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Angry, Yet Holy | John 2:12-25

Today we finish John chapter 2, with Jesus cleansing the temple. This is one of my favorite scenes in the gospels, when we see Jesus make a whip and drive people and sheep and oxen out of the temple and turn tables over and pour out coins all over the floor. This is not exactly the perfectly gentle, never-offend-anyone, Jesus that is often portrayed in our culture. The Jesus of history, and the Jesus that is alive today, is a passionate, focused, God-man who is, at times, angry. And from his righteous anger, I think we can learn a thing or two. So I’m going to ask Shane Richardson to come forward and read for us, John 2:12-25.

After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And 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.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 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.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Thank you Shane. Before we focus in on the scene at the temple, I want to look at the last three verses. John writes that many believed in the name of Jesus when they saw the signs that he was doing. Now, this early in Jesus’ ministry, it seems a bit fickle for these people to believe in Jesus after only having seen these signs, because Jesus hasn’t given the bulk of his teaching yet. In other words, perhaps some or many of these don’t really know what they’re believing about Jesus.

For John the Baptist’s disciples to truly believe in Jesus makes sense when they see the signs, because they understand who Jesus is claiming to be. But for these others, Jesus says he doesn’t entrust himself to them, even though they’re claiming to trust in Jesus. Why? Because he knows their hearts. That’s one of many things Jesus has that we do not. We do not know the heart of man like Jesus does. He knows the heart of man generally, as well as individually. So, that’s what he’s getting at in these last few verses.

Now, as far as what happens in the temple, I want to organize what we can learn from Jesus into 3 questions about righteous anger, and each of those questions will have a truth come right before it. So, these truths kind-of begging three questions for us to ask. You can follow along in your sermon notes if you like.

In the temple, Jesus makes a scene, does he not?! Jesus goes up to the Jerusalem temple during the Passover. If you lived within a certain distance from Jerusalem, you were required to attend the Passover. Many from much farther away would make their way to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. This massive number of people would all be there to make sacrifices to God, and, apparently in the first century, they could buy their animals to sacrifice right there in the temple. And when Jesus gets there and sees all this business going on in the temple, he gets angry. Now, technically, the text doesn’t say that Jesus gets angry here, but I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that that’s what’s happening.

He makes a whip (did everyone catch that?) and drives out the people, the oxen, and the sheep, and he turns tables over and spills coins on the ground. I always wished that someone somewhere would commission a stained-glass window to be made depicting Jesus with a whip and an angry face. I guess that doesn’t inspire to worship like other depictions, but this is our Lord and Savior here in this text.

Now, this might be difficult to imagine for some of us. Maybe you’ve always thought that anger was bad, even sinful! We’re not supposed to get angry, we’re Christians, we’re supposed to be happy and nice all the time. That’s actually never commanded in the Bible, never to be angry. In fact, in Ephesians 4:26, Paul writes, “Be angry, yet do not sin.” There is such a thing as righteous anger, holy anger that is not sinful. God, himself, gets angry in the Bible. Jesus himself gets angry—Mark 3 records another example of this, and it does explicitly use the word anger.

So, as Christians, we know that part of growing in Christ means becoming more and more like Jesus, doesn’t it? Of course it does! 2 Corinthians 3:18- “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [Jesus], are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” So, we know we’re becoming more and more like Jesus, but guess what? That also means that certain things should anger us like they angered Jesus. In fact, never becoming angry at all might actually be a bad sign. The question for us is this:

 

Do the things that anger Jesus also anger us?

Do the things that anger Jesus also anger us? After Jesus makes this whip and drives the people and animals out of the temple, and turns tables over and spills out coins, he says, in vs. 16 (specifically to those who sold the pigeons, but by implication all of them), he says this: “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” He’s angry.

You see, the temple was a place to showcase the glory of God! In fact, that’s exactly why Solomon built it in the first place! 1 Kings chapter 8 records that the glory of the Lord filled the temple, and Solomon himself said this: “I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever.”

