I want to start out by playing a little game. I want to see if you can guess each answer. I’m going to ask you a “how many” question and you’re going to see if you know the right answer.
Do you like to buy stuff? I do. I like going to the movies and my favorite Dunkin Donut is glazed blueberry. It seems like just about everyone likes to buy something. You don’t even have to go to the store now. You can use your smartphone to shop or you can buy a thing called a dash button from Amazon so whenever you run low on toothpaste with just the press of a button you can have toothpaste delivered.
How often do we treat God this way? How often do we come to church this way? God, I’m here to put money in the offering bag so that in return you will give me… dot-dot-dot, fill in the blank. Or maybe that’s how you use your prayers. God, I’m praying, now would you do what I want? The University of North Carolina asked teenagers about their view of God and religion and they found this.
“They concluded that most American teens view God as a “combination divine butler and cosmic therapist,” and teens were “primarily concerned with one’s own happiness in contrast to focusing on glorifying God, learning obedience, or serving others.” This was the religion of most teens, the researchers concluded, because it is also the form of religion practiced by their parents. Americans want a god who will serve our needs, fix our problems, and help us achieve our goals.”
Even in the church we unintentionally teach each other to look to God as the great provider of our wants and needs. When we come to church we expect excellent music, a funny yet thought-provoking sermon, and maybe a free mug and a t-shirt too. You can blame me for at least 3/4 of those things. I really wanted to make my big idea for this sermon, “Out with the merch. In with the church.” If God is something we use to get what we really want, safety, security, happiness, wealth, then we are consuming God and our religion is not Christianity, but consumer Christianity. Today, I want to ask this question…
What’s wrong with consumer Christianity?
What’s wrong with God helping us out? What’s wrong with only going to God when we’re in a tough spot? What’s wrong with God fitting into my life? Today in our text Jesus addresses what’s wrong and it’s not pretty. He has finally come to Jerusalem for his crucifixion. He’s just ridden in on a donkey and the next big thing he does is go to the temple. He walks up the steps into the courtyard and he makes a scene.
Luke 19:45-46 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (NIV®)
Jesus drives out the merchants in Luke. Both Matthew and Mark tells us he drives out those who were buying too. For some reason Luke leaves them out. But both Matthew and Mark say Jesus “overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matt 11:12; Mark 11:15).
The money changers exchanged currencies from around the middle-east for the one type of currency the temple used, Tyrian Shekels. It wasn’t a Roman coin because they hated their Romans oppressors, but it did have “the image of the god Melkart.” When Jesus says they’re robbers, they would have been doing this by charging an unfair fee on the exchange rate. They were taking advantage of pilgrims who had come from far and wide to Jerusalem for passover week. That’s the first thing that’s wrong with consumer Christianity.
1) It takes advantage of others.
When we approach Christianity and Christ as a way to get ahead or make some money we’re not honoring God. I recently heard of a church member (not from our church) borrowing thousands of dollars from other church members and not giving it back. I don’t really think about this sort of thing being a possibility, but it is. People can use the faith as an excuse to take advantage of the flock financially. There’s a reason we have a benevolence fund. If someone in the church personally asks you for a loan, I recommend you send them to the benevolence fund so we can assess and meet their need as a church body.
In Matthew and Mark Jesus targets the dove sellers. The people that bought doves for sacrifices were the poor. The rich could afford calves and sheep. Jesus’ parents offer “a pair of doves or two young pigeons” when they come to consecrate him as a baby at the temple (Luke 2:24). At one point in Jewish history dove prices were so exorbitant a rabbi ruled that you only needed to buy one instead of the five required. Some people, robber merchants, weren’t afraid to even take advantage of the poor.
When Jesus says, “you have made [my house] ‘a den of robbers” he’s quoting Jeremiah 7:11. Right before this verse the prophet Jeremiah calls out those who “oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow” (v6) and those who “steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow others gods” (v9). What makes someone a robber is oppressing the most at-risk in our communities, taking advantage of others for our own means, and worshipping idols. By cleansing the temple of these merchants Jesus is cleansing the temple of oppressors and idolaters. They took advantage of the poor and used money with the image of a false God to run the temple.
How do we unintentionally oppress others and commit idolatry? As the pastor of this church I want people to attend regularly and consistently because I think the Bible commands it in Hebrews 10:25, but I also have an inner voice that tells me, “The bigger the crowd the better the preacher.” My good desire can turn into oppression and idolatry. Are there ways that you use your church experience to satisfy your wants and worship other things beside God? Maybe you get all your gossip here or serve to feel like you’re a good person or just want a worship experience that fits you. Gossip may be bad but serving and worship are good things. But if we want those things more than Christ himself we’ve become consumers and idolaters. Consumer Christianity takes advantage of others.
2) It prevents others from worshiping.
There’s some debate among scholars whether or not Jesus drove out the merchants in the court of the Gentiles, which was the outer plaza around the temple used by the non-Jews to worship and pray, or in the Royal Stoa, which was a hall lined with pillars and was the more common commercial center. Because of Jesus’ focus on prayer, I think it was the court of the Gentiles. The temple system required some buying and selling of animals but Jesus is angry with them taking over the court of the Gentiles because it prevents gentiles (non-Jews) from coming to worship and pray to the one true God.
