Today I want to talk to you about worship. The God of the Bible is worthy of all the worship, adoration, and praise you can give Him. He deserves your undivided attention, complete loyalty, and enduring faithfulness. He is worthy of worship!
He is worthy of worship because He is a loving God, a faithful God, a merciful God, and a forgiving God. He deserves to be adored because He is majestic, full of splendor, and amazingly awesome. He is worthy of worship!
He merits all the respect you can give Him because He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is your Creator. He is your Heavenly Father. He is your refuge and shelter. He is Savior. He is your God. He is worthy of worship!
He is worth changing your schedule for. He is worth all the sacrifices He requires of you. He is worth every dollar you give, every prayer you pray, every blessing you give, every word of encouragement you share. He is worth giving up a vacation for. He is worth getting up out of bed and going to church for. He is worth setting aside some time every day to read His word and talk with Him about your day. He is worthy of worship!
He is holy and good. He is worthy of worship, but not everyone believes this. Today, we take a look at Jesus entering the temple of God and cleaning house. The temple of God had sensed to be a place of worship and become a den of thieves. Look with me at Mark 11:12.
The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it. 15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” 18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. 19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city. 20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!” 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (NLT)
The fig tree, the temple and the instructions about faith all go together. Let’s give our attention to the temple today. Mark begins verse 15 by saying, When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple…. Let’s set the scene.
To understand what Jesus is doing and the lessons learned from it you need to have some basic knowledge of the Temple layout.
- At the time it was called Herod’s Temple. The actual Temple where the priest would enter and offer sacrifices, prayers, incense and enter the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was at the center of the Temple Complex. Around the actual Temple were these fields that totaled about the size of ten football fields. That area was called the Court of Gentiles. This is where the Gentiles could worship God. This was their area to pray, sing, meditate, hear God’s Word, and worship God. This is the area where Jesus drove out people and overturned tables and you will see why in a minute.
- The day before, during late afternoon, Jesus quietly entered the Temple complex and examined what was occurring. Mark says Jesus was “looking around carefully at everything” (Mark 11:11, NLT). When Jesus was examining what was happening at the Temple what did He observe?
- He saw large crowds. During the Passover, the time Jesus was there, there were nearly 3 million visitors to Jerusalem. Thousands of people are coming and going through the Temple Courts.
- In these Temple Courts there were money-changers. Money-changers were needed. People would come from different areas with different types of coins. These money-changers would exchange the foreign money into Tyrian (tie-ree-yawn) coins.[i] This was a needed service. This money was used as a sacred offering to help support the Temple and it was used to buy sacrifices, oils, incense, and other things surrounding the sacrifices, offerings, feasts, and celebrations during Passover.
- Jesus also saw livestock. In the Temple courts there would have been stall after stall for animals to be used for the sacrifices. Most people could not bring their own animals for sacrifice, so they would buy their animals at Jerusalem. There would have also been venders selling things to go with the sacrifices and religious events such as wine and salt. An average Passover would have seen 260,000 lambs offered in sacrifice.
- Jesus also heard the noise. The noise in this Court of the Gentiles was terrific. Merchants shouted from their stalls to the customers, and noisy, haggling, pushy pilgrims jostled one another for position. The noise was heightened by the constant sounds of livestock. The aroma of the livestock, accentuated by the enclosure, made it like a county fair and the Stock Exchange all rolled into one!
- Jesus also would have noticed the Temple court yard was being used as a shortcut. The Temple grounds were being used as a convenient cross-town route. This had been forbidden to keep the traffic down to a minimum in order to provide a more worshipful atmosphere, but it was not being enforced.[ii]
What’s wrong with all that? That takes us to point 1.
Genuine worship invites people in
Number one, genuine worship invites people in. It is evangelistic in nature. Whenever we allow anything to push people away from worship, we have a problem. We should never let money, style, clothing, tradition, or anything else keep people from worshipping God as a church.
Mark tells us in verse 15, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.
Keep in mind, Jesus had carefully examined and observed what was going on in the Temple courts the day before. So, His actions were deliberate and thought out. This was no random act of violence or some explosion of anger. This was intentional, deliberate, and calculated. The Lord’s anger, though real, was perfectly holy.
Where thousands of Gentiles should have been worshipping it had been turned into a greedy marketplace, circus, zoo, and a place for the religious elite to get wealthier. Instead of the Temple being a place of worship, peace, and a place where people could experience God it had been turned into a den of thieves.
Mark tells us that Jesus did four things as a result of what He saw.
- Mark says Jesus began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. Why would Jesus do that? Let’s say you lived 100 miles away. You brought your own lamb for sacrifice. You get there. The lamb has to be inspected by one of the priest. The lamb must be without blemish or it cannot be used. The priest finds a blemish or so he says he finds one. You cannot use your lamb, so you must purchase a lamb that has been pre-examined by the priest and accepted as a sacrificial lamb. However, instead of it costing $100 it now cost $1600 (They would increase the price by 16x the normal amount).[iii] It was all about money. It was taking up precious space that was designed for people to worship God.
