Saying to them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but you have made it a den of thieves.
The strong indignation of our Lord shown on this occasion is a plain indication of the importance he attached to right thought concerning the sanctuary, and to the right use of it. He brought into prominence the act of prayer as that which should, above all things, characterize the house of God. We enter into his thought if we consider -
I. THE SENSE IN WHICH SACRIFICE WAS PRAYER. The temple existed primarily and pre-eminently for sacrifice. There, and there alone, might sacrifices be offered to the Lord. It was the one place in all the land where the sin offerings and the burnt offerings could be presented. Was it not, then, essentially, the place of sacrifice? Truly; but sacrifice, when rightly viewed, was a form of prayer. In it and by it the offerer drew near, consciously, to the loving God; in it he made confession of sin to God; in it he made acknowledgment of his continual indebtedness to God; in it he supplicated the mercy and the grace of God. But this is prayer; it is prayer in the form of offering rather than in words. Less than this - this conscious approach, this confession, thanksgiving, and supplication - is not prayer at all. Inasmuch, then, as the temple was the place of sacrifice, it was the place of prayer.
II. THE FACT THAT THERE WAS ROOM IN THE TEMPLE FOR PRAYER AS WE ORDINARILY UNDERSTAND IT. We gather from our Lord's own words that the temple was the place commonly chosen by the people for the offering of prayer (ch. 18:10). It was toward the temple that the exiled Jews looked when they knelt down to pray in distant lands; and it was in the temple that they stood to pray when that sacred building was within reach. It was, no doubt, regarded as of all places in the world the very fittest in which to realize the presence of Jehovah, and to spread forth the soul's desires and aspirations before him. There were many places for prayer, but that was the place of prayer.
III. THE PLACE OF PRAYER IN THE CHRISTIAN SANCTUARY. By what, above all things else, should the Christian sanctuary be characterized?
1. It should be the place of common assembly. Where all classes of the people meet together, the rich and the poor, and feel that the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2); where the learned and the unlearned worship and bow down together, and "kneel before the Lord their Maker" (Psalm 95:6); it is the place where human spirits meet, and where earthly circumstances are of no account whatever - where wealth does not weigh, and rank creates no distinction.
2. It should be the place of spiritual enlightenment.
(1) Where the Word of God is read, and should be read (as it may be) impressively and effectually; for there is nothing in literature which is more fitted to attract and interest a miscellaneous assembly;
(2) where the will of God is faithfully delivered, and the gospel of Christ expounded and enforced;
(3) where the cause of the Master and of mankind is fully and earnestly pleaded. But most especially is it:
3. The place of prayer. Here, either in sacred psalmody, or through some prepared formula, or led by the extemporaneous thought and aspiration of the minister, the worshippers draw nigh to God in every way in which he is approached by man - in adoration, in communion, in thanksgiving, in confession, in supplication, in consecration. No worshipper in the house of the Lord can reach a higher level of spiritual attainment than when he pours out his heart in prayer to God in these various utterances; and no minister in the house of the Lord can render to the people gathered together a truer or higher service than when he helps them thus to approach the Father of spirits, and thus to come into direct communion with him. Then is the house of God put to its noblest and worthiest use when it is made by those who meet within its wails "the house of prayer." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.