MARCH 19 2006 LENT 3
Zeal Revealed John 2:13-22
13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
17His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
(Message by Rev. Kenton Puls)
It’s amazing how rude human beings can be to one another. Maybe someone raised his voice harshly to you in a public situation. Maybe you hear language at work or on the softball field that doesn’t even belong in the locker room. We like decorum, quiet, calm. Sometimes, though, what appears rude – totally inappropriate socially – may simply be the outburst of strong conviction. Someone sees a miscarriage of justice or something wrong going on and just can’t remain quiet, polite, decorous. Conviction, zeal for a cause, demands a dramatic, applecart-upsetting response.
In our text for today, Jesus upsets applecarts (and much more!) He creates a scene and grossly offends. How rude? No. Zeal for God’s house. Finding His father’s house being misused and abused, Jesus’ zeal simply can’t be kept under wraps. It’s got to burst out in action. In Jesus’ cleansing the temple, we see His zeal revealed. The zeal of Jesus is revealed in His Passover, His passion, and His power to save us. As a result, we, the Church of God, His temple in the world, are called to be a people zealous for Him and zealous for good works.
Let’s look closer at what happened. Jesus comes to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. For centuries, the Passover had been a chief revelation of God’s zealous love for sinners. The Passover, you remember, had climaxed the plagues by which God had brought His people out of slavery in Egypt. Every plague demonstrated God’s zeal for the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God.” Each plague was an ironic twist on the false gods of Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped the Nile River, Frogs, the sun, and first born sons. In the various plagues, God turned each of these against them. So each plague was God’s zealous deliverance in action; every plague was God’s zealous righteousness, opposing false gods and unbelief.
Now the zeal of Christ for the true God is revealed as well. Jesus is consumed by the sin against the temple. All those centuries, roasted lambs had conveyed the Passover miracle. God was zealous for a people of Passover as He passed over their sin for the sake of the bloody Lamb to come. Every animal whose blood was shed was a sign pointing toward the ultimate sacrifice, God in the flesh. Now, God in the flesh comes into His temple. God would not spare His own firstborn Son in the conquest of our idolatry and false worship, but gives Him willingly so that we pass over from death to live by His zealous life, death, and resurrection. Are we living today as people of the Passover? Since we are people whom death has passed over, how can we not zealously spread that word to others? “Passover” is a powerful word! It speaks law to those not covered in blood, yet it speaks Gospel to those covered in the blood of Christ, the Lamb. Jesus’ zeal, revealed in the Passover, covers us. Does it also move us?
Jesus’ zeal is revealed, second, in His person – so different from ours! Our zeal is often like that of the merchandising Jews, as we find ourselves trying to use God’s Church for our own ends. We seek the glory and adulation of others. Pastors and elders can seek to use their positions to manipulate others. Worshippers seek a person-centered service of good feelings and emotional highs rather than a God-centered worship. We worship with dollar bills rather than tithes. Or we give our tithes, but with tainted motives. Our thoughts wander while in worship. We treat His sacraments casually, as if they were another chore to do.
Only God’s perfect person can meet our pitiful person. The “zeal of the Lord of hosts” meets us in the person of Jesus Christ. No bowing to decorum, if it means compromising God’s house. No polite, “Well, let’s see about this,” when it would rob God’s people of the comfort and assurance of forgiveness they should receive when they come into the temple. No playing it safe, blending in, keeping quiet, even though this sort of outburst will get Him killed.
No greater love, no greater intensity, no greater mercy, no greater humility could be shown us sinners than what we see in the person of Christ. With all zeal, He was obedient and reversed the curse of Eden. With all zeal, He overpowered the devil and bound Him forever. With all zeal, He covers us today with the flowing and drenching waters of Baptism. The zeal of His body and blood covers, cleanses, and cures us from our sin.
This person of the Lord Jesus Christ is authentic and genuine. 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 crosses of damnation for His cross of salvation. He exchanges our weaknesses for the strength of His resurrection. He exchanges the weak things of our world for the strong world of His heaven. He exchanges, on the Last Day, our vile bodies for His victorious, resurrected one.
Finally, Christ’s zeal is revealed in His power. The money changers had power. The pious Jews coming to receive an even exchange were abused by the powers in those high places. But the power of God is His zeal to save people abused by the world’s system. That was no weakling Christ, no coward wielding that whip! And the grossly offended powers-that-be in the temple weren’t seeing the half of it. This is the Almighty God!
When we feel abused by taxes, by poor health, or by our unfair share of struggles, when we feel no zeal or passion for life, His Holy Spirit is near. He tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father (Luther’s Small Catechism). St Paul reminds us boldly, I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. St Paul was transformed from a zealot of self-righteousness to a servant of Christ Jesus. As he counsels us in today’s Epistle (1 Corinthians 1:22-25) he exchanged his own foolishness for the wisdom of Christ.
This power in Christ is unmatched, and Christ’s zeal is tuned by His love. His energies all move toward the intent of His church. Even the gates of hell cannot prevail against this lowly yet mighty body of believers. His zeal and His power will one day raise our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. His zeal, though seemingly destroyed on the cross, was instead raised in power on Easter. And because He lives, we live forever. Jesus’ Passover, His person, and His power all proclaim His zeal to keep us forever. Salvation unto us has come By God’s free grace and favor; Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, who did for all the world atone. He is our one Redeemer. Amen.