Christ’s Consuming Zeal (For you and For me)

John 2:13-19

March 14th & 15th, 2009


          A few years back the letters WWJD could be seen on many bracelets and t-shirts.  The letters stand for “What would Jesus do”.   The idea was that Christians would use this statement to help them in making a variety of decisions in life.    While there is   biblical precedent for such a viewpoint, for example Jesus bids his disciples to follow his example in washing their feet by washing one another’s feet (John 13:15).    There are limitations.  For example, this view could take away from what Jesus has done and is doing in our life?  In addition what is the “example” we are to glean from today’s reading?     When we lose our cool, even justifiably so, can we say “I’m only doing what Jesus did”?   It’s pretty clear that if we use Jesus to justify our sinful anger we’ve probably missed the point.  After all his zeal and righteous indignation, is without sin, and frankly while some of our anger is somewhat justified, it is always tainted with sin.  This is a big difference!   So what are we to take from the first of what seems to be two accounts of Jesus zealously cleansing his temple?    Jesus zeal is was there so that his life and his salvation gained for us through his dying and rising, simply has to get through.   If this message of salvation is somehow diminished, in a religious setting, in the body of Christ, in our places of worship, then Jesus will upset the “applecart”, overturn the money tables,  to make things right. 

          It seems that there are two separate occasions when Jesus rebuked those selling their wares in Jerusalem.   The first is early on his ministry, right after the miracle of turning water into wine.  The second, spoken of in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, occurs during Holy Week themselves.  As usual, people are slow to learn.    The buying and selling of “kosher” lambs, and doves for the poor had to be purchased in the temple setting.   Jews from all over the world came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and this meant a lot of goods being purchased, especially the necessities for appropriate sacrifices.   There was also an exchange of the pilgrims native money for special temple money.  Many Jews used Roman currency, and because this money had a picture of Caesar on it, it was considered sacrilegious.     Some think the locals were taking advantage of the visitors by charging extra for their goods.   However, the real problem was “this open air market” was negatively impacting the reason the temple was there in the first place.   It was a house of prayer, and sacrifice, it is where Jews, Gentiles, and women came to be brought near to the creator of the universe.   It was here that they were to be reminded of the sacrifices and care God brought to them by bringing them out to the Promised Land.    The business of the temple was transforming the purpose of the temple from a place of connecting to God to a mall of sorts.  Nothing wrong with buying and selling ones wares, just not as a substitute for what God had intended.

          Lent, really is a time of cleansing, and whether we like it or not we as God’s people need to be continually washed in our Lord’s grace.   The church at large and the church on the local level is called to hear that our Lord is zealous about overturning all which would keep us from himself.   Too often we , like the merchants at the temple, use the church to our own ends.   We measure success or failure by how much is coming into the offering plate while all the while, neglecting the neighbor whom we are called to serve.  There are many in our community and many in this congregation and for a variety of reasons are not receiving God’s good gifts in word and sacrament.  Do we care?    Or do we say, that’s their choice and leave it at that.  In the church   Pastors, elders, and church leaders use their positions to manipulate their people.  Sometimes we come here to God’s house, and long to have    “a little bit of a loving Jesus”, but not too much for we wouldn’t want him to change our life.      We look at the humble ways God chooses to come to us, scripture readings, a little bit of body and blood, other believers to support us in life, and frankly question whether this is enough.  We say “didn’t get much out of that” and maybe forget what is really there.   We bemoan the humble positions God has placed us in this life, as a spouse, parent, child, worker, and grandparent and think Lord you must have something far better.  Maybe we live our life not in thanksgiving but in bitterness, because we believe we just haven’t gotten the beaks others get.   Rather than rejoicing in others blessings, we look at them with envy.   We pride ourselves on our giving, and secretly say “you know if everyone gave as we gave, this church would truly be in good shape.”  Or   “We give a few bucks here and there, and say Lord, at least I live my life a lot better than those who think “run the show” around here.  In this instance giving is simply a way to say to our neighbor whether verbally or not you don’t quite match up to me do you.    Do you hear the tables being overturned, the coins spreading over the floor, the gasps of silence as Jesus and Jesus alone says “Take these things away”.   

          Here is the rub,   we can’t lift the table back up, we cannot clean up our own mess of things,  on our own we cannot get rid of these things.   Which is why when they asked Jesus “who gives you authority to do such things, he says destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”   Our hope in the church is not in us, but in the one overturning the tables, for he would have the tables turned on him.   He is the new temple, and to those whose lives are scattered he says “”Destroy this temple in three days, and I will raise it up”.    Here is our great hope.  The merciful presence of God would no longer be found in this massive building, but now would be found in the one who cannot help but continually give of himself for you and me.  Jesus said “Father into your hands I commend my spirit, the earth shook, and the temple curtain was torn in two.   Translation, the new temple is Jesus who would be raised up.  Unlike the money changers and sinners like us, he offers more than a fair exchange.  He exchanges our guilt for his acquittal.  He exchanges our cross of death for his cross of life.  He exchanges our weakness for his strength in the resurrection.   He destroys all that separates us from him, including death itself, and he makes us alive.  He is indeed consumed by zeal, a loving zeal centered on you and me.  This is what Jesus has done, and because he has shown us this, we can really live as the objects of his consuming zeal.    We can live, move, and have our being under LWHJD (Look, what Jesus has done).  To him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.