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Be Zealous. Not Angry.

00:00 / 19:03

3 Mar 2024

Third Sunday in Lent

John 2:13-22

Lent 3, Reading

Ex. 20:1-7, 1 Cor. 1 18-25, John 2:13-2

‘And making a whip from cords, he drove them all out of the temple…’

-       It is easy to forget about this and focus on meekness of Christ.

-       Suggest that this passage is not a justification for outbursts of anger and the cultivation of an angry outlook.

-       New Testament unilaterally negative about anger: ranging from caution to outright condemnation.

‘The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.’ James 1:20

‘“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.’” Matthew 5:21-22(b)

-       Do not deceive yourselves: most anger is sinful and the effects that follow from it are destructive.

Why is anger so dangerous?

-       Anger causes unhappiness, destroying friendships, marriages, relationships between parents and children.

-       Anger, as Christ shows us, leads to further sin against others. First anger, then harsh and insulting words, then action to wound and hurt, then murder. Better not to start out on this path.

-       Anger enslaves us to itself. In most extreme form, anger takes over our lives and dictates our actions, distorting our souls and even our physical appearances.

o   ‘Whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.’ 2 Peter 2:19. Anger, perhaps only on a par with lust, has the power to take us over and make us do things we wouldn’t normally do. Anything that removes self-control from us is to be rigorously contended with until we achieve mastery over it.

o   The wisdom of Marcus Aurelius: ‘No longer allow your passions to pull you around like a puppet.’ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 7.29.

-       Anger prohibits our forgiving others, as we are commanded to by Christ. Anger removes interior peace, which we are called to by Christ. Anger prevents spiritual growth.

-       Anger is often rooted in other sin such as pride and impatience. Ever caught yourself thinking, “Who does that person think he is speaking to me like that?” If we were more humble, we’d find it easier not to grow angry when slighted.

What’s going on in John 2?

-       A rare event. Not something happening every five minutes.

-       Christ is upset not about the trading itself, which was congruent with God’s Law, but with the location of it: the temple of God.

-       The location of the trading indicated lack of love for God, lack of respect and reverence towards him: ‘Instead of solemn dignity and the murmur of prayer there is the bellowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep. Instead of brokenness and contrition, holy adoration and prolonged petition, there is noisy commerce’. Carson, John, p.179.

-       The way we worship God demonstrates our attitude towards him.

-       We must admit that Christ is certainly not meek and mild in this passage. These are aggressive, if not violent, actions.

Difference between anger and zeal

‘His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me”.’ John 2:17

-       Jesus was zealous, not angry. What’s the difference?

-       Firstly, Christ’s actions are fully under his own control, the control of his will and rational faculties. He is not being overcome with emotion.

o   Gentleness is restrained strength.

-       The object of Christ’s action: Not sin such as pride or impatience but passion for the glory of God and for the purity of his house.


-       There are matters that ought to upset us. We are not advocating Stoic detachment from all emotion. Indeed, this, taken to extreme, is also sin, the sin of indifference. Blasphemy against God and desecration of holy places ought to upset up. Seems apposite given spate of “silent discos” and other inappropriate events in churches here and abroad with the explicit object of trade.

-       We ought also to be upset at terrible crimes against the vulnerable and the innocent: women and children murdered in war, the taking of the lives of the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us, the mistreatment and neglect of the elderly. All things commonplace in our world and to which we are often so indifferent.

-       We ought also to be upset with ourselves and our own sin. The Apostle Paul reminds us that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Do we allow (as it were) money-changers and traders to enter the temples of our own souls? Are we sufficiently zealous to drive out sinful impulses and their consequences? Are we seeking to glorify God with the temples of our own bodies? Should we not be upset with ourselves when we fall short of this?

-       Additionally, there are times when we ought to be content with upsetting or offending other people. We should not seek this but our faith, consistently lived out, will at times be offensive to others.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Mark 15:12-14

-       What is the alternative? Cowardice in the face of conflict. Lack of faithfulness to the truth. Trying to please everyone when this is impossible. Saying, “Peace, peace” where there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).

-       Following Christ is not about being nice and/or inoffensive but about faithfulness and love for God and neighbour. Sometimes real love involves telling uncomfortable or even offensive truths.


-       All of this must operate within a sanctified framework of humility, self-control, and accountability to the will of God. We must be cautious not to let anger creep in.

-       Are you a slave to anger? Repent, and seek to control yourself. There is nothing strong or respectable about being like this and it will destroy you.

-       Are you indifferent to the things that God cares about? Resolve to care more. Perhaps some Lenten observance that might help you.

-       Finally, be more upset with your own sin than that of other people. Your body is a temple of the Lord. Drive far from it the money changers and the merchants who would defile it. Resolve to put away sin far from you and to reverence the Lord in your thoughts, words, and actions.

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