Who is this Man, Jesus?December 1, 2015
In the previous article we looked at the events surrounding our Lord’s so-called “cleansing” of the Temple. But what does it mean? Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we looked at the events surrounding our Lord’s so-called “cleansing” of the Temple. But what does it mean?
First, although traditionally this has been called the “cleansing” of the Temple, it is perhaps better to see it as a judgment. This is a small expression of the wrath of God against a people who had turned from worship of the one true God to selling religion for a profit. There can be no doubt but that what Jesus did in 30 a.d. was an act of prophetic symbolism. This was a preview of coming attractions. That is to say, what we see here was a foreshadowing of what would happen 40 years later in 70 a.d. when the Roman army under Titus would lay siege to Jerusalem and utterly destroy both city and Temple.
Second, needless to say, this story tells us a lot about God’s attitude toward commercialized religion. By this I mean using spiritual things and activities to make a personal profit unrelated to ministry or the needs of God’s people. Religious hucksters on TV selling “miracle spring water” or an anointed prayer cloth for a “donation” of $100. “You can have your miracle today, perhaps even a healing, if you will but sow your seed of faith in the form of a $1,000 gift to this ministry!”
Third, it’s important for us to remember that Jesus not only cleanses the Temple, he not only judges the Temple, he replaces the Temple! In John’s gospel, there was an exchange of words between Jesus and the Jewish leaders.
So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22).
The point is that the place of God’s dwelling is the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true Temple of God. He is the center and focus of all worship! And as both Paul and Peter will later tell us in their letters, we, the Church, because we are the body of Christ, we are the Temple of God in whom the Holy Spirit now dwells. We, in fact, are the only Temple in which God will ever choose to dwell again!
Fourth, and finally, let us look closely at what this story tells us about Jesus. We first see him riding into the city on a donkey, a sign of his humility, his lowliness, his gentleness. But this Jesus is also capable of holy indignation, of righteous rage directed angrily at all that defiles the sacred place of worship. If that were not enough, we then read something in Matthew 21 that is almost too shocking to believe. It seems at first glance to be so out of place, so inconsistent with what we’ve been reading. It is nothing short of breathtaking . . .
“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matt. 21:14).
Think about what is happening. Try to get a grip on what the people would have witnessed. Here we see the anger and righteous indignation of Jesus vented at full throttle. His rage at the self-serving hypocrisy of those who should have been helping the people finds expression in an unprecedented physical outburst by our Lord.
This is the last place one would expect to see tenderness and love. This is hardly the time, or so it would seem, to display kindness towards those in need. This is hardly the context or atmosphere in which one would expect to see compassion or mercy. Indeed, it is difficult for us to understand how anyone can consistently be both enraged and compassionate at the same time.
We are prone to give expression to one of these passions to the exclusion of the other. We can’t sustain in our hearts both at the same time. They cancel each other out. Were we to experience both simultaneously, we would probably feel like hypocrites!
But not Jesus!
Hold your breath and observe what happens next: "And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them" (v. 14). You could probably still hear the echoes of our Lord’s angry voice bouncing off the walls of the Temple! The men selling animals for sacrifice were running for their lives. It was obvious to them that Jesus was not someone to be trifled with at this time. Whatever else they may have thought of Jesus, this was no time to stand toe to toe with him.
It’s nothing short of breathtaking when you remember that earlier in the gospel of Matthew Jesus had called people to himself based on the fact that he was “gentle” and “lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Is this the same Jesus? Has he suffered a mental or emotional breakdown? We hear often of people who suffer from a stroke or some great emotional trauma and turn from their normal ways as kind and patient to someone who is mean and demanding.
So how do we account for this stunning turn in temperament? Jesus has just wreaked havoc in the Temple like the proverbial bull in a china shop! He overturns tables and the coins are probably still rolling down the hallways. Yet, without missing a beat, without so much as a deep breath to regain his composure, he turns his attention to the blind and the lame and in tenderness and compassion and love and gentleness he heals them all!
So who is this Jesus? Is he still the humble servant, riding on a donkey, offering himself to Israel as their Messianic King and savior from sin? Is he still the holy judge who is enraged with the unrighteous ways of the religious leaders? Is he at the same time the Good Shepherd of the sheep, tender and meek? At one moment his eyes flashed like fire! No one dared make eye contact with him. A split second later his eyes are filled with tears of love and compassion.
How would you have handled the situation? If I were Jesus I think I would have said to the sick and disabled, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to come back later. I’m a little out of sorts right now. I need some time to catch my breath and bring my temper under control. I’m in no mood to deal with your needs right now. Please speak to my secretary and set up an appointment for next week!” NO!
Was there a transformation in Christ’s character? Did he experience regret and thus repent for getting so angry and suddenly say to himself, “Oh, my, that was out of character. I’ve got to do something nice after having been so mean”? NO!
Our Lord is at one and the same time holy and loving; at one and the same time both just and kind; at one and the same time both powerful and tender; at one and the same time both enraged and brokenhearted; at one and the same time both filled with wrath and love; at one and the same time both authoritative and humble; at one and the same time both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb that was slain. And he does it without the slightest tinge of inconsistency or hypocrisy or psychological imbalance.
Contrary to what we might otherwise have thought, the anger doesn’t quench the Spirit by whom he healed the sick! In other words, the Holy Spirit through whom Jesus performed all his healing miracles is not grieved by the sudden and violent outburst that led to the routing of the religious leaders.
Jesus cares compassionately for those who are no more than a meddling inconvenience to others. These broken, crippled, handicapped folk must have been hanging around the temple for years, perhaps begging as did the man born lame in Acts 3. Nobody paid them any attention. They were, at best, an eyesore, an embarrassment to the religious establishment. Yet, as Joni Eareckson Tada points out,
"Jesus, the Son of God, stops right in the middle of bringing down divine judgment on that place, sets aside His anger, and shows tender compassion to that little band of forgotten 'nobodies.' In the midst of revealing His power and judgment, Jesus paused to display His compassion. That, to me, is a stunning sketch of our Lord and Savior. And it's one of many in Scripture.
We see His greatness complemented by His goodness.
We see His holiness contrasted by His mercy.
We see His tremendous power balanced by His tenderness and gentleness.
There is no room in Scripture for a one-sided view of our Lord. He points an angry, righteous finger at the hypocrites on one hand, yet reaches down to gently touch the need of the lowly with the other. He turns a face as hard as steel to the religious phonies yet smiles encouragement at those who reach to Him in simple faith."
Think about these poor sickly folk for a moment. Why weren’t they frightened? The Jewish leaders certainly were. Why weren’t they offended? Why didn’t they run away? They had just witnessed a remarkable outburst of anger and righteous rage.
Why didn’t they say: “I don’t want to be anywhere near that man. He’s as likely to hit me as to heal me. He seems to me to be devoid of love and tenderness.”
The answer is that they saw, or in the case of the blind sensed in their hearts, that this man who hated sin loved sinners. They sensed that this man who brought judgment on the unrepentant and the prideful also showered love and mercy on the broken, the contrite, the lowly, and the needy.
This is the beauty of Jesus. This is the reason he is so worthy of our praise. Jesus is not schizophrenic. He is the perfect embodiment of precisely what we should be by the grace of God: both angry over unrighteousness and loving toward the broken; both intolerant of unrepentant religiosity and patient and longsuffering toward those who sincerely seek him for help and mercy.