- Mark also tells us that Jesus knocked over the tables of the money changers. Instead of exchanging the foreign coins for the local coins at a fair price, they were hiking the prices up on these as well. The problem was not exchanging money, but they were charging outrageous exchange fees for this service. It was all about money. People needed money to buy the sacrifices, the Temple tax, food, lodging, oils, spices, and others things surrounding the Passover.
- Mark goes on to say that also knocked over the chairs of those selling doves. Why are we specifically told that Jesus knock over the chairs of those selling doves? The dove was one of the few sacrifices that the poor people could afford (Lev. 14:22). It was the sacrifice Joseph and Mary brought when they dedicated Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:24). Just like the other animals, the price of doves was 16x the fair amount. If a dove normally cost $10, it now cost $160. They were robbing from the poor people.
- Then Mark tells us that Jesus stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. Another way to translate this is, “He would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple grounds” (NASB). This dealt with the flow of traffic by the people who were using The Temple grounds as a shortcut. There were people who simply wanted to get somewhere and had no respect for the place of worship.
The Temple Courts was a huge religious circus! For those using it as a shortcut through the city, the Temple meant nothing to them except that it was in the way of their speedy travel. Jesus would stop these people from using the Temple as a shortcut.
They were to regard the temple as holy and dedicated to the worship of God rather than a mere convenience and means of profit. In addition to evicting the merchants, Jesus also stopped people from using the temple grounds as a shortcut to carry goods into the city as “he would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.”
I think I see something here. I wonder if people today try to use the church as a shortcut to increase their business, popularity, or to gain votes. Years ago I pastored a church. There was a man who decided to run for mayor of that town. He began attending the church I pastored. He eventually was baptized and became a member. Then on his advertisements he started placing on them that he was a member of East Sedalia Baptist Church. Once the election was over and he was not mayor, I never saw him at church again. Is it possible that some people try to use the church as a shortcut to something they want with no respect to what the church gatherings are all about?
Genuine worship experiences God
Number two, genuine worship experiences God through prayer. Worship involves talking to God and listening to God. Prayer is communicating with God. God saying something to you and you saying something to God.
Look carefully at verse 17 where Jesus said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer…. When Matthew and Luke tell about this event they give some extra insight. Luke tells that Jesus began to teach in the Temple courts over the next couple of days (Luke 19:45-48). Matthew tells us that the blind and lame came to Jesus to be healed and He healed them (Matt. 21:12-17). So, Jesus didn’t just clean out the Temple and leave. He cleaned out the temple, starting teaching God’s Word, and healing people. Mark highlights the teaching aspect.
When it comes to worship, worship involves two things. God talking to you and you talking to God. Worship is experiencing fellowship with God.
- Mark tells us that Jesus said, “The Scriptures declare….” The NASB translates it this way, “And He began to teach and say to them, ‘Is it not written….’” Jesus began to teach them God’s Word. God’s Word is God talking to you. What is amazing to me is Jesus knows that His time is coming to an end. He is days away from being crucified, but He spends these last few days teaching God’s Word. Time is running out for Jesus, but He spends that precious time teaching God’s Word in the Temple. This should tell us the value of teaching God’s Word and receiving good teaching from God’s Word.
Whatever church you go to throughout your life, make sure you go to a church that teaches God’s Word. They may not have the greatest band, they may not have the latest technology, they may not have an awesome children’s ministry or youth ministry, and they may not have an incredible building but do they have God’s Word and are they teaching it? One aspect of genuine worship is God’s Word is being taught and received.
What was one thing Jesus taught? Mark tells us that Jesus said, “My Temple will be called a house of prayer.”[iv] This is you talking to God. Prayer is at the core of worshipping God and the Temple was where people came to talk to God and to hear from God (Psalm 65:4) and to think about God’s greatness and be reminded of God’s power, presence, and glory (Psalm 27:4).
God’s people, you and me, should be a people of prayer. I think it’s important to pray privately about things that are on your heart personally. I think it’s important to pray with others about things that are on the heart of your group of believers. Throughout Scripture God is constantly calling us to prayer, teaching us how to pray, and giving us examples of people who prayed well.
When you come to church expect two things: to hear from God and to talk to God.
Before we move on, I want to point out something. Most of the time God is going to bless you and it’s going to feel like a blessing. When you were born again He blessed you with the Holy Spirit. He blessed you with a new heart and new nature. He gave you eternal life. He gave you a purpose and a spiritual gift to use to bless others with. He gave you a church family to worship with, pray with, grow with, and to love and be loved by. He guides you and protects you. He is a good God that loves to bless you.
