Pop quiz: There’s a lion with a whip making for you, what do you do?
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:12-16
What a crazy contrast. In the first part of John 2, Jesus creates wine at a country wedding and then John immediately turns, apparently skipping forward chronologically in Jesus’s ministry, to this scene of judgment at the temple in Jerusalem. His vandalism temporarily closed down the most publicly important place in the nation. What to make of this?
Jesus doesn’t fit in a box
Jesus’s actions are hardly ones we would expect from the joy-on-draught guy we saw a few paragraphs ago in Cana. The temple cleansing is a favorite passage of militant Christians bent on disturbance. A quick google search on this passage reveals ridiculous images from the middle ages through today with Jesus carrying everything from a cane to a Colt .45, wreaking havoc on some hapless temple servants.
But, pacifists or militant, we don’t get to put Jesus in a box. We don’t get to leverage his attributes and actions against one another. He is who he is – a burning bush, an avenging God, healer of the blind and lame, lover of the lost, the eternal sacrifice and the eternal judge, a lamb and a lion, a king establishing his new Kingdom. He is a king who will die in your place and demand nothing and everything from you in return.
Compromise is offensive
The Israelites had compromised the temple of God for the sake of commerce, comfort, and convenience. But mainly, they had reduced their covenant relationship with God to a conditional, quid-pro-quo business transaction – the favor and forgiveness of God for an afternoon of animal blood and a few shekels. The system wasn’t wrong, just made obsolete by Jesus. Their hearts were wrong.
When Jesus saw this, “Zeal for God’s house consumed him,” and drove him to civil disobedience, but zeal for my heart drove him to the pitiful, painful cross. I don’t have to look very deep into my heart or my habits to see the same dead religious practices. I must examine my heart for compromise and conditions and lay them before him.
Cleansing isn’t our job…really? Really
The old temple is done away with and if we have believed into Jesus, our hearts, homes and churches are God’s tabernacle. He is “God With Us.” We cannot hide our money changing from him, but we try. In fact, we have much more than money-changing tables in our temples.
We are world-class hoarders. We have created warrens and alleyways amidst the junk we are blind to or choose to ignore. We have piles of petty hurts and grudges. We have mountains on top of molehills of pride. We have our thumbs on scales full of good and bad deeds, (our own and others). We have bitter roots growing up through the cracks. Maybe even a few dead cats buried beneath it all. Our trash is the only thing we bring to the temple cleansing. We must acknowledge it, hate it, and step aside. We must invite him to drive these from our temple. Be open to his zeal. The lion with the whip is terrifying but driven by love. We should not run.
This quote from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” gets to the heart of the matter without nearly as many words.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…
“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”