Rediscover Zeal for the Lord: The True Face of the Christian Church 

3rd Sunday in Lent - 3/3/2024 | John 2:13-25

Who Represents the Christian Church? 

Who would be recognized by most people today as the prominent figure representing the Christian Church? Is it Pope Francis? Certainly, a significant portion of the public media often depicts him in that role. Pope Francis himself would likely agree, given the Roman Catholic teaching that designates the pope as "The Vicar of Christ." 

Nevertheless, many non-Roman Catholic Christians would strongly disagree. In reality, each branch of contemporary Christianity might propose someone from their own denomination as the most exemplary figure for their church body or the true Christian faith. For instance, Missouri Synod Lutherans might proudly point to Martin Luther, or more informally, Matthew Harrison, their Synodical President.

It's doubtful that any humble, honest, self-respecting Christian would aspire to be viewed as the face of the Church. Being placed on such a pedestal seems like an invitation to be toppled! The true face of Christianity, however, is not embodied in a single individual. Whether famous leaders or not, each of us is merely an individual member of a larger body. 

The Real Jesus of the Gospels 

His True Character beyond our Imagined Image

As Holy Scripture teaches, that body is the Body of Jesus Christ, where Jesus is the Head— not Pope Francis, not Martin Luther, nor any other member of the body. Consequently, anyone seeking to understand the Christian Church or the faith it professes must look to Jesus, not just an imagined image but the real Jesus—Jesus of Nazareth, the Miracle Worker, and most prominently, Jesus of the cross and the resurrected Jesus.

So, what is the character of Jesus? How would you describe Him? If you were to close your eyes and picture the real Jesus, what would you see? Perhaps a ruggedly handsome man with a beard and blue eyes, gently carrying a lamb on His shoulders, or surrounded by children on a grassy knoll? Maybe an advocate for compromise, urging everyone to "just get along" and love one another? This is the commonly portrayed face of Jesus in our world today.

Certainly, the four Gospels extensively depict Jesus as a compassionate figure, associating with public sinners, touching and healing lepers, comforting the distraught over their sins, raising the dead, and showing deep mercy to the diseased masses. He proclaimed, "I came not to be served but to serve and give My life for many." 

The Temple Cleansing 

Righteous Indignation beyond Our Perception of a Gentle Savior

The image of a genteel Jesus is not present in the text under consideration today. Instead, Jesus appears almost as if having a temper tantrum—turning over tables, scattering moneychangers' coins, and issuing orders like a drill sergeant. In the temple cleansing, Jesus seems more like a righteous and indignant figure rather than the gentle one we often envision.

Does this portrayal of Jesus offend us? Is it possibly apocryphal, added by some zealous scribe in the early centuries? Some translations even attempt to soften the image, implying that Jesus only drove out animals. 

Yet, the original Greek suggests that Jesus made a whip and drove out both people and animals. Even if Jesus did use the whip, it's challenging for us to reconcile this image with the commonly held perception of a meek and mild Jesus.

Jesus' Righteous Anger

Understanding the Temple Cleansing and Its Significance in Defending God's Honor

We need to consider that when defending the honor of His Father or the truth of the Word of God, Jesus would respond with righteous anger. Although this temple cleansing is the only account of Jesus resorting to physical measures, He did not shy away from using strong and aggressive language to reprove those who needed it. 

The episode in the temple is not the wrath of a sinful man losing control in response to personal hurt. Rather it is a display of the righteous anger of Almighty God.

Jesus' disciples recognized the zeal of their Lord, recalling the Psalms: "The zeal of my Father's House has consumed me." Jesus' zeal for the LORD, His Father, and His house was justified. The temple was the place where God promised to meet His people, hear their prayers, accept their sacrifices, and impart forgiveness. 

Desecrating the temple was blaspheming God, jeopardizing the salvation of sinners. The commercialization and worldly pursuits in the temple were a direct violation of the First Commandment, replacing the worship of God with the worship of Mammon.

Rediscover Zeal for the LORD and His Work of Salvation

Today, the great attack on the Christian Church is secularization, adopting worldly ways instead of the God-ordained model of the church as a spiritual body. Churches often prioritize materialistic concerns over spiritual matters, emphasizing socializing over evangelism, numbers over doctrine, and inclusivity over the exclusive message of the Gospel.

Jesus' zeal for the LORD, His House, and His work of salvation should be a source of gratitude and joy for us. This zeal enabled Him to endure the cross, even when the world, enemies, the devil, and His own disciples opposed God's will. As the redeemed of God, we are saved from God's wrath for our sins, including the desecration of God's name and things, because Jesus zealously gave His life for our atonement.

Christ did not redeem us to be passive Christians. He redeemed us to be zealous for the LORD. We should be zealous for God's House, Holy Merchandise, Jesus (the temple of God), and the Church—the Body of Christ in the world. Our zeal should extend to preserving pure doctrine, spreading the truth, and boldly presenting the exclusive message of the Gospel.

May we never have to experience the crack of Jesus' whip to cleanse us of unfaithfulness and desecration. Instead, let us always be reminded that Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawless deeds and purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds. May God empower us to be like our Savior—zealous for the LORD! Amen!

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