When you happen to see paintings of Jesus, how is he typically depicted? Often, he is shown as a tender, gentle, and soft man holding children on his lap or reaching his hand out to grab Peter’s hand while drowning. This can give us the idea that Jesus didn’t have an intense and confrontational bone in his body. Boy is that far from the truth! There is a whole other side of Jesus we often don’t depict.
The chapter starts with his first miracle: turning water into wine at a wedding. After this, the scene shifts to an exciting interaction Jesus had while in Jerusalem during the Passover feast. When he entered the temple, which was THE place of worship for the Jews, he noticed something that bothered him greatly. There were people selling oxen, sheep, and pigeons in the temple courtyard. There was even a section of people who were money changers. An entire market and part of the Jewish economy was founded on deceiving and cheating people into getting the “better sacrifices” for temple service. If you wanted to be in the presence of God and worship, you had to have money. What is even worse was they were not even trying to hide, they were out in the open in the middle of the temple! You know how we tend to feel when we see those well known televangelists who spiritually abuse or deceive people to get material wealth? That is how we should feel about what these people were doing in verse 14.
What did Jesus do when he saw this happening? Before I answer that, I want to take a minute to depict what our culture might imagine Jesus’ answer to be based on all the soft and gentle paintings. “Oh guys, you know what, that is probably not the best course of action to take now is it? I’m not going to make you do anything, but I really hope you reflect on your actions and stop cheating people for personal wealth by means of spiritual abuse. What do you say, will you stop now? *proceeds to give them all hugs*” Sounds silly and ridiculous doesn’t it? Fortunately, we see Jesus respond quite differently:
“Making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”
Way to go, Jesus! That’s my Lord and Savior! Jesus was not the kind of man who put up with injustices and evil. Like his father, he made sure righteousness was upheld and wickedness was put to an end—one way or another. There is something important to learn from Jesus’ actions here. This wasn’t shown for us to think “Oh wow, that was a bad moment when Jesus lost his cool.” No! There is important wisdom and teaching of who God is, how His kingdom is, and how we are to act like His kingdom’s citizens. The lesson from today talks about the side of love that is not focused on enough. This is the kind of love that is not afraid to turn over tables and drive out wickedness on behalf of the cheated. This is the kind of love that is willing to say the difficult truth to someone who so desperately needs to hear it. Jesus truly is the soft and gentle image that we so often see, but he is also the table turning, whip cracking, and bold image too.
If we are going to call Jesus our Lord, we have to note not only what he says, but what he does. In this case, we need to note that sometimes the best way to show love is to be willing to confront what is wrong. Sometimes the best way to show love is to tell someone the cold hard truth, even if it hurts in the moment. Sometimes the best way to show love is to protect those who are not able to protect themselves. This has to be done in love of course, otherwise we may become aggressive, domineering, or even violent! This type of love is a powerful fire, that if controlled by a master, is powerful; if it falls into the hands of a careless person, it can bring about disaster.
I encourage you all today to dwell and meditate on this unique account of Jesus. Think about how this was truly loving and a pursuit of justice. Then in your own life, pray for God’s wisdom to know how to appropriately handle the fire that is this bold and confrontational love.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- After this event, John records, “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.'” (John 2:17 – from Psalm 69:9) Well-done disciples for knowing your Old Testament well, and finding Jesus there! What made the temple (God’s house) such a special place for Jesus? How do you rate your zeal for the Lord’s house? How do you show it? Room for any improvements?
- Where else in Scripture do we find Jesus prepared to do battle? How might seeing this Jesus in the future surprise people?
- If Jesus visited your church or community what might he see and hear that he would have to zealously act upon? What might he do?
- As suggested earlier, pray for God’s wisdom to know how to appropriately handle the fire that is this bold and confrontational love. What wrong/injustice does God want you to see and be zealous about? How would he have you confront it in love – but not in weakness?