What Christians Often Miss About Zeal

On what we now refer to as Palm Sunday, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem with the crowd shouting, “Hosanna” because they thought Jesus was going to set things right. In this, they were disappointed. Jesus knew that His time for reigning in Jerusalem hadn’t come yet, and Christ’s passionate journey meant He would not cut any corners!

Before Jesus left Jerusalem that Sunday evening, Mark noted that “He looked around at everything.” He didn’t respond right away to what He saw. This is very important to note because we shouldn’t think that His response on Monday was something spontaneous. No, it was planned out in specific detail.  

On Monday morning, Jesus prepared to make the 2-mile trip from Bethany to Jerusalem. The Gospels note quite frequently the amount of time Jesus spent in prayer, including beginning His day in conversation with His Father (see Mark 1:35). On this morning, He must have talked with His Father about everything He had seen in Jerusalem the day before. 

 En route to Jerusalem, Jesus encounters a fig tree that gives every appearance of life and vitality. It looks like it’s ready to serve people, but upon closer inspection, Jesus discovers that there is no fruit on it. He curses the tree for its deceptive outward appearance. This is definite foreshadowing for what’s about to happen! 

Jesus enters the temple and begins to drive out merchants, and moneychangers, and dove sellers. He roars at them, “God says this is to be a place of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a den of robbers!” (see Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; and Luke 19:45-48). 

The phrases house of prayer and den of robbers are direct quotations from Isaiah and Jeremiah, respectively (Isaiah 56:3-7; Jeremiah 7:1-11), but what do they mean? 

The temple had specific courts available—

  1. The Court of the Gentiles was open to all people, foreigners included.
  2. The Women’s Court was open to all Jews and, their “uncontaminated” wives.
  3. The Court of Israel was limited to male Jews who were clean and purified.
  4. The fourth court was the Holy Place limited to priests robed in their priestly vestments. 

This buying and selling was undoubtedly happening in the Court of the Gentiles. As the Passover was approaching, people from all over the world were here—some purchasing animals to use as sacrifices, and some exchanging their foreign money for Israelite money for the temple tax. 

There was a lot of hustle and bustle, but very little worship. This is what angered Jesus. The activity in the temple was like the fig tree He cursed—it looked like it was fruitful, but that was merely outward deception. 

Were the merchants exploiting people? Perhaps. But they were certainly occupying the only space where non-Jews could worship. They were certainly becoming a distraction to any true worship activities. They were clearly becoming the main attraction. 

There are two important lessons in this outburst that Jesus gives to all His disciples:

  1. As our Christlikeness increases, our intolerance of religious showmanship should increase. 
  2. As our Christlikeness increases, our intolerance of unrighteousness should increase—both a greater hate for sin and a greater love for sinners! 

“Let the zeal of the house of the Lord ever eat you up. For example: do you see a brother running [toward sin]? Stop him, warn him, be grieved for him, if the zeal of God’s house has now eaten you up. Do you see others running and wanting to drink themselves drunk? Stop whom you can, hold whom you can, frighten whom you can; win in gentleness whom you can: do not in any way sit still and do nothing.” —Augustine 

Christ’s passionate journey was out of love for us. Which means He hates anything that keeps us from His Father. 

If you know God’s love, be zealous about those things that keep others from coming in to know God’s love for themselves. Not angry at people, but angry at practices and “religious shows” that hinder people from knowing God’s love like you know God’s love. 

Stop Letting Fear Limit Your Life

It’s inescapably true: We let fears limit us when we listen to them. 

John Piper wrote, “I call you today to stop defining and limiting your future in terms of your past and start defining it in terms of your God.”

When we have a spirit of fear instead of the confidence that comes from a right relationship with God through Jesus, the smallest of things sends us ducking for cover! “As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall.” (Leviticus 26:36 NASB) 

God says, “Fear not—there is nothing to fear—for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My victorious right hand of rightness and justice.” (Isaiah 41:10 AMPC)

“When God calls you to be free from fear (to overcome this natural emotion and have peace), He does not leave the command hanging in the air. He puts pillars under it. Five of them in Isaiah 41:10. That’s the nature of all biblical commands. They come with divine support.

  1. Fear not . . . God is with you.
  2. Fear not . . . God is your God
  3. Fear not . . . God will strengthen you.
  4. Fear not . . . God will help you.
  5. Fear not . . . God will uphold you.” —John Piper

When we grasp that God is with us, that God is helping us, that God is bigger than the things we wrongly fear, there is nothing we cannot do! 

As Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, and let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For there is nothing to prevent the Lord from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6 AMPC)

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by Your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for You! (Jeremiah 32:17 NLT)

“Because you’re not yet taking God seriously,” said Jesus. “The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn’t be able to tackle.” (Matthew 17:20 MSG)

God’s Call On A Leader’s Life

For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah… (Matthew 3:3).

There is no doubt about: John the Baptist was called by God.

God uses people to fulfill His purpose. Some, like John, are mentioned by prophets, but all of us have our lives written in God’s Book before we are born (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 2:10; Luke 1:13-17).

Just as John was obedient to his calling, I need to be obedient to God’s calling as well.

John spoke God’s word clearly. He lived it out. He didn’t water down nor compromises his message. He didn’t let “ministry success” lead to pride. His whole life pointed everyone to Jesus.

This I must do too!

A mark of a godly leader is one who is humbly confident that God has a call on his life.

This is part 33 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Book Reviews From 2018

Four Kings Of Kings

When C.S. Lewis first introduces us to the land of Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, we discover that the White Witch has Narnia seemingly under her iron fist, and has made it so that it’s always winter but never Christmas. 

