24.3.13 – A House Of Prayer – Peter Cheyne

Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem one week ahead of Easter, knowing full well that He was riding to His death, despite the fact that the crowds turned out and welcomed Him as a king.

Is there a connection between that and prayer? Actually, there are two. In John 12, Jesus said, after riding into Jerusalem, “Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”

Jesus had two options: escape from the cross or submit to it. Should He pray to be saved from it? No. This was the very reason He had come into the world. Instead, Jesus’ prayer was that God’s name might be glorified. The choice was between avoiding personal suffering and glorifying God. For Jesus, despite the temptation to avoid the personal suffering, the choice would be God’s glory.

Jesus taught us to also pray, “Hallowed be your name; may Your name be glorified.”

Imagine praying every day, “Father, may Your name be glorified – through me today.” How might God be glorified through you? That desire for God’s glory would affect every decision we make. For Jesus it was that costly decision to die, and that certainly has brought God glory as we remember the compassion and mercy of our God who was willing to suffer for the salvation of His wayward children. What a wonderful God! But we can say that only because Jesus put God’s glory ahead of His own comfort.

If we sincerely pray that first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, what would bring God glory? Might you choose to serve someone when you would rather go on an outing? Might that someone realises that you have served because you love Jesus and you follow His example of sacrifice – and Jesus gets the glory? Might you talk about how good Jesus has been to you. Most of us are very timid about talking about Jesus. We think that is not acceptable in our culture. So it might be costly. But it might also be that that person is hungry for the love of God and your sharing brings them the gospel and brings God glory.

As we watch Jesus make that prayer decision ahead of the cross, there is a prayer lesson for us. “What should I pray, ‘Father keep me safe and comfortable’ or ‘Father, may your name be glorified.’?)

The other link between Palm Sunday and prayer is in the cleansing of the Temple – although I need to be honest and say that Mark’s gospel says that this happened the following day, so it might not be relevant to Palm Sunday at all! In Matthew and Luke the story follows straight on: Jesus entered Jerusalem then went to the Temple and drove out the money changers and merchants. Given Mark’s additional detail, it would seem that it actually was the next day that it happened but let’s look at it anyway.

Jesus driving people out of the temple, overturning the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those selling pigeons, is a remarkably violent act – so violent they couldn’t stop Him. Isn’t Jesus meant to be non-violent? Jesus was angry. He was incensed. And it wasn’t just an angry outburst.

On Palm Sunday, after entering the city, Jesus had gone to the Temple. Mark says, “He looked around at everything.” He saw what was going on. He saw the trading and money-changing; the commerce, but he did nothing. Mark says, “as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” Jesus might have been very angry but He didn’t lose control or fly into a rage.

The next day He came back to the Temple and drove everyone out. It was a considered, deliberate action. It was necessary because the temple was being treated with disdain. Again, God was not being glorified.

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves.” Jesus was grieved.

The contrast is between a house of prayer and a den of thieves. What should have been happening in the Temple? People should have been meeting God. It was to be a place of worship. It was a holy place. It was a spiritual place.

What was happening? People were buying and selling. People needed the sacrifices to offer in the temple. Many Jews returned to Jerusalem from surrounding countries with Roman coins. Those coins had to be changed for Jewish coins so as to pay the temple taxes. What is wrong with that? It was all part of the process. People needed the sacrifices. People needed the money-changers.

Firstly, Jesus suggests that the traders were being dishonest, ripping the worshippers off by charging excessive prices. It was an abuse of the temple to taking advantage of people’s need for the sacrifices, for person gain. What was to be a place of worship had become a place of selfish greed and dishonesty.

But maybe there was more to it than that. Some people suggest that it wasn’t just the greed; it shouldn’t have been happening there at all. The temple was not to be used for commerce. It was a place set apart from worldly affairs. It was meant to be holy but had become very worldly. Yes, there needed to be the provision of the sacrifices but not in the temple. Keep the temple as a place of worship and prayer.

Other people suggest that the worship had disappeared. The sacrifices had simply become commercial transactions. People paid their money and made their sacrifice without any real heart-felt worship. The temple, established as a place of prayer, it had become a place of empty ritual –going through the motions but with no real relationship with God. Jesus was outraged at the holy having become worldly.

Early last year I spent some time in Myanmar (Burma). While in Yangon I went to the Buddhist Shwedagon Pagoda.

