On Easter Sunday I was a bit out of sync and actually preached on the Palm Sunday event of Christ entering Jerusalem and clearing the temple. I’d preached on it before but this time the Lord gave me new insight into just how ugly must have been the scene that Jesus encountered at the temple, how relevant it is to our day and why he must do the same in us, his church, before the world can have the manifestation of him that he intends it to have before he returns.
It had to do with the Court of the Gentiles, a wide open place set apart for the nations to come and find God. It surrounded the inner courts and the Holy Place, where the circumcised could come, by the blood of a lamb, and have fellowship with God – with the intent that they would minister that life out to the world.
What he found was a people who gave lip service to the inner court but actually lived in the outer courts, wheeling and dealing at tables set up for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the nations. Unfortunately when the nations came, seeking the dwelling place of God, what they found was a market, and one that was little different to what they already had back in Athens or Rome.
As I considered the picture it occurred to me that it is a currently relevant picture – and equally obnoxious and deserving of judgement.
We too are meant to have an inner place where, by the blood of Christ and with circumcised hearts, we ‘live and move and have our being’, in the presence of God. But surrounding that we are also meant to have a wide open ‘court of the Gentiles’ , a large place where seekers after truth can come and find the life that we share with Christ. In practical terms that ‘court’ represents time, energy and resources that are available for ‘others’. The lost are meant to come and find a place that is uncluttered and available.
Often however when people come into our courts they find that, instead of living out of the Holy Place, we have set up the same tables that they wheel and deal at, that our lives are as cluttered as theirs and the evidence that God dwells here is pretty scant.
Instead of living out of the inner court where we hear God assuring us that he is our supply and sufficiency we are out trading at a table marked ‘Making a Living’ and using the worlds methods to do so. Instead of finding our pleasure and joy in the presence of Jesus we trade at a table called ‘Entertainment’, filling our emptiness with the latest offerings of Foxtel, the Internet or Virgin Blue. Instead of gaining wisdom for our marriages and families at the Lord’s feet we trade at the tables of the world’s wisdom. And so on and so on. When we don’t live out of the Inner Sanctuary we finish up setting up tables in the outer courts.
And churches do the same. It surely has to be asked how much of the marketing, the techniques, and the ‘us’ centred obsession with image that much of the church is into is just tables, borrowed from the world, replacing intimacy with Christ. A Martha church engaged in much that is just ‘not necessary’.
And all of this is taking up room that is not meant to be devoted to us but to ‘the Gentiles’. We rob them – and we rob God.
And the problem is that when our seeking friends come into such courtyards their reaction is, “Wow! you people are no different to us. Same tables, same stress, same priorities and lifestyle.”
This is then followed either by, “Hey, does this mean I don’t have to change? I can stay the same and still be a part of the church?” Or, “Oh. I was hoping you had answers. Does this mean I have to keep searching?”
The glorious thing was that after Jesus cleared the temple Matthew records that ‘the blind and the lame came to him in the temple and he healed them’. And surely they are still there, waiting to get in, looking for room. For the sake of the world we have to clear our ‘court of the Gentiles’. We need to kick over some tables, clear the clutter, get back to living more simply, from that Inner Place, making room for the nations – or the neighbours. Or do we need to wait until the Lord, motivated by a zeal for his house and a love for the nations, comes in his righteous anger (and grace) and turns over our tables for us?