"And His disciples remembered it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up." (John 2:17)
THE conduct of Christ on this occasion must have appeared very strange to His disciples, for had He not been introduced as the Lamb of God? We know the meaning of the word "lamb"--meek, quiet, gentle. He had been set forth as full of tenderness, and yet He seems now to be the very opposite. They might be excused if they said, "Can this be Jesus of Nazareth? It seems as though some strange passion has seized Him;" and it is one phase of the Lord Jesus Christ that men will scarcely accept. We love to hear of the love of Christ, we love to hear of the mercy of Christ, of the compassion of Christ, and we associate all these with the name of Jesus of Nazareth; but here is a different manifestation of Christ altogether, and He astonishes His disciples. Then they remembered that it was written, "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up." What caused Him to thus manifest His anger? That is what we fail to grasp, and that is what all men fear to grasp, in God--His anger. We like to hear of His love and His compassion, but who wants to hear anything of the wrath of the Lord? Nobody. How came it about then? His love and His compassion were there, but He knows the wrong-doing. I assume you all know the incident. The Lord Jesus came to Jerusalem, and it was the Jews' Passover. He entered His Father's house, and as He drew nearer, He heard the noise of cattle, the bleating of sheep, and He sees herdsmen with the cattle, and that they have turned His Father's house into a house of merchandise. This does not please Christ, and when things do not please Christ He shows it sooner or later; therefore He is angry. They had abused the longsuffering of God. It was a very long way to bring their offerings, and sometimes they offered a bull, goat, sheep or lamb. Just imagine a man living fifty miles away from the Temple, and he had to bring his sacrifice there; it was a long way to have to bring a sheep, and therefore the Lord gave them permission to buy their offering when they came to Jerusalem. You read of a sheep market, where they could buy with their money a bull, or whatever it might be, and offer it there. By-and-by they began to think, "Can we not have this market nearer?" and the priests began to see that money was to be made out of it, and so men brought cattle to sell to those who wanted to offer. They paid their rent for the ground, the priests drew it, and they required it to be in Hebrew, not in Roman, coins. They were under Roman authority, but they must bring Hebrew money, and pay it for their offering, and the money-changers changed the Roman coins for Hebrew coins, and the rate of exchange was always on the side of the man behind the counter. As the Lord Jesus drew near, He surveyed all these proceedings in the house which His Father said was a house of prayer, and He said, "You have made it a den of thieves; you have made it a house of merchandise;" and then He performed one of His greatest miracles. We know of some of His miracles; how He gave sight to the blind, that was a great miracle; how He cleansed the leper, another great miracle; but here are rough-looking herdsmen, they are not weak or timid like the blind or the leper. They have brought their cattle to sell, and there are Jews with a keen eye for a bargain, and the Lord Jesus Christ takes hold of the tables full of coins and overturns the lot; He drives out all the cattle from the courtyard; and there is not one single herdsman dares to lift up a voice and say, "What doest Thou, Jesus of Nazareth?" That was a great miracle, and in His anger and indignation He turned them all out of His Father's house. Just think of it; that is your Saviour, that is your meek and mild Jesus, and the only thing these men can say is, "What sign shewest Thou unto us, seeing that Thou doest these things?" Why, had they eyes they would have seen the sign plainly enough, for no mere man could have done this single-handed. It was Divine power, Divine authority, Divine indignation, holy zeal, which carried Him through. He saw His Father's house, and He knew what it ought to be like; He knew what it was, and therefore He purified and cleansed His Father's house, and turned out the money-changers.
