Some time ago, my wife, Susan, and I had a discussion that went something like this: She said, “You have an anger problem.”
“I do not,” I replied.
“Yes, you do,” she responded. “You have a problem with anger.”
“I do not have a problem with anger. I am simply very passionate about some things.” To her credit, Susan did not roll her eyes at this point in the conversation. This was not the only conversation we had about my anger, and for a long time I denied it. But finally, I was able to see that Susan was right. I had a problem with anger and I needed to do something about it.
We all get angry at times. It doesn’t matter if we believe in God or not, attend worship services or not, or follow Jesus or not, all of us get angry. But is our anger a good thing? I would be inclined to say that it is not, because most of my experiences with anger, whether it is someone getting angry at me or me getting angry at someone else, end up in regret. And you cannot take back hurtful words or actions just like you can’t put toothpaste back in a toothpaste tube once it has been squeezed out.
It is because of the damage that anger usually causes that some people will say that all anger is bad and people should never get angry. But is that really true? If we look to the Bible for some words of wisdom about anger, we will find a verse that says, “In your anger do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26). That passage doesn’t say that all anger is bad. What it says is that when you do get angry, don’t do bad things. So it is possible to be angry in a good way.
But what does good anger look like? We are going to look at an example of good anger today. And if you only remember one thing from this message, let it be this: Jesus got angry when something prevented you from having free access to God.
So we are continuing our look at the life of Jesus as recorded by a person named John, who was one of Jesus’ followers. And one of the things that keeps popping up in John’s biography of Jesus is conflict. And those conflicts happen because Jesus keeps challenging people at the level of their core values because he knows that, unless there is a change at the level of our core values, our lives will never align with the abundant life that he wants to give to us.
So we are starting today in John, chapter 2, at verse 13, which reads, “It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem.” (John 2:13)
So let us get our bearings here. Jesus lived in the northern part of the Holy Land around the Sea of Galilee. Nazareth was his home town, but he made Capernaum, which is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, his base during his ministry. Three times a year, every Jewish man was required to go to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple there for three special religious occasions. The Temple was the centre of Jewish religion in ancient times and those occasions were the Feasts of Tabernacles, Passover and Pentecost. The Feast of Tabernacles occurred in the fall, in fact, this year it begins on Wednesday. Passover happens in the spring and next year Passover begins on March 30, which is Good Friday. Pentecost happens fifty days after Passover and next year it will be on May 20.
So the events of our reading take place in the spring, and Jesus would have walked, along with many other pilgrims, to Jerusalem, a distance of about 180 kms, which would have taken 5 days and is like walking from here to Seattle.
We continue with our next verse: “In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.” (John 2:14) The Temple area referred to here is a large elevated area in Jerusalem where the Temple was located. The whole area was 150,000 sq. m. or 37 acres in size. The outermost part of this area was called the Court of the Gentiles. A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish, so anyone, even people who were not Jews could come to the Temple and worship God in the Court of the Gentiles. But closer to the Temple was a short screen or fence and only Jews could go inside that area. So the Court of the Gentiles was the only place where a non-Jewish person could come worship the one, true God. That area was set aside for non-Jewish people to worship God.
And it was in the Court of the Gentiles where the merchants had set up their stalls for selling livestock and their tables for changing money. These were necessary services because pilgrims traveling a long distance could not bring with them the animal that they were going to sacrifice. And there was only one kind of currency accepted at the Temple for people to give their offerings and to pay their Temple tax. So people had to change the money that they brought with them into the currency that the Temple accepted. The problem was not with the services that were being offered. The problem was the location where they were offered.
Here is another illustration of the Temple area. At other times in history, these businesses were set up east of the Temple across the Kidron Valley. But that was not as handy as having for the merchants or the pilgrims. So these merchants set up in the Court of the Gentiles because it was convenient for them and for the Jewish pilgrims to have those stalls in that location. But because they did that, it meant that non-Jewish people had no place to worship God. Because they chose what was most convenient for them, the merchants actually created a barrier to other people coming to God.
Here is how Jesus responded: “Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, ‘Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!’” (John 2:15-16)
Jesus is obviously very angry. And what is he angry about? The whole reason that Jesus set aside the use of all the divine power that he had as God the Son and came to this earth to live a human life was to give all people free and open access to God through him. Jesus came so that everyone could know that they have a heavenly Father who loves them. Jesus came so that everyone could know that they have a Saviour who more than paid the full cost of forgiveness for all of their sins. Jesus came so that everyone could know that they are never alone because the Holy Spirit wants to make his home in them to encourage, lead and guide them and build them up in faith, hope and love.
And now Jesus comes to the Temple and he sees that his people, the people who knew God best, the people who knew God’s salvation plan for the whole world, the people who personally knew God’s merciful and gracious love, those people had blocked off the way for other people to come to God because they had chosen convenience over conversion. The people of God showed that their core values were not aligned with God’s because they choose what was best for themselves instead of what was best for those who were outside the family of God.
Imagine that a woman and her children move into an impoverished area of the city. This mother begins to get involved in her community. She becomes a block parent, she joins the neighbourhood watch program. She sees that some of the people on her block do not have enough food to eat, so she decides to put on a big Thanksgiving feast for her whole block. She spends weeks planning and organizing the event. She makes up some fliers and distributes them throughout the neighbourhood. She cooks up several turkeys and makes mashed potatoes, gravy and corn with pumpkin pie for dessert. When the big day comes, the woman’s house is cleaned and the table is set and she waits for the doorbell to ring. But no one shows up. And she goes to the front door to see why no one is coming, she sees that her children have left their backpacks piled up in front of the front door and none of the neighbours can get in her house. The mother becomes angry at her own children because she was trying to help people and her children were preventing that from happening because they chose what was more convenient for them instead of what was best for other people.
It is hard for us to see what good anger looks like. It is hard because we realize that Jesus has reason to be angry at all of us because, without even realizing it, all of us tend to chose our own personal convenience over opening up access for others to God. We choose what works best for us instead of what is best for others and we build up barriers like these boxes here until the barriers are so high other that other people can’t worship God even if they want to.
But it is also hard to see what good anger is because we realize that our anger always falls short. We get angry because our values are always centred on ourselves. Jesus got angry because people were blocking what others needed most: a living relationship with a loving God.
But there is another part to this story. In verse 17 we read: “Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: ‘Passion for God’s house will consume me.’”
The word house usually refers to a building, and Jesus was passionate about his Father’s house, that is, the Temple, because that is where people could meet with his heavenly Father and receive the assurance of his love and forgiveness for them. But the word house also means a family. We see that in the Bible when Jesus’ parents had to go to Bethlehem before he was born because a census was ordered by the Roman emperor of the time. Luke 2:4 reads: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” (Luke 2:4 NIV) So Jesus is passionate about the building of God because it is the place where all people can meet with God. But Jesus is also passionate about the family of God.
And Jesus’ passion led him to a garden where he was arrested. And Jesus’ passion led him to a fortress where he was condemned. And then Jesus’ passion led him to a cross where he suffered. Jesus’ passion (his strong desire that all people would come to know God and be saved) led him to his passion (his suffering for all the sins of the whole world). Jesus more than paid for the forgiveness of all of your sins and mine, including all the times when we chose our own convenience instead of opening up access for others to God.
And as Jesus hung on the cross on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, he could turn his head to the side and see the Temple. He could see his Father’s house. Inside that Temple was a huge thick curtain that separated the holiest place in the Temple from the outer rooms. Only once a year did anyone go in there when the High Priest made atonement for the sins of the people. When Jesus breathed his last breath and gave up his life, this thick curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. Now the barrier between God and people was removed. Everyone and anyone could have free access to God through Jesus.
We live in a challenging time for Jesus-followers. Most people are not looking for a relationship with God, even though that is what they really need. Sometimes it can feel like we are helpless and under attack. But there is still things that we can do. We can choose to inconvenience ourselves so that others have free access to God. We can pick up the barriers that we have put in front of others and we can clear away anything that might get in the road of someone who wants to come to God. And we can be ready to welcome into God’s family all people of all ages and backgrounds that he is drawing to himself. Amen.