It wasn't your ordinary Monday. For starters, Jesus entered Jerusalem the previous day in an uncharacteristically applause-accepting way. And now that He has the attention of all the Passover pilgrims glued Him, Jesus strides into the Jerusalem temple with, again, an uncharacteristic zeal and intensity. The scene in the temple courts doesn't meet the approval of heaven, and He feels the need to make that clear in no uncertain terms. What did Jesus see that Holy Week Monday? What did Jesus see not just in His house but in His people that moved Him to such fiery rebuke? And what does Jesus' disappointment that day say about God's highest hopes for His people today?
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13, NKJV)
I don't claim to comprehend the infinite heart of God, but one thing I'm sure about is that our God is driven in everything He does to pursue restored relationship with fallen humanity. God's overarching purpose of behind the construction of the first sanctuary amidst the camp of fresh-from-bondage Israel was expressly relational: "Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8). Everything about the temple services was about restoring communion between sinners and their Savior. At least, everything was supposed to be about that. As Jesus enters those sacred precincts on the Monday before His crucifixion, His heart is broken by the people's priority for their purses over their pursuit of God's presence.
What moved people that day were commercial concerns rather than communion with their Creator.
When Jesus sees that reversal of intent in the very place where humanity's heart ought to be the most aligned with divinity's, He has to undo the tragedy. And when Jesus sees that reversal of intent in the very people who are to reflect God's glory and character, we must let Him undo the tragedy. God's dreams for His church today haven't changed from His dreams for His people long ago. He still longs for His true temple -- His people (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16) -- to "be called a house of prayer". Whether we're conscious of it or not, there's a strong tendency for the church to reflect our commercially-driven culture. We resemble the Jerusalem temple-market when we become fixated on what we get from people, when we become solely motivated in our ministries by higher numbers, when success is exclusively about us and our measures rather than about people and their coming into oneness with God. May God spare us from ever treating Him as a product to market in order to enlarge our brand. That's when God's "house of prayer" is turned into a "den of thieves." That's when we rob God of the attention we ought to be driving toward Him.
On the other hand, when our hearts are set on prioritizing heart-ful communion with Him as a Person to love and live for, He can truly be known in the community. Just look at the context of one of the Old Testament prophecies Jesus quotes from while driving out the money-changers:
I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord,
who serve him and love his name...
I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices,
because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.
For the Sovereign Lord,
who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says:
I will bring others, too,
besides my people Israel. (Isaiah 56:6-8, NLT, emphasis supplied)
When God's church prioritizes sincere prayer, we can entrust our PR to the Sovereign Lord. "I will bring others..." The God of glory longs for His church to be a house of prayer so HE can make it into a house of prodigals, a gathering of outcasts hungry to come home. May God give us the good sense to put first things first and to let Him do what He has promised to do!