When Churches Lose The Word

Text: Luke 19:41-48

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Jesus had to do it a second time. The people did not learn the first time around several years before. Jesus had to go back into the temple courtyard a second time and turn the tables over and drive the merchants out. He had to do this a second time because the people made the temple into a den of robbers again when it should have been a house of prayer.

You see, every year, about 500,000 to 1 million people came to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. And instead of bringing animals with them to sacrifice, it was arranged for them to purchase the animals right there in Jerusalem. But in the interest of convenience and making money, the sale of these animals eventually occurred in the temple courtyard. Long story short, the temple courtyard became filled with a lot of noise, the haggling over prices, and money being converted from Roman coins to Jewish coins.  And in the middle of the haggling, noise, animals, and money exchanging?  Well, people were making excessive profits through fraud and cheating, often at the expense of the poor.

Now, dear friends, if this does not make you mad, it should. These kinds of actions ‘in the temple’ were disgusting.  The common market place did not belong in the temple, especially a corrupt one.  It seems to have made Jesus disgusted as well; it even made Him apparently angry and perhaps sad. 

And so, for the second time, Jesus drove the people out and turned some tables over, as a way of cleansing the temple.  Not only did He make a scene, but He also called the Holy Temple a ‘den of robbers,’ aka, a sanctuary of wickedness. 

Now, it would be easy for you and me to conclude that the main problem of the temple was the cheating, fraud, and haggling; however, we must keep in mind that these things were symptoms more than they were the actual problem itself.  You see, there was a greater problem that is not immediately obvious when we hear this reading from the Gospel of Luke. 

Dear friends, when a church turns into a den of robbers; that is to say, a place of corruption (a refuge for wickedness) well, the main purpose of the church was lost sometime before this even happened.  You see, a church just doesn’t become a place of corruption overnight. The church has to ‘stop’ being a place of prayer and worship first before it can become a place of corruption secondly. 

Considering that temple once again, while it was indeed a tragedy that the temple and courts turned into a corrupt marketplace, what is even more disturbing is that the temple apparently lost the emphasis on the importance of the Word of God.  Yes, Jesus tossed some tables.  He drove out the money changers and fraud, but He did not just stop there.  He made the temple a house of prayer and worship not by removing these clowns and their juggling corruption but by ‘returning’ the Word of God to the temple by teaching in the temple Himself. 

Martin Luther, preaching on this Gospel reading, once said that Jesus gave the temple a scandalous name because the people failed to appreciate the house of God as being a place where the Word of God was taught and preached.  This means that churches who neglect the Word or exchange the Word of God for something else, well… they are no longer a church but a den of robbers – they are a sanctuary of wickedness. 

Dear friends, please do not miss this point.  Hear this loud and clear: when the Word of God left the temple, it allowed wickedness to creep in.  When the preaching and teaching of the Word of God leave a church, well…. a church stops being places of worship and prayer.  And in the absence of the Word of God, the Devil is quick to replace the preached Word with something else. 

Let’s just get to the point.  No matter how beautiful the architecture of a church may be, no matter how pious the parishioners may seem, and no matter how many good works a church may do - it is a sanctuary of wickedness if the Word of God is not present.  If there is no Word, the church is no longer a place of worship and prayer, but a cave of corruption where souls are starved, false teaching flourishes, and sheep are destroyed. 

The priests in that Jerusalem temple may have sung and babbled and read from the scriptures, but God really cares nothing for such murmuring and empty chatter.  

Gathering together for religious and pious purposes ‘without the Word’ is not Godly and certainly not Christian but Satanic.  The Devil loves religious playgrounds where Christ and His Word are not present.  The Devil loves to manipulate religious people who are not captivated by the Word of God.  They are gullible and easy prey for the Evil Foe. 

Dear friends, we should cry a thousand tears when the Word of God leaves a church.  And our blood should boil when the Word of God is replaced in churches with foolish-empty-chatter that disguises itself as the Word of God. 

And there is more, what we learn today from the reading in the Gospel of Luke is that the Lord’s favor is not based upon the beauty, size, attendance, vibrancy, skills, and influence of a church.  If God cared about those things, He would have been happy and tickled when mankind built the tower at Babel.  If God cared about appearances, He would have been pleased with the beauty and busyness of the Jerusalem Temple. If God cared about appearances, He would be impressed with the Mormon Temple Square building in Salt Lake City, Utah.  But God is not foolish like we are.  He is not easily impressed by our meager attempts to look godly and important and big.  A big, busy, and beautiful, and costly temple without the Word of God? … it is an evil den of robbers.  A vibrant, busy, active, and large church without the Word of God? …it is a sanctuary of wickedness.

We need to repent of believing that large, busy, costly, impressive, and urban churches in the big cities are better than tiny, struggling, rural churches in the country.  We don’t and can’t measure the worth of a church by outward appearances.  Think about it this way: a church on the prairie where the pastor is preaching the Word of God to 10 very old souls is ten times larger than a church of 5,000 people where the Word of God is not preached. 

Dear Baptized Saints, it is about the Word of God.  It always has been and always will be.  Because where you find the Word of God, you find Jesus.  And where you find Jesus, you find the Word of God.  When the Word of God is preached, you find ‘not’ a den of robbers but a House of Worship. But where the Word is not found, you find the Devil with full control.[1]  Houses of worship and prayer are about forgiveness, life, and salvation; a den of robbers is about sin, death, and the Devil. 

So, the application of this text is quite simple.  Baptized Saints, if it is not the Word of God in our hearts and this church, may it be thrown out.  May everything that is not the Word of God in our Christian faith be destroyed and exterminated as shameful abominations.  And where the Word of God is present, may we be built up in confidence this day. 

Yes, may the Lord grant us joy and peace this day in the Word of the Gospel, for it is only the Gospel that endures in this world of darkness, guilt, and shame.  The Devil does nothing but deceive, murder, and destroy.  But now is the time for you and me to hear the Word of the Gospel that our sins are forgiven and that Jesus has risen from the grave and will make all things anew. 

After the merchants, money exchangers, and the crowd was cast out of the temple court, Jesus appeared to teach daily in the temple.  And when Jesus taught in the temple, the temple became a House of Worship.  And so, it is our prayer today, that Jesus would always be proclaimed and delivered in this church and into your ears so that we might remain a house of worship and not become a terrible den of robbers. 

May the Lord teach us to understand that what makes a church into a house of worship is the Word of God.  The Word is the only true foundation in this life and the life to come that you and I can trust. 

The Lord protect us.  May His Word remain, and may we abide in His Word. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Sermons from Luther on the Tenth Sunday After Trinity, (Lenker Volume 4). 

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