The House of Prayer
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.”
This passage of Holy Scripture sets before us two of the most remarkable events in our Lord’s earthly life and ministry. They are remarkable in that they are displays of the wrath and judgment of almighty God. Judgment is God’s strange work. Therefore, our Lord’s works primarily display the love, mercy, grace and goodness of God toward sinners. But judgment is as truly the work of God as redemption. Christ came both to redeem and save his people and to establish judgment in the earth (Isa. 42:4) Usually, we see him displaying works and miracles of mercy. But here we see him displaying wrath and judgment. Both in driving the money changers out of the temple and in cursing the fruitless fig-tree, our Savior shows his willingness and his power to execute judgment.
Both of these acts of judgment are emblems of spiritual things. Both were eminently figurative and typical. “Beneath the surface of each lie lessons of solemn instruction.” (J.C. Ryle). Yet, in the midst of wrath, our Lord remembers mercy. How like him that is! He drove out the moneychangers; but he healed the needy. He refused the services of the priests, but accepted the praises of children. He left the caviling scribes, but went to his friends in Bethany. He who is our God and Savior is both furious in wrath and glorious in goodness.
As we go through these verses together, I want you to see seven things here recorded by divine inspiration for our comfort, learning, and edification.
The Cleansing of the Temple
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (vv. 12-13).
We saw our Lord do a similar thing in the beginning of his ministry (John 2:14-15). During those days the temple of God, the priesthood, and all the ordinances of divine worship had degenerated into nothing but a sham, a show, a pretense. Religion was nothing but an outward service. Religious leaders were money-grubbing, self-serving professionals who, like most religious leaders today, made a business out of doing what men called “the work of the ministry,” “the work of God.”
When our Lord came into the temple, he found that house built in God’s name, the place where God’s glory was once revealed, the place of sacrifice, the place where the law of God was read, expounded, and displayed, was disgracefully profaned. Everything was out of order. Our Lord saw it all with utter indignation. In fury, he drove out the religious merchandisers, anxious to make a profit on God.
This is a vivid display of our Savior’s holy sovereignty and power in judgment. Among all the miracles our Lord performed, this must be viewed as one of the clearest displays of his eternal Godhead. Here is a man, the most humble man who ever lived, casting out those who bought and sold in the temple, overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of them that sold doves. He did this with such authority and zeal that no one dared oppose him. When he publicly announced that he had done this as God, publicly claiming that he was himself God, calling the temple; “My house,” no one raised a voice of objection. What an invincible proof this is of his divinity! No one resisted him or his claim. So it shall be in the day of judgment. When the Son of God comes to judge the wicked, none shall be able to resist him (Mal. 3:2).
There is a day coming when the Son of God will purge and cleanse his church and temple thoroughly. “He shall thoroughly purge his floor.” In that day, all chaff shall be burned. All the wood, hay, and stubble of man’s works shall be utterly consumed with the fire of his holy wrath.
The Church of God, the assembly of God’s saints in public worship is a place of worship, “the house of prayer” (Isa. 56:7). “Prayer” is the worship of God. And in the worship of God, small things matter (1 Chron. 15:13). It is an act of abomination to make it anything else. The assembly of men and women in the name of Christ, every true local church is the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15). This is the place where Christ meets his people (Mt. 18:20). This is the place of worship. There is no room in the house of God for anything except the worship of God. That involves the preaching of the gospel, prayer and praise, the reading of his Word, the attentive hearing of his Word, and the observance of gospel ordinances, believer’s baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Anything else is out of place in God’s house.
The Compassion of our Savior
“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them” (v. 14). — It is ever the character of our God that in wrath he remembers mercy. When the blind and the lame came to him for healing, “he healed them.” Do not imagine that our Savior is not merciful because he is just and true. He has no tolerance for religious con-men and hucksters; but he is full of compassion to needy souls. Never did anyone come to him for mercy, while he walked on this earth, who did not obtain the mercy sought. And he has not changed. All who seek mercy from him obtain mercy.
The place of mercy is still the temple of God, the divinely appointed place of worship, the church and house of God. I once came into God’s house as a blind, lame, helpless soul. There, in the house of worship, the Son of God healed me. In that place where his word is preached, I obtained mercy from him, and left the house seeing and hearing, leaping and dancing, and praising God my Savior. If you want mercy, put yourself in the place where mercy is found. If you are interested in others obtaining mercy, get them to the place where Christ dispenses mercy.
The Children’s Confession
“And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased” (v. 15). — This is another remarkable display of our Savior’s divinity. When our Lord Jesus received worship from these children in the house of God, his reception of their praise was an open claim that he is God. He, as well as those in the temple, knew that this cry, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” was praise reserved for no one but the Messiah.
