Consumed with Zeal

John 2:12-25

Have you ever felt outrage? And there is plenty to feel outraged about these days. Mass shootings, child abuse, terrorism, political madness. There are days you grind your teeth and shake your head and want to scream at the evening news.

And the truth is God wants us to feel – to have strong emotions about the wickedness and injustice that we see around us. He created us with emotions, not just so that we can be angry, but so that we will be propelled to change things that are wrong.

The Pharisees got worked up about things – but they weren’t the right things:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matt 23:23)

 

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Rom 10:1-2)

When the Word became flesh, he came with human emotions: he wept, he was frustrated, he was angry. Let’s not paint Jesus as a passive, emotionally-detached robot who had no cares and was unaffected by people or situations around him. We see him caring deeply and acting in ways that often surprise us.

One of those times is in John 2:12-17:

After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Even in the opening statement, we see some of the uniqueness of John’s Gospel. In this, the first of four Passovers recorded in John, we are witness to an event that the other Gospels place at the end of Jesus’ ministry as Jesus enters into Jerusalem for the final week of his life.

Some see that as a contradiction in the accounts, but other scholars agree that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple twice, once at the beginning and again at the end of his ministry. His first confrontation with those who were defiling the Temple obviously made little difference, and by the next day they were undoubtedly back in business. In his final Passover in Jerusalem, Jesus again drove the money-changers out and it was the final straw with the Pharisees and they will seek to put him to death.

John places it first in Jesus’ ministry to define his ministry, that in this confrontation with the religious establishment, the issue is not just that they are set in their ways, but that their view of the Temple is a defilement of God’s presence among his people. A renowned NT scholar, F.F.Bruce writes, “If John’s readers understand the significance of this incident, they will know what the ministry of Jesus is all about.”

When Jesus enters the Temple court, he is confronted with a situation that is much deeper than simply the bleating of sheep and the clinking of coins. Yes, it is full of commotion and disturbing of worship, but it is much deeper than that. The Temple’s business had become “business.”

There was the buying and selling of sacrificial animals, which could have merely been an expedient for those who had travelled from some distance and needed to purchase an animal for sacrifice. But the merchants, sanctioned and licensed by the religious leaders, were selling flawed and inferior animals at inflated prices, taking advantage of the people.

Likewise, the moneychangers weren’t just exchanging foreign currency for Jewish coins to pay the Temple tax, they were charging rates that were cheating the people and making a mockery of the system.

Jesus cries out, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” And he makes a whip of cords (and notice, he didn’t find one, he makes one) and begins overturning tables and driving the animals and merchants from the Temple. Jesus is not just a little miffed at the situation, he is enraged. His anger has boiled over and is pouring out of his very being.

It is at this point John inserts the note, His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” John is quoting from Psalm 69:9 as David describes his own feelings for the house of God – how he is consumed by his passion for the things of God and pleasing him.

Can you imagine this scene? Wild confusion as animals are bawling and running aimlessly about the Temple courtyard, the moneychangers on their knees in the dust scrambling for the coins that have been scattered. Dirt and debris flying everywhere in the pandemonium.

At the time, I’m sure Jesus’ disciples must have been standing against the walls with their eyes wide and their mouths open with shock, wondering what they have gotten themselves into. They had never seen Jesus like this. This isn’t Jesus, meek and mild. This is Jesus, the lion of Judah. They didn’t know what to make of this, and only later will they begin to make sense of what Jesus did.

I’m not sure that we feel comfortable with a Jesus who is overcome with emotion, a Jesus who is so angry that he lashes out in violence.

And let’s not take this as a blanket approval for you and I to get angry and vent our anger on others. In numerous passages, NT writers warn against anger. James writes, “…for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:20) When you and I get angry it is almost always out of our selfishness and pride; it is self-serving and destructive. When Jesus got angry, it was because of the wickedness and corruption that he witnessed. His was a righteous anger that served God’s purposes and displayed God’s indignation at how his people had defiled his Temple.

