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A house of prayer, not a den of thieves

Luke 19:41-48

Pastor David Ernst

10th Sunday after Trinity
Epiphany Lutheran Mission of La Caramuca  
Barinas, Venezuela

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Sun, Aug 28, 2011 

The temple of Jerusalem was the most holy place in the world for the people Israel.  There they gathered to offer expiatory sacrifices, petitions and acts of thanksgiving in the presence of God. At the time of Christ, the temple was the center of a large complex surrounded by a wall with many doors.

What is the largest complex that you have seen? How about the governor's residence in Barinas? The Jerusalem temple complex was the same or larger. It was also open to visitors from all over the ancient world. The faithful Jews from all over the Roman Empire traveled to the most holy place to worship God and offer their praise, petitions and thanks.

Often, pilgrims from distant regions could not bring animals to sacrifice, like pigeons or calves, the whole distance. So there appeared the merchants on the streets of Jerusalem who sold animals for the sacrifices. Pilgrims often needed to change their money to buy the things needed for worship, so there were shops for this purpose.

Gradually, the peddlers had infiltrated the courts of the temple with the help of the priests who wanted part of the profits. This kind of thing angered our Lord Jesus, because as He said, "My house is a house of prayer: but you have made it a den of thieves." That means, the Lord's house is dedicated to worship and prayer. It is not the place for other activities.

Business is not bad in itself. The book of Genesis says because of the punishment of Adam and Eve, the land will not easily yield its harvest, therefore man has to work hard for food, roof over the family's heads and so on. Therefore, it is right for workers to receive their wages, as our Lord says in Luke 10:7. In this world, the exchange of goods and services is necessary for prosperity. However, it is not appropriate in the Lord's house. Here we receive spiritual gifts by the power of the Holy Spirit, as it says in our epistle for today (1 Corinthians 12.1-11). That is, we receive the Spirit through the preaching of the Word and sacraments to bear fruit in good works in our lives. "There are a variety of gifts," ie, the work of the Spirit is manifested in different ways in the life of each believer, but all receive the same Spirit. All believers receive the Spirit and eternal life only by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the house of prayer is not the place to haggle over prices, because none other than Jesus Christ could pay the price for our sins. And the precious body and blood of Christ is a priceless gift.

In the same way, the Lord's house is a place of joy, but not the place for a house party. It's not bad to enjoy the company of our friends with beer and barbecue, if we avoid drunkenness. It's not bad to dance with the boys or girls, to search for a boyfriend or girlfriend, if we avoid sexual immorality. However, out of reverence for God and gratitude for His grace, we pay strict attention to His Word and do not think about our own interests when we gather for worship.

So what about the offering? Every Sunday we collect an offering. Is this a business? No, because it also is a gift, not a purchase. The offering is not the price for entering the house of God and receiving spiritual gifts. We are saved by grace alone, eternal life in Christ belongs to us because of baptism. Free receive complete forgiveness of our sins in the sacrament. The offering is an opportunity to show our love for God and our neighbors by our support of the work of the church that has been commissioned by God. The offering is not for anyone's profit, but is used to proclaim the gospel and do deeds of mercy for the poor. Above all it is part of the response of the believing heart to God's love.

Another thing: there is no temple in Jerusalem today. In our text for today, we hear the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple from the lips of Jesus. According to the Evangelists, the Lord drove the peddlers out of the temple, but that did not change the greed of the priests and the people's lack of reverence. Also for their rejection of God's grace in Christ, they received their punishment. In the year 70 A.D., more or less 40 years after the crucifixion, the Jews rose in revolt against the Romans and the Roman army literally left no stone on top of another in Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt, but to this day not the great temple.

As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "... the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father ... But the hour cometh, and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth ... "(John 4:21-23). Also, wherever two or three are gathered in His name, Jesus is present (Matthew 18:20). It is good to construct a large and beautiful building for a house of worship, but is not absolutely necessary. You are the church, living members of the body of Christ, as St. Paul said in the epistle and as we confess every Sunday in the liturgy.

Therefore, it is not a tiresome burden to attend the divine service. On the contrary, as we sing the anthem based on Psalm 122:

Yo me alegré con los que me decían,

ˇA la casa de Jehová iremos!

Yo me alegré con los que me decían,

ˇA la casa de Jehová iremos!

Yo iré, yo iré, yo iré, yo iré,

ˇa la casa de Jehová yo iré!

Yo iré, yo iré, yo iré, yo iré,

ˇa la casa de Jehová yo iré!


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