The Zeal of Thine House
© 2021 C. O. Bishop
John 2:13-22; Psalm 69:8, 9; Ezekiel 34:17-22; 1st Timothy 6:10; Colossians 3:5
Last week we finished studying what happened at the Marriage feast at Cana: We saw the purpose of miracles, and what God says about marriage: why it is so important and Holy to Him.
Finally, we saw that, if we are willing to listen to Jesus and do what He says, then he will turn the Water of our “daily grind” in life to the Wine of His Joy and supply an Eternal perspective on life itself. We saw that this was exactly what happened in the lives of the servants who obeyed by faith, hauling a half-ton of water, or more, not knowing why they had been commanded to do so. Their reward was that they were the only ones (along with Jesus, Mary, and His disciples) who saw the miracle of the literal, plain well-water being changed to a high-quality wine.
But the next passage is an equally famous passage, with an entirely different picture: we see the Holiness of God demonstrated in the Person of Christ.
“13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise. 17 And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. 18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.”
The Zeal of Thine House
The Passover feast came up, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Remember how important the original Passover was: it was literally a matter of life or death: making a choice between trusting God’s Word or trusting in Human philosophy, science, wisdom, whatever. God had given ample warning, through all the nine preceding plagues upon Egypt, but the time had come to make a decision! Either trust in the Blood of the Covenant that God was offering, that day, or reject it and suffer the consequences along with Egypt. There comes a time in everyone’s life when we are called upon to choose: Either stand with God and suffer the rejection of the World or stand with the World and miss out on the promise of God.
Jesus attended the Passover gathering right along with everyone else. But there was a difference: They all saw what was happening in the Temple: perhaps some were grieved by it but felt they could do nothing to change it. Perhaps others simply accepted it as being “Just the way things are.” Perhaps others fully approved of it, as a very practical way to “gain revenue for the Temple!” (I get e-mails several times per year, offering ways for our church to “make money.” That is not what we are here about! There is a reason we don’t do “fund-raisers!”)
But Jesus stood alone in this matter: He chose to do something about what He saw.
So, what was He seeing? The area in question was inside the temple court walls, where women and non-Jews could come: It was specifically in the area reserved for non-Jews: the “Court of the Gentiles.” This was the only place where Gentiles could approach the God of Israel and Worship Him. They were not allowed to come closer. And the moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals had set up their booths there, rendering it a marketplace; more like a county fair than a place of worship. There was no reverence, no quiet, no sense of the Holiness and Majesty of God. They had defiled the holiness of the only place of worship for the whole rest of the World!
That particular issue had been addressed by God in Ezekiel 34:17-22, where he condemns the behavior of the strong members of his flock for fouling the way for the weaker ones…muddying the waters of God’s Word, so that they could not come and drink; trampling down and contaminating the food, so that others could not come and feed on the Goodness of God. What an incredibly selfish and thoughtless thing to do! But, what could be done about it? The Temple authorities never should have permitted it in the first place: they were the Guardians of the Faith, and, of all people, they should have taken a stand for righteousness. But they were making money and maintaining power, and that was all that mattered to them by that time.
God condemned those leaders, as well, in Ezekiel 34:1-10, calling out their malfeasance and nonfeasance of duty and declaring that because of their behavior, He Himself was going to take over the job of shepherding His flock, and they were going to be out of work. (Less than forty years after the confrontation we read about, here, the Temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed, and the priesthood was permanently out of work…all those who actually survived.)
Zeal in Action
There may have been others who “felt” the same way Jesus did, and who were grieved at the desecration of the Temple. But Jesus took action: It says that He made a scourge out of small cords and drove them out. Notice that it does not say that He actually struck any of them. Probably the fear of what was a common tool of judgment and punishment in that day, and the ugly, whistling sound of it whipping through the air, was enough to get them moving, just as it is for livestock.
The only ones against whom it says that He took physical action were the moneychangers: He tipped over their tables and dumped their money on the floor! (I’ll bet that ruined their day!) Their greed and love of money was the root of the entire problem! Does that sound familiar? “The Love of money is the root of all sorts of evil…” Do you recall hearing that before? (It comes from 1st Timothy 6:10)
The New Testament word “covetousness” is most frequently translated from the Greek word “philargurion.” It literally means the “love of silver.” And Colossians 3:5 clearly states that covetousness IS idolatry. So, the Jews in Jerusalem, by their greed and their love of money, had brought idolatry right into the temple of God!
The scripture says He drove the cattle and sheep out of the temple, along with those who sold them, but to those who were selling doves (also for sacrifices, but selling primarily to the poor) he simply told them, “Take these things out of here! Don’t make My Father’s House a house of merchandise!” Incidentally, Jesus cleared the temple again, two years later, but that time He quoted Isaiah 56:6, 7, saying that His Father’s House was designed to be a House of Prayer (and Isaiah includes the fact of the Gentiles worshipping there: it says “… a house of prayer to all people!”) but Jesus said that they had made it a “den of thieves!”
Take these things Hence!
Unfortunately, the World today often accuses the Church of the same thing, saying “All they want is your money!” So, it is doubly important that we truly grasp and take to heart the lesson offered here: In 1st Corinthians 3:16, 17, God declares the Body of Christ (the Church, at large) collectively, to be the “Temple of God.” We must not introduce idolatry into the Body of Christ, nor allow our reputation and testimony to be ruined by the idea that we “exist to gain wealth.” (Again, there is a reason we don’t do “fund-raisers,” and choose to remain debt-free.)
Also, 1st Corinthians 6:19 says that each of our physical bodies has been made the “Temple of the Holy Spirit.” So, we can see that even in our so-called “private” lives, we must avoid “bringing idolatry into the temple.” God knows our thoughts and our true motives. There is no such thing as a “privacy” that excludes God’s Omniscience! He sees right through our plans and desires: if they are motivated by the Love of Money, though we plaster “piety” all over the outside, saying “Well, the Lord led me…” He condemns such plans and desires at the source.
The Cost of Discipleship and Zeal:
Yes, Jesus took a stand! And the disciples remembered Psalm 69, where it says, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” I don’t know whether they remembered what came before and after that passage, where it said “8 I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children. 9 For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.
There is a cost involved with taking a stand for God: Even your own family may count you a stranger. And those who hate Jesus will hate you too! If you take a stand for the righteousness of God, don’t expect that others will love you for it unless they have also seen the desecration of God’s Word, or the division being caused by false teaching, and appreciate your correcting the matter. We also have to humbly recognize our own weakness and our own capacity for wrong. We do not have the omniscience of God. We need to be gentle with those around us, not condemning them, though we may reject the things in which they have involved themselves.
Jesus took physical action by clearing the Temple, but the only ones against which He exercised physical judgment were the moneychangers: they were the thieves, offering a badly skewed “exchange rate” for so-called “temple money,” against whatever people had brought with which to buy the sacrificial animals to offer the Holy God of Israel. So, He dumped out their money.
Galatians 6:1 says to approach one another gently, in humility, with an eye to restoration: Is there a time to simply stand up and walk out? Yes, there is: if deliberate heresy is being taught, with a clear motive to deny the Cross, or some other cardinal doctrine, then I think we do not have the option to “hedge,” or say, “Well, now, let’s discuss this.” Be aware, though: when you stand and say something like, “You are denying the Blood of Jesus!” You will instantly set some people against you, though others may agree. You will very likely cause division. Be wise.
In general, when someone has taught things that I thought were grossly unbiblical, I have first approached them privately, to see if possibly they just made a mistake, or were simply confused about what the Bible actually teaches. If their motives are pure, but their understanding is just confused, I don’t want to discourage them, but rather to strengthen their service to God. But if it turns out that they are absolutely committed to false doctrine, I have no option but to either warn the flock, through the elders, or simply leave, if I am not in a position to sound a warning.
The late Howard Ingram once demonstrated this principle: He was sitting in church when the (relatively new) pastor stated that there were ways to salvation other than by the Blood of Jesus. Howard heard it clearly, but he raised his hand and offered the option to back up and correct the error: “Wait a minute! Are you saying that there are other ways to salvation than through the Blood of Jesus Christ?” The young pastor hesitated, but then firmly stated, “Well… Yes!”
Howard replied, “Well, that’s heresy! We are leaving!” and he and his entire family stood up and left the church. The warning had been made, the stand had been taken, and eventually the church woke up as well, and asked the fellow to leave. Sadly, though, the reason he was finally dismissed was not the doctrinal issue: it was a money issue that ended his position there. The doctrinal issue absolutely should have been the primary focus, but it wasn’t.
The Private Cost of Discipleship and Zeal:
How might the cost of discipleship manifest itself when there is no “doctrinal conflict” or church fight? Perhaps a family decides to move to a location where the schools are not actively attacking their faith, so that their children have less confusion as they are growing up…but it means they are separating themselves from all their friends and family in order to do so. Or, taking a job that pays far less, because it does not force you to compromise your faith and your values, where the higher-paying job actually required decisions that were contrary to God’s Word, if you hoped to continue employment.
Does persecution for faith exist in this country? Sure, it does! Just (at least for the time being) not to the same degree as it does elsewhere. But I have known people in this country, who, as soon as their employers discovered that they were Christians, were terminated without other cause. (It happened in an area heavily dominated by a particular cult.)
Mockery is very common, in the workplace of the World, and quiet exclusion is even more common, in every walk of life. Coming to work on a Monday morning and hearing every other person in your work-group chatting about the “great time they had together” at some social event, a party, a boating trip, or other outing… and realizing that you alone had been excluded: That hurts, even when you may not really have wanted to go and do whatever they had done, anyway. It never feels good to be excluded! It is a lonely feeling.
The Only Authorization Offered:
The Jews challenged Jesus, asking for a sign; demanding that He show by what authority He took this stand, and drove out the merchants. But He offered only the sign of His own death and resurrection. He took His stand, knowing that the ultimate result would be His crucifixion.
Jesus’s death and resurrection is the reason we live at all: He is the only reason we can offer as to why we have a standing before God, and why we have a sure confidence of Eternal life. The thief on the cross had no explanation as to why he belonged in Paradise, other than the fact that Jesus had promised that he would be there with Him! That is where our confidence rests as well.
But “joining Jesus” means joining Him in His loneliness: joining Him in His social rejection. (Not that we reject them: They may once have been our dear friends! But we eventually discover that, as they reject the Lord Jesus, they also ultimately reject all who believe in Him and all who seek to follow Him.) That is why Hebrews 13:12, 13 admonishes us to Join Jesus, “outside the camp: bearing His reproach.” If the World altogether approves of you, then very possibly you are not doing what Jesus wants. Jesus warned that, if they hate Him, they will hate us, too. Deal with it! Accept it!
We are to seek peace with others, as Peacemakers, but we are to do so as Ambassadors of Christ: not as a “career politicians,” whose main goal is to “stay in office.” Our main goal is to walk with Jesus, and to behave in such a way as to honor Him and to draw others to Him: Some people will “smell Jesus” in our actions and be drawn to His fragrance. Others, rejecting God’s Grace, will “smell Jesus” also, but only as the dreaded “stench” of coming judgment. It is the same aroma, in both cases, but an entirely different response.
All we can do is to walk with Him, day-by-day, in faith and obedience, learning and growing in our walk, so as to become more consistent in our behavior and more coherent in what we communicate to others. That is what we are called to do. Let us press on to do just that.
Lord Jesus, draw us along as your disciples, learning from your Word and your example. Convict our hearts to become consumed with a zeal for your person: not for show, but within our own hearts, so that it rules our actions. Make us the men and women of God that You have called us to be.