Me, Shwedagon (2)

All up the streets leading to the temple were people selling things so that pilgrims to the temple could make sacrifices.

looking back down street from Shwedagon  making statues

Inside people were making offerings to the temple. And yet it was crowded with tourists. Is this a holy place or a money-making place? The whole thing is covered in gold which is replaced every few years with more gold that people have given seeking good luck.

replacinggold, Shwedagon

I couldn’t help but be troubled by the constant expectation for people to give – possibly people who struggled to afford it – and even more troubled knowing they were giving to a false god.

Obviously this is a different situation. This is Buddhist, not Jewish. But how similar is it to what Jesus saw. Had it become more about money than prayer? Had it become empty ritual?

The cleansing of the Temple raises questions about the activities that we allow in our church buildings. I am not sure what to think. Part of me thinks the building is just a building. We could have church in a warehouse. It is not the building that matters. But part of me says we should set aside a place that is holy – that is for the worship and the glory of God alone and where other things should not happen.

The Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists, but the Bible talks about what is now the temple.

2 Cor 6:16           What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’

1 Cor 3:16           Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you

In Ephesians 2 Paul talks about us being members of God’s household built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone, and then says, “In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph 2:21)

We are the temple. The people of God are the temple in which God dwells. Is it possible that Jesus might look on His church and feel the same anger at what is happening? Does Jesus say, “My house is to be a house of prayer but you have made it… what?” Is it possible that all Jesus sees is pot luck lunches, fund-raising, committees, meetings, guest speakers, discussion groups – but not prayer? Not people close to God. It is very easy for a church to become little different from a service organisation or a club

We might say that those things are part of church life. Yes they are but provision of sacrifices was part of temple life as well. The problem was that they had taken over. Where was the prayer? Where was the real worship? Where was the meeting with God? Is it possible that church life has become just an empty ritual – people going through the motions, when the church was designed to be a house of prayer?

I was in Korea last September and visited quite a number of churches. It was a wonderful experience. The largest Christian church in the world is in Seoul. Many of the churches are huge and very vibrant. At the moment some are being forced to do some soul searching because their growth has plateaued and they feel that their society is more critical of the church but, even so, the church is hugely impressive.

The largest Presbyterian Church in New Zealand was, prior to the Christchurch earthquake, a Korean Church. Korean churches in the Unites States have seen some spectacular growth.

Perhaps the biggest reason for that has been the Korean Christians’ commitment to prayer. Many of them will be up at 4:00 or 5:00 every day to attend prayer meetings at their church. This started, I understand, in 1907, in Pyongyang, which is now the capital of North Korea but in 1907, of course, Korea was one country. Two elders in the Jang Dae Hyun Church were distressed by the indifference of Christians in the city and they began meeting at 4:30 a.m. in the church to pray. A few days later other members of the congregation joined them. Within a week, 700 members were gathering each morning at 4:30 a.m. to pray for their city. That sparked the 1907 Pyongyang Great Revival and dawn prayer meetings have been part of Korean church life ever since.

That is a little different from what we are used to, isn’t it? The important question is: what does Jesus think when He looks at that?. I think Jesus would be thrilled. My house is to be a house of prayer.

 

Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul
Yoido Full Gospel Church, Seoul

Just by the way, I went to Yoido Full Gospel Church, the largest church in the world with 800,000 members. One of the really cool things was to see groups of men (elders, maybe?) outside praying.

012 men praying outside Yoido FGC  018 more men praying, Yoido

Is there a link between this commitment to prayer and the growth and vibrancy of the Korean church? People who study the church in Korea always conclude that prayer is a major factor in their growth.

Jesus says, “My house is to be a house of prayer.” Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to add the next bit: “but you have turned it into… something else”? Is it your desire that Jesus looks at Mornington Presbyterian Church and says, “My house is a house of prayer”?

Every church has to, at times, look at itself and ask “What are we here for? What is important and what is not important? Have we drifted from God’s intention? Are we focused on what God values or have we become an institution, with a different set of values, that God barely recognises?”

I am not saying that this church has strayed. I am saying that every church has to ask those questions periodically. Then, in response to the answers, are we willing to make some mid-course corrections so as to re-align ourselves with God?

How could we increase the level of prayer in this church? I am really grateful to those who meet each Sunday morning to pray for our services. There is one other monthly prayer meeting. I have no idea how much individuals, or other groups, are praying but how could we raise the level of prayer?

You will know how much you pray. Let’s take a few moments to reflect silently. When you hear Jesus say, “My house is to be a house of prayer” and you know that you are part of God’s temple, what is your response to Jesus?

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