It begins as a convenience, a way of speeding up the process. “We have to bring a sacrifice anyway, so why not just have it right here, all ready to go? That way anyone can come.” Yes, it begins for anyone and everyone, a way for all to meet God. Right? Don’t have a lamb? Come on in and buy one! Need something cheaper? We have that, too. We have everything you need for your atonement. Everything, that is, except a heart broken over sin.
Sure, someone probably thought it would be helpful, this selling of sacrifices right at the temple gate. Access to all. Only something happens when your need becomes another man’s gain. And something happens when sacrifice becomes a convenience. Then it is no longer sacrifice.
Then the temple, this sacred place, this coming together of a broken people under the shadow of God, becomes not a holy space but a measuring place. The haves get to saunter in, peruse the goods, choose the best. The rich making each other richer, the worthy flaunting their worthiness. Coins clink. We feel good about ourselves. Unless you are a have not. Then you slink in with your pennies and shamefacedly purchase your atonement, taking your place among the low. Or you don’t come in at all. You are too poor, or too sick, or too messed up for this place.
In a place like this, the haves offer their sacrifice that is no sacrifice at all, then go out and stone the prostitutes, shut away the lepers from sight, make sure the unworthy know their place. Which is no place at all.
Until the King comes.
Until we suddenly stand face to face with the One for whom this all began in the first place, the One whose glory is so great that until now He has shielded us from Himself, giving us this place to come and meet Him before the veil, so we would know our place.
Until now. Now He stands before us, clothed in our flesh, standing in His house which we have made into a marketplace, a place for measuring up and tearing down. He strides through His house like thunder. Like a warrior rescuing His beloved from the enemy.
“How dare you? How dare you. This place, My house, it is a place of prayer. A place of joy. A place where all—all—especially the outcast—can come and find Me.”
This is what He saw when He stood on that mountain. This is why He wept. This is why He came.
It’s easy to judge their foolishness, easy to look back and see where they went wrong. But what of us? What of me?
What happens when our King chooses us, His children, as His house, the dwelling place of His glory? What is it like for us to be His place of prayer, the space where all should come and find joy . . . because they find Him?
His house is to be a place of joyful sacrifice, an offering up of ourselves so we can receive Him. What happens when instead we set up our booths, our little conveniences?
It starts when this place of His worship becomes the place of our own. We worship what we can (or cannot) do for Him. We worship us, and our space becomes the measuring-up space, the cutting-down space, the space cluttered up with our distractions and our mirrors. We stare downward and inward for hours on end, while His glory hovers all around us.
Look up. Please look up. Put down your measuring sticks and stop spending all you have to sacrifice yourselves at each other’s altars. Can’t you see that you have made your heart, His dwelling place, a den of thieves? And the thief comes not only to steal, but to kill and destroy.
Of course we are broken. Of course we do not understand Him. Of course it is easier to wear this cloak of anger, or indifference, or pride, and to bow to our fears and our not-enoughness. But what if we kick out the thieves, give His house back, let Him clean all the spaces and fill it with His glory, His enoughness? What if we sacrifice the real deal—everything we think we are, or think we know, or think we want?
“And as for the outsiders who now follow me,
working for me, loving my name,
and wanting to be my servants—
All who keep Sabbath and don’t defile it,
holding fast to my covenant—
I’ll bring them to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
They’ll be welcome to worship the same as the ‘insiders,’
to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to my altar.
Oh yes, my house of worship
will be known as a house of prayer for all people.”
The Decree of the Master, God himself,
who gathers in the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather others also,
gather them in with those already gathered.”