About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Selling The Sacred Sanctuary


While growing up as a child in the 1950's and 1960's in an Evangelical Christian environment it was understood that the building in which we worshipped was the house of God, the very place where God lived.  From a child's perspective, God must have felt lonely at times because we only visited Him 8 out of the 168 hours in a week.  On Sunday morning and evening, and on Tuesday night, we'd visit God in His house.  We could talk and laugh all we wanted outside of its doors but once inside, especially inside what was called the sanctuary, we had to speak in a reverent whisper.   


On one occasion I watched my friends playing cards in the basement of God's house.  After being discovered by our pastor's wife we were harshly scolded for desecrating the house of God.     


Playing cards in God's house was bad but selling things, even a Bible, was really bad.  Jesus made that clear.  "How dare you turn my Father's house into a market" (John 2:16).  "My house is a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers" (Matthew 21:13). 


The specific house Jesus spoke of was Herod's temple.  It was so named because King Herod the Great, an Edomite who was raised as a Jew, built the temple as a prideful expression of himself that would bring glory to his legacy.  It was a massive structure, holding 210,000 people in its many courtyards.  It was adorned with gold and precious stones and was visible from most parts of Jerusalem.  It was a wonder of the world back then. 


Herod's temple was more than a place of worship.  The hustle and bustle of religious commerce dominated its daily activities.  Priests became wealthy as they profited from the sale of lambs, sheep, goats, and doves that would be sacrificed unto the Lord.  They were sellers of the sacred.    


The adult generation of my youth seemed to have missed the point that God no longer lives in a temple constructed by men (Acts 17:24).  God lives in individual believers (1 Corinthians 6:10) and thus in Body of Christ, the church (1 Corinthians 3:16 - 17).  If Jesus appeared in physical form today, He would not criticize us for selling things in a building we call church.  He would, however, denounce us for selling ourselves, His sacred sanctuary.  Commercialization of church desecrates God's New Testament house and destroys the very meaning of church. 


This commercialization is seen when Christian ministries promote and sell themselves for financial gain.  Such ministries profit from their hedonistic financial prosperity gospel.  Their organizational structures resemble Dow Jones Corporations.  Their advertizing strategies vary little from our "I deserve it all" corporate economy.  Their self-promoting, self-sufficient, and self-perpetuating ministries remind me of the community of believers at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14 - 22). 


In their arrogance, the believers at Laodicea were rich, wealthy, and in need of nothing.  They were self-promoting, self-sufficient, and self-perpetuating.  They could carry out their humanistic endeavours without Jesus.  Despite their worldly success, Jesus denounced them as being wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  He was about to vomit them out of His mouth, which He eventually did.      


The building most call a church is not church.  It's just a tool we use in the service of the Lord, a tool that should never shift our focus away from our calling to serve Jesus.  It is, therefore, okay to sell things in our buildings.  What isn't okay is the selling of ourselves by becoming self-promoting money making ministries that desecrate God's house.  


As Jesus threw over the tables of religious commerce in Herod's temple, I anticipate the day when He will overthrow our western world money making ministries.  I look forward to seeing these sellers of the sacred sanctuary being humiliated as they are scattered into bits and pieces across the ecclesiastical landscape.     


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