Have you ever tried to resist the inevitable? I do this whenever I sit down to eat. No matter how much I try to avoid it, my superlative skills in unintentionally creating social awkwardness will kick in, and some of my food will end up on me rather than in me. Sometimes I think I should purposely dump the contents of my plate on my lap as soon as I sit down, just to kill the anticipatory tension. Either way, wearing my food is an unpleasant inevitability. But have you ever tried to resist something that is inevitable, but also absolutely wonderful – in fact, the very best thing that could ever happen to you? I have, and if you are a Christian, you have, too.
Hold that thought and think with me of the scene described in John’s gospel, chapter 2, where Jesus cleanses the Temple in Jerusalem. The Son of God decides to make a powerful, public statement about who he really is, and what he really came to do. He sees that money-changers have set up shop in the Temple, obstructing the worship of his heavenly Father. So he storms into the temple, violently expelling its unauthorized occupants. “Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade!” he demands as he drives out those who were preventing his Father’s praise. As his disciples watch their Savior display his righteous indignation, they remember a line from the 69th Psalm: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Back to the question about resisting the inevitable: Imagine observing this scene along with the disciples and seeing someone run in after Jesus in an attempt to stop his cleansing work. It’s hard to imagine a more foolish endeavor than the effort to prevent the incarnate God from protecting the purity of the holiest place on the planet. Imagine someone who knows full well who Jesus is standing in front of one of the tables which Jesus means to overturn, and saying to him: “No, Lord. Not this table. I like this one; it’s mine. It belongs here. You won’t take this one without a fight. In fact, this is my house, and you will abide by my rules. You can do what you want with the other stuff in this place, but this table is mine. You can go thus far, but no further.” Who would do such a thing? I would. You would.
We do that, daily, in our words, thoughts, and deeds. When we sin, and especially when we delight in doing so, when we cling to a favorite sin despite our knowledge that the Almighty Savior means to rid us of it, we are in effect pitting our zeal against his, our passion to sin against his passion to free us from its presence.
Think of what Jesus’ fierce passion for His Father’s house means for you who know him as your Lord and Savior! After all, you are the true Temple of the living God. You are his Father’s house. Zeal for your holiness consumed him.
The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 2, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (See in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul’s expression and application of the same truth). The individual stones, believers, are built together to comprise a spiritual house, a temple, for the offering of our lives individually and corporately to God through our great High Priest Jesus Christ. You (singular and especially plural) are the dwelling place of the living God, the place where He abides in love and grace and galvanizing power. When you gather with other believers to worship the Lord, wherever you are, you together are the sanctuary! You (all) are the object of Christ’s consuming passion, the people whom he has redeemed to host the Holy Spirit and to bring his Father praise.
Jesus makes it clear in John 2 that he means to rid his Father’s house of unauthorized occupants. His protective zeal must inspire and inform our own.
For serious athletes, the expression “Not in our house!” is incendiary. Zeal to protect home court ignites a basketball team into impassioned play. Errors might be made in the game, but extra effort is expended to ensure that “nothing is left on the floor,” that at the end of the contest there will be no regrets due to anyone’s giving anything less than superlative effort in front of the home crowd. Should we Christians not have at least as much passion in our effort against sin, to expel by God’s grace the unauthorized occupants of his house? When we are tempted, and especially when we find ourselves delighting in that which our Savior means to overturn in our hearts, we must say with him: “Not in my Father’s house.”
In our day, Jesus uses his moral law to seek out and expose the illegitimate tenants we’ve allowed to reside in the temple of the Spirit (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5, Matthew 5-7). As you read this entry, what are the tables in front of which you are standing as you see Christ closing in on them by way of his Word? For what sin’s sake are you resisting the inevitable, wonderful, freeing, cleansing work of the living Christ? To borrow and turn Abraham Kuyper’s famous phrasing, is there even a square inch of God’s temple about which you are saying: “This is mine!”?
We know how our zeal to protect sin plays out. The “square inch” in effect spreads out to cover the whole house. All our efforts are expended to keep that rebellious resident in place. Whatever sin we allow to set up shop in our Father’s house eventually acts like it owns the place. What a waste of precious time and passion it is to protect pet sins!
As the Lord came on the scene that day in Jerusalem, surely it was not the first time he noticed the merchants in his Father’s house. That fact should remind us that the Lord is patient, and he is kind. But we must not interpret his patience as passivity in the face of our sin, much less abuse that patience by treating it as permission to sin. Let Jesus’ actions that day remind us in this day that he will act, out of zeal for the Temple, out of love for those who are his Father’s house.
If we don’t imagine ourselves standing obstructively in front of certain pet sins, we do perhaps imagine that we can hide those sins from the Lord, or at least from fellow believers. But because we are together the Temple, there really is no such thing as isolated, individualized sin. Cancer may be localized, but it drains the life of the whole body. A threat in one room of the house endangers the whole household. True, our brothers and sisters in Christ may not know about the particular sins which we’re trying to keep hidden from them, but are family members safer because they do NOT know that an intruder is in a nearby room? And is it reasonable to trust an intruder to be on good behavior, to steal only within the small section of the house into which we’ve allowed him? As the Puritan Thomas Watson put it: “Is not he a fool who will believe a temptation before a promise?”
The Lord has promised his powerful presence as we battle sin. He is always with us by the Spirit, and he strengthens us through his Word, through his intercession for us as we cry out to the Father in times of temptation, and through the other spiritual stones whom he has redeemed and placed beside us in his Father’s house.
Sometimes as we try to step away from the sinful stations we’ve set up in the Lord’s house, we feel cemented to the floor. Our desire to please the Lord battles our desire to protect our sin, and we’re spiritually paralyzed. This is when gentle, positive pressure from the living stones surrounding us is so necessary. The author of Hebrews writes in chapter 10: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …” It is vital for the living stones to encourage one another, to be there for one another in prayer and counsel. And it is especially vital to be there with one another weekly to engage in that most essential delight and duty of the Christian life: corporate public worship. After all, we are the Temple! As such, we must not “ … give up meeting together, as is the habit of some …” In this setting especially, we proclaim and celebrate the success of our Savior’s zeal. We hear from him and pray and sing to him. We call upon him to apply more fully his finished work of redemption by ridding his Father’s house of even more unauthorized occupants. He promises his powerful presence among us especially as we worship him as the corporate body of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14ff). And every week we meet for worship, we are one Sabbath closer to the day when Christ’s cleansing work will be completed (Hebrews 10:25, Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 1:4).
Some two thousand years ago our Savior came suddenly to the Temple (Malachi 3:1). And on the day appointed, in the time it takes for an eye to twinkle, he will apply to the true Temple the fullness of that which his zeal has already accomplished (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Before that day, let us not try to resist the effects of his redeeming work. Let’s eagerly invite those effects into our lives now. The full application of our salvation is inevitable. And is that not wonderful?