Best of Daily Reflections: Are You Presuming Upon God?
He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
After Jesus entered Jerusalem to the cheers of his followers, who expected him to confront the Romans and begin his messianic work of setting Israel free, he did a most unexpected and unwelcome thing. Entering the outer court of the temple, where pilgrims could purchase sacrifices, Jesus “began to drive out the people selling animals for sacrifices” (19:45). Effectively, he was shutting down the temple and its sacrifices. Not only would this be scandalous to Jews, but it was also the kind of behavior that would bring down the wrath of Rome, because it disturbed the peace and threatened the tax-generating economy of the temple.
Jesus explained his shocking behavior by citing two passages from the Hebrew prophets. In Isaiah 56:7, the Lord said, “my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” In Jeremiah 7:11, the Lord said, “Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves?”
For much of my life, I understood Jesus as criticizing the vendors in the temple for “ripping off” the people. They were robbing them, perhaps by overcharging them. Or, I thought that Jesus was unhappy about the temple courts being used for commerce, rather than prayer. These suppositions might be accurate, but they don’t get Jesus’ point in quoting the “den of thieves” line from Jeremiah. If we go back and read that verse in context, we realize that the Lord is rebuking the Jews for presuming upon him because they have the Temple. The people of God were sinning grossly. But, rather than repenting, they figured that since they had the temple on their side, they were preserved from God’s judgment. The temple was a “den of thieves” in that it was supposed to be a safe place where the people could take refuge from God’s wrath, even if they were dishonoring him with their actions.
We, of course, do not have the temple as our “den of thieves.” But sometimes we can turn God’s grace and forgiveness into a “den of thieves.” We do this when we receive God’s grace cheaply, using it as an excuse to live a life contrary to God’s will for us. We think, “Well, this might be wrong, but God will always forgive me.” Thus, we presume upon God’s grace, using it as an excuse to keep on sinning rather than a motivation for holy living.
Indeed, God has forgiven us in Christ. Indeed, he loves us unconditionally. Indeed, his mercy and grace are there for us whenever we sin. The more we take these truths seriously, the more we will experience a growing desire to honor God in all we do, living in obedience and gratitude as grace shapes everything we do in life.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Are you ever tempted to let your faith become a “den of thieves” that excuses your sinful behavior? How can we live a life that pleases God without becoming legalistic? What motivates you to serve the Lord in all you do?
PRAYER: Gracious, holy God, as I reflect on this passage, I’m aware of how I can use my faith as a “den of thieves.” There are times, Lord, when I do what I know to be sinful because I am confident that you will forgive me. I hate to admit it. But it’s true. So I confess this to you, asking that you forgive me, not only for my sinful behavior, but also for presuming upon your grace.
O Lord, may your mercy motivate me to obey you. May your love inspire me to love you in all that I think and do. May your grace spur me on to good works even as it keeps me from sin. I pray in the name of Jesus, my Savior and Lord, Amen.