The following is a reflection I wrote after ongoing ventures in recent years through the Message paraphrase of Matthew 21:12-18, the passage commonly referred to as “The Clearing of the Temple.” My hope is that it might help us thirsty ones peel back the glaze of over-familiarity and experience the scene afresh, as we find ourselves among the crowds in the Temple on that day.
Later, I suggest you return to the text again as captured by Matthew (The Message Translation) and immerse yourself in it. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus afresh. Ask to see Him even more truly as He is, so that you might offer Him your consent to become like Him, trusting that He is making it possible, even in this hour of this day.
Walk into this scene with me for a few moments. The swollen air of spring in Jerusalem. The dirt-packed roads of the bustling marketplace, throngs of folks kicking up dust to mix with the day’s gossip. Street peddlers clamoring, children playing games, animals under load winding their way through busy streets.
Everyday life is being momentarily suspended. Rumors have been building of certain happenings. The entire community, young and old, has poured out onto the street, caught up in the excitement of this remarkable day: the inauguration of a king.
Long has the ache deepened for the One to come lead and restore goodness to the land of Israel. And people believe that Jesus is it and the time has come.
Their time has come.
As the Scriptures describe, “Crowds went ahead and crowds followed.” Men, women, and children swamping this main corridor into the city center. People ripping palm branches off aged trees to lay as homage on the dusty road. Men and women peeling off their cloaks, creating a carpet of honor for the coming king. Wild cheering. Exultation. Anticipation charging the air. Yet straining nerves as well. The officials are beside themselves: what can they make of this? Matthew renders it this way: “As (Jesus) made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, unnerved.”
And this is all prologue.
It is in this context, this atmosphere, that Jesus dismounts the donkey, leaves the parade, and enters the temple courts.
Men have turned His Father’s house into a den of thieves.
And He is livid.
He begins first with the throwing of a single chair, its front legs splintering into pieces against an ancient column. With all His force, He kicks over tables, heavy-laden with merchandise. Chaos and outrage ensue, more than ever encountered in this place.
What would you do?
We cannot appreciate the Scriptures until we enter deep into them in the most personal manner. We must hear the commotion: the yelling and playing of children, the haggling of transactions in the marketplace temple. We must smell the stench of the crowded streets. We must feel the tension, the atmosphere pregnant with a sharp blend of anticipation and rattled nerves.
Like me, you have no doubt heard the story and even celebrated Palm Sunday and Easter Week. But never before had I linked this narrative together in a way that opened up even more of the marvel of Jesus’ personality and His unique union with His Father.
This is not how one might expect a king to act in the delicate moment of a deeply anticipated coronation. Surely, this is the kind of moment where it would be wise not to rock the boat. Tension is high; expectations are even higher. All eyes are on Jesus. And it is in this precise moment and atmosphere that He goes “straight into the temple and [throws] out everyone who set up shop, buying and selling. He [kicks] over tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants.”
Chaos. Disorder. Mayhem. Loan sharks yelling at Jesus as they throw themselves on the marble floor, desperately grasping at scattering coins.
Not exactly the kind of presidential acceptance speech one would think Jesus might offer to unite the people and mark His coronation and long anticipated rule.
Notice He moves in the exact opposite energy of the lure of the atmosphere around Him. How strong the pull must be to quietly smile, to “choose His battles wisely,” waiting for another moment on another day to address the corrupted system that has ravaged the hearts and pocketbooks of sincere folks who truly want to worship God.
But Jesus is different. He is not ruled by the false self, not informed by habitual reactions and pre-programmed responses (like us), crafted with sophistication over decades to disengage from real relationship, in order to self-protect and avoid shame.
He is free. Free to move in the service of love. He lives in union with His Father. Ever accessing the resources of Heaven that flow freely into Him. Ever aware of what His Father wants to bring through Him in His day as a man walking among us, and making a particular life available to us.
It is the next line that grabs my heart, and which I never before connected with this scene. Immediately after Matthew describes the pandemonium of Jesus kicking over tables, manhandling greedy men and inciting riot, we have this line:
“Now there was room for the blind and the crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.”
Jesus is not merely reacting in anger to retaliate against the money changers. He is no hot-head, unbridled in overwhelming rage. Far from it. Notice how He is able to shift fluidly, without hesitation, between various styles of relating soul-to-soul with others, depending on the leading of Love.
First we observe how Jesus operates in this heroically defiant move against evil that has sieged the temple, His Father’s house. Then, in the very next moment, He moves in utter intimacy, offering love, connection, physical touch to the broken and the lame. These are the outcasts, those who have the least, who are the least—whose lives exist in the shadows of the community and of the temple. Jesus sees them differently. He knows that this temple is His Father’s idea. It is intended to be a house of healing, a house of Kingdom-Come, divine light reaching from the Heavens into humanity—touching and transforming and serving the lives of God’s people. It is men who have made it a “hangout for thieves.”
In union with His Father, free and flowing, Jesus turns on a dime from this bold move against to a profoundly intimate move toward. He speaks, touches, makes room and makes way for the outcast. And He heals them, His honored guests of the coronation.
I love what comes next.
Naturally the “religious leaders” (the version of churchianity of the day) are outraged. Of course. All their scheming to build their personal, religious kingdoms and line their own pockets has been called into question and uprooted from these ancient, marble floors. This outsider has seriously threatened their personal ambitions.
And in the background, in a few subsequent moments of rare stillness in this bustling market, it is the children who begin celebrating.
Of course. It always is.
The children know.
