Summary: What consumed Jesus in the temple courts is what should consume all believers - love for God’s house and love for lost souls.
(The following will be said in a gruff voice to various people in the congregation.) “Move over. Put your bulletin down. Stop looking at me like that. Fold your hands and look at me.” If I was serious about the things I just said, you might wonder: “What’s eating Pastor?” The Disciples wondered that 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 cheated 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)
Jesus with whip in hand is not usually the image that comes to 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? (Sermon Studies on the Gospels Series B NPH) 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 favourites. The organist 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 (Joel Pankow). 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.