C.S. Lewis’ celebrated children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia, tell of the adventures of four children in the magical kingdom of Narnia. Jesus is represented by the lion Aslan. When in Narnia, the children meet Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who describe the mighty lion to them. “Is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver, sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond- the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe)

His disciples weren’t the only ones who were taken by surprise. John continues in 2:18-22

Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. 

This isn’t the reaction I would have expected. Instead of rushing in with the Temple guard and arresting Jesus, the Jewish leaders stop him and ask him to justify his actions. And they want a miracle to prove his authority. You see, this isn’t the first time Jesus has been to Jerusalem and his fame has already begun to spread. When the Jewish leaders confront him, it is certainly with disapproval, but also with a little bit of curiosity mixed in. “Show us a miracle, Jesus, and we’ll think about letting you off the hook.”

Jesus’ answer not only confuses them but leaves them wondering what kind of lunatic they have on their hands: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Their confusion is understandable. They are standing in the middle of the Temple that Herod had built, or rather, had begun building forty-six years earlier, and it would take another thirty-six years to complete. Most of them had been around when the foundations had been laid and had watched the slow painstaking progress over the last four and a half decades. Now they listen to Jesus say destroy this and he’ll rebuild it in three days? He’s crazy!

What they don’t understand, nor his disciples at this point, is that he is speaking of his own resurrection. The temple of God is not this monolithic structure in which they are standing, but the temple of his own body. This body of Jesus is God’s dwelling among men – it is the temple of God in the truest sense of the word. And when, in three short years, they destroy this temple, he will be raised from death in three days.

Only later, will the disciples recall what he said that morning and begin to put it all together. “That’s what he was talking about!” And looking back, they will see that what Jesus said was fulfilled in Scripture. This will be a common theme throughout the NT, that Jesus’ actions and words are not the random ramblings of an itinerant preacher, but the fulfillment of the OT Scriptures about the Messiah. In fact, there are forty-four specific OT prophecies that are attributed to Jesus in the NT and fulfilled in him. And they will confirm and give testimony to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God.

These last three verses in John 2 show us the power and the impact of Jesus in the lives of the people around him.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

Last week, when we talked about the intent and purpose of the miraculous signs, we saw that they were to cause people to believe in Jesus. And once again, John demonstrates that that was exactly what was happening. If you were looking for God, these signs were going to point you in that direction.

But I want to make sure we hear what John is saying. When he uses the word “believe,” and he uses it 72 times in his Gospel, he isn’t talking about an intellectual process. Belief is not merely agreeing with some fact of history or doctrinal dogma. Belief in John always involves a commitment.

Let me illustrate what I mean: I believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States. I believe that he was an actual person who lived and that he was a great leader who has been called the father of our nation. But other than needing to know a few facts about George Washington for a history test in elementary school, my belief has never demanded any kind of a response or changed my life in any way.

But when I believe in Jesus, I am not just agreeing with the fact that he was a real person who lived in the first century A.D. and was a great teacher who lived in Galilee, I am committing my life to following him. Belief in Jesus has never ended with an intellectual process – it has always involved a commitment of my heart, soul, mind and strength.

Those who say that all you need to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus have made a true statement, but have they understood the implication of the words they have used? If we think that salvation is received from accepting the factualness of Jesus, or agreeing with a certain set of Christian doctrines we have missed the demands of believing. Jesus himself said, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27)

I’m afraid that too many of us have reduced believing in Jesus to a minimally invasive adherence to a set of beliefs instead of putting our lives under that absolute lordship of Jesus Christ. And that has never been saving faith.

It was that same kind of spiritual shortsightedness that affected so many of Jesus’ followers even then. A curiosity that hung around for the show, but never went deeper than a Jesus fan club. And John says, But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.

I wonder how far Jesus could trust you and me. Are we faithful followers, would we stay with him through thick and thin, would we be willing to stand up for him and walk with him to the cross?

Are you consumed with zeal for the things of God? Do you feel a holy outrage when you see people defiling the things of God? Does your heart ache when you see the way that Satan has enslaved God’s people?

Jesus knows our hearts. What would he say about yours?