A few years back, Betty and I traveled to Alaska. To get there, we needed to cross into Canada. Now, we’re used to being able to travel between states without any interruptions in our travels. There is no checkpoint between Illinois to Indiana. But before we could enter Canada, we needed to present our passports and state our purpose to the satisfaction of their border agent. Everything worked out fine; evidently Canada thinks that we are okay in their estimation. Barriers, checkpoints, and delays are the key to our next day in John’s Gospel.
At this point, John changes from day by day, recounting to a series of vignettes. Scenes and events which stand alone and yet continue to tell us more about Jesus. In John 2:13-22 we see an entirely different side of Jesus.
“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:13–22, NASB95)
One big question straight off is the differences of timing between John’s gospel and those of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John places this event early in Jesus’ ministry, the others as part of the days leading up to Jesus’ trial. There are several proposals, but in the final analysis, we don’t know for sure why the accounts differ in that way. Could Jesus have done it twice? Did one or the other shift the event in time? We are again reminded that the Gospel writers were not approaching this as a historian but to encourage a spiritual outcome. Let’s not allow that minor conflict become a barrier to the purpose of this event.
In the verses above, we see a very different side of Jesus than we’re perhaps used to seeing. Jesus is anything but meek and mild as He upsets the money changers and releases the animals. There is anger here as he confronts the commerce in the Temple courtyard. This is not a quiet suggestion to perhaps think about making a slight alteration – this is bold, politically incorrect action to upset what had become normal. And what was it that drove Jesus to this extreme? Was this all about money, about commerce, or about something altogether different?
On the surface, it seems to be the commerce of changing money and selling sacrificial animals. Making merchandise and profit on what was intended to be an exercise of faith. Now, taking the Jewish leader’s side for a moment, the purpose of the commerce was perhaps originally intended to assist those traveling from far off. It’s not easy to safely transport a lamb across the Mediterranean or sun-drenched deserts. But what started as a help became a barrier and by some accounts a corrupt system.
When we look at it that way, we’ll see that Jesus was acting consistently with His mission and purpose of removing barriers between people and God. Religion tends towards erecting barriers, even though often well-intended. But let’s not put all of this on the leaders, we too erect barriers sometimes. Barriers of prejudice, judgmentalism, theology, law, culture, rejection, guilt, and complacency. These barriers are reinforced with unforgiveness, murmuring, backbiting, gossip, and cold love. The net result is that it becomes more difficult for others, and often ourselves, to draw near to God.
At this point, we could look at thousands of different ways people hinder people from God. But let’s take a look at ourselves. What barriers, attitudes and actions, have we adopted which keep us from drawing near to God? Here are a few words to consider – pride, shame, guilt, unforgiveness, self-centeredness, time, profit, other people, reputation, persistent sin, other desires. Maybe one or two of those words stood out for you. Jesus wants to overturn those tables too, clearing the path to prayer, worship, and forgiveness in the temple of our hearts.