THE JESUS-CLEANSED CHURCH
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 30, 2015
12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
— Matthew 21:12-17, ESV
Many books have been written in my lifetime about the church. Most of the modern ones deal with ways and means to make the church grow, as if the church was a business to be marketed and managed in capitalistic ways. Writers suggest that the best plan for a big church is to be “user friendly” or “seeker sensitive” or “purpose driven” or simply “the church of what’s happening now.” Most of them are long on philosophy and strategy, but short on theology and Scripture.
I have a good friend with a faithful heart who developed an unhealthy obsession with church growth books. Another friend gave him a new book as a gift, a leather-bound beauty with the words “Church Growth Manual” embossed on the front. He opened it up and there it was, a copy of the Holy Bible!
I for one believe that the church should grow. But, it should grow God’s way. And God’s ways are not our ways. They often seem peculiar, paradoxical, even painful. They can be seen in this picture of Christ cleansing the Temple, and can be used for cultivating a Jesus cleansed church.
Jesus Cleansed the Temple
Jesus wanted people to come to the Temple, enjoy the Temple, and gain blessings and benefits from their experience at the Temple. But first, He had to cleanse the Temple.
Jesus removed from the Temple the things, or rather the people, He did not like. That’s right, there are people that God does not like, even hates (ref. Proverbs 6:16-19; Ecclesiastes 3:8; Jeremiah 12:8; Hosea ; Malachi 1:3/Romans ). Jesus even got rough with few of them in this episode and made a big, violent scene. This doesn’t fit with the modern picture of Jesus Christ, which more resembles a grinning, blinking Joel O’Steen than the serious and sometimes stern faced Messiah. What made Jesus so mad?
The Lord was angry at those who were using religion as a means of extorting money from other people, and he literally kicked them out of the Temple area. They had used the most sacred time of the year, the Passover, to play upon people’s emotions and pick their pocketbooks. Those who needed to exchange currency to give offerings and those who needed to purchase animals for sacrifices were price-gouged up to fifty times the regular rate. At least they were not as bad as the pre-reformation peddlers of indulgences, or the modern televangelists, who charge an infinite markup for their services, which are worth zero.
The Lord was angry at those who, in the name of religion, were actually keeping people from learning the truth about God. The money changers in question had set up shop in the sacred courts surrounding the Temple. This space should have been reserved for pilgrims, especially Gentiles, who wanted to watch the festivities of the Passover and learn more about God’s plan of salvation for His people. Imagine having to cancel a communion service because the table was otherwise occupied with items for sale. Imagine the anger in God’s heart when He sees the gospel being compromised and people being kept from grace because of the greed in those who profess to be His people.
God was peeved, to put it politely. He had every right to be. And God, in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ, took out His anger by cleansing the Temple.
Then looked what happened. It became a house of prayer once again. Praise was heard ringing throughout the place. People were healed by the power of God. Jesus cleansed the Temple to make the Temple what it should have been, though it did not last, for the people killed the Temple cleanser. Within a generation, that Temple was destroyed.
Jesus Cleanses the Church
Could there be any similar reasons for God to be as angry at His church? God’s church, collectively and each individual congregation, is today’s temple of God (ref. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians ). Jesus means to keep it clean, and I think we have some things to be concerned about.
We should be concerned about churches who use the church to make money. Creflo Dollar (could he have a more appropriate name?) is using his church to raise millions of dollars to buy himself a jet airplane as part of the lavish lifestyle he lives to lend credibility to his health and wealth false gospel. And he is only one of many minions who use the Bible and the church in this way. We should be concerned about people who join the church, as someone I once knew did, “Because it’s good for business.” We should let Jesus into our church and say, “Clean it out,” if any are tying to use the church as a means of earthly gain.
We should be concerned about churches who use the church to gain political power. Many churches and some entire denominations have become nothing but shills for the Democratic or the Republican parties, taking up “offerings” for some candidates and passing out flyers for others. It is not a sin to be a Democrat or a Republican, but it is a sin to come to church promoting politics over salvation and spiritual guidance. We should let Jesus into our church and say, “Clean it out,” if any of us are here to promote an earthly kingdom rather than the kingdom of God.
We should be concerned about churches who use the church to manipulate people for religious pride and greed. This point is a little more complicated than sheer money or politics, but it strikes to the heart of the matter that angered Jesus in this moment. The money changers were in it for, well, money, and they curried favor with the political party of the high priest. However, the worst thing they did was exploit other people in the name of religion.
People are exploited in churches where they are promised health and wealth for subscribing to, and usually contributing to, the ministry of the preacher. But preachers and churches make other false promises, too. They baptize children so young they cannot even read the Gospels, much less understand the basic ramifications of grace. They cajole teenagers into walking an aisle and “asking Jesus into their heart” after pounding them with loud, emotional music and tickling their ears with a counterfeit, too-easy-to-not-believe, messages. They keep adults in the pews by pitching positive thinking rather than careful, cutting edge, expository preaching. And they do it all for spiritual pride, to draw a bigger crowd than the next church, to collect bigger offerings, and to win the praise of men. We must let Jesus into our church and say, “Clean it out,” if any pastors or members are willing to sell out the true gospel in order to grow the church.
A Jesus cleansed church is a true church, no matter how big or small. Honest prayers are offered and heard. Humble praise is given to God. Right sacraments are offered with clean hands and pure hearts to demonstrate God’s salvation for His people. People are healed from the cancer of sin and rescued from shipwrecked lives, and I do not put it past God to perform other genuine miracles, too. Lord Jesus, clean out your church, as you did the Temple, but begin by cleansing our souls.
Jesus Cleanses the Soul
There was an Old Testament Temple, the church is the New Testament temple, and your body is a temple that houses your everlasting soul (ref. 1 Corinthians ). The Lord cleansed the Temple. The Lord, I pray, is cleansing the church. What is He doing in your soul?
Have you been cleansed, by grace through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is one thing to complain about the sins of the Old Testament Jews, or complain about the professing New Testament Christians, but it is quite another thing to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to walk into your own life and confront you with your own sin. It’s not as simple as “asking Him into your heart,” a concept found nowhere in Scripture. It means confessing, agreeing with God that certain things are sin, and that you are guilty of them. It means repenting, turning away from selfish things and turning your life over to God, completely. It means believing, fully, in a love you don’t deserve and a forgiveness you didn’t earn and a life that will never end, not because of what you have done for God but because of what God has done for you. Have you been cleansed by the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Are you being cleansed, by the Holy Spirit and the holy word of God? Newborn babies breathe and hunger for food. Newborn Christians have the Holy Spirit of God within them and long for the Bible and the things of God. Though we battle with temptation and struggle with sin, we persevere by the power of God. And even though our souls are safe, other souls are at stake and are affected by our character and conduct, good or bad. We need the cleansing of prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, and the sacred time of church worship. Such foot washings spare us from smelly feet syndrome, which keeps others away from the church and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus, such regular cleansing reminds us of the deep, everlasting love God has for His children. Are you being cleansed by the Spirit, by the word, by the disciplines of the church?
Will you be clean, when you stand before Christ, at the time of your certain death, or at the second coming of the Lord? On that day it will not matter how much money you made in life. It will not matter how powerful you were, politically or otherwise. It will not matter how many other people thought you were beautiful, popular, or successful. The only thing that will really matter when you die is whether or not you have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, upon whether or not you have an ongoing, personal, corporate, saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, let Him in, and not just into your heart. Let Him in, mind, heart, and soul. Let Him in, not just as a Savior from sin, but as the Lord of your life. Let Him in the Temple and let Him clean it out. Then, you will be clean, indeed.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org