Child Games: Jesus & Worship (Matthew 21:12-16)




There’s a story of couple – Anthony & Andrea Angelino who were sharing a meal in an Italian restaurant. They started with tasty appetizers and then the waitress brought the main course. The couple both ordered pasta. After the couple prayed and gave thanks to God for the food, they started to twist their utensil in the pasta bowl, and the woman noticed there was a spider in her bowl! The couple was mortified and notified the waiter. He quietly replaced the pasta bowl but without much additional attention.

The Angelino family couldn’t wait to get home to write the owner of the restaurant establishment describing the unacceptable experience. And within a matter of a few days, they received a special delivery letter in response, which was signed by the franchise owner, as well as the corporate entity owner. The letter was typed on pristine letterhead and dripping with apologies with phrases like…

  • “Our establishment is extremely sorry for your negative experience. We will not tolerate this low-performance quality of food or customer service.”
  • “We have temporarily closed this franchise’s kitchen to fully clean and promote a healthy environment. We are training all chefs, kitchen crew, and serving staff on safe food protocols and preventative measures with food inspections.”
  • “The waiter who served your food is on suspension, and we are considering their employment future.”
  • “Your next meal is free, and you have our promise that this will never happen again.”

The couple was remarkably impressed. However, they noticed two things that were unusual about this apology letter. The first was, the letter was addressed to someone with a different name – “The Bertuzzi Family.” The second was the back of the letter had a sticky note included, which read, “Update the names of these people and send the standard messy kitchen letter.”

Can you imagine?

And yet, when it comes to our faith, it’s very easy to give God the standard “messy kitchen letter” in our prayers. We go through the motions, knowing exactly what to say, with predictable short-term changes but little long-term actions or accountability. We go through the motions with indifference toward God, with our fellow church members, and with our community who doesn’t know Jesus with their eternal destinies hanging in the balance.

My friends, perhaps Jesus is ready to overturn some tables to awaken the seriousness of salvation, spiritual growth, and service in His kingdom.

  • Series “Child Games” where Jesus describes those who sought to dismiss and defeat him. While the religious leaders of the day were playing checkers, Jesus was playing chess. God’s power of the resurrection was no match for human plans.


EXAMINE           Matthew 21:12-16    Jesus & Worship

Matthew 21:12-16 (ESV)
12  And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.
13  He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
14  And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.
15  But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant,
16  and they 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 infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”

A theology of temple

  • God gave Adam & Eve a garden sanctuary – Eden – that permeated the presence of God. After the Fall, they were banished from that sanctuary.
  • God called Israel and Moses to a moveable sanctuary to worship Him. God gave clear instructions on how to build a tabernacle. Wherever the ark of the covenant was located, there was God’s blessing.
  • God allowed David’s son Solomon to build a fixed physical temple sanctuary to worship God. After generations of perfunctory worship, Israel was conquered and the temple destroyed.
  • God orchestrated Israel to return to their homeland to rebuild the temple. However, this new reality failed in comparison to the former.
  • After additional national battles, eventually Roman leadership built the Jews a massive temple in effort to appease peace.
  • Ultimately, the tabernacle and temple were pointing to the greater permanent presence of God in His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • In light of the resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit, our bodies are temples of God indwelling with us. We have access to heaven’s throne and Father God through prayer in the name of Jesus. We do not need another human/human-made entity to mediate access.
  • The restoration of Eden is promised in the new creation with the second coming of Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels we do not see Jesus pursuing change before Pilate or Caesar of the Roman government. Nor do we see Jesus plotting attack on Fort Antonia where the Roman soldiers were stationed. If disorderly government or dangerous militaries were problems for God, He could take care of them anytime and in any number of ways; He’s done it before. Instead, Jesus enters the temple because of God’s focus to purify a people. Our greatest need is not physical, political, social, economically, but spiritual. Jesus’s first coming dealt with our greatest need, and His second coming will take care of everything else.

Cleansing of the temple.

  • Were there 1 or 2 events? Synoptics place event toward end of Jesus’s life, but John places event in beginning. There seems to be enough differences to consider these separate incidences.[1]

In this passage we’ll examine God’s desires for His temple.