Now we know that the temple wasn’t the onlyplace where God dwelt. God is everywhere, but the temple was a place set aside for people to meet God and worship him. And yet, when Jesus got to the temple, what he found made him angry. And let me just say, Jesus did not get angry because someone tried to rip him off by charging too much for a goat. Nor did he get angry because there was probably some fraud going on with all the money changing hands. He’s mad because the very place set aside for men and women to worship God, the very place to showcase God’s glory, had been turned into a business.

Jesus is angry because God’s house is being treated as if it’s not God’s house, but man’s house, with men profiting off of a celebration meant to commemorate God’s great salvation of the Hebrew people from the land of Egypt. There are some obvious takeaways here for the modern Christian and the modern church, especially within this particular culture.

This time that we gather together in God’s “house”, which isn’t this building, but any place where God’s people gather—this time is not, ultimately, centered around you, and how you can profit and benefit. This is a time to center ourselves around our God. This is a time to worship God in spirit and in truth.

The heart of the Christian faith is that we have turned from worshipping ourselves and turned to worshipping God, who he is and what he’s done, especially in Christ. And yet, we so often act as if this is all about us. What a great question for the church gathering: Do the things that frustrate you about the church also frustrate Jesus? Would Jesus be angry about the things you’re angry about? That’s a convicting question, to say the least, even for the pastor.

There are things about the modern church, churches maybe you’ve been part of, and maybe even this very church, there are things that should frustrate you, if they’re the same things that would frustrate Jesus. There are things like that. But there are also things that can frustrate us about our local church that are just as trivial as can be. I imagine Jesus would be much more concerned about the subject of our worship music than the style of our worship music. I imagine Jesus would be more concerned with God’s people coming to him in meaningful prayer, than the question of whether or not our 70-minute gathering is engaging and exciting enough to attract more people.

Are we frustrated with the things Jesus would be frustrated about? Questions like whether or not we truly hear from God, by opening his word and digging in and studying all of it, that’s an important question. Whether the gathering is focused around God or man: that’s an important question.

You know, we all get angry at times, but the question to ask is: would the things that anger or frustrate us, also anger or frustrate Jesus? If you list the things that anger you, perhaps even just over the past week. What frustrated you? What made you angry? And then ask the question, was Jesus, the God of the universe, our all-knowing King, also angry about those things? That’d be a really great way to try and evaluate our anger, and determine whether or not it is righteous anger, and to help us calm down during the week when we’re frustrated. Ask yourself in the middle of it: Would Jesus be frustrated about this? Why or why not?

In a minute, this next truth and question we’re looking at will shed light on why there is, so often, a discrepancy between what makes us angry vs. what makes Jesus angry. For Jesus, what made his anger holy, and righteous, was that his desires were not shaped merely by what would benefit and convenience him. His desires were set on the glory of his Father. It’ll be a few months before we get to John 17, but listen to these first four verses of John 17, Jesus’ own words as he’s praying to the Father:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”

Do you hear where even Jesus himself, his mind is set? His mind is set on His Father’s glory, and on doing what His Father has called him to do on the earth. I’m convinced that the more we come to this place where our desires match those of Jesus, what angers us will start to match what angers Jesus. No longer will trivial things frustrate us. No longer will not having control over small or big things frustrate us, because we know we’re not meant to be in control anyway. So, how can we gain the same desires that Jesus had? This is Truth #2:

 

Love for God will make us jealous for His glory.

I use the word “jealous” here on purpose. In the same way a child, or an adult for that matter, can really want something they don’t have, we can truly desire God’s glory above all else. We can be jealous that get all the glory that is due his name, all the attention, all the praise! THAT is exactly why Jesus does what he does here in the Jerusalem temple: “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

If we love God like Jesus loves God His Father, we will be far more concerned about his glory than our profit. Our concerns will change as we love God. The reasons we become angry will change as we love God. In fact, anger can be evidence of your love. If someone were threatening to hurt my wife, Lauryn, do you think that would make me angry? And is it not a sensible and even Christian thing to become angry about something like that? In fact, if I didn’t become angry at something like that, that might be evidence that I don’t love Lauryn like I should!

