You cannot understand the cleansing of the temple by Jesus without exploring the Old Testament roots of the passage. Jesus was quoting Isa. 56:7, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” The passage is chiastic in structure. That is, verse 7, the reference to the missional house of prayer, is the central idea of the passage. Before it are declarations of mission to the son of the foreigner (v. 3, 6) and to the eunuchs (v. 4), and then after the statement of this central idea is the sad note about pastors/shepherds who should be joining God on His mission, but are self-indulgent and blind (v. 10-11).
The immediate crisis is one of leadership. That was the crisis that Jesus confronted in the Court of the Gentiles. It is the crisis that Luther confronted. It is the crisis we face today.
This was a call for Israel to act as a missional nation to the nations. To open the court of the Gentiles to every tongue and tribe on the planet. It is a similar call to us. After this declaration of the temple as a house of prayer, you find this note (v. 8), “The Lord gathers the outcasts of Israel…[and] others…” God says, “I will gather the outcasts,” (v. 8) and by inference, He is saying, “You too must be agents of reconciliation!” You must be like your gathering Lord. However, they were blind to such a mission. They were blind to the reconciling nature of the God they supposedly knew and served. They were blind to their own arrogance and exclusiveness.
God, in Isaiah declared, “I will bring him near…” – the rejected, the overlooked, the disqualified. I will give them a place in my walls. It is not a coincidence that the story of the healing of this lame man and his invasion into the sacred space of the temple, follows immediately on the heels of the outpouring of the Spirit. In Acts, the two go together.
Spirit empowerment and mission are conjoined. Pentecostals sometimes forget that the infilling of the Spirit is empowerment for service, not merely an experiential trinket. With the coming of the Spirit, the organic church was constituted. It was not a place, but a people. It is a church of lively stones, bound together around Christ and energized by the filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). This church will be, it must be, missional, inclusive of those who seek transformation in the presence of and by the gracious empowerment of a holy God.
The major obstacle to the church as a house of missional prayer noted in Isa. 56 is the same encountered in John, in Matthew and Mark, and throughout the ages – blind leaders, watchmen who are not watchmen, pastors who do not pray. It is dogs who do not bark, sounding a warning. It is leaders who love sleep and slumber, who are driven to make ministry decisions based on monetary value – they are greedy. The term dog as a derisive term is usually reserved for the unclean, spiritually dull Gentiles. Here, the shepherds, spiritual leaders, are no better than non-Jewish Gentiles. They are shepherds who look out for themselves. A party spirit has emerged in the church. Self-interest has come to dominate.
Being blind, we cannot see that we are part of the problem. Being self-interested, our spiritual sensibilities are numb. We are locked into a system that needs shaking and reordering. We can become a part of the debris field or a part of a rising new organic movement of destiny – the church as a house of prayer for the nations.