We’d do well to pay attention to the things that made Jesus angry.
We’ve got a magnet on our kitchen refrigerator that says, “If Momma ain’t happy … ain’t nobody happy.” It’s funny because we all know it’s true. If the person in charge is upset, we should pay attention.
I want to make one for the church that says, “If Jesus ain’t happy …”
We learn more about a person from the things they don’t like than what they do like. When you were a kid, did you ever do something that made your parents mad? Yeah? And the next time you thought about doing it, did you hesitate for just a minute?
Don’t try to pass over the red, red letters in your Bible and pretend they aren’t there. Jesus made a whip and overturned tables; Jesus was “indignant.” Jesus told people they might be better off with a rock tied around their necks and thrown into the sea! It’s hard to call someone a “son of hell” with a smile on your face. Go ahead; try it.
Let’s keep our chill, hippie version of Jesus on the wall of your childhood Sunday School class for a second and take another look. In my case, I always knew Jesus was angry, but his anger was usually directed at those Pharisees, who seemed so, I don’t know, pharisaical? We even used their title to make a derogatory adjective because they were such bad people. Then one day, I realized that the Pharisees were just the church leaders of their day—Jesus’ church, as a matter of fact. I started to wonder if anything that caused Jesus to be mad at his church leaders might be my issue, too, as a current church leader. That was eye-opening.
It caused me to write a book on the subject. What I discovered were four basic attitudes that tripped Jesus’ switch: legalism, judgmentalism, hypocrisy and indifference to suffering. Right, that makes sense, and yes, I would say we still have a problem with those issues today. The bigger “aha” moment for me was when I realized why those bad attitudes made Jesus angry. In every scriptural instance where Jesus expresses anger—the rawest of all emotions—this is the match that lit his fuse: “Do not let your bad religious attitudes get in the way of God’s love.”
Think about it this way: Jesus came to provide access to the Father. When he was crucified, the veil was torn in the temple (Matt. 27:51). This was an enormously symbolic piece of the crucifixion scene which demonstrated exactly what the Jesus mission was all about.
Direct access to the Father.
God always wanted to be in relationship with his children. That’s why he created us. So, even when humans chose badly, God set up a religious system called Judaism to help us be as close to him as possible. This “church” was designed to free us from our sins, if even for a short time, and allow us access to the Father.
But by the time Jesus arrived, those leaders of that religion had made the system so stupid, complicated and exclusive that those on the outside never felt like they had a chance. To those leaders, Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matt. 23:13).
Is it possible we’re doing the very same thing?
In any study of the anger of Jesus, our minds are naturally going to go to the big one. When Jesus “opened up a can” in the temple.
He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and he would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts (Mark 11).
Keep that “door shutting” idea in your head as we think about what Jesus was mad about. As he was throwing stuff around, he said, (maybe even yelled):
“Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17).
When I was growing up, the interpretation of this incident had given rise to a rule that you weren’t allowed to sell things in the church building. No bake sales, no youth group T-shirts, etc.—which is ludicrous on so many levels. For one, the church is not the temple–we are (1 Cor. 3:16). The church building is just a place where all the “temples” gather together. And for another, I don’t believe Jesus was mad about the commerce itself. Yes, he called it a “den of robbers.” Yes, they were probably overcharging, and giving the temple leaders kickbacks.
However, look again at Jesus’ statement in verse 17: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The way the temple was set up, there were special places called courts for all the Jews, and outside of all of that was the Court of Gentiles. This is where the robbers had set up shop: in the “All Nations” part of the temple. This was the place where God provided access to the rest of the world, but it was now being turned into a market. As if to further illustrate the fact that those on the inside really didn’t care about those on the outside.
In other words, the outsiders, those who felt farthest from the Father, were the ones who suffered the most. They were being robbed, not only by the exorbitant prices and fees, but of their very access to worshiping God. This made Jesus angry. Because that’s what he came to provide.
Doesn’t that make more sense now? Jesus wasn’t zealous for the actual building. He prophesied that it would be destroyed soon, and it was. Jesus was zealous for our access to God. He came to rip the veil and give us an all-access pass to a beautiful relationship with our heavenly Father—the relationship for which we were created. He’ll throw tables or animals or people out of the way to give us an all-access pass. He gave up his own life so we could get backstage.
I’m not advocating for a resurgence in bake sales. I’m trying to help us get the point. Anything that gets in the way of God’s love, especially if it’s instigated by God’s children, will make Jesus angry. It should make us angry as well. And, we should stop doing it.
Can you think of things the current church is doing that make it harder for the “Gentiles” to gain access and be with their Father? What religious attitudes are getting in the way of Jesus’ love? He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), so he must still be frustrated when we make it harder for him to accomplish his mission.
This article originally appeared on Pastors.com and is reposted here by permission.