Stirring Things Up
STIRRING THINGS UP
MATTHEW 21: 1-17
Here is a joke for you all that I found online. “I was at a party and the host was getting worried because there were too many people and not enough refreshments. She was sure that not all of these people had been invited but didn’t know how to tell which ones were the crashers. Then her husband got an idea….He turned to the crowd of guests and said, ‘Will those who are from the bride’s side of the family stand up please?’ About twenty people stood. Then he asked, ‘Will those who are from the groom’s side of the family stand up as well?’ About twenty-five people stood up. Then he smiled and said, ‘Will all those who stood please leave. This is a birthday party.’”
It is not cool when someone crashes your party, is it? It is not cool when someone stirs things up and disrupts all our carefully laid plans. And that is what Jesus is doing here today. He’s stirring up the pot, crashing the party. Quite literally, he is turning the tables on his adversaries. No one likes a party crasher. And with his actions in today’s passage, Jesus sealed his fate. He set into motion the events that would get him crucified. Today, I want us to understand three things:
- What Jesus was intending to do with his entry into Jerusalem
- Why Jesus overthrew the money changing tables
- And what that means for us today.
Last year around this time, I preached a sermon entitled Colt of Humility where I argued that Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt showed his humility. But on rereading this passage, I have come to see that Jesus’ actions on Palm Sunday were not as humble as I thought they were. They were an intentional, provocative act. The word here for “stirred up” in this passage means “to agitate, cause to tremble, and even to quake in fear.” The people of Jerusalem were not excited to see Jesus come to Jerusalem. This passage tells us that they were scared out of their wits. Now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, Pastor, didn’t people lay down palm branches for him and cry out ‘Hosanna in the highest’? Didn’t they greet him with an expression that means, ‘save us!’? Sounds pretty welcoming to me.”
Well, first we have to understand the context. Jesus is entering Jerusalem right before the Passover. This is traditionally when Jews celebrate their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. Much like many Muslims today are expected to travel to Mecca for the Hajj, many Jews of that day were expected to travel to Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the Temple. At the time, Jerusalem had a permanent population of 30,000. But during Passover, the population would add 180,000 pilgrims, many of whom would camp near surrounding towns like Bethphage. That is a six fold increase in population in the surrounding area. That would be like Pierceton hosting 6,000 more people for a period of seven to eight days. The scripture suggests that the folks who are welcoming Jesus are pilgrims camping out in the countryside, many of whom were probably from his home region of Galilee. They went before him and followed him into Jerusalem. Many folks had walked 63 miles to get there. Just imagine a crowd of 6,000 people from South Bend, people you have never met before, descending upon this town all at once, announcing that a guy you never met before is going to save our nation and perhaps the world. I am sure you might be a little shocked.
Jesus could have just walked into Jerusalem. But he was very intentional about how he entered. He entered on a donkey, prophetically acting out Isaiah 52:11 and Zechariah 9:9. He didn’t say he was the Messiah because he didn’t have to. His actions spoke louder than words. By doing what he did, Jesus was basically saying, “I am the Messiah. Deal with it.” He is asking for a fight. It would be like painting Ron Hall’s house IU red while he is gone. You are just asking for a fight. (Disclaimer, in no way am I encouraging any of you to paint Ron’s house IU red.) And Jesus is doing all of this during Passover, a holiday that celebrates the Hebrew people’s deliverance from a foreigner oppressor. It was always a tense time for Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect or Governor at the time. Jesus is playing with fire. He could very easily set off a powder keg.
So first, we see that in the way Jesus enters the city, he proclaims that he is the Messiah and creates a ruckus in doing so. Second, we notice that immediately following his entry, he does not do what the crowd might expect. Many were probably expecting a military leader. So perhaps they expected that he would rally his followers and seize the Roman armory or some other violent act. But instead he goes to the temple and overturns the money tables. Now Herod’s Temple was one of the most massive and beautiful pieces of architecture in the ancient world. It was a 33 acre complex. The outer ring of the complex was known as the “Court of the Gentiles.” This would be the only place that non-Jewish people were welcomed. No one would be allowed to take coinage with pagan images on into the inner courts of the temple. Thus, the money changers served a very practical purpose. They would have been as necessary as changing your money when you enter a foreign country. And yet Jesus, in one of his most violent acts, turns over the tables and declares, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” Some have suggested that Jesus was angry because the money changers were defrauding people. And perhaps this is true. But I think Jesus would have still been angry if the money changers were offering a fair rate. The exchange of money itself is not what angered Jesus; it was the fact that it took place in the temple. A place of worship was turned into a place of business. A place built so people could engage in a relationship with God had been reduced to a place dominated by transactions with people. So what lessons can we learn today from these two interconnected stories?
