Hallmark, Rambo, Jesus, And A Messy Temple - For You

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

I did a Google search of Jesus this week.  Yes, I googled Jesus on the internet in order to see all of the pictures of Jesus.  I was curious how the internet portrays Jesus. 

From this basic Google search, what I found was that the majority of the pictures on the internet portrayed Jesus with long brown feathered hair, a well groomed beard, holding a shepherd’s staff, and embracing a small lamb.  If He wasn’t holding a lamb, His hands were reaching out while He was smiling, as if He wanted a great big hug. 

There is no doubt about it that our modern day pictures of Jesus have been influenced by the art of the High Renaissance Age, where Jesus was depicted with ideal human beauty.  Furthermore, there is no doubt about it that our modern art of Jesus often portrays a more feminine side of Jesus; a Jesus with perfect complexion, a gentle smile, bright compassionate blue eyes, and nicely combed hair. Yes, many pictures today tend to portray Jesus as a little more feminine than the picture on the front of today’s bulletin. 

Is this tender and gentle portrayal of Jesus wrong though?  Technically, we don’t know for sure what Jesus looked like, so it is difficult to critically judge any picture of Jesus.  But is it wrong to portray Jesus as compassionate and tender? Actually, it is not wrong to portray Jesus in a tender and compassionate way at all, for there are countless scenes in the Bible where Jesus does go the way of sympathy and kindheartedness.  For example, during His Sermon on the Mount, we get the impression that Jesus was gently teaching.  We also read in the Four Gospels the countless stories where Jesus embraced children and showed considerable compassion and sensitivity to the poor, sick, and dying. 

All of this said though, the problem that arises is when the church promotes the feminine side at the expense of Jesus undeniable masculinity.  Yes, the church errs when we only portray a Hallmark Jesus and never portray the Rambo Jesus.  For example, at the death of Lazarus, Jesus not only wept at Lazarus’ tomb, but He snarled and ground His teeth in anger towards death as well.  Both the weeping and snarling at Lazarus’ death portray the full range of Jesus’ emotions and disposition.

Only portraying a Hallmark Jesus may have long-lasting consequences too.  For starters, most men will not respect or worship a Savior who they could beat up.  A man will not respect a frail, passive, and feeble Savior who is simply a male version of the Mother Theresa.  Furthermore, only portraying a Hallmark Jesus can communicate that we have a Savior who is far too nice and simply too timid to condemn anyone to hell. This plays right into our culture, a culture that wants a Jesus that would never offend anyone and wants a Jesus who is tolerant of everything.  In point of fact, our culture wants a Mahatma Gandhi type Jesus that simply wants everyone to get along and be happy. 

Contrary to the wishes of our culture, today’s Gospel reading does not give us a wimpy-sissy Jesus, but it shows us a Rambo Jesus who wants to cause chaos in the temple.  Yes, in our Gospel reading from today we get a glimpse of Jesus as the Son of God with divine righteousness and holiness.  We heard from our reading that Jesus does not lose control nor explode in sinful anger, but demonstrates a righteous wrath and zeal against the people and circumstances in the temple.

More specifically, Jesus makes a whip out of some cords and begins to drive everyone and everything from the temple.  He drove out the cattle and the sheep along with the marketers.  He scattered the coins, overturned the tables and ordered those who sold the doves to, “Get these out of here!  How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

We can hear the responses of the people in our minds, “Who is that man?  Who does he think he is?  Is he possessed, or what?  Did you see his eyes?  They were aflame!  He sure wasn’t very loving!”  Not only were the Jews offended by Jesus’ perceived reckless actions, you might be a little taken aback too. 

As Christians, I believe we have come to terms with a compassionate and tender Jesus, as well as a suffering and crucified Jesus, but we may find ourselves struggling with what to do with this Jesus of our reading.  This Jesus seems a little too rambunctious; this Jesus seems a little too intense.  Like Aslan, the great Lion, in C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe,” this Jesus in the temple with a whip is not tame; He’s wild, can’t be tied down, and one would not dare press Him. 

The Jesus in the temple overturning tables certainly does not fit into our preconceived molds of love, compassion, forgiveness, and goodness.  Or does He?

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that Jesus’ love for the people of God includes righteous anger and yes, hatred for anything that would separate a single child of God from the love of His Father. 

