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BEHAVIOUR IN THE HOUSE OF PRAYER.
St. MATT. xxi. 13.
“ And He said unto them, It is written, My house shall be
called the house of prayer ; but ye have made it a den of thieves."
THESE are the closing words of the Gospel appointed for this day [Advent-Sunday]. Before applying to them for the lesson which they surely read
us, let me first call your attention to the circumstances under which they were spoken.
It was towards the close of our Lord's earthly ministry, very shortly before He was betrayed, given up into the hands of wicked men to be crucified and slain. And now for a brief moment He was to enjoy something like an acknowledgment of His divine character from the people. He was to ride in lowly guise, but still in a sort of triumph, into the chief city of the Jews; He was to hear His name received with shouts of applause ; He was to be saluted by His rightful title, as “ The
King that cometh in the name of the Lord.” “ When they (i. e. Jesus and His disciples) drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two of His disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them; and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set Him thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut
; down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord : Hosanna in the highest. And when He was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee."
And now mark what follows. The Lord had entered Jerusalem in triumph. The whole city was in a state of fervent excitement. If He chose it, now was the time for making Himself a king. Now, borne on by the populace, what should hinder Him from restoring again the kingdom to David, and building up his ancient house afresh in Jerusalem ? Nothing, brethren, but His own unwillingness. His kingdom was not of this world. He came not to interfere with the authorities of the land ; not to wrest from Cæsar what belonged to Cæsar, but leaving this untouched, to claim for God His own, a place -- the first place — in the hearts, and a power-the chief power-over the lives and conversation of the people.
Instead, then, of aiming at temporal sovereignty, mark what the Lord did on this occasion. went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple ; and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Yes, this was the use that Jesus made of His popularity. He sought not His own, but His Father's glory. And at the same time He fulfilled what was written of Him. He showed Himself to be the long-expected Messiah, by doing that
which the prophets had foretold Christ should do. Hear the very words, as they are found in Malachi, and compare them with our Lord's proceeding on this occasion :—“ The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold He shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? Who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner and purifier of silver: and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.”
So far, then, of the circumstances which led our Lord to purify the Jewish Temple. That such a purifying was needed, the facts in the Gospel sufficiently show. That holy Temple, raised for the worship of the true God, where God dwelt between the wings of the cherubim that overshadowed the mercy-seat; that place so sacred, that by an ancient law none might enter it with shoes on their feet, or with a staff in their hands; through whose spacious courts no burden of any kind might be carried; which was set apart from all other purposes that it might be holy to God,might be a place for prayer, for worship, for holding communion with the Most High ;- this so sacred Temple had now for many years been defiled, and that by the very persons who professed to regard it as God's House.
Abuses had crept in; the demand for victims had led to the actual buying and selling of beasts
– sheep and oxen - in the outer court. And, to further such sales, the money-changers had set up their stalls in the same place.
And there — close by God's own altar — went on a worldly trafficking. And they who came up to worship had to wrangle about the price of their offerings; and in that wrangling how surely would their hearts get ruffled, and reverence be quenched, and feelings the most contrary to a spirit of
spirit of prayer be stirred up in them!
The Lord Jesus saw all this. Nor can wonder if it greatly moved Him. Do not our hearts rise with His in honest indignation at such profanity ? Do we not witness His treatment of these presumptuous traders with admiring sympathy? Are we not glad that “He cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of them that sold doves?" Does not His sharp rebuke seem richly to have been deserved ?“ Take these things hence. Make not my Father's House a house of merchandize. It is written, My House shall be called a House of Prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves."