Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/8/15)
Text: John 2:13-22
Theme: Consumed with Zeal for God
A little word association: What picture flashes through your mind when I say… Jesus?
Maybe it is that picture you saw hanging in a church basement somewhere – that picture of Jesus sitting on top of a hill with little kids all around and one lucky kid on his lap. Maybe the image you see is the kind, welcoming, calming Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulder. Maybe you picture the cross and your Savior on that cross. Or maybe you picture an empty tomb.
Whatever image you thought of when I first said the name Jesus, I’m willing to bet none of you pictured the Jesus we read about in John 2:13-22…
Imagine, if you can, the rage, the wrath, and the violence it would take for one man to drive away a small herd of animals and dozens of people who didn’t want to be moved. Jesus didn’t walk into the temple and say, “Please guys, can you get out of here?” He made a whip and started screaming, and yelling, and beating.
It’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing. Today we see Jesus red-faced in wrath, spittle flying from his mouth as he screams on the top of his lungs, a whip cracking in his hand over the heads of, and on the backs of men and beast as he drives them from the Temple courts. Today we see a Jesus consumed with zeal for his Father.
And it’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing… but can you blame him?
This is the temple. This is God’s house. This is a place people were supposed to come face to face with God himself, a place of prayer, a place of worship, a place of meditation. This was the place people were supposed to come and whisper to God in shame the sins they had committed, begging him to forgive them. This was a place for the brokenhearted, the lonely, the depressed to come face to face with the God who loved them. This was a place for people to zealously serve and worship God.
And they – those merchants and money changers – had turned it into a market. They had taking this beautiful place of worship and turned it into a shopping mall –a place to zealously chase a profit. Instead of a place of prayer and meditation, they had turned God’s house into a flea market hawking their wares, a place to make a few bucks off all those people coming here to worship.
Can you blame Jesus for getting so mad?
I mean, I guess this is no big surprise – businessmen will be businessmen, capitalists will be capitalists. They saw a need and they filled it. People back then, just like now want convenience. People needed to buy animals to sacrifice and they had to have a place to exchange their foreign currency into the shekel to pay the temple tax – there was a need to offer convenience services to temple worshipers and the merchants filled it. The money changers and merchants I can understand to a certain degree, but the religious leaders… that’s another story?
Where were the priests – the ones whose job it was to tell sin burdened sinners that they were forgiven as they brought their sacrifices to God? Where were the Levities – the ones tasked by God to maintain his temple? Where were the Pharisees – always so proud of their zealous devotion and service to God? Didn’t any of them have a problem with this? Couldn’t they see that the place where they spent all day guiding people in the worship of the one true God was becoming a market? Didn’t they see what was going wrong?
How could the religious leaders not have stepped up and said something? How could they have let it go so far, and get so bad?
Can you blame Jesus for getting so mad?
Really what this boils down to is idolatry. I mean, every sin eventually boils down to idolatry at its base, but this is committing idolatry – worshiping something else – while being surrounded by and performing acts of worship to the true God!
They had turned the worship of God in to a worship of convenience… They were worshiping themselves while worshiping God as they sought convenience over zeal. Zeal after all meant sacrifice of self to God, and that was just a little too inconvenient…
Sure, all these worshipers that came to the temple every day could have brought lambs, and goats, and doves from home for their sacrifices, but if they did that they would have to feed them along the way, maybe the trip would take a little longer and they’d have to carry them part or all of the way. Worshiping God would just be so much more convenient if they could just bring the money to buy what they needed when they got to the temple.
Sure, all these worshipers with foreign currency could have gone to a money changer in the actual market, or some other place, but then they could would have to sit down and plan ahead how they would bring their offering to God, they might have to work a little harder, walk a little farther to find a money changer. Worshiping God would just be so much more convenient if they could just hit up the ATM in the narthex of the temple on their way in!
Sure, the priests and Levites could have been stricter in maintaining an atmosphere of worship in the Temple. They could have told the money changers and merchants to take their business to the markets where it belonged, but that would require confrontation. They might hurt someone’s feelings, or make someone angry if they did that. Leading worship for God would just be so much more convenient if they could just avoid stepping on people’s toes like that.
They took the worship of God – something that required zeal and sacrifice – and decided it required just a little too much sacrifice, and a little too much hard work. Why can’t worshiping God be a little bit easier, a little more comfortable, a little more convenient?
Can you blame Jesus for getting so mad? How could they? How could they let laziness creep into their worship of God?….
Friends, how could you?….
Think about it. Do you ever stop yourself from worshiping God the way you should because it might be to inconvenient for you?
We do it all the time, don’t we?
I mean church every Sunday, and every Wednesday in Lent?… Man, I don’t know… traffic around here Wednesday nights… I have this evening routine, the kid’s have their routine… I don’t know, sounds a little too inconvenient to me…
And it’s not like I get to pat myself on the back because I’m here every time we have worship. You see, our acts of worship are not confined to what we do here in this building once or twice a week.
Paul in Romans 12:1 calls on all Christians “to offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is [our] spiritual act of worship.” Everything I do with this body of mine ought to be an offering, an act of worship to God. You ought to be consumed with zeal in everything you do – turning it into a deliberate act of worship to God.
God calls on us to raise our kids in a certain way. He calls on us to treat strangers in a certain way. He calls on us to treat our spouses in a certain way. He calls on us to work at our jobs in a certain way. He calls on us to think in a certain way, to speak in a certain way. He calls on us to schedule our lives in a certain way. He calls on us to budget our money in a certain way. We just read The Ten Commandments a few minutes ago – a pretty good summary of how God expects us to worship him with our bodies.
Do you ever stop yourself from worshiping God the way you should with your body because it might be a little too inconvenient for you?
We do it all the time, don’t we?
We don’t discipline our children the way we should because it’s not fun to discipline. It’s not fun for the kid, and it’s not fun for the parent either… it’s inconvenient.
We don’t selflessly love our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family because it’s hard to always put what other people want over what I want. When do I get my turn?!?! It’s inconvenient.
We don’t budget our time or money so that God takes complete priority in those things because we have so many other things demanding our attention much more loudly and consistently than God does. We have places to be, people to meet, things to do, it’s just impractical and inconvenient to always put God at the top.
Friends, how could they?… How could we turn our worship of God into a form of idolatry? How could we turn our worship of God into something we do only if it is convenient enough for us?
Could you really blame Jesus if he showed up here today, whip in hand, and drove us from his house?
The Jesus we see today is not a Jesus we are accustomed to. The really incredible thing is, though, the Jesus we see here in John 2 is the only side of Jesus we should see if things were fair, if God treated us as we deserve.
But that’s not the Jesus we are accustomed to!
No, the Jesus we are accustomed to is the Jesus who scoffed at the idea of convenience as he left his Father’s side in heaven and was born into this sin-infested world. Each and every day he suffered the inconvenience of being a perfect man surrounded by imperfect people. He left the perfection of heaven to learn how inconvenient it is to get sick, hurt, hungry, and sad.
The Jesus we know is the Jesus who ate meals with prostitutes, held the hands of leapers, opened his heart to tax collectors, took time to sit with little children, and forgave a woman caught in adultery. Every thought, word, and deed that Jesus ever had or did was done as a completely committed sacrifice to his Father in heaven – an incredibly inconvenient sacrifice he made for us.
The Jesus we know is a Jesus who, above all else, welcomed the inconvenience of dying on a cross. From the moment he was born he was walking to his inevitable death, he predicted what the Jews would do to him in the reading for today (that the Temple he was talking about was his own body!). He knew that being born in this world meant he would have to die for this world – and he did it, an incredibly inconvenient sacrifice he made for us.
Jesus came and lived a life consumed with zeal for the things of his Father. That’s the opposite of the convenience we seek, isn’t it – apathetic service of God, hampered by convenience vs. zealous, completely committed service to God. Jesus lived his life not worshiping himself and only doing things convenient for him. He lived his life obsessed with serving his Father and us, no matter how inconvenient that was.
By the grace of God, that is the Jesus we know. That is the Jesus we are accustomed to, and praise God for that!
His zeal for worshiping his Father means that your zeal for worshiping yourself is forgiven. All of it. Completely. Forever.
His scorn for personal convenience means that your love of convenience has been paid for. All of it. Completely. Forever.
How could they?…. How could we?… How could Jesus love us so much, and so completely? It’s hard to fathom. It’s hard to wrap our minds around. But it’s true. This is the Jesus we know – a Jesus who was consumed with zeal for his Father and for us.
It’s a truth that we have the privilege to gather around in this building on a regular basis. It’s a truth we get to revel in and study at our kitchen tables, and in our bedrooms. It’s a truth we get to share with our children, and neighbors, and coworkers, and family, and friends.
It’s a truth that changes us from the inside out – a truth that consumes us until we are consumed with zeal for the Father too, a truth that consumes our desire to turn our worship of God into a convenience based worship.
Friends, live a life consumed by zeal for your God because your God is none other than this very same Jesus who’s life was consumed with zeal for you!