THE HOUSE OF GOD
Some Third Thoughts
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. For all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.
However, when everything is subdued and in submission to him, then the Son himself will be subject to the Father, who put all things under his feet. This is so that Father God will be everything in everyone!
And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables.
Then He taught, saying to them, "Is it not written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS' ? But you have made it a 'DEN OF THIEVES.'
Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" they were indignant and said to Him, "Do You hear what these are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes. Have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES AND NURSING INFANTS YOU HAVE PERFECTED PRAISE'?"
Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE HAS EATEN ME UP."
And the scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching.
The first two scriptures quoted above are all-encompassing in the sense that, whatever else may be said, whatever else we may be involved in and focus on; when everything is said and done, the last “i” dotted and “t” crossed and the One who sits on the throne declares “Behold, I make all things new…. It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End”, God will be all in all again.
All in all again because all of creation, including humanity, will be restored to its pristine pre-fall condition of total dependence on and integration with Trinitarian life. God has no agenda other than that. Everything, no exception, originated with God; everything, no exception, must be processed through Him and everything, no exception will be consummated in Him. Whatever other understanding we might have, whatever other goals and objectives we might have even in doing church and pursuing ministries, whatever other programmes we might have devised to take care of the processes of our journey, all of them has to rooted only in the reality of: all things originate with Him and come from Him; all things live through Him, and all things center in and tend to consummate and to end in Him.
We cannot do church and try to incorporate God into that. Church is not the focus, God is. He is never a means to our end. He is the end as well as the origin and process of all of life. It will be a wise decision to stay in touch with Him as he progressively reveals the next step on His agenda towards perfection. History has proven that we tend to think we have cornered truth, even about His house, only to find out that we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror.
An example of this limited insight that has always tickled me is Peter’s experience at the house of Simon the tanner in Joppa. I think we all know the story. He was busy praying on the roof of the house when he became hungry and wanted to eat. He then had a vision that repeated itself three times. He saw a large linen tablecloth descending from heaven filled with all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles and wild birds and he heard a voice saying that he should prepare them so that he may eat. Peter, being a good Jew with thorough exposure to and ingrained practice of the traditions of his history, obviously thought he had an understanding of God’s word on this matter and responded by saying: There’s no way I could do that, Lord, for I’ve never eaten anything forbidden or impure according to our Jewish laws. I can only imagine his shock when the voice exposed the limitations of that which was handed down to him from generations past as it said: Nothing is unclean if God declares it to be clean. Wow, what a deconstruction of Peter’s theology that must have been!
I know I am belaboring this point simply because I know all our intentions in building His house are pure, but I also know that we must be willing to be shaken and challenged by Him in His loving care for us as He tries to show us that our paradigms are not sustainable. We too must be aware of our innate tendency to stick with old wineskins or old models of being part of His house. We must allow the new wine to be poured into new wineskins, or put a bit differently, be emptied from vessel to vessel otherwise our taste and aroma will stay the same. More about this later.
The other scripture that I quoted is actually a gospel digest taken from the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John about Jesus cleansing the temple.
Right at the end of His time on earth, just after having spoken to the religious leaders among whom He had lived and revealed the heart of His Father for the past three to three and a half years, Matthew relates the following poignant utterance from Jesus:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate”.
He now speaks about their house, no longer about his Father’s house, and He says that this house is now left desolate; the one that they had religiously clung to. As He does so His heart is broken because His intentions were always to mother them as a hen does her chicks; comforting them, nurturing them and providing a place of safety for them, which is the one thing that is at the heart of the house that He is building. They wanted to do it their way.
Jesus cleansing the temple must have caused quite a scene and I wish there were some video recorders at that time. It would have been quite a social media hit. I can just picture it - coins rolling in all directions over the floor as money changers scatter after them to pick it, tables up-ended, doves fluttering in the air with a lot of feathers being dislodged plus maybe some other items from their bodies as well, oxen and sheep doing their thing as Jesus drove them out of the temple. The people who witnessed this must have been astonished.
There are a number of crucial principles to pay attention to in this event:
· We know that Jesus never did anything independently from His Father – as He heard He spoke and acted and that which He heard He heard through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ whole life is the story of the relationship between a Father and his Son in the Spirit, the Trinity in action.
The cleansing of God’s house was therefore an action on the part of Father, Son and Spirit. It was not a moment in which Jesus lost it. It was in actual fact something that happened from the heart of our God who wants to remove anything that is of our own creation that will block us from receiving the undiluted love and care that He has in mind for us.
Religion is one of our main hindrances in being grateful recipients of this love. As a concept it is largely defined by humanity creating ways to reach out to some deity for the purpose of connecting with it in some way or another and for some reason or another. Even as Christians we quite easily and also very often fall into that trap. We have been conditioned into thinking that we have to find God and get in touch with Him. If we are not careful even our personal devotional and quiet times can become exercises in which we reach out to Him. With this kind of understanding the responsibility for establishing and then maintaining the connection is ours.
We don’t reach out to Him. Our relationship with the Trinity is a response to Him having reached out and continuing to reach out to us. I am not saying that we should not have some discipline in setting aside time to commune with Him. All I am trying to convey is that when we do so it is not an exercise in trying to reach Him. It is a response to Him having come down to us and having reached us.