You see, during the time of Jesus in the first-century, people across the land would come and gather at the temple in Jerusalem for worship and to receive gifts from God through participating in the sacrificial offerings.  Instead of bringing the animals for the sacrifices, it was a whole lot easier to just purchase the animals right on site.  This was a good thing; however, because of the sinful nature of mankind, the prices for the sacrificial animals were exploited and the business side of the temple began to be an obstacle as the market overtook the temple.  The main thing wasn’t the main thing anymore.  The temple was obstructed by the market place.  A layer of obstruction developed between the gift giving God and His people.  This layer was the market, thus we now understand the reason for Jesus’ anger.

What this means is that selling baked goods in the church or having a fundraising benefit for a person struggling with cancer or taking an offering for a Lent Meal is certainly not sinful, but rather, anything that detracts from God’s gifts or anything that obstructs and cheats God’s children of His gifts should be driven from the church like the cattle from the temple. 

Truly, “One of the many things we can learn from the Bible is that God takes action when someone or something prevents His people from receiving His gifts.  Well, Jesus is God.  We should expect Jesus to take action when His people are not able to receive His gifts.  Jesus spoke against the scribes and Pharisees for giving people their opinions instead of God's gifts.  Jesus scolded Peter because Peter was trying to stop Jesus from giving the greatest gift of all.  Jesus took action in the temple because His people were not able to receive His gifts.”[1] 

Keep in mind, the clearing out of the temple in our Gospel reading was not the first time or the last time that God took action against things and people that blocked His gifts. 

The Lord working through Hezekiah, the king of Judah, removed the pagan sacred sites and broke down the pillars of the pagan god Asherah, for the sake of the Israelites.

During the sixteenth-century, the Roman Catholic Church obstructed God’s grace through indulgences.  As a result, God raised up our Lutheran forefathers to drive out the abuses of the sixteenth-century church, so that the children of God might be able to receive the free message of the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins. 

Even today, instead of selling sacrificial animals and profiting from the exchange of dirty money, we have many religious leaders selling religious programs, pushing ten-step man-centered books, pedaling religious lucky charms, and so forth; stuff that obstructs the simple Gospel from people just like you. Furthermore, there are even parishioners in our day and age across America and even in our very own Synod that push faithful pastors to actually add layers.  In other words, some parishioners, who are bored with God’s gifts, are pressuring pastors to introduce layers of meaningless obstruction. 

Dear friends, beware!  When God's people are not able to receive His gifts, the Lord has historically taken action against those who block His gifts.  You and I need to be reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:6,

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” 

What all this means in regard to today’s Gospel reading is this, Jesus’ zealous aggression against the market place, even though it can be perceived as an act of hatred and uncompassionate, is really compassion and love in action.  Jesus’ zeal to uproot whatever obstructs God’s gifts is an aggressive masculine love, is it not?

As we take a step back and contemplate today’s Gospel reading, what we see is that “Jesus is not an anemic, effeminate, namby-pamby sort of God—He was anything but.”[2] 

The picture we receive from today’s Gospel reading illustrates to us the unselfish, sacrificial, and voluntary quality of the crucifixion He underwent in our place and for our salvation.  In blunt terms, we get a picture that the same Jesus who righteously drove out that which obstructed God’s gifts in the temple is the same Son of God who laid down His life on our behalf in order to deal with that which attempts to obstruct us from the Father, namely, sin, death, and the devil.  That’s right; the crucifixion was not a result of a powerless, namby-pamby, anemic, Savior who couldn’t defend Himself and was overtaken by the religious leaders and Pontius Pilate.  No way, the “Son of God who laid down His life on our behalf was not one given to lying down and rolling over.”[3]  Jesus who is Lord; Jesus who walked on water; Jesus who brought people back from the dead; Jesus who was transfigured; Jesus who exorcized demons, zealously went to the cross not because He had to but because He chose to.  He chose to—for you.

You, who have ears, hear!  The same zeal that we see in Jesus at the temple driving out obstructions is the same zeal that took our Lord to Calvary in order to defeat that which obstructs us from the Father.  Yes, Jesus zealously went to Mt. Calvary, to the grave, to hell itself and back again to the right hand of the Father to not merely drive away the condemnation of sin, the devil, and death, but to actually put an end to them—all for you. 

Every one of you—can be sure that Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, is zealous for you and all your household. You can rejoice that your Lord and Savior has zeal for His Father's house. Because you are of that house, "The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." [Exodus 14:14] You belong to Him, and nothing "shall be able to separate [you] from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:39] You are God's beloved children, residents of His house. And Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God has zeal for His Father's house, zeal for every one of you; forgiven of all your sins, baptized into His household, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] James T. Batchelor, “Third Sunday In Lent Sermon” (11 March 2012) http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=2658 (7 March 2015).
[2] Francis Rossow, Gospel Handles (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), 278-279.
[3] Ibid.

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