Jesus desires a holy temple.
The context is Jesus traveling and finally returning to Jerusalem. It’s Passover, so many Jews would be traveling to the city for celebration. The pro-Jewish nationalist mindset against Rome could not be higher. The Jews were celebrating God’s power to deliver from Egypt, and the rumors of the Messiah have spread the last three years. Crowds had just spread their cloaks on the road (2Ki 9:13) with palm branches paving the road, while the people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:8-9) This has stirred (σείω = rocked or quaked) the city with rumors and talk of revolution.

Yet, notice how Matthew describes Jesus’s entrance into the capital city: “Your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey – a beast of burden” (21:5). First, this is a Messianic fulfillment of Scripture (Zech 9:9; Isa 62:11) to indicate Jesus is king, but He’s a humble king. He’s weaponless and with a band of nobody disciples.

Undoubtedly in the hearts of many Jews would be for Jesus to claim kingship, rally an army and break the bonds of Roman government oppression. But Jesus would remind us that His kingdom was not of this world. His cause was more noble than earthly seats of power. So, Jesus performs the next action to provide further clarity of His message and mission.

He drove all out who sold and bought in the temple and overturned the tables and seats of the money changers. The temple courts were not for financial profit but to focus on the presence of God. Jesus quoted Scriptures, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers” (cf. Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11). The Jews were focusing on the work rather than the worship; their busyness was misplaced service.

When we think about Jesus desiring a holy temple, we should think about at least three areas:

  • Intimacy with God.
    “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8)
  • Integrity in the dark.
    “for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Mt 10:26)
  • Influence toward those yet to be disciples.
    “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col 4:5-6)

Jesus desires a hospitable temple.

The issue was that people traveled to Jerusalem from far away. They needed something to sacrifice: birds, sheep, goats, bulls. Think about it: some of us can barely get to church with their children, much less with packing birds or a herd of sheep! So, the people needed assistance and convenience.

Additionally, the international travel required currency exchange for purchasing the animal sacrifices. Historians note that if travelers did bring their own animal, the priestly inspectors would find a defect that would require them to purchase from the temple vendors at a highly inflated price. EX. Like purchasing food @ Athletic Stadium or Amusement Park = ROBBERY!!!

So, the temple became a livestock market and a bank, alongside a place of worship. The problem wasn’t necessarily merchants providing a service to out of town worshipers as much as it was two-fold

  • Oppressing the poor. Mathew singles out those who “sold pigeons,” which were available for lower class citizens who could not afford a lamb (Lev 5:7; 12:8; 14:22; Luke 2:24 which Joseph & Mary offered in dedicating infant Jesus; perhaps Jesus’s affinity to call out this malpractice!).à Care for poor is a weighty command all over OT & NT.[2]
    à One of partnerships SP with BL is 2nd Saturday outreach to impoverished community of greater G.B. Starts in September… also we have a “New Day Fellowship” Sat Sept 19, 3:30pm with worship 5pm.
  • Overlooking unbelievers. Matthew indicates the area the merchant exchange took place was in the outer courts (ἱερόv), not the inner sanctuary t (ναός) area. Therefore, all of this was being done before Gentiles and to In other words, the Jewish religious leaders had little respect for the Gentiles. The Gentile area of worship did not matter or need to be meaningful because they were separated in worship.Can you imagine having a separate area of worship for those of another race; and having that area be noisy, distracting, intimidating, and exploitative to worship??

Jesus’s quote from Isa 56:7 actually says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples/nations.” The context is the Lord speaking how His salvation covenant would be available beyond Israel, even to the outsiders.

Additionally, after this indignant display, Jesus takes time to be with and heal the blind and the lame in the temple. God’s mission is for the people.

