Matthew 21:12-22 (Click to read passage)
The day after Jesus entered Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple courts. What we read next surprises some. Far from the Jesus portrayed in paintings of being a quiet, blond-haired, blue eyed, person who holds baby lambs, Jesus is described here with anger and fire in his eyes. Upon going to the temple Jesus sees money changers and people selling animals for sacrifice. Matthew tells us he drives the merchants away and overthrows the tables. As he does this, Jesus quotes two passages from the Old Testament: “It is written: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it into, ‘a den of robbers’”. Instead of the temple being a place designated for people to draw close to God, it has become a place of commerce where merchants take advantage of people and money is to be made.
Matthew tells us that after Jesus cleared out the temple, the blind and the lame came to Jesus to be healed. While Jesus was healing people, the Chief Priests and Scribes came to Jesus in a confrontational mood. Didn’t Jesus hear what the crowds were saying? Shouldn’t he be stopping this? But Jesus not only acknowledged the praise, but told the temple leaders that the crowds were right to praise him.
The next day, Jesus was walking back to the city when he saw a fig tree. Seeing no fruit, Jesus cursed the tree and it withered. After marveling at what happened, the disciples asked him how the fig tree was able to wither so quickly. Jesus used the fig tree to teach his disciples about how to pray with faith.
What do these stories have to do with each other? At first, they seem like independent stories that don’t have anything to do with each other. But there is one theme that brings these incidents together: Intimacy with God.
In the temple, we see Jesus’ act fiercely and strongly. His actions were angry and loud. He overthrew tables and chased people out of the temple. Why? The Gospel of John tells us that his disciples remembered a Psalm where the writer tells about how zeal and passion for God motivated the writer to protect God’s house. Jesus’ own words showed us that the temple was meant to be a place where people would be able to pray and draw close to God. When it was used wrongly, Jesus demonstrated his righteous anger because the markets kept people from drawing close to God.
According to the laws of Moses, a person who is not whole was not permitted to the temple. This meant that those who were lame, or blind or leprous was not allowed to worship God at the temple. After clearing the temple, Jesus healed and restored people. Again, we see God not only healing people, but restoring intimacy with his people.
Lastly, we see Jesus teaching his disciples to pray boldly. How can the disciples pray with such boldness as to pray for fig trees to wither or mountains to be moved? The reason for this is again, intimacy with God. In Jesus teaching his disciples to pray boldly, this was not because the disciples could somehow channel the power of the universe within themselves. This was because they had an intimate relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Rev. Timothy Keller gives a great illustration to explain this idea. Would you have the boldness or the nerve to wake a King up at 3:00 in the morning to ask for a glass of water? Most would not have the nerve unless they are joking or have some sort of wish to be detained by security. But someone who ought to feel comfortable making this request would the child of the King. The Good News is this: because of Jesus, believers can have confidence that they have this level of access to God the Father. Because our relationship with God has been made right with God, we can come before God.
Questions for Meditation:
- How does today’s passage show God’s zeal for intimacy with his people?
- How does it make you feel knowing that God pursues a relationship with his people zealously?
- In what ways does today’s passage challenge you to pray with greater trust in the Lord?