Shortly before Passover, Yeshua went into the Temple and cleaned house. He drove out the sellers of sheep and oxen and doves, poured out the money-changers' coins, and overturned their tables. This was the first public act that launched Yeshua's ministry.1 He cleansed the Temple a second time right before Passover at the close of His pre-Crucifixion ministry.
Figuratively speaking, this overturning of tables and cleaning of God's house typified things that He did throughout His entire ministry. He was continually exposing and correcting the errors that existed in the theology of His fellow Jews. This made Him a misfit in the first-century Jewish world.
In some ways Yeshua was a typical first-century Jewish rabbi. He ate, worked, and went to synagogue like other Jews. He looked and dressed like an ordinary Jew. There was no halo floating above His head. But because His teachings were so unlike the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, He was a misfit, a square peg in a round hole.
Yeshua was a misfit in the first-century Jewish world. If He came here today, He would be a misfit in the 21st-century Jewish world, too, because He would find a lot of the same problems.
He would also be a misfit in the 21st-century Christian world. Can you seriously imagine Jesus coming into a typical 21st-century American church service, looking around, and saying, "Yes, yes, this is exactly what I had in mind when I said I would build My church. Yes, this is the very thing that I hoped My Apostles would establish on this earth, a church just like this. Yes, this is the church I hoped for, a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or blemish."
If Jesus came to our world, He would overthrow some tables and clean house, whether He entered a synagogue or a church.
After John's Gospel tells about Yeshua's first cleansing of the Temple it says that His disciples remembered a verse from the Psalms: "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up" (John 2:17). Or, as modern translations word it, "Zeal for Thy house will consume me."
Yeshua was "consumed" by zeal for God's house. In a negative sense, His zeal for truth and holiness brought about His Crucifixion and the consumption of His earthly life. In a positive sense, He was consumed by – that is, absorbed with – a passionate concern for the holiness of God's house.
Can the same thing be said about you? Are you consumed by a passionate concern for holiness? Are you consumed by zeal for the holiness of God's house?
You are going to be consumed by something in this life, because you are a consumee as well as a consumer. By that, I mean that your life is being consumed, one day at a time. Each day, the things that you do consume one day of your lifespan. What are you going to be consumed by in this life? What is going to be your ultimate passion in life? What are you going to be zealous for? What are you going to be wrapped up in and absorbed by? What is going to be your "Magnificent Obsession"?
A.W. Tozer once told about a young man who was intelligent, healthy, and so wealthy that he had enough money to live a long, comfortable life without ever needing to work. With his money, his health, his youth, and his intellectual abilities, he had the opportunity to do whatever he wanted with his life. What did this man do with this golden opportunity? He devoted his life to breeding spotted mice. This was his one single passion in life, to breed the perfect spotted mouse. No offence to mouse lovers, but what a waste!
There's nothing morally wrong with having an interest in the world around us. Even spotted mice are part of God's creation. But we must not let an interest or a hobby become an obsession that makes us apathetic toward the Lord.
My greatest passion and zeal is for the Lord, but that does not mean that the only book I can read is the Bible, or the only movies I can watch are Christian movies, or the only music I can listen to is Christian music. I sometimes read wholesome books other than the Bible. If I'm too tired to study and I need to unwind, sometimes I enjoy watching old shows like Andy Griffith or Leave It To Beaver. (You know, the old sit-coms from the days when God was actually mentioned in a positive way instead of as a swear word.) I like some of the wholesome folk music that was popular in the early 1960s – Peter, Paul, and Mary; Simon and Garfunkel; Bob Dylan. I can enjoy these things, but I am not obsessed by them.2
You may have hobbies or peripheral interests, but something will consume you. You will either be consumed by zeal for the Lord, or by zeal for something of no eternal value, like breeding spotted mice. Or, you will be consumed by the opposite of zeal: Apathy.
About 11 years ago, shortly before Passover, I wrote an article about the Leaven of Apathy.3 A spiritually apathetic person is a-pathos, without passion, indifferent. A spiritually apathetic person doesn't care. He is not excited or animated by spiritual stimuli. He has little or no interest in things like prayer, preaching, or praising the Lord. The reason the leaven of apathy is so dangerous is because by the time you realize you are infected with it, guess what? You don't care!
What is the cure for apathy? Zeal is the opposite of apathy, but zeal is not so much a cure as it is a vaccine to prevent apathy. Once you are infected with apathy, it's too late to prevent it. So how do you eradicate apathy if you are already infected with it? Since apathy is the absence of caring, how do you make yourself care about something that you don't care about?
When I look at examples of apathetic people in the Bible, I see God doing one of two things. To some apathetic people, He brought affliction to shake them out of their apathetic state. He did this over and over again in the Book of Judges, and He did it when He let the Jews be carried away to Babylon.
But there were other apathetic people whom God simply left alone. He allowed them to go their own way, and the leaven of apathy grew and spread until they were entirely leavened. Esau, the poster boy of apathy in the Bible, was so infected with the leaven of apathy that God's final testimony concerning Esau was "I hated Esau" (Mal. 1:3). Just as God let Esau go his own way, so He let the ten northern tribes of Israel (collectively called "Ephraim") go their own way. "Ephraim is joined to idols," God said. "Let him alone" (Hos. 4:17). Yeshua said the same thing about the Pharisees: "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15:14).
If you are infected with apathy, the Lord will either afflict you, or He will do nothing and let you continue to go your own way. Neither of these two possibilities are pleasant.
When I think about the importance of zeal for the Lord, there is one thing that frustrates me. I cannot force people to be zealous. I cannot light a fire if there is no fuel, no oil of the Holy Spirit in people's hearts. Or if there is some oil, but the wick is soggy and saturated with the filthy waters of worldliness instead of with the oil of the Spirit, I cannot light a fire in people's hearts.
If your wick is saturated with the dirty water of worldliness, you need to dry out and put yourself through a spiritual detox program. If the world's poisons have somehow seeped into your soul and made you un-ignitable, you may need to simply cut yourself off from whatever it is that contaminates, whatever it is that quenches your zeal and makes you apathetic.
Let me close with the words of the Lord, spoken to a lukewarm, apathetic church. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19). If you are apathetic and refuse to be zealous and repent, the Lord will rebuke and chasten you. Or, if you are joined to idols like Ephraim was, He will let you alone. Neither of these is a good prospect, so heed the Lord's words, be zealous and repent. Answer His knock. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with Me" (Rev. 3:20). This was His final appeal to the lukewarm Laodiceans, and it may be His final appeal to you if you are apathetic and without zeal.
When the Ship Comes In: Dylan Crossing His Delaware
Explore Daniel's award-winning "Dylan" artwork in his
Dylan-Themed Art Gallery on DanielBotkin.com.
1 - His first miracle was changing water to wine, but that was at a private wedding, not in an open public place like the Temple.
2 - I've always liked Bob Dylan's early songs, but I found out that some people are zealous fanatics. A few years ago when I was first learning how to "surf the Web," I ran across the Bob Dylan site, and saw a spot where Dylan fans could post their "testimonies." I call them "testimonies" because they sounded almost religious, as if they were telling about how they first found Bob and accepted him into their hearts as their personal folk singer. It was funny but pathetic, because these people were serious. I'm a Bob Dylan fan, but not a fanatic.
3 - See Gates Of Eden bimonthly newsletter 13-3.
Image (Top): Psalm 18 by Daniel Botkin. See his Psurrealistic Psalms series on his art website, DanielBotkin.com.