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John 2:13-22 13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
Things That Make Jesus Angry
Jesus was a very gentle man. Right? We sing "Fairest Lord Jesus . . ." or "What a Friend we Have in Jesus . . ." Jesus was Mr. Nice Guy. Respectful of women. Loved little children. Kind to his mother. What is he doing, then, in the temple courts during the holiest season of the Jewish year, overturning tables and scattering coins and using a whip, of all things, to drive both people and cattle out of the courtyard? Imagine if someone came into our church and disturbed our service like that? We would think he was crazy or criminal, and we most definitely call the police on him.
It's obvious that there were some things that made Jesus angry. Is it a sin to get angry? Obviously not. The scriptures are clear on this: Jesus was without sin (Hebrews 4:15), yet he expressed anger. So, anger must not be, in itself, a sin.
Someone has compared anger to nitroglycerine. Nitroglycerine is an unstable liquid which, in paste form, constitutes dynamite. However, nitroglycerine in very small amounts is what is given to heart patients to keep their hearts beating. Anger, in itself, is not sinful. The sin is in getting angry over the wrong things. We get angry when someone cuts us off in traffic. Or when someone takes credit for something we've done at work. We get angry at the kids when they're too noisy and at our spouse when they don't meet our expectations. Sometimes we get angry when we're simply tired and cranky. We don't even need anything to set us off.
I read on the internet about a fight that broke out in a nursing home. Mealtime turned ugly when an 86-year-old man complained to another gentlemen about picking through the lettuce. Name-calling soon gave way to punching and the police were summoned. One resident was bitten in his attempt to stop the fight, another knocked down. No one was seriously injured, but one of the men was expelled from the home.
You and I get angry over all kinds of silly things sometimes. Jesus got angry when he saw people exploiting religion. That's a little different from getting miffed over a salad bar. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. This was his one purpose in life. Can you imagine how he felt when he saw that there were some religious leaders who were using religion not to help people but to take advantage of them?
Are there some people who exploit religion today? Oh, yes. There are some religious peoples who get rich by taking advantage of hurting souls. Sometimes you see these people on T.V. I bet Jesus' blood boils when he hears one of these people promise their followers that God will bless them, heal them, give them all kinds of prosperity, if they will just make a donation to this pastor's ministry. Sinful human beings exploit religion just like they exploit everything else and for the same reasons--wealth, power, fame.
Jesus got angry when he saw people exploiting religion for their own gain. Like those merchants in the temple courts. People came to offer their sacrifices. Many of them were from out of town. They couldn't bring an animal with them to sacrifice. So they purchased an animal in the temple court. Unfortunately they couldn't use Roman coins. These coins were considered impure. After all, they bore the image of Caesar, which broke the commandment against graven images. So, the money changers were exchanging Roman coins for shekels, temple coins, and some of them were making an outrageous profit at the expense of simple, believing people.
And Jesus exploded, according to our Gospel story for today.
Jesus also got angry when religious leaders taught that they way you worshiped God was more important than why you worshiped God. At the center of Jewish life (and our life) are two commandments--love God, love your neighbor--but the Scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus' time were obscuring these two important commandment with a bunch of obscure laws, pointless rituals. After all, it was easier to measure the length of the tassel on your robe than it was to love old, crotchety Mr. Graham in the pew next to you. And much, much easier to not eat meat on Friday, than to worship with anyone that looks and thinks differently than you. God had called these religious leaders to open the eyes of their people to the presence of God in the people around them and instead they were loading the people down with useless laws. Meanwhile they ignored the real spiritual needs of their flock.
So, Jesus got angry, and he made a whip out of cords and drove both people and animals out of the temple court. It is a dramatic scene. And it tells us something very important about Jesus. All Jesus cares about is people.
This is so very important. At the heart of everything Jesus did was his love for people. Law wasn't as important to him as people, though he was a law-abiding man. Tradition wasn't as important to him as people, though he kept most of the sacred traditions of his people. Even religion wasn't as important to him as people, even though the Sabbath always found him in the synagogue. But Jesus didn't come to die for the law or for a tradition or even for religion. Jesus came and died for people. All people.
There may be people that you and I disapprove of. They may not have the same moral standards as we do. They may not worship as we do. They may be committed to a very different way of life, a way of life that we find disturbing. But, Jesus loves them. And John 3:17 tells us that Jesus didn't come to condemn them, but to save them.
There was a game that I played when I was a kid. I don't remember the name of the game, but it went like this: half of the children would form a circle. Everyone would face outward and holding hands. The other half of the children would be outside the circle. The ones in the circle would chant, "You're out! You're out! You can't come in. You're out! You're out! You can't come in." And once they had chanted this twice, the children who were on the outside would rush as hard as they could and try to break into the circle. The ones in the circle could only hold hands. And the ones who were trying to break in had to get in on the first try, they couldn't keep pushing. If they broke through, they were part of the “in crowd”. The game was played til only one person was left on the inside. That person was the loser.
You and I know about that game. We've seen it played out all our lives on both a child's level and on an adult level, and sometimes, Heaven help us, it has been played in the name of Jesus. "You're out! You're out! You can't come in!" That's a chant we've used on all kinds of people.
Even some churches are known for the people they keep out. Marty and I know of this man who seems like a really nice guy until he started telling us about what he does as deacon of his church on Sunday mornings. He worships in a church in the middle of a city. It's his job to stand at the door and make sure that the “wrong kind of people” don't wander in. My guess is that this makes Jesus very angry. He still loves that man, but I bet he doesn't love his behavior.
All Jesus cares about is people. Fortunately, that includes you and me. We're not worthy of it, but it includes us. That's the message of the cross. Jesus went to the cross on our behalf. Why? "God so loved the world . .."
That is why Jesus drove the money-changers from the Temple. Jesus cares about people. What the money changers were doing had nothing to do with authentic religion. They were taking advantage of people. They were elevating how you worship over why you worship. "God so loved the world . . ." That is what authentic worship is all about.
And that is the faith I invite you to make your own. Not legalistic faith that fills people with guilt and forgets to flood them with grace. Not moralistic faith that divides people into acceptable and unacceptable and forgets to remind us that we are all sinners saved by grace. I invite you to accept the authentic faith of Jesus, a faith that has one goal--to help us grow in love for one another and for God. A faith that tells us we really matter, not because there is anything remarkable about us, but because there is something remarkable about God. "God so loved the world . . ." Accept nothing less. Amen.