John 2:13-19 is a familiar story for some of us when Jesus entered the temple and became angry.
It was time for the Jewish Passover and people were traveling from all over to come to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, a week long festival. It was a time when they remembered what God had done for them, freed them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt. When they set aside everything else and they spend time with God, a time where they could worship God, spend time in prayer, draw closer to God, confess and bring their sins to God for forgiveness, where a sacrificial animal was needed.
Since people were traveling from all over, many a far distance, to bring an animal that was suitable for a sacrifice to God that was unblemished was not always possible. So some merchants took advantage of this need, and sold sacrificial animals in the temple area and many scholars believe it was for a higher price than you would pay elsewhere. Everyone that came had to pay a temple tax so there was a need for money changers and many scholars believe they charged a higher exchange rate during this time of need.
So these merchants were conveniently located for the people that had come for the Passover, and offered them the things they needed for their convenience of course. And part of Jesus anger was obvious. The greed of the merchants, and that they had turned His father’s house into a market place.
But when we dig a little deeper we see something else, these people had come a long way to do what – to worship God. The temple was where they met God, it is where the people would come to worship, to connect with God and draw closer to Him and remember all that God had done for them, bringing them out of slavery. These merchants’ and money changers actions were causing a distraction, preventing them from being able to do so.
Jesus was angry because the people were prevented from being able to worship his father.
So Jesus is not just clearing out the temple, He is making a way for worship.
Today during Lent we do the same thing, we spend time remembering what Jesus did on the cross, to remove the sins of the world, mine and yours so that we could be free and live. It is a time when we make sacrifices to remove distractions from our lives so that we can truly worship God.
We make commitments during this 40 days of Lent to read a daily devotional or attend a Bible study, perhaps to spend more time in prayer or attend special worship services. For some of us, we find it difficult to keep these commitments, because things get in the way.
What are our distractions today?
Perhaps the common ritual of going out to eat at a seafood restaurant on Friday night in New Orleans during lent, standing in line, eating in the midst of the noise where you can’t hear anyone speaking at your table, is this a sacrifice during lent so that we can focus on the sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross or has it become a distraction?
Max Lucado writes in his book “The Pocket Prayer” that he is a recovering prayer wimp. He writes…“I doze off when I pray. My thoughts zig then zag then zig again. Distractions swarm like gnats on a summer night.” If attention deficit disorder applies to prayer, I am afflicted” When I pray, I think of a thousand things I need to do. I forget the one thing I set out to do: pray.” Environment matters – get in a place where you can clear your mind and focus on God.
Perhaps when we sit to read scripture or our Bible lesson we become distracted by our phone that is always with us, it makes a noise and we can’t help but look…to see if someone texted, emailed or liked our post on Facebook or Instagram.
Perhaps our distractions are emotions like not getting over being angry at someone, holding a grudge, being upset because you got an unexpected bill in the mail – so many things can distract us.
Perhaps many distractions have built up over time and we recognize it but we are not sure what to do about it leaving us to feel guilty and ashamed. Instead of drawing closer to God we run and hide? But Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” I will show you the way back to me.
God meets us where we are not where we think we should be.
Every one of us has a set of things that we try to deal with in our Christian walk. Many of us have trouble dealing with these distractions and we have been unsuccessful or unable or perhaps unwilling because we don’t even recognize that change is needed.
This is why it is important to be in a Christian community, to be in a small group where we can help each other in our Christian walk not just during the season of Lent but all the time. So if you are not in a small group, now is the time to pray and think about joining one.
During this Biblical time people had to come to the temple to worship God, to be in his presence.
Today we come to worship God in our churches in our sanctuary, but the church is only a building and will be empty after we leave. The presence of God is in the church because we are there.
Jesus made a way for worship for the Jews and He makes a way for us to worship today by giving us the Holy Spirit. God left us with the Holy Spirit that lives inside of us and we become the temple. I Corinthians 6: 19 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
God’s spirit lives within our fragile, imperfect, temporary bodies. When a person comes to a personal belief in God the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit, God empowers His very spirit to live with us and to influence us.
God doesn’t live in a building here on earth; He makes his home in our hearts.
It is that spirit that will help us identify and overcome our distractions. Within us is the ability to grow and draw closer to God so that we can worship Him. But if we get distracted by the world, sometimes we can’t recognize when the Spirit speaks. It is like an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, which one will get our attention…., the one we focus on.
The money changers and the merchants had switched their focus on how to make money and became greedy rather than focusing on God and making a way for worship for others. There actions caused others to not be able to worship God.
When we get distracted, when we allow distractions in our lives when our focus becomes on things of the world and not of God many times our actions reflect greed, sin, causing distractions just like the merchants and money changes in the temple. We too become distractions from other people worshiping God.
Where can others find God, in you and me! We are God’s temple – We are His hands and feet and not just to do good works, but to show who He is through our actions. We may be the only Bible others read. We are not perfect and never will be, that is why we always need to keep our focus on God, and the strength of other Christians to help us on this journey.
Lent is a time of renewal process where we allow God to transform us so that we can continue to be His hands and feet in the world, to reveal him in our actions and bring others into a relationship with Him.
Lent is a season of reflection for us to identify and seek changes in our lives. All of us need help with clearing out distractions.
I challenge all of us, to spend some time this week, and take a hard look at the distractions in your life that may keep you from worshiping God, what is preventing you from spending time in scripture, from spending time in prayer, from singing songs of praise at home, from reflecting on all He has done for you, from reflecting on our own downfalls so that we can come to him with a repentant heart. This is what strengthens our relationship with God. And this is the reason that Jesus died on the cross, not only to take away our sins but by doing so he restored us to that intimate relationship with our Father.