1 Corinthians 1:18-25; John 2:13-22
March 8, 2015
We don’t use the word “zeal” much these days. We might cheer our favorite team, or fight to protect our pocketbooks or personal freedoms. We can even get enthusiastic about specific products or causes, but tend to be suspicious of people who seem overzealous about something we don’t espouse. Even we who are committed people of faith cringe at excess religious fanaticism. I think we are intended to cringe at Jesus’ zeal in John 2:13-22. He challenges our zeal for the foolish wisdom and power of God through the cross of Jesus.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After 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.
Some scholars think John tells of a different event at the beginning of his ministry than the one the synoptic Gospels tell right after Palm Sunday. Others think it is the same event but John mistakenly put it at the beginning instead of the end, or it got moved accidently in scribal copying. I may not be right, but I think it is the same event that John purposely tells at the beginning to connect his whole Gospel with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
John’s account is quite detailed and points to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. He made the only reference to the whip (which he only says was used on animals, not people), and to cattle and sheep. Instead of Jesus’ quote from Jeremiah 1:11 about the Temple becoming “a den of robbers,” John used Jesus’ reference to Zechariah 14:21 to “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” Only John made reference to Jesus’ resurrection with which he organized the whole Gospel, rather than chronologically.
I think John intended us to cringe at Jesus’ scandalous behavior and words. Jesus didn’t seem, to care if all of the animals and coins got back to their rightful owners. Jesus wasn’t just attacking Temple corruption. If this upsets you, you are ready to hear his claim to the authority to replace the whole Temple system with himself.
All of the Gospels describe Jesus’ miracles, and John calls them signs. Some of the signs are not miracles, but all of the signs say something important about Jesus. Turning water into wine is the first sign in John’s Gospel. It was a private, quiet way to say Jesus is about life and joy. John put driving the merchants out of the Temple next as a public, raucous sign that he was the very presence of God dwelling among people.
The Temple leaders knew Jesus was claiming authority over the Temple, so they asked him for a sign validating this. If they thought he was just a trouble maker, they would have just had him arrested. In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul wrote that Jews demand a sign. They thought divine authority could be established by performing a miracle.
Jesus’ answer about destroying this Temple and raising it up in three days seems smart alecky, but it pointed to his crucifixion and resurrection as the sign not only of his authority in the Temple, but that he himself was God there among people with whom God was present.
The sign of Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple tells us that Jesus made the Temple obsolete. His body is the Temple in which God lives with people. Ephesians 2:21 says that as the body of Christ, the Church (meaning people not buildings) is the Temple in which God dwells.
Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection challenges us to be zealous for the foolish wisdom and power of God. The cross of Jesus not only defies all human logic, it is even more scandalous than Jesus driving the merchants out of the Temple.
Paul explored this paradox in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Our world lives by power: the power of money, the power of argument, the power of influence, the power of force. Jesus’ crucifixion flies in the face of our human reliance on all kinds of power. The scandal of the cross is the refusal of Jesus and his followers to use these powers.
Jesus’ resurrection is God’s vindication of this foolish wisdom and power. When Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered what he had said about raising up the Temple of his body and they believed with a zeal that propelled them into a dangerous, hostile world with the Gospel of the cross.
As Jesus was driving the merchants out of the Temple, his disciples also remembered Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” While not so frequently connected to Jesus’ crucifixion as Psalm 22, Psalms 31 and 69 are included in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus’ zeal in the Temple rightly translates to passionate enthusiasm for his Church today. Not as a building or an institution. Rather Jesus challenges us to be zealous for the people of the community of faith to experience Christ dwelling among us. In our society belonging to a congregation can be reduced to one among many social groups: professional organizations, community service clubs, neighborhood associations. Nothing wrong with any of them, but zeal for our Father’s house lifts the Church above them into the foolish wisdom and power of God.
If the word “zeal” isn’t uncomfortable enough, what about “consumed?” I don’t think Jesus was in an out of control rage in the Temple. Rather, he was passionately focused on establishing his authority as the living replacement for the Temple. Our zeal for the Gospel of the cross, is not about recklessly bashing people with religion, but about looking at and organizing all of our life around the foolish wisdom and power of God, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.