à What will it take for church environments to be hospitable to outsiders?
First Impressions team does a really great job and can continue. One of ways anyone can be involved – even non-members.
– Members should be friendly to new-comers more than normal-comers.[3] You can connect with normal-comers at a future time, but the guest has a brief moment that we are not promised them to repeat. We must capture these opportunities to connect and show Christian hospitality. Additionally, one of the best things you can do is to introduce the guest to other members too, especially with those you discern they may have something in common. In all, a guest is an emergency.
– We should also be on the lookout for those who are alone. It’s hard enough to come to church, but to do so alone take courage and reflects a genuine interest. Church can be a surrogate family to people in all variety of circumstances: single, widow, separated/divorced, military, etc.
– Families with young children and/or special needs children are appreciative of kindness, patience, and assistance. – – – My wife is basically a single mom of 5 children on Sundays. – – – Adults, especially of older age, can be of help simply by sitting with as an extra presence of support and smile for encouragement. Introduce yourself and get to know names.
– Musical aspects of worship should reflect dedication to craft (Ps 33:3). If you have the privilege of being on the platform, then you should also bear the responsibility of giving excellence unto the Lord. Thank you team, and I encourage your practice and perseverance in facilitating our times of worship through music & song.

Two separate hospitable items
– In relation to covid: Look, no one is excited about wearing masks. No one is enjoys social distancing (except introverts!). The point is that one of the simple ways we can express compassion for others is simply by respecting guidelines and boundaries. If you see someone wearing a mask, then either you place on a mask or don’t approach them closely. Each individual & family has differing circumstances they are trying to navigate and perhaps protect during this season. So, know your audience and show respect.

BLC is coming to SP with uncertainty and history. This will be their 2nd relocation, which doesn’t come w/o some baggage. It’s enough for us to do our best to be welcoming, not territorial, and prayerful for how God desires to connect our ministries.
– – – Like last week’s parable, the late-laborers were treated equal by the master, and the early-laborers should follow Jesus’s graciousness and be careful of selfish grumbling.

Jesus desires a teachable temple.

The last portion of the passage is the chief priests and scribes hearing the children repeat the earlier shouts of the crowd (21:9). Girls and boys are singing praises and calling out to Jesus. Children often have an innate ability to evaluate fake vs authenticity; and their drawn to genuine love. Notice the religious leaders have little time for the children, but Jesus does. “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, [God] has prepared praise” (Mat 21:16; Ps 8:2). Can’t you picture the simplicity, the enthusiasm, the wonder of child-like faith?

Jesus was not without reason being harsh toward the religious leaders. They were willfully stubborn, hard-hearted, and unteachable. This is why Jesus commands, “Truly, I say to you, unless you  turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Mat 18:3-6)

  • Consider something that you are usually unyielding. Maybe it’s a view about and issue/topic, maybe it’s a perception about a person. Ask God to open your heart to seeing that topic or person with His perspective. You may surprisingly change… or perhaps you’ll continue with the same approach. Just make sure that it’s not because you are callous, but because you have a biblical conviction about it.


Jesus’s first coming was gentle and gracious. Jesus came for the burdened, the beat down, those who feel like their life is running up a descending escalator, and those who are exhausted and empty. Life isn’t easy, and Jesus came to relieve our burdens, not multiply them. So, while you may have expectations for God/Jesus and are perhaps still sorting out spiritual life, know that Jesus is a faithful friend. He is rich in mercy, tender in care, and overflowing with grace. Jesus is all this and so much more. He promises to continue pursuing you and is patient with you while you consider following Jesus in faith.

Further, this same Jesus expects us to follow His example of gentleness and graciousness. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit; arrogance and aggressiveness are not. In our world of conflict and contrasts with our Christian faith, many Christians have bought the lie they need to exhibit aggressiveness more than gentleness. It’s noteworthy that Jesus was gentle with outsiders of the faith, but confrontational with insiders. And it’s curious how the church reverses this tactic, and unfortunately repels unbelievers with unsympathetic attitudes and harsh words.

Jesus’s second coming will not be gentle but decisively judicious. We must not put off until tomorrow what we know God wants us to do today.

Consider this… There’s a show called “Undercover Boss.” Essentially, someone in upper management of the company disguises their appearance to go undercover as an entry-level employee to discover the faults and weaknesses of the company. In a similar vein, Jesus has heard the rumors about His “company.” He’s been observing the flaws and failures of the religious leaders, and He confronts the issues.

If Jesus went undercover in your life, what would He spot? What would He want to change? What would He commend?


[1] See:

[2] Consider /


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