Catching Jesus’ Bad Habits: Jesus Offended People, Especially People in High Places

7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


              Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10              Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

     Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Mark 11:11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Mark 11:15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,

     ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?

              But you have made it a den of robbers.”

18 And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. 19 And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

  Do you remember the “What Would Jesus Do?” fad? It was really big in 1990s. Lots of folks had bracelets or keychains that said, “WWJD?” It’s a great question. But I think most people misunderstand it. They thought of Jesus as a nice guy—kind, helpful, thoughtful, and willing to go the extra mile. That’s all true as far as it goes, but that does not take into account the way that Jesus could really offend people sometimes. He famously said that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” He called out liars for lying and hypocrites for faking it. He compared the “holier than thou” leaders to “white-washed tombs” because they were white-washed and nice-looking on the outside, but inside full of death.” And then in today’s passage, Jesus actually gets so angry about what He finds in the Temple that He starts throwing tables and chairs around. Why did Jesus consistently offend people? Why would we want to catch Jesus’ bad habit?

First, Jesus called out insincerity and dishonesty and showed compassion to those who were sincerely trying to love God with their whole heart. The chief priests and scribes were so invested in the system, they were blind to the commercializing of God’s sacred space. So Jesus broke up the party and explained why. Jesus quoted from the Prophet Isaiah 56:6–7:

Is. 56:6      And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD

                  to serve him,

         to love the name of the LORD,

                  and to worship him,

         all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it

                  and who hold fast to my covenant—

7       these I will bring to my holy mountain

                  and give them joy in my house of prayer.

         Their burnt offerings and sacrifices

                  will be accepted on my altar;

         for my house will be called

                  a house of prayer for all nations.”

  Wait, wait, wait. Did Jesus just suggest that God made a place in the Temple for people who are not Jewish? Yep. He did. Scandalous! To the people who traveled long distances to be at the Temple, even those who were not Jewish, Jesus makes it clear they should be able to worship without having to deal with sheep, doves and money-changers. Where the almighty shekel had a foothold, God should be King.

Second, Jesus called out the folks who thought they were safe. Jesus’ other quote comes from God through the Prophet Jeremiah 7:9–11:

  Jer. 7:9 “ ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.

  How did the Jewish leaders know they were going to heaven? Well, they were Jewish for one thing—that meant they were part of God’s people. For another thing, they could point to all the “good things” they were doing—making the right sacrifices, not working on the Sabbath, giving a tenth of their income, and abiding by all the other rules. But they were following other gods during the week—money, self-interest, pleasure, whatever. To the people just going through the motions without giving their whole heart to God, Jesus makes it clear they are not safe. “I have been watching! declares the Lord.”

Jesus overturning the tables and chairs—clearing out the Temple—is just as offensive today if we will hear it. Jesus is looking for followers not fans. The incredibly ironic thing about the WWJD fad was the amount of merchandising that with it. You could buy bracelets, shirts, necklaces, hats. Mostly these were for other people to see, not for the owner to see. Why did they wear them then? To show they were Jesus’ fans? Jesus is looking for followers, for people who are willing to go “all in” to make their lives revolve around what Jesus would do. Jesus would have something to say about the way making a buck and busyness are getting a foothold in the Sabbath places of our lives. The idea of a Sabbath is really important. Sabbath means honoring time spent with God, setting aside all our getting ahead and money-making efforts, to remind ourselves we are more than what we do, we belong to God. Where would Jesus overturn the tables and chairs of commercialism and busyness to create space for God? You see, being in a church building isn’t what makes us safe. Just because you and I showed up today doesn’t mean we have a “lock” on getting into heaven. In fact, just because we are “nice” people and do “good” things does not guarantee we have eternal life. That’s a way of saying we can earn our way to salvation, that we are saved by what we do, that if we work hard enough then God has to give us what we worked for…as if we could control God. Jesus came not just to call us out for our self-deceptions, but to call us in—to live a life of radical, revolutionary love and obedience to God. Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” and then Jesus lived that reality out completely—even if it meant going to a Cross for the very people who cursed and spat on Him. Jesus is looking for followers, and He welcomes everyone to take up their own crosses, to be willing to offend others with our simple, trusting faith and Jesus’ open-handed grace…and to follow. Oh those dangerous, life-changing words, “What would Jesus do?”