Faith Emporium: Finding God in the Marketplace of Religion
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
No one took notice of the solitary figure, crouched away from the masses. No one saw him holding the threshing from the animals, weaving them methodically – purposefully – into a whip. No one paused to remind him that weapons of any kind were expressly forbidden in the temple courts, a statement the man would surely have seen as ironic given the clinking of coins that could be heard in the background.
No one paid attention – until the man stood up, whip flailing, inciting a one-man riot in the temple courts. The animals scattered, escaping the courts. Coins bounced and rolled across the ground as the money tables crashed to the ground, and all fled the fire that blazed in the man’s eyes, and all marveled at the command with which he spoke.
“My father’s house is not a place of business!” he shouted, and as he spoke these words, the last of the tables fell.
The story found in the second chapter of John’s gospel is mysterious, and often misinterpreted. Usually it is viewed through the lens of corruption in the temple – that Jesus is overturning tables because of his distaste for the “business” that was taking place in His Father’s house.
But wait – weary travelers making the trek to Jerusalem would need to purchase animals for sacrifice (unblemished animals, mind you – have you ever tried keeping a sheep intact while on vacation? I rest my case). The change of money had to do with the changeover from Roman currency to shekels that could be used in the temple. While there was almost certainly room for corruption, everything we find in the temple that day was necessary for Jewish worship.
The proper lens to look through is found in Zechariah 14:21, which reads that when the Messiah comes, “there shall no longer be a Cannanite in the house of the Lord.” The Hebrew word “Canaanite” also means “trader” or “salesman.”
So let’s do the math: The Messiah comes. There are no salesmen. Jesus clears the temple. Now, there are no salesmen. Ah…so Jesus clearing out the salesmen is a powerful declaration that the Messiah has arrived. No wonder the religious crowd was so eager to ask about His authority, and no wonder Nicodemus snuck out at night to ask about where He came from.
Charles H. Talbert writes,
“[the money-changers] were not blesmishes on the cult but part of its perfection. Jesus’ action called into question the very system. The overturning of the money-changers’ tables represents an act of the rejection of the most important rite of the Israelite cult, the daily whole offering.”
The temple cleansing is not a declaration of intolerance toward systemic corruption, but a complete overthrow of the dominant religious system. God’s kingdom is not about fixing a broken world, but about changing the entire creation.
FINDING JESUS IN RELIGION
The seventeenth century poet George Herbert used many theological themes in his poetry. The following work is titled “Redemption.” Pay close attention to the highlighted lines.
- Having been tenant long to a rich Lord,
- Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
- And make a suit unto Him, to afford
- A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.
- In heaven at His manor I Him sought:
- They told me there, that He was lately gone
- About some land, which He had dearly bought
- Long since on Earth, to take possession.
- I straight returned, and knowing His great birth,
- Sought Him accordingly in great resorts–
- In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
- At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
- Of thieves and murderers; there I Him espied,
- Who straight, “Your suit is granted,” said, and died.
The poet writes of looking for Jesus among the “cities, theaters” and other such public places. But instead the poet finds the Savior among the lowest of the low.
John’s gospel actually opens with John the Baptist telling the religious crowd that “among you stands one whom you do not know” (Jn 1:26). Jesus is so often unrecognizable to those who claim to know Him. That’s why God’s created people deny the very One that God’s creative order bears witness to (cf. Ps 19:1, Jn 1:11).
God’s kingdom is found not in religious systems, not found in wealth or fashion, but found in the humble places that religion so often shudders at. In the Book of Amos we find a God who repeatedly roars at His wayward children, reminding them of their dead faith. We meet a God who cannot stand their public displays of dead religion.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus marvels at the women who come to His tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
And for the religious…
…that is a very, very good question.
FINDING YOUR OWN SPIRITUAL MARKETPLACE
The truth is we all set up a god that best serves us.
We are extremely comfortable with a “faith emporium” not unlike the Jews enjoyed, the only difference is we’ve traded the sheep and oxen for homeschooling and Hillsong albums. And all the while, we look for a living God among the dead expressions of faith in Him, which is a sad state to be in.
The answer to religion has always been the gospel. In Philippians 3 Paul contrasts his religious upbringing (which he colorfully calls skubala – that’d be a good Greek word to Google later) with the righteousness of Christ.
The reason religious people can be so annoying? Self-righteousness. For the religious crowd, it’s all about how many sheep and oxen they can buy in the marketplace of the temple. The cross replaces this system – as much today as it did back then. The important thing for all of us to remember is this: He never really let go of the whip.
My advice for you is to read John’s gospel. It’s my favorite book in the Bible, and I’m sure you’ll see why. In it you’ll find the remedy to the easy-believism and moral rhetoric of empty religion, and in its place you’ll find a vivid, dynamic form of faith that is ever-evolving in the presence of a living Jesus.
Good news we all need, so that we may find the living among the living.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.