A house of prayer...


Today's thought:

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 The function had superseded the purpose.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]

Hide under His wings...

Today's thought:

"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." (Psalm 91:4)

An article in National Geographic several years ago provided a penetrating picture of God's wings. After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up the mountain to assess the inferno's damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of the tree. Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother's wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of the pending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, knowing instinctively that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had singed her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

Now listen as Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37.  He says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." As Jesus makes this statement he has resolutely fixed his path toward the cross of Calvary (Luke 13:32-35). As he considered his purpose he aches to bring in the whole house of Israel under the protection of his blood; he desires to bring them under the safety of his wings. As Jesus makes this heart-felt cry over Jerusalem he stands upon the Mount of Olives which is a hill facing the old city of Jerusalem, on the eastern side of the Kidron valley. From that location Jesus would be able to look over the temple wall. Inside the temple animal sacrifices were being done, the blood being spilt upon the alter. This is because, as the Hebrew writer tells us, "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). But the Hebrew writer goes on to say in 10:4, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." So, Peter will tell us that the One whose blood could take away sins was standing upon that mount. He says, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Yet it was probably not His blood Jesus was thinking of when he makes his lament over Jerusalem. In the very next chapter, chapter 24, Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:2, "Do you see all these things?" he asked."Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."). In AD 70 that prophecy would be fulfilled. From the same spot that Jesus stood upon and cried over the city the future Roman Emperor Titus would stand as the Roman army lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. When they took the city it is said that the streets ran red with the blood of the people. The temple was destroyed. The stones themselves being thrown down to get the gold embossed in them and not one stone stood upon another. The destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 was to be a foreshadowing of Jesus future return and the final judgement to come.

Just as Jerusalem could have been saved if they had run under the protection of Jesus wings so we too have the same opportunity to take refuge under those wings and be saved and protected from the coming judgement. Now is the time for the chicks to scurry under His wings. Now is the time to find safety in Jesus. Have you sought his protection? The fire approaches. The danger is real. Let us hide ourselves under His wings. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." (Psalm 91:4)

Prayer: Father, You alone can cover us and protect us from the coming judgement. We seek refuge under the protective wings of Jesus washed white in His blood. Thank you for His safety, grace and blood spilt for us. He died and took our penalty upon Himself that we may be saved. In His great and powerful name we pray our gratitude. In Jesus, amen.