Text: John 2:13-17 Theme: The temple profiteer learns that Jesus’ has a burning zeal for God’s purposes.
He was a businessman with an eye for profit. Of course, businessmen with a nose for money are to be found everywhere. But he had an edge: he was located in Jerusalem. More than that: he was a temple insider.
Jerusalem and the temple stood at the very center of the Jewish nation. Pilgrims from across the country traveled to the temple to offer sacrifices to God. Those who traveled some distance found it hard to transport their own offerings. So, they usually bought them at the market when they arrived in Jerusalem.
It makes me think of an open market in Kenya I visited several years ago. When I walked by their booth, those sellers really went after me. Sir, take a look at this! Look at that fine product! We’ll give you a good deal. Or the ultimate pitch: It will look really good on your wife! After walking by fifty booths, I felt worn out by their aggressive appeals.
Merchants positioned close to the temple were less likely to miss arriving pilgrims. Apparently these salesmen kept creeping closer and closer to the temple. At some point one of them made a bold move: he set up inside the temple wall.
The first court was the Court of Gentiles. It covered several acres. Soon others set up shop there. They wanted a prime spot too. It made for good business.
Of course, this changed the ambiance in the temple courts. Now it was a noisy market. William Hendriksen writes: it must have resembled a stockyard. There was the stench and the filth, the bleating + lowing of animals, destined for sacrifice.
Then there were money changers. In Jesus’ day there were a variety of currencies. Likely there were Roman coins and Egyptian coins, as well as Jewish money. Think of Europe before the Euro: with British pounds, Dutch guilders + German marks. Pilgrims could buy animals only if they had the proper kind of coins.
No doubt, over time our businessman got used to the hubbub in the temple courts. Sheep bleated, coins clanked, profits were made. No big deal. All in a day’s work. Life was good. He was making a neat profit off the pilgrims.
But one day all that changed. Jesus came up to Jerusalem for the Passover. When he entered the temple courts, he saw what was going on. Jesus was outraged!
Now, he wasn’t outraged that merchants were doing business. Nothing wrong with that. After all, pilgrims needed animals to sacrifice to the Lord, as he commanded.
Jesus was outraged at where they were doing business. The temple was meant for worship. They turned it into a market! They trespassed. It was a misuse-a perversion of the temple.
Perversion means to use something in a way it was not intended. Now, there are fairly innocent forms of perversion: using a sleeve to wipe your nose; using cafeteria food to throw at friends; waking your kids with an air horn.
But perversion can be far more serious. Perversion is a leading form of human sin. For example, driving your car at a safe speed on neighborhood streets is fine. But driving at 50/mph and endangering children is a perversion- a sin.
Enjoying a glass of wine is fine. Getting drunk is a perversion. The gift of sex is a wonderful thing within marriage. Pursuing sex outside marriage is not.
The merchants had changed the place of prayer for all people into a place of profit. In his outrage at this perversion, what did Jesus do? He made a whip. With that whip he drove out all the animals and merchants from the temple area.
Our temple profiteer was among those who hustled out, afraid for his own skin. Jesus scattered the coins of the money-changers. He overturned their tables. He said: Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!
In this confrontation we hear echoes of Psalm 69:9: zeal for your house consumes me. The Greek word for zeal literally means to be eaten up. Zeal: a consuming passion.
If you want to get a sense of zeal, watch a Super Bowl game. Players are full of zeal. Before the game they huddle up and shout and chant as if they are half men/half beasts. They fly around the field with reckless abandon. After a crunching tackle, they pound their chests and emit primal screams.
Meanwhile the fans are just as full of zeal. They paint their faces. They put on costumes. They wave signs. They scream and shout. They bang the bleachers. They go into a frenzy when their team scores. We’re talking fervor, passion, zeal.
Jesus had zeal. But it wasn’t zeal for a football game. It wasn’t to make a big profit. Jesus had zeal for his Father. Jesus had zeal for his Father’s good purposes. Jesus had zeal for his Father’s house- that it be used as intended: for worship and prayer.
Right here, Jesus is a stirring example to us. Romans 12 says: Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. What about you? Do you feel eagerness, fervor, passion for Christ and his kingdom?
Or are you more eager for a favorite TV show? More eager to play a video game? More eager to root on a favorite team? More eager to take a grand vacation?
What would someone say of our church? Easy to like, but not that eager for God’s Word. Fine folks: but not much fervor to share the gospel: the good news of Jesus. Pleasant people: but not that passionate to seek justice and serve the poor. I hope not. Like Jesus, may we throb with zeal for what matters to God.
Now notice that Jesus’ zeal sparked anger. When you have fervor for something good + someone messes with it, it makes you angry. Jesus couldn’t stand merchants and money-changers messing up the temple. In his account John doesn’t specifically use the word. But you can tell Jesus is angry. How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!
Often Jesus is pictured as gentle and humble. And he was: so gentle with hurting people. But Jesus could also get angry. Jesus displays the righteous wrath of God.
You know, when we think of God we prefer to think of his love, his grace, his goodness. But the wrath of God? That’s something else. It’s uncomfortable. So we downplay it.
But we are not at liberty to ignore any aspect of Jesus’ character. God is a God of anger- righteous anger when we pervert his good purposes. That temple profiteer shrank from Jesus’ anger in the temple courts. How much worse for sinners to meet God’s righteous wrath at the Judgment Day! That’s why a sensible person will run to Jesus to plead for mercy- to be spared God’s wrath.
Here we should note that anger is a powerful emotion. It gives people power. No one wanted to face an angry Jesus wielding his whip.
Anger is like dynamite. It can be used for good or bad. In building the transcontinental railroad, dynamite was used for good- to blast tunnels for the tracks to get thru mountains. But dynamite also could be used for bad- to blow up railroad lines. That’s why the dynamite of anger must be handled so carefully. That’s why Ephesians 4 says: In your anger do not sin. Don’t be destructive.
Here Jesus harnesses his anger for good: clearing out the temple area- restoring it for prayer. Let me ask this question: do you get angry for godly reasons? And when you do get angry, do you harness it for good, rather than bad?
At the end of the day, what did our temple profiteer learn in his encounter with Jesus? First, Jesus has zeal for God the Father and his good purposes. Second, his zeal could readily spark holy anger when God’s purposes were perverted. Third, Jesus harnessed his anger for powerful action- to oppose wrong and restore the right. Zeal- holy anger- powerful action. That’s a dynamic triple combination.
This is the Jesus who says: come and follow me. Never be lacking in zeal.
You know, every generation has its great perversions that need zeal to confront. At the time of Martin Luther there was the perversion of salvation- by good works. Luther and the Reformers harnessed a zeal for God’s truth to restore the gospel of grace.
In early American history there was the perversion of slavery. In reaction many Christians were zealous to defend the God-given dignity of every person. In their zeal these abolitionists developed a holy anger at the institution of slavery. In turn they harnessed that anger into powerful action: working to abolish slavery.
What perversions of God’s good purposes should we be zealous to oppose in our day? Treating sex like a recreational activity between any consenting adults. The abuse of alcohol that has caused countless traffic accidents and destroyed lives. Thinking that because we have a powerful military, we always have the right to use it.
Let me add this: Jesus restored the temple in one fell swoop. But our action often must be sustained over months and years- even generations.
And zeal for God isn’t limited to broader social issues. Young people: what about classmates who engage in cheap talk or take God’s name in vain? Guys: what about comments about females as if they’re cattle or sex objects. Does talk like that stir you to holy anger- to speak up and object? I hope so.
Jesus surprised the temple merchants. Who would expect a rabbi furiously wielding a whip?