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. 

Sunday In Jerusalem

The Sunday before Christ’s crucifixion is typically called “The Triumphal Entry.” But was it really? One thing’s for sure—Jesus didn’t come to Jerusalem the way the people expected! 

To fully get the picture of what’s happening we need to turn back the calendar several hundred years. Ever since Jerusalem fell to invading armies, the Jews hung on to the promise that God would restore their king and their kingdom. They were awaiting a descendant from the line of King David who would drive out their overlords and restore Jerusalem to its rightful place. 

They clung to a promise in Psalm 118 that included these words—“Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar” (vv. 25-27). 

But Jesus was prophesied to come as the Prince of Peace, gentle and unassuming, the Servant of all people (Isaiah 9:6; 42:1-3). Jesus simply didn’t do things the way the crowds expected! He was born in a manger in Bethlehem (not as a king in Jerusalem), and hailing from Nazareth caused people to mock, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?!” 

So on that Sunday as Jesus approached Jerusalem, it wasn’t as a conquering King but as a humble servant. As He came near, He wept a sobbing lament over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37). 

The crowd took palm branches (as Psalm 118 suggested) and shouted, “Hosanna!” That word means “Save us,” but what they really meant was, “Save us NOW!” Jesus came riding a mule—a lowly work animal, not a war horse—to remove any fear people may have, and to show them His servant’s heart. 

Even His disciples didn’t get this. But the Pharisees sure did: They wanted Jesus to rebuke the crowd for their insolence and blasphemy! Many of the worshippers were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus, so Jesus said to the Pharisees, “They have to give praise to God for this!” 

Jesus made His way to the temple but there were no sacrifices, no anointing, no coronation. Mark tells us Jesus simply “looked around at everything and then left.” 

Have you ever noticed that Jesus never rushes? He’s never early. He’s never late. He’s never confused. He’s never trying to catch up. 

This is because Jesus was in complete sync with His Father. Jesus said that everything He did was directed by His Father, and every word He spoke was given to Him by His Father. 

We, too, should be able to move in that same unrushed pace. Because of what Jesus did for us on Calvary, we may have the same “oneness” with our Father as Jesus did (John 14:20). 

Worry creeps into our lives when—like those cheering crowds in Jerusalem—we try to make our agenda happen on our timetable with our own resources. But when we look to Jesus, we see such a perfect peace as He relied on His Father. 

Christ’s passionate journey was out of love for us, so that we could know peace with God as we journey through life with Jesus. 

Join me this Sunday as we take a closer look at the Monday of Christ’s Passion Week. 

Passion Timeline

As we approach Christ’s Passion Week, I think it’s a good time to slow down and remember all of the events that took place during a very short time. 

The Faithlife Illustrated Study Bible has an excellent infographic on the timeline of these events. You can click on the image above to access a larger view, or you can check it out on the website. 

I also invite you to join me at Calvary Assembly of God as we are taking a slow walk on Christ’s Passionate Journey toward the Cross and the empty tomb. We’re spending one week looking at each of the 8 days of His Passion Week. If you cannot join us in person, please check out our Facebook Live broadcast.

One Saturday In Bethany

Six days before His crucifixion and burial, Jesus was prepared for His burial by the most unlikely of people. This story takes place in Bethany, where Jesus spends a lot of time during His earthly ministry. 

As was customary, the most influential men in the village would try to entice visiting guests to join them for dinner. Simon—a Pharisee and a former leper—was the one who extended the invitation to Jesus. Simon is a former leper because one who still had active leprosy wouldn’t have been allowed in his own home, let alone allowed to host guests. I think (as you will see in a moment) that Simon had been healed of his leprosy by Jesus.

Although it was customary for someone like Simon to host visiting guests, in this case, the religious leaders were scheming to arrest Jesus. In other words, there was an ulterior motive for Simon to have Jesus in his home.

Which is probably why Simon neglected his host’s duties: No welcoming kiss, no foot-washing, no anointing. All normal hospitality is ignored. Jesus appears to ignore the snub and simply recline at the table. But another guest takes Simon’s incredible rudeness personally. 

Mary was standing or sitting along the wall in Simon’s house, as many common villagers would in that day. Luke tells us that Mary had lived a sinful life. But while sitting at Jesus’ feet earlier she heard the good news that Jesus could forgive sins, she placed her faith in Him, and her lifestyle changed 180-degrees 

Mary is overcome by emotion at the inhospitable—rude!—way Jesus is being treated and tears began to well up in her eyes. Since Jesus is reclining at the table, His feet would have been pointed in her direction, and she began to use her tears to wash His feet. Then—horror of horrors—she uncovers and lets down her hair in public(!) and begins to dry His feet. 

Simon the Pharisee judges Mary by her past. Simon twice says, “Does Jesus even know what kind of woman she is? Does He know she is a sinner?” Mary is in big trouble: she is publicly pointing out the rudeness of the host, she is touching a man that is not her husband, and she has uncovered and let down her hair in public. 