When Jesus cries out, “My house will be a house of prayer” he’s quoting from the prophet Isaiah. But he’s actually quoting Isaiah 56, which is a prophecy for when there is no temple in Jerusalem because it has been destroyed and the Israelites have been taken into exile. In Isaiah 56 God is telling the people how they are to treat foreigners when they the temple is rebuilt. I want to read you two verses
6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
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.” (NIV®)
God promises that it’s not just the Israelites who will have the privilege of worshipping on the holy mountain, that’s the temple mount in Jerusalem. He also intends to bring in foreigners, or Gentiles, to worship at his house. Luke cuts the phrase “for all the nations” but Mark’s account includes it (Mark 11:15-18). Somewhere along the line the Jewish people lost sight of God’s purpose to bring in all the nations (Gen 12:2-3). They became self–focused and lost site of God’s missional plans. Worship became about what was convenient for them and met their needs, not about God’s plans.
I’m going to share a quote with you from Thom S. Rainer. He contrasts the difference between an entitled church member and a Biblical church member. It’s pretty stiff, but I want it to match Jesus’ tone that he must have had when he cast out those moneychangers.
The entitled church member treats the church more like a country club than a church. They view their financial offerings as dues to get perks and privileges. They make pastors and other church leaders cringe when they say, “You do know we pay your salary.”
The entitled church member is the antithesis of the biblical church member described in 1 Corinthians 12. The apostle Paul describes that type of church member as giving, functioning, and sacrificing. He or she is a member of the body of Christ for the greater good of the church. Others come first.
An entitled church member expects his worship style. She expects her color of the rooms and temperature in the worship center. They expect their pastor to jump when they call. After all, they think, it’s our church. We should be able to get what we want.
The entitled church member resists change constantly. These church members do not want anything that upsets their way of doing church to be introduced to the congregation. Church is about their perks, their desires, and their comfort.
Biblical church members will gladly accept change to reach people with the gospel, and to bring glory to God. Entitled church members are in churches to get their needs met.
I share what he wrote not as an accusation or condemnation, but as a challenge. May we never become entitled church members but rather Biblical church members. And if we are a little entitled, let’s confess that sin and start anew. If there is anything that we are doing that prevents others from worshipping may we address it. I don’t want to be a consumer Christian. But if I’m a selfish person naturally, what’s the antidote?
What is the antidote to consumer Christianity? Prayer.
Within Jesus’ condemnation of their lack of prayer is a positive call to pray. He says “my house will be a house of prayer.” That’s a future indicative. It’s going to happen! It will happen. My house WILL BE a house of prayer. What does this prayer do?
1) Prayer teaches us to love God and others.
Notice what happens the rest of this week as Jesus teaches in the temple.
Luke 19:47-48 Every day he was teaching at the temple. But the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. 48 Yet they could not find any way to do it, because all the people hung on his words. (NIV®)
The religious people try to kill Jesus but all the people love Jesus. It doesn’t say for sure but I like how the text says “all the people.” I bet that means gentiles who had come to the court of the gentiles to pray were hanging on Jesus’ words too. The word “hung” means to “depend.” The people were depending and hanging on every word of Jesus because he taught truth. They had encountered the self-serving consumeristic religion of the temple, but when they encountered Jesus they encountered life. The world takes. Jesus gives. It’s through prayer that we come to love Jesus and it’s Jesus who satisfies us
It’s true that when we pray if you’re like me you probably start by telling God all of your needs and wants. That may be true for years and years but over time if we keep at it prayer will become less and less about my needs and wants and more about just being with God and lifting up others.
Pray for God to give each of us and the whole church a greater love for him and for each other. When we pray we spend time with God and it’s being in a relationship with him that we become complete. Prayer teaches us to love God and others. How else does prayer counteract consumer Christianity? If consumer Christianity prevents others from worshipping and prayer is the antidote, then…
2) Prayer is worship.
When we pray to the one true God we are worshipping him. We are admitting that he is God and we are not and that nothing we can consume will ever satisfy us. We are admitting that only he can satisfy us. One of the effects of Jesus driving out the buyers and sellers is that at least for that day people couldn’t buy animals and sacrifice them. By driving out the merchants Jesus is doing away with the sacrificial system. In a similar occasion in John 2 when Jesus drives out the moneychangers the Jews seem to understand the deeper authority Jesus is claiming. After Jesus drove out the moneychangers…
John 2:18-22 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (NIV®)
Jesus can drive out the lambs and the sheep and the doves because he the one perfect lamb we need. We can try to make the religious experience we think we need or want but all we really need is Jesus. Jesus is our perfect substitute. He takes our idolatry and selfishness and he gives us the perfect love of God and perfect love of others. What in religion or in this world are you looking to satisfy you? Have you looked to the cross? Have you looked to the lamb?
The antidote to consumer Christianity is prayer.
I wonder what it would look like for us to not consume Christ or Christianity but to go to prayer and be filled with Christ. If all 55-ish of us took time to pray once a day and be in a relationship with Christ Jesus this week that would be 385 moments of true Christianity (55×7 days). If we did this for the whole month that would be 1,705 moments of anti-consumeristic true faith (55x 31 days). If we did this every day, every month, for a whole year it would be 20,705 moments of talking to the father through prayer, of focusing on him instead of ourselves, of true worship (55×365 days).
There is an antidote to this consumeristic world that we live in. There is an antidote to the consumeristic religion we can so easily create. The antidote is prayer, prayer to our heavenly father through Christ Jesus. We don’t need fast cars, big trucks, or to go to the movies. We don’t need donuts or Coke or Amazon dash buttons. All we need is a little lamb, the perfect lamb, sacrificed for us. Let’s go to him in prayer. The antidote to consumer Christianity is prayer.