The second chapter of John’s Gospel provides one of the starkest contrasts in the Scriptures. We begin with Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding feast. Then, we see Jesus with a homemade whip in hand overturning business tables and yelling about the demands of God His Father in the Temple. As God who had become fully human, Jesus displays the full range of human emotions, including intense anger.
The obvious question is, what set Jesus off? Why was He so bent?
The not-so-obvious answer is that the self-absorption of lazy worshipers and greedy religious businessmen was conspiring to ruin the attempts of heartfelt outsiders to know and love God. In sum, Jesus’ anger was against religious people who had forgotten that worship was about God and intended as an evangelistic demonstration of God’s presence and loving grace for those who do not yet know Him (see also 1 Corinthians 14:23–40).
The worshipers in Jesus’ day, like many worshipers in every age, had become religious consumers seeking to be served, as they were completely obsessed with their own agendas and comfort. Worship is about sacrifice, and many worshipers simply do not understand that fact.
Making matters worse and angering Jesus, all of the religious corruption was occurring in a part of the Temple called “the court of the Gentiles.” In Mark 11:17, Jesus says, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”
As people from other nations wanted to learn about or even begin to worship the God of Israel, they would come to the Temple. Since they were not Jewish, they were not allowed into parts of the Temple nearest to God’s presence. Instead, they were allowed access that was further away from God in the court of the Gentiles. There, they could learn God’s Word and learn to worship God. It was supposed to be something like an ongoing Billy Graham crusade, welcoming lost people into relationship with God. Instead, that was the place of the greatest corruption, collusion, and cons.
Curiously, Jesus goes to the outcasts and marginalized, sees how they are being mistreated, and becomes angry that His people were not carrying forth His values and love for lost people. This same religious spirit can overtake any of God’s people if we are not vigilant to guard our hearts against thinking that our convenience and comfort is why our church exists – because it is then that we lose our hearts for lost people and the heart of Jesus.
When you are at church, do you intentionally seek out new people, welcome them, seek to serve them, and love them? Do you inconvenience yourself for the sake of seeing others learn about Jesus? Do you judge a ministry by how it meets your needs or by how it gives you an opportunity to serve others?