Jesus responds not to Mary, but to Simon: “Simon, I have something to tell you,” He says and then shares a short but powerful parable of a creditor who had two debtors. One owed him the equivalent of a year-and-a-half’s wages, and the other owed about two months’ wages. Since neither could pay, the creditor forgave both of them. 

Jesus asked Simon, “Which of the two forgiven debtors do you think would be most grateful?” Simon correctly responds, “The one who was forgiven more.” 

Jesus points out that Mary’s acts didn’t bring her forgiveness, but that her acts were a loving response to the forgiveness she had already received. Jesus said things like, “You have been forgiven,” and “Your sins are forgiven,” and “Your faith has saved you.” 

Jesus took the anger that was focused on Mary and redirected it to Himself, as Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do (see 53:4-5).

At the same time He is also challenging Simon, “Don’t you have something to be grateful for? Weren’t you once a physical leper? Mary was a spiritual leper, but she has been forgiven and is now overwhelmingly grateful. What about you?” 

Mary was forgiven. She gave all she had in worship. Her anointing oil was lavishly poured out. It was worth a year’s wages, but she spent it all on Jesus. She anointed Him for His burial. The aroma of the oil remained on Jesus throughout His Passion Week and through His crucifixion. The aroma remained on Mary’s hands and hair. The aroma remained in Simon’s house. The memory was fixed in the memories of everyone in that room. 

What about Simon? Did he ever acknowledge his gratitude? Or was he more concerned with receiving praise from men? 

Have you received the forgiveness Jesus offers you? Can people tell you’ve been forgiven by your willingness to stand up for Him? Can people tell you’ve been forgiven by your willingness to give up everything for Him? 

I hope you can join me this Sunday as we continue of slow, deliberate walk alongside Jesus on His passionate journey to the Cross and the resurrection. 

Christ’s Passionate Journey

In some of our favorite action movies, when the crucial moment for our hero has finally arrived, filmmakers will often switch into slow motion filming. They want you to feel the tension. They want you to see the emotion etched on the face of our hero. They want to make sure you don’t miss a single detail of this pivotal moment in the story. 

The same thing happens in the life of Jesus.

The four Gospels record 3+ years of the life of Jesus on earth. But when Jesus is approaching the Cross—the crucial moment of His ministry—all the Gospel writers go into slow motion. 

For example, Mark doesn’t mention anything about the birth of Jesus and only gives us one verse to tell about satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. But he uses nearly 40% of his writing to describe the last week of Christ’s life. The numbers are similar for Matthew and Luke, with John devoting almost one-half of his account to Christ’s Passion Week. 

Clearly, there is something happening here that the Gospel writers want to ensure that we don’t miss a single detail! 

Jesus knew all that was about to happen to Him. When Peter swung his sword at the soldiers that came to arrest Him, Jesus said, “Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way” (Matthew 26:53-54). 

Every step that Jesus took toward the Cross was a step of love. Every word He spoke in His final moments before His death was calculated to sink deep into the memories of all who observed this story. 

We are going to go into “slow motion” as well as we look closely at each day of Christ’s final week of ministry. From His dinner in Bethany to His resurrection, we’ll slow down and ponder deeply the love message Jesus is still conveying to us. 

Join me this Sunday as we begin this passionate journey. If you cannot join us in person, we will be broadcasting each message on Facebook Live.

Here are the days we have already explored on this journey:

Book Reviews From 2018

Reliving The Passion (book review)

The path that Jesus walked that led from His arrest, to His shameful mistreatment at the hands of religious and irreligious alike, to His crucifixion, and ultimately to His death on Golgotha was so packed with significance and emotion that it has come to be known simply as “the passion of Jesus.” Walter Wangerin, Jr. invites us to walk alongside Jesus through the thought-provoking words in his book Reliving The Passion.

Reliving is set up to be a 40-day journey from Ash Wednesday through Resurrection Sunday, and uses mainly the Gospel of Mark as its source material. Along this journey you will see and learn and feel things you may have previously overlooked.

Wangerin says, “When we genuinely remember the death we deserve to die, we will be moved to remember the death the Lord in fact did die.” To help us remember the passion of Jesus Christ, Wangerin frequently speaks to us in first person. Sometimes he places himself on the scene, and sometimes he invites us to see and feel the passion of Jesus through the eyes of someone who was an eyewitness to those moments of Christ’s passion. In every instance, he invites us to view and feel the passion of Jesus for ourselves.

This is an excellent book for you to read year after year as you approach the Lenten season. Let us never forgot how much God’s love was fully expressed during His journey to the Cross.

Normally I post quotes from books I am reviewing after I have posted the review. But for Reliving, I posted quotes every day throughout the 40-day reading. You can check out all of these quotes by clicking here.

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