Mark 11:17, "And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"
This passage comes during the last week of Jesus life. We also see this scene play out at the beginning of Jesus ministry in John 2. So, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and at the end of Jesus ministry he cleanses the Temple. Jesus is zealous for God's house. It is to be a house of prayer but the Jewish leaders were using the necessary exchange of money and purchase of sacrifice animals to take advantage and make some extra coin for their purses. A secular spirit had invaded a sacred place. Others were using the outer court of the Temple as a short cut instead of going around the Temple. They were tramping their merchandise right through the court of the Gentiles where praise and prayers should have been heard. All this was an insult to God.
The Temple was forgetting its purpose. The function had superseded the purpose. The purpose of the Temple was to be a place where people could draw into the presence of God with praise and prayer, but these greedy merchants had made the holy Temple "a den of robbers." Jesus says it is to be a house of prayer. Prayer was the purpose of the Temple because prayer matters to God. It is through prayer that God works and lives are changed.
How that matters to us today has to do with what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:16. He says, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?" The zealousness Jesus had for God's Temple in Jerusalem is the same that he has for us. Just as Jesus drove out the greed, selfishness and callousness from that Temple he wants to drive out the things that stand in the way of our prayers and communion with God. When we let him our prayers become more effective and God's power and grace will pour out through our prayers. This is essential for us and for God's purposes in this world. Prayer matters to God and should matter to us.
I read the story about a man who traveled to Russia in the 1970s, when the USSR was locked tight in the grip of Communism and cold war and was a formidable and menacing enemy of the West. The man's assignment was to visit, on behalf of the National Council of Churches, the church in Russia and bring back a report. What he found appalled him and filled him with contempt. "The church in Russia is useless and pathetic," he said, "it's just a bunch of little old ladies praying." It would take almost 20 years for the mountain of communism in Russia to split and fall into the sea. But when it did, God was awesome in his power. Beware of little old ladies praying. Beware of a Christian who sees the portrait of Jesus cleansing the Temple and declairs, "As for this house, this house will be called a house of prayer."
Prayer: Our Father, we now are Your temple and Jesus seeks to drive out that secular spirit from our sacred inner life for we are to be a house of prayer. Will you, through Your blessed Holy Spirit, help us to remove those things that defile this temple so that we can make it a house of prayer and communion with You? We need your pressence and we thank You for the One who has brought us together, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.
[Adapted from the message: A House of Prayer. Listen to the full message here: www.arvadachristian.org/sermons]