Tuesday
Feb232010

Indignation in the Temple

The last week of the Lord’s life on Earth before his crucifixion is a remarkable one in many ways. It is, however, typical in its furious pace of those who know their lives are coming to a conclusion.

Some are told that cancer must claim their lives six months hence, while others tragically pass their last few moments upon a plummeting airplane or beneath the wreckage of a building felled by earthquake. For some, the furious pace of activity is in getting their estates in order, but for others, the work is limited to the most fervent praying of their lives.

Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Sunday, arranging for transport upon a donkey and her colt (Matthew 21:1-11). 

 

“Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest’” (verses 8-9).

 

It is a marvelous image and an experience which must have warmed the heart of the suffering savior whose most difficult hours were still ahead and but a few days away. He would be arrested, ridiculed, wounded, humiliated, abandoned and murdered. For now, however, he was enjoying a coronation parade before a group of devoted believers.

What follows along the parade route and the next day serves to deflate the celebratory mood considerably. Four episodes of intense indignation  remind the Lord that his mission is fraught with anguish and opposition.

First, moments after passing over the palm leaves to the joyous cries of the disciples, the Pharisees in the crowd voice their objections. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples” (Luke 19:39). The religious leaders who witnessed this outpouring of affection were indignant that Jesus would openly accept their description of him as the King they had been awaiting, the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus rejected the Pharisees’ indignant criticism, borne out of envy and unbelief, saying, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). 

The Lord’s entry into Jerusalem was a moment of majesty and foreboding, for it happened in the very shadow of Golgotha. As God had thundered before, calling Jesus his beloved son, now the people take up that chorus, and should they choose to be silenced, all of creation would quake with that truth. 

Jesus continued on into the holy city and made a brief visit to the temple. “And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mark 11:11). He would return soon enough.

The next day, he began his return to the city, only to stop along the way, hoping to pluck a fig from a leafy tree. Finding nothing upon a tree which should have borne even a few green figs, Jesus indignantly cursed it as a symbol of all that was wrong with Israel. “And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it’” (Mark 11:14). Israel appeared pious and devoted to God, but her leafy greenness masked a fruitlessness that results from hypocrisy and legalism (Mark 11:20-26).

The temple would be the site of the Lord’s most intensely justifiable indignation – an offended sense of anger at a crime committed against God and the structure itself. 

 

“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).

 

Perhaps he was most indignant because this was not the first time he had cleansed his father’s house. Just after the wedding in Cana, he had driven the merchants out with a whip made of cords (John 2:13-17). He explained that seemingly out-of-character assault as the result of zeal for the temple consuming him. Zeal for the house of God is never out of character for Jesus; if only it were more a part of ours. Now, he teaches, “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.’ But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).

This business activity – some of which could have been justly conducted elsewhere – marred the purely spiritual atmosphere that God desired for that esteemed place. From the next Pentecost onward, the church of Christ would become the house of God and the same mercantile mindset has afflicted it – when congregations enter into various business enterprises and compromise truth and divine authority in the name of black ink on an account ledger.

The final moment of indignation here occurs against the backdrop of the temple cleansing. With the merchants scattered, the blind and lame found room to approach Jesus, who healed them in the presence of a few innocent children, who cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Then the chief priests and scribes grew indignant, instructing Jesus to silence them as they began to seek a new way to destroy him because the people were hanging on his words (Matthew 21:16, Mark 11:18, Luke 19:48).

He replied simply by citing the eighth psalm, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise” (Matthew 21:16). Indignation denied.

Jesus would continue to enter and leave Jerusalem throughout that week and the indignity would only increase as the cross approached. One lesson seems clear: religious indignation at sin and blasphemy is the necessary byproduct of zealous faith, but if that zeal is not according to knowledge, the anger will inevitably be misdirected and counterproductive.