I can get fairly zealous about a University of Memphis basketball game. Perhaps you get fairly zealous about someone you love or about a political platform you endorse or a ministry you support. Zeal! It is a passionate belief in something that moves us to give our all emotionally, spiritually, physically or some combination of all three.
What made Jesus zealous?
There are four accounts of Jesus “cleansing” the temple (one in each Gospel), by which we mean he overturned the tables of the money changers and drove out the merchandisers from the court of the Gentiles surrounding the Temple in Jerusalem. Worshipers who came from other parts of Israel would not find it easy to bring animals for sacrifice, so there were those in Jerusalem who would sell animals to them once they got there. Of course, it was most convenient to purchase them right in the Temple precinct. Also, the Temple leaders required a specific currency to pay for such expenditures, so people were forced to change their currency for a fee into Temple currency. All of this was rife with opportunity for price gouging, haggling, arguments and extortion.
Jesus was not happy. For him the Temple was the house of God his Father and all of this buying and selling was detracting from worship. In John 2:13-22 we see that right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he confronted this shameful display. He made a whip and drove out the people and animals from the Temple area saying, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” This reminded his disciples of a passage from Psalm69:9 in which David affirms his zeal for God’s Temple. The disciples see in this that David was a representation of the Messiah and that what was true of him was even more true of Jesus.
Matthew, Mark and Luke record a second time Jesus cleansed the Temple, the time right before his crucifixion after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:12-19; and Luke 19:45-48). Once again he overturned the money changers tables. This time he said, “It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers.”
When Jesus saw behavior that contradicted the character of God compromising the worship of God, he could not contain himself. His zealous love for God and respect for His worship compelled him to act forcefully and strongly. The religious leaders hated his exposure of their compromise.
Does this mean we should not have a bookstore in our church or sell on Sundays? Of course not! This is not a means of compromising our worship or contradicting the character of God. Does this mean we should attack those who misrepresent the gospel? It may be that we are called upon to challenge those who claim to represent Christ but who are hypocrites, even as Jesus challenged the Pharisees (see Matthew 23). But we also have a process Jesus gave us to follow for dealing with sinful behavior in our congregations (see Matthew 18:15–20 and 1 Corinthians 5 with Galatians 6:1).
What it does mean is that we should be zealous for what really matters, the praise of God, and willing to give our whole lives, body, soul and spirit, to the furthering of what really matters. Are you zealous for the things of God? Or have you developed a hard crust, an apathetic spirit, that does not allow you to get zealous about anything? Jesus saw the formidable challenges to change and knew the disappointment that came from seeing very little change, but he did not give up his zeal. What’s right is right, and we must fight for what is right in whatever way Scripture permits us. May it be said of me, “Zeal for the things of God consumed him.”