First, I think both of these stories show us that letting Jesus into our lives can be disruptive. Jesus was not the type of political and military King that people thought he would be, but that doesn’t mean his message didn’t have consequences for every area of our lives. In the book of Acts chapter 19, there is an interesting story. Paul is preaching the Gospel in Ephesus and many people come to believe in Jesus. They respond by burning their books of pagan magic. Then we learn that Demetrius, a silversmith, organizes a riot against the Christians because the business of making silver idols to Artemis has gone way down because no one is buying. In other words, Jesus is bad for businesses based on sin, manipulation, and oppression. Sure, most of us don’t worship silver idols or images today, but we have our idols. Our idols are the unholy trinity of sex, money, and power. But Jesus replaces these idols with love, worship, and service. If every person who claimed to be a Christian spoke with their pocket books, there wouldn’t be a porn industry, sex trafficking, homelessness, or a variety of other social ills. What is your idol? Are you willing to throw it into the fire today?
Second, we see, in the cleansing of the temple, that worship is not a transaction. Now if you take this story literally, you might think it is wrong to sell things in church. Since we sell a lot of Chicken Pies out of these doors during our annual Harvest Home event, that might put us in a lot of trouble. But somehow we know this line of logic doesn’t make any sense. No, what we need to focus on is what Jesus says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” What has Jesus taught us about prayer? Is prayer about memorizing some secret incantation that will move the hand of God? No, prayer is about praying to our Father in secret and being honest with him about our hopes, hurts, and desires. Prayer is a relationship. And the New Testament tells us that we, our own bodies, are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). I think in a very real way Jesus is saying people encounter God through us, not through a building, or a service, or an event.
Recently, I attended a seminar in South Bend that focused on moving ministry from a transactional model to a relational model. The seminar really got me thinking. It got me thinking a lot about Chicken Pie. Because when you are the Pastor of Pierceton Presbyterian Church, you think about Chicken Pie a lot. It also got me thinking a lot about Lew Collier. Now Lew, I don’t want to embarrass you, but this story is sort of central to my point so indulge me a little. Now I have joked that Lew reminds me of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials. For those of you who don’t understand the reference, Dos Equis is a Mexican Beer that advertises itself by showing this Spanish looking actor who the announcer introduces as the most interesting man in the world. To quote a Wikipedia article: “The precise settings are never revealed, but he performs feats such as: freeing an angry bear from a painful-looking bear trap; shooting a pool trick shot before an Indian audience (by shooting the cue ball out of the mouth of a man lying on the pool table); catching a marlin while cavorting in a Hemingway-esque scene with a beautiful young woman; winning an arm-wrestling match in a South American setting; surfing the killer wave;” and the exploits go on. Just for your information, Jonathan Goldsmith, who plays the most interesting man, will be retiring, and in his final commercial, Dos Equis will send the most interesting man to Mars.
Now I am not suggesting that Lew has performed any of the amazing feats attempted in these commercials (at least that I know of). Nor am I suggesting that we should send Lew to Mars. What I am suggesting is that Lew is a very outgoing individual. I think he has invited more folks to this church in the year I have been here than I ever expected. Lew is the type of guy who can make friends with just about anyone. He has what I would call the gift of evangelism.
What does Lew have to do with Chicken Pies? Well, during the seminar I realized that we have our most gifted evangelist stirring gravy at Harvest Home instead of mingling with people who sit down to eat. We are so busy selling pies to make money that sometimes we can’t see the treasures we already have. And you know I pick out Lew, but we all have gifts. Jesus left this Earth because he wanted us, together, to be his body, to be his prayer, to be his letter of love, to be a living sacrifice, the aroma of Christ to a dying world. Each of us has our place. Each of us has our part. When money becomes the bottom line, we have turned our lives into a den for robbers. But when we lift our eyes to the Lord, we, our very selves, become a house of prayer for all people, as the Gospel of Mark puts it. But it requires that we lay down our idols, that we recognize him as Lord and Messiah, that we allow Jesus
To Stir Things Up.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.