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. 

Links & Quotes

link quote

“God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity would have been, more glorious than any unfallen race now is (if at this moment the night sky conceals any such). The greater the sin, the greater the mercy: the deeper the death, the brighter the re-birth.” —C.S. Lewis

“Zeal for God feeds itself upon the thought of the eternal future. It looks with tearful eyes down to the flames of Hell and it cannot slumber: it looks up with anxious gaze to the glories of Heaven, and it cannot but bestir itself. Zeal for God thinks of death, and hears the hoofs of the white horse with the skeleton rider close behind. Zeal for God feels that all it can do is little compared with what is wanting, and that time is short compared with the work to be done, and therefore it devotes all that it has to the cause of its Lord.” —Charles Spurgeon

“For those who know the sound of a Goliath, David gives us this reminder: Focus on giants—you stumble. Focus on God—your giants tumble.” —Max Lucado

Frank Viola has some excellent thoughts for Christians to respond to the narrative of the culture.

Porn surveyFight The New Drug shares the results of a survey of pornography actresses, that shows their lifestyles are highly unhealthy compared to the general population. Read the full article here. Here is the important takeaway: If you are watching porn, you are keeping these young ladies in bondage to these destructive habits.

Jeffrey Kranz at the Overview Bible Project has a great infographic to help us all understand why publishers sometimes change an English translation of the Bible. (And while you’re there, check out all the other great resources on the Overview site.)

Poetry Saturday—The Eternal Goodness

917_05_010316O Friends! with whom my feet have trod
The quiet aisles of prayer,
Glad witness to your zeal for God
And love of man I bear.

I trace your lines of argument;
Your logic linked and strong
I weigh as one who dreads dissent,
And fears a doubt as wrong.

But still my human hands are weak
To hold your iron creeds:
Against the words ye bid me speak
My heart within me pleads.

Who fathoms the Eternal Thought?
Who talks of scheme and plan?
The Lord is God! He needeth not
The poor device of man.

I walk with bare, hushed feet the ground
Ye tread with boldness shod;
I dare not fix with mete and bound
The love and power of God.

Ye praise His justice; even such
His pitying love I deem:
Ye seek a king; I fain would touch
The robe that hath no seam.

Ye see the curse which overbroods
A world of pain and loss;
I hear our Lord′s beatitudes
And prayer upon the cross. —John Greenleaf Whittier

Fizzle

Jehu, the king of Israel, said, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord!” Wow, this guy was so fired up about doing great things for God! He got rid of all of King Ahab’s idol-worshipping family, he removed all of the court officials who supported Ahab, and he even cleared all of the priests of Baal out of Israel.

God was so pleased with Jehu and his zeal for holiness that God said, “Well done! Because of what you have done, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel for the next four generations.”

What a God-fearing man Jehu was! How on fire for God!

Unfortunately, Jehu’s passion fizzled.

Aristotle famously said, “Well begun is only half done.” Jehu started well, but his zeal for God fizzled in the end.

In fact, the very next verse after God says, “Well done!” begins with a very telling word: Yet.

Jehu didn’t continue his walk with God. He began to fall away, and so the Bible adds this sad note: In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel. Yes, Jehu and his descendants still sat on the throne, but Israel became smaller and smaller.

I want to start well and finish strong.

I don’t want to hear God say, “Well begun.” I want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I don’t want to be “king” of a smaller and smaller sphere of influence.

I don’t want to fizzle… I want to keep on burning bright for God! How about you?

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