However, there are times His blessings don’t feel like blessings. The Bible says He disciplines those whom He loves. God’s Word says that He refines us like gold being refined as by fire. The Bible tells us that God purges things out of us that need to be removed. Your body is called God’s Temple. When God entered into your life He knew that there would need to be times where the tables that are cluttered with your greed, your lust, and your selfishness will need to be overturned. The chairs of self-centeredness that you have so comfortably sat in will need to be kicked over. Just as Jesus needed to cleanse the Temple, the Lord will need to cleanse yours.
Genuine Worship accepts others
Number three, genuine worship accepts others. Worship takes many forms. If you go to an Hispanic church it will sound and feel a little different. If you go to an African American Church it will sound and feel a little different. If you go to a cowboy church, biker church, or inner city church they will all sound and feel different. If you go to a church in China, in Australia, or with a tribe in Africa they will all look, sound, and be different. God wants all peoples, all languages, all cultures, all races, and all nations to worship Him.
Jesus said in verse 17, My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. The Court of Gentiles around the Temple was the place for all the nations to gather and worship. Your language didn’t matter. Your skin color didn’t matter. Your culture didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor. All the nations were welcomed to worship the One true God.
However, there place at the Temple had been overtaken by greed, stables, money-changers, venders, and the like. They had been pushed out of the Temple Courts.
This causes me to ask two important questions.
- The first question, what do we do that pushes people away from God?
- The second question, what can we do to make a place for anyone to worship God? What can we do to make people feel wanted, loved, accepted, and valued to where they know they have a place with us who worship God?
When Jesus cleared out the temple courts He literally and symbolically provided a place for Gentiles and all the nations in the temple of God. Is there something we need to clear out of our lives as individuals or as a church to create a welcoming place for people who look and sound different that you? Genuine worship accepts others.
Genuine Worship can be faked
Number four, genuine worship can be faked. People can create what looks like worship and hide their greed and sins behind it. Instead of the Temple being a place for all nations and all peoples to come and worship God together in unity it had been turned it into a den of thieves.
Around Jerusalem were these hills that had numerous caves in them. Robbers and thieves would often hide in them. A den of thieves is the place to which thieves run when they want to hide. The religious leaders and other leaders were using the Temple and its religious services to hide their sins, selfishness and greed. I wonder if Jesus had in mind Jeremiah 7:11 where God says, “Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (NLT).
Genuine Worship will be opposed
Number five, genuine worship will be opposed. Not everyone who went to the Temple wanted to worship. Not everyone who goes to church wants to worship. Not all the religious leaders wanted to see God glorified. Genuine worship is in spirit and truth. Genuine worship confronts the lies and deceptions you have believed about you, others, and God. Genuine worship reaches and touches at the core of who people are. Genuine worship by nature brings about an internal change.
For genuine worship to occur there are times where tables need to be overturned, chairs kicked over, and change brought about. There are those who oppose genuine worship because it disrupts their preferences, traditions, agendas, and in some cases personal gain.
Mark says in verse 18, When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching. 19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.
This happens every year and in many churches. A pastor comes in and decides to bring about necessary changes. He wants their worship to be deeper and their spiritual growth to be greater. The people love him, but the leaders want him gone, so they plot to remove him.
What Jesus did and said that day came with power, and it did two things: it sealed his rejection by the religious leaders,[v] and it momentarily captured the people’s hearts. By His actions and his powerful teaching, the Lord signed His own death warrant.[vi]
God is worthy of worship. Don’t let worship get cluttered with other things. When you gather with others to worship God prepare your heart to receive what He says and to talk to Him and bring your lives to Him.
[i] The priest also would not allow money with images of idols on them to be used for Temple activities.
[ii] Even though there was an ordinance aimed at curbing traffic by forbidding anyone to enter the Temple Mount carrying his staff or sandal or wallet, or to use it as a shortcut, people still did so.
[iii] A person could have bought the animals for sacrifice outside the Temple, but the inspectors would fail the animals in order to force people to buy the preapproved animals sold in the Temple.
[iv] Jesus is quoting and teaching from Isaiah 56:7.
[v] The word “kill” in Greek is particularly violent. It was used in reference to the eternal torment of hell, to murder, and to the devastation caused by a storm.
[vi] It is surprising that all four Gospels record Jesus’ cleansing and yet none have any hint of resistance by the authorities to actually attempt to prevent Him from cleansing the Court of the Gentiles. Was this a manifestation of supernatural power or intervention? We simply don’t know, but remember that this area was around 10 football fields in size and it seems to be an amazing event that one man could pull off. Of course, this is not just any man, but is the God-Man and He is filled with righteous anger and with the Holy Spirit! Some people think that part of the crowd (the Jews) who were prophetically knowledgeable might have seen His actions as fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3 which says, “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. (NLT)