As our love for God grows, our desire for his glory to be showcased will grow. Our concern will change from, “How do I get this one thing I really want,” to, “How can I give God get all the attention and praise he deserves?” How can I give God all the glory?

I mentioned Mark chapter 3 earlier, and I want to give you some context of Jesus becoming angry in that story. There’s a man in the synagogue with a shriveled hand, and Jesus heals this man on the Sabbath, which made the Pharisees angry so that they then go out and start plotting how to kill Jesus. But even before he heals the man, verse 5 says that, Jesus “looked around at the Pharisees in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’” What is it that makes Jesus angry here? It’s that these Pharisees refused to show love toward a man that God himself loves. Do you see that? The Pharisees’ desires were not the same as God’s. They weren’t angry and plotting to kill Jesus because God was angry. They’re angry because their own reputations and power were being threatened. Perfect example of sinful anger in the Pharisees, and then the perfect example of righteous anger in Jesus.

So, the question again comes to us: Are our strongest concerns things with which Jesus would be concerned? Do our desires match those of Jesus? And are we willing to confront ourselves and others in order for God to be showcased? Jesus certainly wasn’t afraid to confront here, was he? I know we live in a time when the ultimate thing to avoid is offending anyone for any reason. But my question is this: where’s our concern when God is offended?

Jesus “made a whip with cords, and drove all those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers out of the temple. He poured out the coins and overturned the tables of those selling pigeons, and he said, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’” It was obvious that his passion was for his Father’s house, his Father’s glory. That’s why the disciples suddenly remembered in verse 17 a passage from Psalm 69 that says, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” All Jesus cared about was glorifying His Father, and that’s, ultimately, because He loved his Father more than anything.

We should confront those who claim our God and yet misrepresent him. This is probably not the first wayI would encourage you to confront someone. I hope none of you show up next week with a whip, saying you’re just following Jesus’ example. Think about this: Jesus was articulate and in control when this is happening. Maybe you didn’t catch that at first glance. It doesn’t say he picked upa whip and started driving people out. It says that he madea whip. There was some time involved here. He didn’t fly off the handle. Don’t use Jesus to give you a reason to go off on people. That’s not what’s happening here. He was actually in control and even articulated his concerns. He didn’t just start screaming. He used words! He told them his concern.

Again, do not use this text to confront people in an ungodly way. But, there are times we need to confront people. And there are things that should make us angry. When you find out someone who claims to follow Jesus has had a huge moral failure, it should anger you. Or when anyone misrepresents Jesus, our Lord, it should anger us. But it should also grieve us. That’s something else mentioned in Mark 3 about Jesus’ anger. It says “he looked at them in anger, and was deeply distressed,” some versions say “grieved.” I think a perfect word for that is “broken.”

A righteous anger, a jealousy for God’s glory, a brokenness over people blinded by their sin, is not only appropriate, it’s the best driving force behind the spread of the gospel. Did you know that? If you want to more boldly share the gospel, then be jealous for God’s glory. Yes, desire that your friend would come to know Jesus and experience that joy and freedom. But with that, perhaps even more than that, desire that God’s glory would be showcased in that person coming to faith. I love this quote from Martin Luther, and I know we may not all fully understand this, and that’s ok. Ask me questions if you have them. He says,

“I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”

In other words, Luther’s saying, “When I am inspired by righteous anger, all mundane vexations, or trivial frustrations, they all depart.” Luther was angry and moved for God’s glory. Angry because of one of the greatest misrepresentations of who God truly is in the history of Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church at the time, in particular. Listen, this kind of righteous anger takes time, takes maturity in the Christian faith.