“Come on!” cried Mr. Beaver, who was almost dancing with delight. “Come and see! This is a nasty knock for the Witch! It looks as if her power is already crumbling. … Didn’t I tell you, that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!” 

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge set a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. … Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” 

I think the Israelites waiting for their Messiah must have felt a little like the Narnians: always winter, but never Christmas; trapped under the iron-fisted rule of Babylon, and Persia, and Rome. 

But as they approached what we now call the year 1 AD, winter is about to end and the Advent of CHRISTmas is about to occur at long last! 

You might think that the birth of Jesus brought us the King of Kings. But actually, there were three other “king of kings” that preceded Jesus, who all helped to fulfill God’s ultimate plan. 

Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon. God called him “My servant” and also gave him the title king of kings (Jeremiah 27:6; Ezekiel 26:7). It was he who defeated Judah and took captives with him to Babylon. Among those captives was a young man named Daniel. 

God gave Daniel the ability to interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which foretold of three other kingdoms which would follow Babylon, with the fourth kingdom being called a kingdom of iron. History shows us that Babylon was defeated by the Medes, who were in turn defeated by the Persians, who were themselves defeated by the Greco-Romans. 

Artaxerxes was king of the Persians, and he called himself king of kings (Ezra 7:12). He helps to facilitate the Jews’ return back to Jerusalem, and even helped fund their efforts to rebuild the temple of Solomon and reestablish worship there. 

In 44 BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir. Eventually, Octavius quelled a 20-year-long civil war and established himself as the unquestioned ruler of the Roman Empire. He changed his name to Caesar Augustus, which means the exalted one. But all throughout the Mediterranean world archeologists have discovered numerous other titles for Caesar Augustus—Divine, Son of God, God Incarnate, God from God, Lord, Redeemer, Liberator, Savior of the World, and King of Kings. 

Historian Luke records these words, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree” (Luke 2:1). This decree called everyone to return to his hometown to be registered in Rome’s census. This decree meant that Joseph was obligated to return to Bethlehem. He took his pregnant wife with him to arrive just in time for Jesus to be born. 

JesusTHE eternal and ultimate King of Kings—was born in Bethlehem just as had been prophesied 700 years earlier in the winter of Israel’s captivity: 

But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, you are little to be among the clans of Judah; yet out of you shall One come forth for Me Who is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from ancient days (eternity). (Micah 5:2) 

The coming of THE King of Kings is proof that God sees you too. God brought the king of kings named Nebuchadnezzar, and Artaxerxes, and Caesar Augustus to power just to move two “average Joes” 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that THE King of Kings could be born there to fulfill the prophesy. 

God has a plan for your life. His plan for you was in place before you were even conceived in your mother’s womb. And—even this very moment—He is watching over world events to make sure that every detail of His plan is fulfilled (see Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 139:16; Jeremiah 1:12)! 

If you ever feel like you are in a “winter” season of your life—always winter and never Christmas—just remember that God sees you, He has a plan for you, and He will bring an end to your winter just in time to bring you CHRISTmas!

An Awesome Privilege And Responsibility

…Joshua the high priest… (Zechariah 3:1). 

The way that God talks about Joshua the high priest is quite informative for anyone in a position of godly leadership. 

From this passage [Zechariah 3:1-10] we learn that God’s leaders are…

  • … standing in God’s presence 
  • … opposed by satan
  • … protected by God
  • … anointed, empowered, and inflamed by God
  • … cleansed by God
  • … admonished by God to live up to the highest standards of righteousness
  • … given rewards for their righteousness
  • … used by God to accomplish His plan

Being a leader is an awesome privilege and responsibility! This is not a position anyone should seek for themselves (James 3:1; Jeremiah 45:5). 

A mark of a godly leader is one who feels the weight of God’s calling. 

This is part 31 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Thursdays With Oswald—Jeremiah 29

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Jeremiah 29

[These are notes from Oswald Chambers’ lecture on Jeremiah 29.] 

     The great message of the prophets is that evil and tyranny are there by the permissive will of God, there is never any room for thinking that these things happen by chance (cf. Isaiah 45:7). Never tie God up in His own laws; He is never guided by precedence. If a prophet is more concerned with logic than with loyalty to God, he will always mislead. … 

     We have no control whatever over external history; God has, and as saints we have to wait in patience wherever we are placed in the providential order of tyranny. …  

     Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage…. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (Jeremiah 29:5-7). Jeremiah commands the people to obey God’s order in the dust and dirt of captivity. When we become rightly related to God we are loosened from everything around us, and the danger is to imagine we have to get out of the world. Our Lord did not pray that His disciples should be taken out of the world, but that they should be kept from the evil. It is nothing but unmitigated cowardice to get out of the world; we have to remain unspotted in the midst of it. “Do you mean to tell me I can live a holy life there?” If you cannot, the grace of God is a fiction. External surroundings make no difference to our inner life, but our inner life makes a telling difference on our surroundings (see Philippians 2:15). … 

     Our problem is not one of proportion: how much worldliness can I live in? but of spiritual insight which will enable me to live a holy life in the midst of worldliness, looking for the fulfillment of God’s promises. 

From Notes On Jeremiah

Christians living here on earth are truly “temporary residents” or “aliens and strangers,” as Peter calls us. As such, we sometimes feel a bit perplexed about the evil all around us and how we’re supposed to respond to it and to the Earthlings who question us about it. 

Chambers reminds us that God is not surprised by the evil, nor is He surprised where we are. All of these things are under His sovereign control. 

We are not to give in to evil, compromise with evil, or even try to pretend that evil doesn’t really exist. We are to live with our eyes fixed on Jesus regardless of our evil surroundings. This is the only way we will shine like stars in our evil world, and point the way for Earthlings to have a relationship with Christ for themselves. 

Shine on! 

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