On Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the church season known as Lent) we started a series called Invited. This week Jesus invites us to worship freely and unobstructed. As I have been thinking about the passages assigned to this week by the Revised Common Lectionary (which are John 2:13-25, Exodus 20:1-17, Psalm 19 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-25) I have thought about the nature of freedom and how very often we refuse to live in freedom.
Exodus 20:1-17 is the giving of the 10 Commandments. Often we view these, along with the entire Old Testament, as law that restricts … Thou shalt not do this or that. I readily admit that the commands in this list and throughout the Old Testament are prohibitive, but I don’t think they were meant to be restrictive. I believe they were given to us so that we could live freely. I want to list out the 10 Commandments (can you do this on your own?) and then list them again in a way that has helped me understand the freedom I have in Christ.
- You shall have no other gods before me. (1-3)
- You shall not make for yourself an idol. (4-6)
- You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God. (7)
- Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. (8-11)
- Honor your father and mother. (12)
- You shall not murder. (13)
- You shall not commit adultery. (14)
- You shall not steal. (15)
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. (16)
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions. (17)
Now, if we read these not as law but as freedoms they might sound something like this …
- You are free to know the true God.
- You are free to worship the true God.
- You are free to call upon the name of God.
- You are free to rest.
- You are free to show respect to those who raised you.
- You are free to live life and preserve life.
- You are free to enjoy sex in marriage. (listen to my friend Tim’s sermon about this topic Free and Frequent Sex)
- You are free to work hard for the things you need.
- You are free to live in the truth and to speak the truth.
- You are free to enjoy your possessions.
That’s a lot of freedom! The ones that amaze me most are the first three – free to know God, to worship Go and to call upon God. I think it was because these three freedoms were being violated that we read about Jesus walking into the temple around Passover and driving out the sheep and the cattle. (John 2:13-25)
Passover was an important season in the life of Israel; in fact, it was the very event that gave them their identity. (Read more about it in Exodus 12.) Jews from around the world would travel to Jerusalem for this festival and visit the temple to give their worship and their sacrifices. However, the temple only accepted temple currency so travelers had to exchange money. The money changers would often charge exorbitant amounts for the exchange, which robbed God’s people of the freedom to know, worship and call upon the Lord in the temple. They also had to buy animals to sacrifice. Since many of them would have come from a long way off it was not feasible to bring animals with them. Animals were readily available in Jerusalem … for a price! Again, God’s people were being robbed making it difficult for them to call upon the name of the Lord and to offer right worship. Jesus, realizing that God’s people were not free to worship, drove them out.
I wonder what kind of money changers we have established in our own hearts and lives. Surely there are areas of our lives where we have chosen to live according to law rather than in the freedom Christ offers. Surely there are areas of lives that we choose to make a profit, whether monetarily or otherwise, instead of knowing, worshiping and calling upon the name of the Lord. As a pastor one of the things I need to be careful of is playing the numbers game. It is tempting to focus on how many people come on a Sunday morning and then behave in any way necessary to bring more people in. This of course is a barrier to worshiping freely. Perhaps your money changers are intellectual in nature. Maybe your money changers are relational. I pray that God reveals them to you and to me so that we may more rightly worship God.
As the psalmist says in Psalm 19:14,
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.