What Made Jesus Angry?
By Scott Griswold
Can you picture Jesus really angry? It's pretty hard, isn't it? We think of Him as being patient with our mistakes. Long-suffering with our repeated failures. And with His arms wide open for us prodigals. So what could possibly get Him good and mad?
I can think of only one situation in His earthly ministry in which Jesus was so upset that He knocked over tables and dumped things on the ground. Of all places, it happened at "church." I refer, of course, to the cleansing of the Temple.
What made Him do it? And could there be something today that would make Him just as angry? Let's revisit that day and see.
From Bedlam to Peace
Cows, sheep, and doves harmonize to provide special music. Money changers add their staccatoed beat. Passover's weary pilgrims find themselves losing money at every turn. Their very best animals are pronounced unfit. Vainly they haggle, then reach deep to pay the price of a Temple-approved lamb. Their money has to be changed. It's common, you see-too dirty to be used to buy something so pure. Of course, this service also has its price.
It would have been easy to get discouraged, maybe even disgusted, and go home. But the journey had been so long. And wasn't this the only road to the blessing? to salvation?
In the midst of the bedlam and frustration, a cry rings out: "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a den of thieves" (Mark 11:17, NIV).
It's Jesus! For a moment the ever-gentle Lamb roars like a lion.
Because pickpockets are pilfering the riches of God's grace. Thieves disguised as dignitaries have intercepted the King's shipment of presents for the entire kingdom. They are profiting by selling His gifts through illicit trading. No wonder Jesus roars. He's the Son of that gracious King.
Now He stands in the house of prayer. Was somebody trying to pray? In this noise? Jesus takes swift and stunning action to quiet it down. Four-legged creatures escape down the sidewalks, with two-legged animals following closely behind. Doves fly into the trees, cooing their approval.
Into the sudden vacuum quietly slips prayer. The blind and the lame request healing. The children gleefully praise their Friend.
It's exactly what Jesus and His Father wanted. A house of prayer, of friendship. A place to connect with God, to know and be known by love.
So why was Jesus angry? Because religion was being used as a barrier to keep people from a relationship with God. That's a good reason. I'm glad He cares enough about being close to us that He'd get upset and do something about it.
But was that all Jesus was angry about-salvation for sale with no room for God? That would be enough, I think. Yet there was another issue burning in His heart. Hear His words again: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
Well, of course. He is the Creator of all life, the Father of every tribe and tongue. Surely Israel recognizes their mission to share God's glory with the nations. After all, it isn't called the Court of the Gentiles for nothing.
The Court of the Gentiles. This beautiful (albeit noisy, corrupt and greed-filled) place is the only spot in which the nations dare set foot to catch a glimpse of the Father. The rest of the Temple is off-limits. No wonder Jesus cleans house. A Lamb come to take away the sins of the world, to be a Shekinah for the Gentiles and a sanctuary for all.
Now what about us, His church-which He also called a temple (1 Cor. 3:16)? Might Jesus get upset again today were He to pay us a visit? If so, would it be for the same things? Where might He like to do some cleansing today?
Might We Today Be Guilty?
Consider the following:
First, are we in any way sheep sellers and money changers? Have we somehow hidden the good news of God's free gift? Have we met pilgrims in the foyer with a critical eye? Has our emphasis on lawkeeping and lifestyle convinced others they must buy the Lamb's affection with good works? Let's stop the thieving. God is a free forgiver! If we clear out of the way and give Jesus the floor, He will bring His healing love. Those who are blind or lame will once again rejoice in our churches. They will find God.
Second, have we allowed the noise of our religion to get in the way of a relationship with the Father of the house? Too often we go to church, sing all the songs, pray, give, and hear another sermon without ever meeting God. Have you felt that? Habit and duty drive us while Jesus wants to draw us. It's to be a house of prayer-a place to connect deeply with God. Then why is it so hard?
