There are events in life that can cause you to realize what is truly important. Sometimes it can be something big like the birth of a child, a wedding or a death in the family. Other times it can be something small like a kind word or a simple memory. These events can cause us to refocus our attention on what is important but often–given enough time–the impact of that event starts to fade and our attention to the important goes with it.
2000 years ago Jesus faced one of those events and it is over the course of this week that we remember it. His death on the cross and following resurrection is also one of those refocusing events for all of his followers. The impact that it had on those that lived through it is still being felt today. Yesterday was Palm Sunday where Jesus makes his final entrance into Jerusalem knowing that he was facing the cross at the end of this week. The crowd received Jesus expecting him to be the promised Messiah; the one that would defeat Rome and reestablish the Kingdom of David. He was supposed to set everything right. While Jesus was the Messiah and will set everything right, it isn't happening quite the way the people expected.
Jesus is facing his last week before his death on the cross. (While it is important to note that Jesus death wasn't the end of the story it was in essence the end of his earthly ministry. When I refer to Jesus' last week I am not implying that it was his last week but simply it was the last week leading up to the cross.) I know that facing certain death would cause me to focus on those things that were truly important. So what did Jesus focus on in his last week?
On Monday Jesus and his disciples enter the temple and see just how far astray things have gone:
"And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, "Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'? But you have made it a den of robbers." And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city."
Jesus objected to having the temple turned into a place of business. There were money-changers to exchange foreign currency into the coins required for the temple tax and people selling animals for sacrifices. The fact that Jesus then states that the activity is turning the temple into a "den of robbers" is telling. It wasn't merely the fact that these activities were happening. But that they were happening and people were becoming rich because of it. While it might seem like a logical extension to see this as a general condemnation of "Christian commerce," I don't think that it is fair to jump all they way to that conclusion.
God was the one that set up the payment structure for the priests in the first place. They were paid out of the sacrifices given at the temple. But they weren't given land in Israel and were supposed to survive on their portion of the sacrifices. In other words, they weren't supposed to get rich being priests. Even Paul states in multiple places that those working in full-time ministry should get paid for their labor.
Authors should get paid for the books that they write, musicians should get paid for the music they produce and so forth. It's all hard work and people deserve to get paid for their efforts. How many Christians would turn down their paycheck from a secular company? The problem comes when we start turning Christianity into a means of profit.
The problem also comes when being a "successful" pastor or church becomes more important than worshipping and obeying God. When we focus on the world's definition of success we are by definition not focusing on God's definition of success. Worshipping God with the proper mindset was so important that Jesus took time during his last week to drive out all of those things from the temple that took away from that focus. What is distracting you from worshipping and obeying God?
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.