Matthew 21: Reflections on Anger

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:12-13

In the past when I’ve read the above verses, I have felt validated in my own anger by this example of Jesus’ anger. It’s a fantastic picture of His passion and his fierceness, two concepts that fire up my own intensity. However, when I was asked to do the scripture reading at my church a couple months ago, the Holy Spirit showed me a new perspective on this passage that took me deeper into understanding of the heart of God.

As I reflected on this passage, the Holy Spirit asked me the question, “Would you be courageous enough to notice the ways your anger shows up on a daily basis and take note of the ways they really are like my anger?” It took about three minutes to remember several episodes of my anger that showed up the previous 24 hours. And I realized just as quickly that my anger is usually more about gaining power and having control than about anything else. When I look at the role of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the greater context of this passage, I realize that by this definition my anger resembles Jesus’ enemies more closely than it resembles him.

Furthermore, the Spirit led me to look at Jesus’ anger in this passage, and I noticed two things: the reason for Christ’s anger, and the function of it.

The reason Jesus is angry is not because buying and selling in this part of Jerusalem was wrong or against Old Testament law. Contrarily, because those who came to worship in the temple often traveled for miles before arriving at the city, it was necessary to have animals of sacrifice available for them to purchase. The reason for Jesus’ anger is the placement of this business—it was taking place in the outer courts of the temple, which was the area reserved for the Gentiles to worship. Can you imagine showing up to church and trying to worship in the midst of animals braying and money-changers shouting out? When He says, “You are making my house a den of robbers,” He is demonstrating His passionate zeal for the Gentiles to have just as good of a place to worship as the Jews. It was another act of prejudice by the leaders of the Jews, one that prevented the Gentiles from worshiping the God of Israel in His own house. His anger demonstrates His great love for the Gentiles and his desire for right relationship with them.

Secondly, look at the function of Jesus’s anger. He demonstrates his anger in one of the most offensive ways possible, right under the nose of the most influential people in Jerusalem. These priests had the power to kill him. He knew this, and he purposely displayed his anger in the temple courts so that they would take offense and set the events leading up to the cross into motion. He uses his anger to demonstrate His sacrificial love for His people.

When I take this story into consideration, and remember my own anger and its purposes, I can only fall to my knees in humility and repentance. What a far cry from the passionate love of Christ.
But also found in this passage is reason for hope and rejoicing; what Jesus says in verse 13, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” contains his promise that through his actions in the temple and on the cross, he demonstrates His fierce commitment to enter into the darkest, evilest places of the world and my heart and drive out all the things that rob me of worshiping him.

Would you courageously join me in looking beyond superficial validation for our anger and instead offering up a prayer with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart, see if there is any offensive way within me, and lead me to the way everlasting” (Psalm 139). Will you search your own hearts and ask, “Does my anger reveal a scared scrabbling for power and control, or does it reflect Christ’s heart in his compassion and sacrifice for those he loves?”

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