over.
Could this move of spiritual zeal be interpreted as a foreshadowing in what was next for Jesus’ story? In John’s account, some Jews asked Jesus what sign he could show to prove his authority in the temple wrecking. He responded by saying, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:18). Though the temple would eventually be destroyed in 70AD, Jesus was speaking more figuratively about what was to come. In the coming days, he would overturn much more than the fleeting systems of man which oppress the poor and bastardize God’s truth. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus would bring an end to the reign of sin and death which had held the world in spiritual bondage since the fall of man.
Everything was about to change, and in preparation for these coming changes, Jesus begins the week with an intentional time of wrecking the temple. As we begin our journey to the resurrection this week, what better way could we prepare our hearts than to give the Holy Spirit room to flip some tables in our lives?
When Jesus wrecked the temple, spiritual practices which had become commercialized and exploitative were uncovered for all to see. By pointing those around him back to Scripture (Isaiah 56:7), Jesus was able to draw people back to the purity which the spiritual practice originally held. Now your church community may not be selling doves to rip off your poor neighbors, but is it possible that there are other spiritual practices/systems which have become distorted over time in your church ministry? Could there be systems of favoritism which have gone unnoticed by all those in leadership positions? Is there a culture of guilt permeating from a particular discipleship model? Or perhaps there are unrealistic expectations which are causing some to burnout? The possibilities are endless. Unless we take time to reflect, confess, and pray together about these problems, our communities will continue to struggle silently. As leaders, we need to give those we lead an opportunity to “wreck the temple.”
At Missio Dei Church, we have made it an annual tradition to hold an event on the Monday of Holy Week called “Wreck the Temple.” We ask our missional communities to gather and discuss issues which have become frustrating about the church. Non-believers and believers alike, who regularly interact with our community, gather to honestly vent some of their concerns about either Missio Dei or the Church at large. Once these problems have been identified and discussed, we pray together for the Holy Spirit to take the lead.
No community is perfect, and no community leader is perfect. We all have blind spots. You may not have time to organize a formal “Wreck the Temple” event this week, but it’s never too late to provide those you lead with an opportunity to be honest about their frustrations with the church. By giving someone a chance to be heard, you are empowering them to develop their own vision and values for the church. This kind of empowerment goes a long way in developing a missional culture and ensures that the community is moving in the same direction with a pure heart.
As we enter into Holy Week, let’s invite our communities to be houses of prayer. Jesus turned the tables over on sin and death so that we could ultimately experience the richness of his Kingdom here and now. If there is anything hindering that mission, we want it gone.
“May the Father shine His light into every dark place of His Church, may Jesus always remain the center of worship and praise, and may the Holy Spirit restore and energize the spiritual practices and systems by which we find life. Amen.”