You see, they have yet to grow elaborate fig leaves to self-protect and hide their true selves from the dangers of this world and the risk of being known and being seen. That’s why Jesus says the way into the Kingdom is to become like them. The children can intuitively distinguish good from bad, true from false. They aren’t caught up in politics or power plays. Their hearts know that whatever just happened in in this temple, on this day,
it is really, really, good.
The celebration of the little ones incites even more rage in the religious leaders.
What will Jesus do? What will His next move be?
All eyes are on Him.
What sort of defense would you offer in this narrative being played out before so many? Tables have been thrown, money has been scattered, ravaged bodies have been healed, leaders have been outraged, kids have celebrated, and then we get this moment:
“Fed up, Jesus turned on his heels, and he left them and the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.”
Just like that, He bails.
He doesn’t offer a rebuttal or even reach to clean up any of the mess He has made in the temple and in the hearts of men. He simply turns and leaves it all behind. He heads out in a daring act of moving away. He really doesn’t care what they think about him. Any of them. He is unconcerned with how they choose to interpret His actions or motives. Unconcerned what the outcomes might or might not arise from this wild chaos which has ensued. He simply shakes the dust off His feet, stays in union with His Father, and moves on, choosing solitude, the soul-centering quietness of a solo walk and the reviving safety of His favorite town in the land.
It’s amazing, really.
We simply do not do the narrative justice if we read it with the end in mind. That’s not how it happened. We have to insert ourselves deeply into the text. We must smell and feel and question and wonder what it must have been like. Right there. With Him.
Jesus’ freedom to move against the evil of His day and in a moment to turn fluidly, moving toward the outcasts with scandalous intimacy; and then in the next moment, to move away and simply depart the scene, entrusting all of it to His Father…is simply astonishing.
And then, my other favorite part of the story…this next verse:
“Early the next morning Jesus was returning to the city of Jerusalem…He was hungry….”
Okay now, I’m not a rocket scientist or a neurosurgeon. But I will take a stab at Relational Strategy 101.
You’ve just paraded into Jerusalem the day before to be crowned king, then caused a mass riot to break out in the temple, performed some miracles that violated ancient customs and laws, and slipped out of town right before the establishment can seize and torture you. And if you’ve found yourself the next morning both miraculously alive and rather hungry, do you think it would be wise to head straight back into the lions’ den of Jerusalem for an Egg McMuffin and a handful of figs?
Oh, the courage, the freedom, the love at work in this Man.
Once again, Jesus moves in a way that is opposite to the lure of the atmosphere; rather than hiding out safe in the countryside, He moves toward, entering back into the city, offering a smile and some hugs, then sits down with a few friends and sips on a caramel latte.
Jesus is the wild one.
No one has ever lived a more whole and daring life than this man.
No one provides us with a better model of love.
No one provides a better portrait of what it looks like to live as a son, whose personality takes upon a quality of eternity, living beyond personal temperament and being free and constrained by love to move fluidly through all of the predominant styles of relating.
Jesus is simply unmoved by the opinion of others. By being rooted in His Father and the infinite resources of His Kingdom, He is unencumbered by the hinderance of outcomes.
Dallas Willard was asked, “If you could use one word to describe what Jesus was like, what you would encounter when you engaged Him, what would it be?”
After a long pause (as there is always a long pause with Dallas), he offered this.
“Oh, Jesus was very relaxed.”
Of course. It’s a way of saying there has never been anyone more comfortable in His own skin. He was at ease with Himself. He knew who He was. He lived from a place rooted and established in love.
And from observing this text, I would risk humbly adding that Jesus was also deeply unpredictable. Not in a chaotic, volatile sense; but rather, He was not programmed, not attached to reaction-driven predictability. People simply never knew exactly what He might do next; in other words, they never knew exactly what Love would do. His life was response-driven. He lived, as Dallas has said, in a
Here is the good news: we can have this life.
We can have His life.
It is the central invitation of His heart and His Kingdom.
His principal intention is to make you like Him.
Through His life.
He is asking your consent to live in you, to guard you and to guide you into an ever-increasing experience of Reality; a real faith, deepening hope, and radical love.
If we are willing to risk some honest consideration of the life of our souls, to take some honest inventory of our habitual patterns in relationship (particularly with those closest to us) and pre-programmed responses to circumstances, we can be transformed, over time, into the kind of people who live out of wholeheartedness in union with the Kingdom of God.
We can access, moment by moment, the abundance of supernatural provision flowing through us. Just as Jesus did. We can atrophy that part of us ruled and governed by not-yet-met-desires. We can partner with God in a way that allows us to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. And we can be constrained only by love.
Love for God.
Love for ourselves.
Love for others.
We can move against in valiant courage.
We can move toward in extravagant empathy and d deep, soulful knowing of another.
We can move away in heroic disentangling of the fears, concerns, and compulsive needs of others and our compulsive need to come through for them.
In choosing to engage in the real and raw practices that allow us to participate in an increasing atmosphere of love, we can become like Him and have a life that takes on a quality of eternity.
And the children will rejoice.
Strength and Honor,
Listen to this same narrative in audio format read by Morgan
- More on this “Wild, dangerous, unfettered and free” Son of God…
Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge
Beautiful Outlaw Video Series by John Eldredge
The Jesus I never knew by Phillip Yancey
The Great Omission by Dallas Wilard
Mediations on the Parables of Jesus, by Thomas Keating
Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy and Fairytale by Frederick Buechner
Matthew 21 (The Message)
When Jesus neared Jerusalem…Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you…” The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!…” As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text: My house was designated a house of prayer; You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.
When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”
Fed up, Jesus turned on his heel and left them and the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.
Early the next morning Jesus was returning to the city. He was hungry.