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Thus it seems that Jesus twice cleansed the Temple, His Father's house, of the pollutions men by their worldliness had brought into it, and we shall do well to observe that these two acts of His were the only public acts He ever performed. At no other time did He ever take to Himself the least authority. He healed the sick, He raised the dead, He taught the people, but He refused to be made "
a ruler and a judge over them.” At all times He declared that His kingdom was not of this world, and He checked every wish of His followers to raise Him up as a king among men.* Why did He then take to Himself a power and authority which dealt with all alike, driving the buyers and sellers from the Temple, and reproving the Chief Priests and rulers for having suffered this abuse of its sacred courts? He did so for this plain reason : the Temple was the House of God, and He as the Son of God could permit nothing there that was dishonoring to His Father. It is very striking that He thus appears to have twice cleansed the Temple; at the beginning and at the end of His ministry. His doing so seems to tell us that to mix plans of earthly gain with the especial service of God is odious in His sight. True religion will always drive out such worldliness from God's living Temple, the Christian heart.
There is a deep reproach in these words of Christ,“ My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." The Priests and Levites who had care of the Temple, were familiar with the prophets, and they must have remembered the words of Isaiah and Jeremiah which the Lord Jesus now recalled to them. Isaiah had declared as one of God's most precious promises, that “the sons of the strangers (that is those who were not born of Israel) who joined themselves to the Lord to serve Him, even those will I bring to my holy mountain, (that is to Zion in Jerusalem,) and make them joyful in my house of prayer, * * * * for mine house shall be called the house of prayer for all people.” * This promise had been fully kept, and from the nations round, many "sons of the strangers ” had been yearly gathered to Jerusalem, to worship there the true God, and to be “made joyful in His house of prayer.” What did they find there? They found that the people who by God had been set apart to watch over the honor of His Holy Name, and to whose care the purity of the true religion had been entrusted, had turned the courts of His House into a market-place, and had made it, by throwing it open to all the tricks of trades, as it were “ a den of thieves."
* Luke xii, 13.
How must the warmth of their feelings have been damped, and even their faith shaken! They had journeyed- from far distant lands, that they might worship God in the place He Himself appointed. They had left their worldly cares behind them, that, set free from all earthly things, their hearts might rise in prayer even to the throne of God in heaven. They had been taught that in the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, dwelt the awful symbol of His power ; could they believe this when they found the
very sacrifice for the altar, made into an excuse for turning the courts of the Temple into a market-place?
The Son of God could not pass by unchecked, this public dishonour done to His Father's House by those very men who boasted that they were God's own peculiar people: therefore, He seems to have begun and ended His ministry by turning out of the Temple all those who thus dishonoured it. He told them that they had made the House of Prayer a den of thieves, and thus reminded them of what God had said by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah, “Is this House which is called by my name, become a den of thieves in your eyes ? Behold I the Lord have seen it.” * This part of scripture, if they would have taken heed to it, might have taught them that the name of being God's people, could not save them from His wrath; * Isaiah lvi. 6, 7.
* Jeremiah yii. 11.
which would surely fall upon them if they persisted, for, in the same message from God, it had been said to them, “ Trust ye not in lying words, saying, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”* The possession of the Temple would profit them nothing, on the contrary, as the leaves of the barren fig-tree seemed to make its want of fruit more striking, so the Jews were deserving of a greater punishment because they kept up the outward worship of God and had no inward holiness of heart, which alone can make religion a truth. “ Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched.”
Long since, this awful truth has been fulfilled. The Temple of the Lord no longer stands upon the Holy Mountain. The people of Israel have been swept from their place, and it has been given over to the heathen. Is there nothing in their punishment that may be a warning to us? Have we nothing to do with the cleansing of the Temple ? The hour is come which Christ foretold when he spoke to the woman of Samaria. The Father is no more worshipped in Jerusalem, but wherever there is a true heart that seeks to serve Him in spirit and in truth, for “the Father seeketh such to worship Him.” Therefore each Christian carries with him the temple of God. The honor of His true religion is committed to each of us. Oh let us take heed that we also do not bring dishonour upon his name. We call ourselves by the name of Christ, do we carry
this brance wherever we go? Have “the sons of the stranger," (that is those who have not been born among the blessings of a Christian Church,) no reason to disbelieve His religion when they see it has no power to hinder us from making gain our chief thoughts ? Alas ! have not the heathen who are subject
to our rule, had but too much cause to despise Christianity from the conduct of those who call themselves Christians ?
Prayer. O God, build up, we beseech Thee, a Holy Temple in each of our hearts. Do Thou come and dwell within us. Cast out all that would offend, and grant that wherever the Christian name is known, Thou mayest be honoured and adored for Jesus' sake. Amen.
MARK XI. 19.
Verse 19. “ And when even was come, he went out of the city.”
The Lord Jesus passed the nights that still remained, in the village of Bethany; and when we look back upon the fierce strife that raged round Him all the day, even at this distance of time, it gives a feeling of quiet to our hearts to know that his nights were thus passed in peace. His days were in the crowded city among enemies watching for his life, surrounded by multitudes whose shouts of praise He knew were soon to be changed into cries for his blood. How gladly must the apostles have turned with him from Jerusalem, and in the cool evening followed him across the brook Kedron, and down the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, to the quiet village embosomed among its palm-trees,* there to pass a few more peaceful hours among the friends who loved him. Man as well as God, his soul must have been refreshed by their affection. Few were the tranquil hours that still remained ; and as each passed on, He knew that it brought him nearer to the dreadful cross, but he shrank not from it, and with the early morning he returned to Jerusalem. Night quickly falls in the countries of the East, and darkness comes so rapidly, that we can scarcely say “it is evening," before night is upon us. Thus when in the dark, Jesus with his disciples had passed out of the city gates, they had not observed the withered fig-tree.
* Bethany, probably so called from the number of palm-trees that grow around it.
How glorious is the bright morning of the East! sparkling in the dew, trees and flowers seem to scatter freshness round them, and as the rocks and hills brighten in the first rays of the sun, the whole earth awakes to life and gladness. Jesus and his disciples passed on to the gates of Jerusalem in this early freshness of the morning,—but by the way-side stood an awful sign. Dark and lonely amid the universal brightness, the fig-tree dried up to the very roots ! On it no bud or blossom sparkled in the dew. It stood a warning of that death which must follow when the blessing of God is withdrawn. All life, even vegetable life, exists only by His power. If separable from Him, all must die. Who could look upon the driedup fig-tree without fear. The fresh spring morning breathed around it; but it was dead, and no fruit could grow upon it for
The bright day of Christianity was about to dawn upon the world, but the Jewish church was dead, the blessing of God had departed from it.
As they passed by with their Lord, the apostles paused in astonishment. Then followed a conversation in which Jesus taught them the mighty powers of faith. It is written that they had not seen the withered fig-tree, till
Verses 20—23. “In the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance, saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away! And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I