Christianity is supposed to start and end with the Blessed Trinity coming down to us:
Ø Relentlessly pursuing us at whatever cost.
Ø Finding us; and then
Ø Kneeling with us and identifying with our corrupt and broken state, making themselves present to us in whatever place or condition we may find ourselves.
It is an astonishing truth. The very fact that God, the artificer and upkeeper of all things in the universe, was in the first instance willing to create us as human beings when, in Their omniscience, They knew we would abandon Them and then be willing to go even further by coming down to us in our rebellion and independence to continue imparting Himself to us is beyond me.
It speaks of such an infinite personal care and love for humanity that one’s response is can it be possible, is it true? When we are willing to accept this, it progressively changes our view of God from being a vague faceless entity in heaven to God who is infinitely relational, intimately personal, and in Jesus Christ also profoundly human.
· Zeal, or heat or ardor, for His house consumed Him. I am simply stating this so that we may again see that His house, whatever it may mean, and its implications may be, is no small matter for God. It devours Him. I will share some of my current understanding about His house in a future blog.
· Stop and do a selah on the next one – My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of thieves.
Ø What is a house of prayer? Much can be said about this, but there are two points that are very important to me.
The first one is taken from Jesus’ own prayer life. It was a prayer life founded upon Him knowing He is in the bosom of His Father. Can anything be more intimate, more identity imparting, more safe and more empowering for destiny than that? No one has ever gazed upon the fullness of God’s splendor except the uniquely beloved Son, who is cherished by the Father and held close to his heart. Now he has unfolded to us the full explanation of who God truly is!
Henri Nouwen says: In the middle of sentences loaded with action— healing suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue—we find these quiet words: “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” In the center of breathless activities, we hear restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving, we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement, there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action, there is contemplation. And after much togetherness, there is solitude. The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus' ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.
Then we there are two final prayers of Jesus to His Father when He was in His ultimate extremity in Gethsemane and on the cross. First, whilst sweating blood: Abba, Father…… then: MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? which was followed by the realisation that He was never forsaken and He could say to the One who was there with Him all the time: Father, 'INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.'
The second thing I want to say about His house of prayer is the well-known one that we call the Lord’s prayer. Luke records the following about it: Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray.” I think on hearing Him talking to His Father the disciples must have thought they had never heard anybody pray in the way He did and with the connection that He had, so they asked Him for help.
The opening words of His teaching to them lays the foundation for His house being a house of prayer. He said: When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven…… That is the starting point of His house being a house of prayer, our Father.
Jesus had no privileges that we don’t have. We have the same relationship, the same connection with the Father’s bosom that He had, we must just discover it for ourselves and then help one another discover it on a daily basis. Doing just that in a caring and loving way is the most pwerful fruit of being built as part of His house.
Ø His house was always intended to be a house of prayer, but for whom? For all nations, everybody welcome, nobody excluded. And this is a major issue to be addressed.
Jesus said that they had turned His house into a house of thieves. Is that a justified comment? For sure it is because they added a price tag of certain requirements that had to be met in order to be part of the house as they portrayed the house to be..
That which should have been free now required a cash register transaction. They stole the free access to the bosom of Father that is available through Jesus by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit from the people. They were thieves and the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit emphatically destroyed that model. It was a model of a house that was to be left desolate. Man’s model, not God’s
We all know that nobody comes to the Father except through Jesus, but I have a very big concern about the way we have, and possibly still do, convey this message. I believe I often also hear some cash register ding-dongs in the way that we do it. I am asking for a willingness to have our hearts and practices undergo an honest search.
From God’s side our access to the Trinity is a done deal. No membership applications have to filled out in order to be part of His house, no rules or behavioural requirements must be met.
I am very careful in making the following statement because I don’t want to be misinterpreted. To me there are some of Jesus’ parables that stand out. One of them is, what we call, the parable of the prodigal son. It is actually a parable of a father who had two sons., We all know the story. I believe the Father got Jesus to tell the Jews this one because He knew they weren’t getting it. He wanted them to know what His Father heart was like towards delinquents.
When the prodigal ultimately came to his senses in a pigsty and decided that he was no longer worthy to be a son of the father, but that he would go back as a casual labourer, he had a whole sinner’s prayer ready for the occasion. When he got to his father he was not given any opportunity to pray his sinner’s prayer. The father ran to him, kised him repeatedly, clothed him with clean garments, prepared a feast for him and restored full sonship to him without any requirements. He did not need confession.
This son offended every single Jewish tradition of sonship, yet his father had no issue in doing all this for him because that is he quality of his father heart.
I would like to think that our Father said to Jesus, I hope they will now have a better understanding of my heart. There are no but’s in My love – I love you but…
I love Don Francisco’s song about this parable:
I don’t care where you’ve been sleeping
I don’t care who’s made your bed
I already gave My life to set you free
There’s no sin you could imagine
That is stronger than my love
It’s all yours if you come home again to Me.
Two last scriptures:
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
· The last thing I want to say about the temple cleansing incident is that when all was said and done and the money changers and their practices were banished from God’s house the following happened: Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.
There is quite a bit more that I would like to say about His house, but this one has been quite long already. I will follow up.