In our Bible study group we are studying the prophesy of Zechariah which was written after the exile of the Jews to Babylon and was a book that encouraged the re-building of the Jerusalem Temple, a building that represented the meeting place of heaven and earth in the Holy of Holies at the very centre of the Temple.
This building, the Jerusalem Temple, in Jewish religion is where God and humanity meet and where once a year the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.
The Temple, in the same way as the Jewish people themselves were to be a light to the gentiles – something that attracted. Something that was compelling.
It was a monument to something other – something spiritual. Something to do with the Holiness of God, as I say, just like the people.
In its dishevelled broken state in Zechariah’s time (about 500 years before Christ) it had become a metaphor for the state of the Jewish people themselves and by the first century AD, in Jesus’ time it had again become a metaphor for the corrupt state of the Jewish religion.
Jesus’ righteous anger about the state of the Temple, which had become a compromised market place which had accommodated itself to secular power and values was a reflection of the state of the Jewish people in his time.
The people needed cleaning up, repentance and renewal and the turning over of the tables of the money changers is a kind of acted parable.
Remember the whole thrust of Jesus’ preaching was “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand”
If the Temple and people were corrupt and no different from secular society then there is nothing there to attract anyone. The light to the gentiles had gone out.
Is there a lesson today for the church?
Well Jesus did warn us. He told us that we are to be salt and light. But as he said if salt loses its flavour it is useless. Its whole raison d’etre is removed. It is good for nothing and fit just to be thrown out.
Is perilously close to just being a reflection of secular society? If we share the same values and the same concerns and reflect almost exactly the same views on money, sex and power and every other issue with society at large, the only difference we are left with is that we spend our Sunday mornings in a medieval building. We become the spiritual wing of English heritage.
If we are not different, and have nothing about us to attract people, people will not come because well why would they?
This is why a clear Christian vision needs to be articulated afresh to each generation. Proverbs 29:18 says “without a vision the people perish”, but this isn’t a cue to write a new vision statement. In its context, the vision the writer of Proverbs was referring to was a return to observing the Law. He is saying that apart from the word of God a people can very quickly fall into moral chaos.
For us, that translates as a return to the living word, and a life of seeking God’s will for our lives and guidance for our actions.
Where is our Holy of Holies today – the place where heaven and earth meets? It was first and foremost in the person of Jesus of course. As he is recorded saying at the time, “destroy this temple and I will raise it up on the third day. At the time people did not know what he was talking about but later the disciples understood, that he was speaking of his own body.
And by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the place where heaven and earth meets is in the human heart of every Christian.
Do the tables in our own hearts need turning over and cleansing to be the people we are called to be?