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Our Abominable Value System

28 Jul
from Google Images

from Google Images

Some of the most puzzling events in the New Testament for me were the times (there were more than one) Jesus cast out the money changers from the Temple.[1] I wasn’t puzzled over what he did, but how and why the money changers were able to conduct their business within the Temple compound. It was done in the gentile sector, but the whole Temple area must have smelled like a stable, and what worshiper had privacy enough to be intimate with God in prayer in such a public place? It not only smelled badly, but was more similar to a noisy market than the House of God. What was going on?

Josephus tells us that the Jews rioted when Herod the Great put the image of a golden eagle above the eastern gate of the Temple, and many good people died when it was torn down, after the rumor spread that Herod died. Although he was dying, he lived another month after the golden eagle was destroyed, and he had the people involved tried and executed. After he did die, a war erupted about two months later about the time of the Passover—all this over the consequences of setting up a golden image above the Temple gate. Moreover, Josephus tells us that about 25 years later when Pilate brought the Roman standards within the walls of Jerusalem the people rose up in a pious demonstration and war nearly erupted again when Pilate took the Roman ensigns with their images into Jerusalem, so he recanted and took them away and set them up in Caesarea.

Not long after Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple for the third time in four days, the Pharisees and Herodians came to him within the Temple compound in an effort to trip Jesus up in his words (Mark 12:13). They asked him if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar. If he said it wasn’t lawful, they could turn him over to Rome as a rebel; if Jesus said it was lawful, they could expose him to the people as a false prophet. They thought they had trapped him. Nevertheless, Jesus called them hypocrites (Matthew 22:18) and asked them to show him a tribute coin. He then asked what image and what superscription was on it (Matthew 22:20). They replied: “Caesar’s!” (verse-21). What they didn’t say was what the superscription said. It was: “TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS,”— an abbreviation for “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus.” The Pharisees and Herodians had gone to the Son of God asking questions about the false god, Augustus (Majesty) the divine son of Augustus (Majesty), whose coins they had on their person, within the walls of the holy city, Jerusalem, and within the Temple compound! Imagine! Wars were fought and threatened over this very matter which they had taken so lightly!

Why did they take lightly their carrying around the images of a false god within the Temple compound? It was because they loved money and had earlier sneered at Jesus for making light of what they treasured up for themselves (Luke 16:14-15). What they valued so highly was abominable in the sight of God—in the presence of God, within the Temple compound! Jesus then told them to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). Caesar’s image was stamped upon his coins, while God’s image was stamped upon men (cp. Genesis 1:26-27). The priests had permitted using Caesars image to buy and sell within the Temple compound in order that they might become rich in Caesar’s images. On the other hand God, the true God, had become poor in the person of Jesus in order that we—God’s true images—might become rich in his image (2Corinthians 8:9).

In modern times, however, I wonder how well we have learned this lesson, and we can’t satisfy ourselves by simply pointing to prosperity gospel evangelists and condemning them, or others who parade themselves on stage and TV screens to accumulate wealth. I am more concerned over abominable abuse in mainstream Christianity. For example, we need places of meeting, and Jesus certainly was not against such things, because he preached in the synagogues of his day. Yet, they were simple, unadorned structures. What do ours look like, and what price do we pay to have them? Early Christians met in homes and rented establishments, and critics used to sneer at them, because they spent their wealth on the needs of others. Christians in the first few centuries AD lived counterculture among the pagans in the Roman world. Justin Martyr claimed:

“…we who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to everyone in need; we who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with men of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies,.” [Justin Martyr – First Apology; chapter 14; page 299 of ANTE-NICENE FATHERS]

What a testimony of Christian life in the early centuries! I have to wonder, though, how many opportunities to express Christ’s love through our lives for mankind are neglected, because we have tied the wealth we have to a building project of one kind or another. We do need places from which to minister to the world, but should they demand so much of our ready wealth that opportunity to help people (not Christians only) in the name of Christ is lost?

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[1] As I said HERE, this current theme about the person of Jesus is based upon the book: The Jesus Style by Gayle Erwin. They are my thoughts about his book. He may or may not agree with the impression his book has made upon me, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading what Gayle wrote and recommend his book to anyone who is looking for a good read about Jesus.

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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Jesus

 

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