Could it be the clatter of busyness? We overload ourselves at work and at home, then add to the pile at church: a class to teach, a committee to attend, a social, and a seminar, too. We slavishly serve the King while He sadly stands by, hoping to catch our eye and spend a moment in intimate fellowship with us. How long has it been since you talked with your Friend?
Religion is noisy in less-attractive ways, too. Repetitive, boring church services make it terribly difficult to hear the message of good news. Long faces don't communicate joy. Two-faced living doesn't uplift reliable truth. Pointed fingers don't share love. Instead, hearts are broken.
Yes, religion itself can sound like mooing cows and bleating sheep. Who wants to worship in a barn? But Jesus, who was born into a world of legalistic and formal religion, is willing to clean our hearts and our churches. Every day His quiet voice calls us to slow down and spend some time with Him. If we will, our lame and blind lives will come alive with energy and color. We will shout with joy like children.
Third, we are to be a house of prayer for all nations. Jesus was especially upset that the one place for the Gentiles to learn about God had been ransacked. Today He searches our pews and our hearts for the unreached nationalities of the world. Jesus' highest priority is the salvation of every kindred, tribe, and tongue. His great commission called for it (Matt. 28:18-20). His first angel's message shouts it (Rev. 14:6, 7). His declaration of it as the final sign before His coming ensures it (Matt. 24:14). At work, at home, in our pocketbooks, and in our churches we are to make room for the lost.
But what are we doing? God brought the unreached world to our doorstep, and we didn't even notice. Here in the United States, for example, we have some 4 million Hindus and Buddhists, 4.5 million Muslims, and 6 million Jews. Have we learned enough about them to share the gospel with even one of these groups?
More than 2 million people move into the United States every year. Have those of us who live here befriended and helped them during their tough months of transition? Or have we been frustrated at their lack of English skills?
Add to that more than 800,000 international students who study in the country every year. They come from 188 different nations, 43 of which we can't even enter as missionaries. They are the cream of the crop who will return to their countries and take up important posts in government, education, and business. Unfortunately, 70 percent of international students never get invited into an American home, let alone learn the good news about their Savior.
Might Jesus be upset? Might not His love for these unreached people be so great that He's angry with us? Have we let the busy clatter of our religion drown out the heart cry of the nations? And the heart cries of Jesus Himself?
Where to From Here?
What can we do? A hundred things, perhaps, but let's start with three.
1. Let's repent. We can tell Jesus how sorry we are for neglecting the very ones He is so concerned over. Let's plead for Him to open our eyes to the lost all around us, to see where He is already working and longing for someone to join Him. Let's take hold of the promise of the Holy Spirit to empower us to share His love.
2. Let's look and listen. We can start looking around to see what ethnic groups are near us. We can make new friends, asking questions about their family traditions, their food, their religion. We can read up on ways to share our faith effectively and sensitively with those with other beliefs.
3. Let's serve in love. We can find a need and fill it. We can be a friend at work to those no one befriends because of language or cultural differences. We can tutor English for an hour a week. We can offer someone a ride to the immigration office to help fill out forms. We can invite international students to our home for Thanksgiving dinner. We can find and share pamphlets and lessons in other languages. We can open our homes to a foreign exchange student for a year. We can even facilitate planting a new church that speaks the language of an unreached group in our community.
Yes indeed, we can join Jesus as He cleanses our temple. The lion roars. But it's only because the Lamb wants to be with His friends.
Scott Griswold was director of the Buddhist Study Center in Bangkok at the writing of this article. He is now works as director of Reach the World Next Door, a missionary training center in Houston, Texas. To learn more how to reach out to refugees, immigrants, and international students visit Pastor Scott Griswold’s site reachtheworldnextdoor.com. You will also find his outreach site with Biblical materials in more than 150 languages at MyLanguageMyLife.com. You can share the Bible studies, videos, and radio programs located there when you meet unreached people from most places in the world.
This article was originally published with Adventist Review and is being reprinted with permission!