If I was serious about the things I just said, you might wonder: “What’s eating Mrs. Karen?” The Disciples wondered that same thing about Jesus as they watched the normally mild-mannered rabbi flip over tables and with a whip drive merchants and animals out of the temple court. What was eating Jesus is what should consume all Christians. Let’s find out what these things are.
Jesus and his disciples had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was one of three festivals all Jewish males 20 years and older were to attend every year. They were to present the appropriate animal sacrifice and pay a temple tax. To serve pilgrims who traveled long distances to the festival, a booming business had developed selling animals for sacrifice and changing foreign currency so pilgrims from out of country could pay the temple tax. The problem was the merchants were cheating the pilgrims (Matthew 21:13).
Even the priests, God’s servants, were in on the action. They regularly disqualified animals the pilgrims themselves had brought to sacrifice on some technicality forcing the pilgrims to buy one of the priests’ “approved” animals at an inflated price. To make matters even worse, this shady business went on in the confines of the temple courts. The place where the sounds of worship were to be heard, priests chanting the Psalms and pilgrims lifting their prayers heavenward, was dominated by the cacophony of clinking coins and the stench of animals and greed.
When Jesus came upon the scene he grabbed some rope, fashioned it into a whip, and began lashing out at merchant and animal alike. When he came to the moneychangers he flipped their tables sending their neatly stacked coins rolling in every direction. When Jesus faced those selling doves he said: “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16b).
I don’t know about you….but Jesus with a whip in hand is not usually the image that comes to my mind when we think about our Savior, is it? I wonder if the Disciples felt embarrassed as they watched Jesus, the way we feel when someone in our group starts to complain loudly at a restaurant about the service and food. As the Disciples wondered what was eating Jesus, at least one of them remembered a prophecy from Psalm 69. It said: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17b).
That’s what was eating Jesus – zeal, intense love, for God’s house. God’s house was to be a place of prayer, a place where God came to the sinner and gave freely of his love and forgiveness. The priests, however, were taking advantage of sinners who had come looking for solace. God’s house was no longer a refuge; it had been turned into a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13) and Jesus was not going to put up with this.
Does the same zeal for the Lord’s house eat away at us? Do we drive like cattle from God’s house and our hearts whatever distracts from worship, whatever distorts the church’s mission, and whatever cheats God’s children? When we settle into our chair for the service does our mind fasten on what God has to say to us or do we spend the time making mental notes of things that need to get done at work or at home? Do we use the time during Communion distribution to ponder the miracle of the Lord’s Supper or to ponder wardrobe choices of fellow members? After returning home from church, do we say, “I didn’t like that service. None of the hymns were my favorites. The pianist played too slow/too fast. There was too much noise in church. Pastor’s sermon was too long.” Friends, who is at the center of that view of worship? Not God. This “What’s in it for me?” attitude is what Jesus condemns in our text. Could it be that Jesus needs to overturn our hearts and set us straight on what is really important? What is important in God’s house is that we glorify God in our worship and that we gain a stronger hold on God’s grace. Concentrating on the message from God’s Word and not complaining about the presentation will help us do that.
Jesus acted the way he did in the temple because he had zeal for God’s house and because he had zeal for lost souls. Jesus shook up the lives of those merchants because he loved them. He wanted them to know that their continued activity would land them in hell, not heaven. Ignoring the merchants’ sinful activity for fear of hurting their feelings would not have been loving of Jesus.
The Jewish leaders, however, didn’t appreciate what Jesus had done and so instead of thanking Jesus they challenged him. “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (John 2:18b) Jesus should have thrown up his hands and said: “A sign. You want a sign? Alright then, here’s a sign you’ll never forget!” Jesus then should have zapped them all to a crisp for questioning his authority and not appreciating what he had done for them. Instead Jesus gave them a sign of grace. Jesus answered: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). The leaders didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. They thought he was speaking about the temple King Herod and just spent 46 years refurbishing. But Jesus was not talking about the temple building. He was talking about his body. In a sign of grace Jesus was promising to offer his own body on the cross to pay for their sins and rise from the dead to give them eternal life!
Jesus still gives us a sign of his grace when all we deserve is a sign of his judgment. When we question whether or not God is with us, or whether or not he is working everything out for our good, God should show us his displeasure over our lack of faith. Instead he gives us a sign of grace. In Holy Communion, for example, Jesus gives us his body and blood with the bread and wine for forgiveness and to assure us that we are his dearly loved children.
What is our response to be to such zeal - zeal that moved Jesus to give his life to save lost souls? A simple thank you won’t do. Instead our response is to be one of zeal for the Lord and his work of reaching out to lost souls. Oh I know, the world says it’s OK to be religious as long as you’re not zealous about it. You can have your beliefs as long as you’re willing to concede that other beliefs about life and death are just as valid. But how can we agree to that? How can we act as if truth is relative when Jesus has said that he is the way the truth and the life and that no one gets to heaven except through faith in him (John 14:6)?
Jesus’ zeal for us will also move us to be zealous for fellow Christians who are straying from the faith. When a fellow Christian is caught in a sin we will call that person to repent. If they refuse to do so, we won’t drop the matter. We will get other Christians to call that person to repentance. If the call to repent is still ignored, we will bring the matter to the church. If the impenitent still refuses to listen, then we will remove that person from membership in accord with Jesus’ words in Matthew 18. Does this sound like something only a zealot would do? It is but a zealot, as Jesus defines it, is someone motivated by love for God’s honor and love for lost souls.
So what’s eating you, Brothers and Sisters? Desire for money? The need to be more important than others? That’s what ate the priests and leaders of Jesus’ day and look what it did to them. It made them blind to God’s love and his concern for them. No, don’t let the things of this world eat away at you. Let Jesus’ love consume you – his love for you, his love for God’s house, and his love for lost souls.