I will be honest and tell you that the vast majority of my anger is not righteous anger. But even with this kind of anger reflecting our jealousy for God’s glory, even though it takes time for the Holy Spirit to develop this in our hearts, it’s worth it. The thought that God, as he transforms me, slowly but surely, from one degree of glory to another, it’s a neat thought that one day the trivial and mundane things that frustrate me would no longer do so.

As we see and understand and grasp more and more of just how glorious God is, it will become more and more part of who we are to live to glorify Him. It’s the most joyful duty as new creations in Christ to live to showcase the glory of God, which leads us into our third truth. The third truth about righteous or holy anger:

 

Holy anger will point people to the gospel.

After Jesus does all this cleansing of the temple, driving everyone out, the Jews ask him in verse 18: “What sign do you show for doing these things?” In other words, “You need to prove to us that you have the authority to do what you’re doing here.” They don’t ask why he’s doing this, because they don’t care why. That should tell us something about where their hearts are at. They care, instead, to see if he has the authority from the Sanhedrin or any other entity they would respect. How does Jesus respond? Verse 19: Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

I find it interesting that while Jesus responds to the Jews in different ways throughout the gospels, sometimes calmly, and other times as bluntly as humanly possible, even with the different ways that he responds, he is always pointing them to the gospel. He’s always pointing them to himself as the Christ, the answer, the son of God. The Jews here misunderstand, they say, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” Verse 21: But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”

Even in this scene, when the Jews don’t understand what he means by this, and when even the disciples apparently don’t understand until after he was raised from the dead, Jesus is still pointing them to the gospel. He knows they won’t understand, at least not yet, but he’s always pointing.

He calls his body a temple here. He’s pointing them not only to the timing of his death and resurrection, his body being torn down then rebuilt in three days; he’s also hinting at the nature of his body as the new temple. Think about it. The temple is where people meet God. It’s the avenue through which people met with God. Jesus is where we meet God. He’s the avenue through which we meet God. Not only that, but the temple is where the sacrifices were offered to appease God’s wrath. Jesus’ temple, his body, would become the ultimate sacrifice, for the sin of the world. When our anger is righteous anger, it can point people to the gospel, because it reveals in us what truly matters. Jesus didn’t really defend his right to mess up the temple. He instead pointed them to the gospel.

When our anger is not righteous anger, then we fit in with everyone else in the world that’s mad about something worldly. Our anger often points people to what matters to us the most.

Is it Christ or is it control? Does our lack of being able to control everything to get exactly what we want upset us? Do we fit in with the world in being angry about not being able to control everything? Or do we stick out as a people focused on eternity, with our hope set on Christ. Is it Christ or is it control? For Christ, it was Christ, and ultimately glorifying his Father, while his Father, in turn, glorified Him.

 

Conclusion

Ask yourself this week, even today, I mean this is as practical as can be. Ask yourself when you are angry or frustrated, “Would Jesus be angry about this?” If not, then why am I angry about it? If you’re not sure, look to Scripture to see what made Jesus angry, what he was most passionate about. Or ask a Christian friend what they think.

Or if you’re someone who is rarely angry, or even never: Look to Jesus and ask yourself, what should bother me? What, maybe, should stir me up a bit more? Because there are times when we should be angry and broken, for our own sin, our own misrepresentation of Jesus, and the mispresentation of Jesus that is so prevalent in the world. There are times when we should be angry and broken, but always in a way that glorifies God.

We should see our world that is completely shattered by sin, and be angry. We should see evil spreading and be angry. We should see the pervasiveness of sexual sin in and outside the church and be angry. We should see the broken foster care system and be angry. We should see our culture pushing gender confusion on the youngest of children and be angry. We should see how sin complicates all of our relationships and be angry. If we see the world through the lens of God’s Word, and as we increasingly see the world through the lens of God’s Word, we will be angry about things that we were never angry about before. And perhaps other things we were angry about will fall to the margin, they won’t matter anymore.

Anger can be a good and holy thing, but only if our anger is about something far greater than us. So, the question is: is our anger about us? Or is it about God? Are we jealous for God’s glory and Christ’s reputation? Or are we angry about ourselves?