Lent 3 – Jesus is zealous to do his Father’s will
Sunday, March 7, 2021
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Is Anger Your Ally?
Are tools evil? One of the challenges we face in our every day lives is that objects can be used for evil purposes. When I was a child in school, usually in the spring time, when the teacher was looking at the chalk board, the students in the class would wad-up pieces of paper and throw them at each other. The teacher would find out. And then what would the teacher do? The teacher would take away the paper. But here is where we need to understand the situation clearly. The paper wasn’t the problem. The problem was the sinful hearts of the children. This morning we see Jesus take an action that, to us, seems out of place. And maybe it might seem sinful. Jesus shows anger. In John 2, we read: “13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”” (John 2:13–16 NIV11-GKE)
This is a fascinating part of the bible. Jesus is beginning his earthly ministry. And he goes up to the temple to celebrate the Passover. And what he sees there makes him angry. He sees people selling animals and gouging the people with over-the-top price tags. It’s something for us to imagine. Imagine trying to worship here in our church and having the sounds and smells of penned-up animals all around us. And imagine people out-yelling each other to get our money and our business. All this is happening while we are trying to worship and pray. That’s what it was like for the people in Jesus’ day. And even worse than that, the religious leaders were the ones who promoted this and made money from it.
So what is Jesus’ reaction? He walks through the entire courtyard. And slowly, like a pot of water on the stove, he heats up. And as he is walking through the courtyard, he walks around and weaves together a whip. And then when he can’t take it anymore he begins to whip the sellers. He whips them. He whips their animals. He drives out every person and every animal. And it’s not just that he does this. It’s that his anger and his energy does not seems to stop.
And, as we look at Jesus, we need to stop and ask the question: Is this anger that Jesus shows all right? Is it right for him to be angry? Or is it a sin? Here, my friends, is where we need to recognize that anger itself is not sinful. God has made each human being with a so many emotions. And having emotions themselves is not sin. In the same way, having paper in a classroom is not sinful. But what we do with either paper or our emotions may be sinful. I mention this because there have been times in my life and in the lives of those I have served as a pastor where people have told us as Christians that being angry is sinful. And when we ask why this is true, they respond by saying that, if we were truly content and trusting in Jesus, there would be no need for anger. These words here show how false that statement is. Jesus is perfect. Jesus is holy. And Jesus has anger.
So, the real question we need to ask is not whether anger itself is sinful. Instead we need to ask a different question: Is anger my ally? Anger is not sinful. And there are times when we should have anger and use it. But we need to make sure that this anger serves us, instead of enslaving us. In psychology class we learned about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The one takes care of thinking, concluding, and grasping the world around us. The other one takes care of the parts of our existence we don’t think about: breathing and surviving. And what can happen when anger comes into a conversation is that the thinking and communicating part of our brain is pushed out of the way to make room for the survival part of our brain. We lose the ability to send and receive communication. And when we get angry and show it, the same happens to the person we are speaking to. Their ability to receive information shuts down. Their brain puts them into survival mode. That’s why the apostle Paul tells us, “In your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26 NIV11-GKE) Notice that anger is not sin. Instead sinning when we are angry is the sin.
So our anger can be an enemy instead of an ally when it enslaves us instead of serving us. But it can also become our enemy when it doesn’t serve God’s word. Each of us have had times in our lives where someone, out of love and concern for us, has shown us our sin or told us to take an action in line with God’s word. And we took offense. And we concluded that the fact that the person offended us was proof that the person sinned against us. I still remember when I was a kid and my dad told me to go out and mow the lawn. He had every right to ask me to mow the lawn. And I found every reason to try and justify my not-mowing-the-lawn. So there might be times in our lives when people out of love for us, might say too much or too little to speak to us about our sin. But the first question we should ask is whether we have the right to be angry? If someone, out of love for us, shares God’s word with us, then our role is to ask whether the other person is right. And if what that person says to us is in line with God’s word, and we are still angry, then anger no longer is our ally. It is our enemy.
This then brings us back to these words. The disciples see their Savior rage with anger for long minutes, maybe even hours. And what is their response? we read: “His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”” (John 2:17 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus’ disciples see Jesus’ anger. And then they remembered God’s word. They remembered that God’s perfect servant will be angry over injustice done in his temple. And he will do something about it. This, my friends, is good news. If there are times in your life where your anger got the best of you, and you look back in sadness and shame at the damage you caused, look here to find a Savior whose burning anger was a controlled burn. He did not go too far. If, on the other hand, you can see times in your life where you should have been angry—you should have cared, but you didn’t, then look here at Jesus. Jesus cared so much about his Father’s house and his Father’s work that he would not tolerate the greed and robbing that took place there. If there are times that you hate your bodies because these emotions in your bodies betray you, look at this Savior. For he was able to perfectly make use of his anger to serve himself and to serve God’s word in your place. And in the words that follow we see the result of Jesus’ faithful effort: “18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18–22 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus made his anger his servant. Jesus made his anger a servant of God’s word. And the result was that he had the right to be raised from the dead. And when the Father raised him from the dead, he proved both that Jesus’ anger was valid and that all the times our anger neither served ourselves nor did it serve God’s word—those sins are forgiven.
In all this, my dear friends, grow in this truth. Anger is not a sin. And do not let anyone tell you that, simply having anger is proof of sinfulness. But instead, strive to make anger your ally. Have it serve you. Have it serve God’s word. And know that for the times we fail in this, day by day, we have a Savior from these sins too. Amen.