April 5, 2020

Turning Over Tables:  A Palm Sunday Meditation

Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston

Matthew 21:10-14

And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying,
“Who is this?”
So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and
sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the
seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them;
“It is written;
`My house shall be called a house of prayer,’
but you have made it a `den of thieves.'”

The question that all Jerusalem asked when Jesus rode a little donkey in
kingly procession to the Temple Mount was, “Who is this?”
When I was about fifteen, my two younger brothers and I were flying from the
Middle East to the USA. We had a layover at the airport in Rome, Italy. During
that layover, we noticed that people began to get excited about a passenger who
had just landed at the airport.

Reporters began to run with flashing cameras, and the atmosphere erupted
with applause as a beautiful lady emerged through the gate into the terminal.
That lady was the famous actress, Sophia Loren. My two brothers and I were in
awe. She walked past us and smiled and disappeared into the awaiting crowd. I
remember each of us asking, “Who is this?” as Ms. Loren came and went.
At the time we didn’t know ‘who’ the glamorous actress was, but we were told
that Sophia Loren had just completed a movie and was returning home to her
native Italy.
Can you imagine what Jerusalem must have experienced when the Prophet
from Galilee entered that holy city?
His reputation as a healer and miracle worker preceded him, even though
many pilgrims from other nations were still unaware of ‘who’ Jesus was. In the
excited commotion of that day, the exact meaning of the great prophecy given
by Zechariah some 500 years earlier occurred. Jesus rode a little donkey into
Jerusalem amid the shouts of “Hosanna to the King!” in fulfillment of Zechariah
9:9! Israel had finally received her true King!
The celebration was overwhelming! People placed palm branches and even their
coats upon the path as Jesus made His way to the Temple.
Then, as Jesus entered that Temple, something happened that changed the
entire mood of the occasion. Jesus’ joy turned to righteous anger. Seeing the
blatant merchandising of worship, Jesus turned over the tables of the money
changers.
The worship of God had become little more than a for-profit business. Making
money, negotiating fees, bargaining and swindling, all this and more were
routine practices that became associated with the worship of God. There can be
little doubt that the religious authorities were also profiting from these profane
practices.
How the zeal of Jesus erupted in those moments!
Jesus chased the money-changers from the Temple with the exclamation that
they were ‘thieves’ and that they had dishonored God. The Temple was first and
foremost a house of prayer! And prayer did not require the payment of silver or
gold!
The entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday was a corrective to
the religious mindset and practices of any who would seek to honor God.
Unfortunately, people sometimes believe that their wealth, social standing,
education or some other advantage can influence their standing with God.
The Protestant Reformation sought to correct this persistent human error by
condemning the sale of indulgences, the practice of purchasing God’s pardon
from sin. By proclaiming that ‘we are justified by faith’ or as the Apostle Paul
would add, ‘and not by works,’ we are to understand that God’s love and grace
are freely offered to any who will receive Jesus as Lord and King.
When Jesus enters our lives, the tables of false worship are overturned. Our
errant notions of worship are corrected and replaced by the authority of His
Word.
When we allow the Lord access to our hearts, the idolatries and corruptions
that have defined our weak attempts to placate the living God come to an end.
Instead we are elevated as children of the Most High!
When Jesus arrives, He chases out anything that obstructs the true worship of
God. We are to worship God in ‘spirit and in truth!’
Because of these facts, we should all welcome the Lord into our lives and
shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
Let’s make this Sunday a day of reflection and thanksgiving. Let’s remember
that God’s Gift is always freely given, and must be freely received! Then let’s
freely share the news that the King has arrived!

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