When the priests and scribes heard the praise of these children, and saw the Savior’s wonderful works of mercy, they were infuriated. Nothing that glorifies the Lord Jesus escapes the eyes of religious legalists and ritualists. Wherever Christ is honored as Savior alone, religionists are soon enraged Ecclesiastical pretenders are enraged by the simple preaching of Christ crucified, which is the constant exaltation of Christ in his house.
How can the praise of these children be accounted for, except by the fact that their minds were seized and ruled by divine power, and sweetly forced to bear testimony to our Savior? This singular, unified act of adoration and praise from the children of those men our Lord had just thrown out of the temple, and of the scribes, chief priests, and Pharisees standing before him, cannot be accounted for any other way. They did not learn what they heard confessed from their parents. They learned who Christ was and how to praise him, being taught of God himself (John 6:45).
“And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (v. 16). The chief priests and scribes were amazed, as well as angered by the fact that our Lord accepted the simple sincere praise of children, and showed utter contempt for their ornate, gaudy, well prepared services. They were confused because they understood nothing concerning the things of God. They did not understand that worship is spiritual, a matter of the heart (Isa. 1:10; Phil. 3:3; Luke 16:15).
True religion is not man centered, but Christ centered. True religion is not ceremonial, but spiritual. True religion is not a matter of creed, but of conviction. True religion is not outward, but inward. “For we are the circumcision.” — We are God’s true, covenant people, the Israel of God, Abraham’s true children, who “worship God in the Spirit.” We worship God as he is revealed in the Scriptures, by the power of his Holy Spirit, in our spirits, and in a spiritual manner. True worship is spiritual worship, not carnal, ceremonial ritualism (John 4:23-24). — “And rejoice in Christ Jesus.” We trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone, placing all our confidence in him as our Savior, with joy. We are complete in him (1 Cor. 1:30-31; Col. 2:9-10). — “And have no confidence in the flesh.” We place absolutely no confidence in our flesh, the experiences, emotions, or (imaginary) excellencies of our flesh. The privileges of the flesh, the feelings of the flesh, and the works of the flesh are no basis of confidence before God. Christ alone is our confidence and joy. To lost religionists, that is utterly infuriating and confusing.
“And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there” (v. 17). — What a contrast there is here! The Lord Jesus left these caviling religionists to themselves, and went to Bethany. No greater judgment can befall human beings on this earth than for the Lord of Glory to leave them to themselves! But, there is always a remnant, according to the election of grace, to whom he ever comes in mercy. You remember who lived in Bethany. He went to the home of Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Because he loved them, he went to lodge with them. What a blessing!
Our Master despised the company of quibbling religionists. He knew that debate with them was useless. So he left them to themselves. We would be wise to follow his example. In Bethany, in the home of his friends, the Friend of sinners was at home. Spurgeon wrote, “A day of excitement was followed by an evening of retirement in a country home. He spent the night of that most eventful day with his faithful friends. What a contrast between his entry into Jerusalem and his visit to his friends at Bethany! Lord, lodge with me! Make my house thine abode.” Let us pray the same.
The Fig Tree Cursed
“Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” (vv. 18-20).
The fig tree is an unusual fruit tree. It first bears fruit and then puts forth its leaves. Most fruit trees put forth their leaves and then their fruit. So when the Savior came, he saw leaves on the tree, a sign that it had put forth fruit early, but there was none. Having shown us clear displays of his deity, our Savior here shows us his real humanity. — “He hungered.”
The Savior’s curse upon this barren fig tree is a picture of God’s coming judgment upon all who have a form of godliness but no substance of life, no fruit of grace. It was, no doubt, as Robert Hawker wrote, our Savior’s intention in this miracle “to preach by it to the people. The leaves of a mere profession, without fruit in, and from Christ, will stand in no stead in the day of enquiry. Nothing short of union with Christ’s person, can bring up after it communion and interest in what belongs to Christ.” He cursed the fig tree, and it withered. Is your religion all leaves?
Prayer and Faith
“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (vv. 21-22).
Clearly, these words had specific reference to those men to whom our Lord Jesus gave the power to perform miracles in that apostolic age. There are none who have such gifts in this age. Yet, the Lord’s instruction here is for us. In these two verses our Savior teaches us great lessons about prayer. Prayer involves faith in Christ, confidence in him, and confidence in God’s revelation of his will. And prayer involves submission to and seeking the will of God (John 14:13-14; James 4:3; 1 John 5:14).
I do not pretend to understand all that our Lord teaches us here. However, I am confident that his instructions in these two verses are to be understood in connection with everything we have seen in this passage, and have a particular connection to the withered fig tree. Believing him, his church shall see the barren systems of false religion wither away. Babylon shall fall before us. The gates of hell shall never prevail against us. The obstructing mountains of difficulty shall be removed, and cast into the sea. How often we have seen it; and we shall yet see it! Those who do not know and trust our Savior consider his words here unbelievable. Those who know him, to whom he has given, as Mark puts it, “faith in God,” they are words filled with hope, and inspiring expectation (Rev. 18:2; 19:1-7).