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. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (Matthew 21.12-13 ESV)
Jesus had been on earth for some thirty-three years and had ministered for about three years. While approaching the end of his ministry on earth, he had to go to Jerusalem. That was when he sat on a donkey and entered amidst shouts of “Hosanna! Hosanna!”
When he arrived in Jerusalem he went into the temple and realized it had been turned into something else—a commercial center and a forex bureau. They were buying and selling and exchanging money here and there. Jesus overturned the tables of those engaged in the money-changing. This looks like the second time Jesus cleared the temple. The first was in John 2.13-17.
This second clearing of the temple took place in the week Jesus was about to die. Jesus entered Jerusalem on a Sunday morning. On the Monday of the week he was to die, he went to the temple and that was when this happened. After he had done that, he made the powerful statement we are discussing, “My house shall be called a house of prayer.” This statement Jesus made was a quotation from the Old Testament. Isaiah 56.7 says,
these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (ESV)
He talks about the holy mountain. When we talk about the holy mountain, it is a place where his presence dwells, a place where his people worship—the church. He says I will make them joyful in my house of prayer—in the house of prayer there is joy. When you rise up in the morning and you begin to pray you begin to feel some joy in your heart. He says his house shall be a house of prayer for all people. It means it shall be a house of prayer for all manner of persons from all over the world. That is the desire and thinking of God.
When Jesus entered the temple, he found out that the temple, which was supposed to be a house of prayer, had turned out to be something else. The people were out of order so far as his priority was concerned. This priority was for his house to be a house of prayer and nothing else. When we come to the house of God we must have the urge to pray. When Jesus says that my house shall be called a house of prayer, what does it mean? Does it mean the name of the church should be changed to “A house of prayer”? What does he want us to understand? It does not necessarily mean that the name of the house must be changed but I understand it this way. When he says my house shall be called a house of prayer, it means that the nature and the character of the church must be such that when people think of the church, they think of prayer.
I believe it is good to do certain things in the house of God. It is good to sing, dance, and clap our hands but remember that he says my house shall be a house of prayer. It means the very nature of the house should be such that when you mention the church, the first thing that comes to the minds of people is prayer. In other words, the very fiber of the material used in building the church is prayer. We can talk about a glass house you know it is made of glass; when you hear a wooden house you know it is made of wood. So when he says a house of prayer it means the very material used to build it is prayer. So when you come and we are not praying we are doing something apart from church.
The church is not an entertainment center. It is not a place where we come just to socialize. He says my house shall be a house of prayer so when we talk of the house of God, what must come to your heart and mind is prayer. The early church must have understood this because when you read the Acts of the Apostles you see that they understood this. In Acts 2.1, before the Holy Ghost descended, they were all gathered in one place. What were they doing? I believe they were praying. Thus, right from day one, they committed themselves to prayer. Acts 2.42 says,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)
The early church understood this. When the church was threatened never to mention the name of Jesus again after the healing of the cripple at the gate called “beautiful” and they were called before the Sanhedrin, they went to pray because they believed that the house of God should be a house of prayer. When they had prayed, the place where they had gathered shook and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4.31)
In Acts 13—I’m trying to draw your attention to the fact that the early church understood that the house of God should be a house of prayer. The Bible says,
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13.1-3 ESV)
They fasted and worshipped because they understood that the house of God is a house of prayer. If there is a time to pray I believe this is it. As they were fasting and praying, the Holy Ghost said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Even when the Holy Ghost had spoken they did not send them just like that. It was after fasting and praying. I am praying that my life shall be a life of prayer. I’m praying that your life shall be a life of prayer—that we shall be men and women of prayer and it won’t be difficult for us to pray; that our lives would be full and prayer and God’s house shall be a house of prayer.
Four statements on prayer
1. By prayer we focus on God and the self is broken
The more we pray the more we become God-centered and not self-centered. As you pray you encounter God and he becomes the focus and breaks the self in you. Sometimes we are self-centered because we are prayerless but as we pray we encounter him. As we pray we begin to see and know him more and more. I remember when Isaiah saw the Lord. He said, “Woe to me because I am a sinful man living among sinful.” As we pray we begin to see our inadequacies more and more. I pray that as we become more God-centered, prayer and worship will increase in the church. If there is no prayer and worship then we are still not God-centered. May we rise up in prayer. I came to encourage and motivate you unto prayer that no matter what, rise up in prayer. And the more we pray, the more we focus on him and the more the self in us is broken down.
2. The church is a bride unto him and one of the ways the bride and groom can communicate is through prayer
By prayer we have fellowship with our husband, Christ. Every couple wants to have fellowship together. If we are a bride to Christ then one of the ways we can share fellowship with him is by prayer. There is always a problem when the communication link is broken. Some of us are denying him the fellowship he wants to have with us because of our prayerlessness. He wants to be with you and one of the ways by which we can talk to him and share fellowship with him is by prayer. I want to encourage you bride, speak to your groom. May the church be a bride that speaks to the groom and has fellowship with him. Take away prayer and we don’t have any fellowship with him.
3. Prayer is made in season and out of season
I believe that there is no best time to pray. The best time is now. You don’t wait for a good time to pray; the good time to pray is now. We pray in season and out of season. For some of us, when things are not well with us we will rise up and pray in the morning; we will pray in the afternoon and evening—we will attend every prayer meeting. But when things begin to fall in place, we stop praying. However, we have to pray in season and out of season so the good time to pray is now.
He says to pray without ceasing. I came to motivate and alert you to the fact that God is calling us to be men and women of prayer, not only in bad times but also in good times.
4. A quote from Samuel Chadwick, a Wesleyan Methodist minister
The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.
Money can do what money can do; organizing can do what organizing can do; networking can do what networking can do; but prayer does what God can do. We have a weapon and tool we have laid aside but I am drawing our attention to the fact that God is drawing our attention to prayer. It is his joy to hear you pray. Don’t rely on the kind of wisdom you have wisdom is good but don’t rely on it alone. Studies are good but that is not all. Don’t just rely on your work. What the devil fears is a man or woman of prayer.
Finally, let me show you something in Jeremiah 33.3. God is not just interested in us praying. He is ready to listen and respond. He says,
Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known. (ESV)
I keep on saying that sometimes human beings disappoint but God is ever ready to meet you so he says to call upon him. We have a God that answers prayer. I know and I know and I know and I know that we have a God that answers prayer. I have got into some situations and all I could do was call and, surprisingly, he came through for me. He did not say to call upon your pastor or prophet or elder but call upon me. Some of you must stop relying on others. Some of you think you must see certain people before your prayers are answered but he says, “Call upon me.” The onus lies on you to rise up in prayer and to call him. Let’s call upon him. He is ready to answer and respond to our requests.
Matthew 21.12-13, John 2.13-17, Jeremiah 33.3
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