Now that is exactly what He does when He comes to a man in the power of His Spirit. Your body is going to be a temple for the Holy Ghost, a house of prayer, a place where God dwells, and when the Holy Spirit comes He will find in your heart--what will He find? He will find evil there, like the money-changing, and He will turn it out, and erect His throne in your heart and dwell there. I wonder what we should have done in His place? I am afraid most of us today would say, "I know it is wrong, but I won't meddle with it; I will speak aside to some of them; I know it is wrong." But Jesus enters, and He makes a clear move; He is indifferent as to what shall take place afterwards; His object is to cleanse His Father's house, the house of prayer, regardless of what the consequences will be, and the poor disciples gaze on Him wondering how it will all end. And then, as the poor disciples lost heart, they remembered it was written in Psalm 69: "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up." There was renewed confidence to these disciples when they remembered what was written in that one line of Scripture. You can read it a thousand times, and you may not imagine it had anything to do with the cleansing of the Temple; you will not associate that psalm with the cleaning of the Temple, but the disciples remembered it was the zeal that the Lord Jesus Christ had for His Father's house that caused Him to take hold of the tables, cast the money on to the ground, throw the tables out of the yard, and drive the cattle into the streets. It was the zeal of the Lord which caused Him to do that. So we look upon this word of which we hear so little--the zeal that the Lord had for the house of God, the zeal that He had for the people of God, the zeal that He had for the day of God; for you may depend upon it the Lord Jesus Christ has zeal for all these things, real zeal. How much religion have we, if we have no zeal for the house of God, for the Word of God, for the day of God? If you can let things go to the dogs, and not manifest any zeal, you have no real religion; we have no real religion if we have no zeal for Divine things. The prophet says, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this." Just remember that when you felt you were in the midst of destruction it was the zeal of the Lord of hosts that brought you out of bondage, out of captivity; it was His zeal that delivered you from your sin and brought you to the house of God; it was the zeal of the Lord of hosts that brought you out of your wickedness; it was His zeal, yes, His wonderful zeal, which He has right to the end. I am not asking you, my friends, to manifest the zeal the Lord Jesus Christ showed; no, that would be impossible, but I am trying to preach Christ, and He is here with us tonight, here in our midst, and His zeal is with Him.
What is this word zeal? what does it mean? what will explain it, make it easier to understand? What are the words we use connected with zeal? Burning, boiling, and yet another word, conflagration. Take these three words; and the Lord Jesus Christ is boiling, burning, with the anger which is seething in His soul, and it boils over. When you see a big factory ablaze, you see the flames rushing out of the windows, and then you see the roof give in, and you see the reflection in the sky for miles and miles around; that is like burning zeal, there is no zeal, my friends, without fire. The Lord Jesus Christ was a burning, consuming prophet; and His zeal burst out like a house on fire; He was burning until He turned them out of His Father's house. Fire--it is no use speaking to fire and saying, "Do not burn much." It will burn and consume whilst there is anything to burn; it never counts the cost. It will burn a bundle of ten pound notes as easily as a heap of waste paper. Did Christ ever count the cost? No, never. In Mark 3 we read of how the multitude was so great that Christ had no time to eat, and His friends came and saw this and tried to take Him away from His work. They said He was killing Himself; but His zeal was too great. That is exactly what takes place when a man is very zealous in any walk of life. We cannot command our passions or affections, we are commanded by them, and we are eaten up by our passions. I read the other week of a great man in Scotland, who had struggled for one thing all his life until his form was bent when he was practically a middle-aged man. The zeal he had for that one particular object had eaten him up. That was what the Lord Jesus Christ experienced morning, noon and night. He toiled at His work, never faltering, His zeal carried Him through; His zeal for all things, not one particular thing. Yes, and more than merely cleansing the house of God. It was real zeal that carried Him on and on when men tormented, scorned and ridiculed Him; planted a crown of thorns on His head, and clothed Him with the mockery of a scarlet robe, and cried, "Hail, King of the Jews!" His zeal carried Him through, it was the zeal He had for the house of God. It was this great zeal that enabled Him to suffer and bear. He saw there was no man who could save His people, and then He clothed Himself with righteousness and covered Himself with zeal as a garment. We are called upon to find men who are zealous; but even a zealous man is only zealous, maybe, for one point. Perhaps just one arm is covered, he is zealous for one thing; but the Lord Jesus was covered with a garment, whereas perhaps we have only one arm covered with a garment There are many other things in which He showed His zeal.
What is another word akin to this zeal? Jealousy; He was jealous for His name, for His people, for His Lord. He says, "Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm." The time will come when those who have burned His servants at the stake in days gone by shall know Him, and we know what it is to meet a jealous God who takes vengeance upon His enemies. There are hundreds who are defying Him even today. Perhaps you remember a few months ago two men set out in their aeroplane to cross the Atlantic, and for their motto they had painted on their aeroplane a coffin, a skull and crossbones, in defiance of death. Defying death, just imagine! They commenced their flight on the Lord's day, and they have not been heard of since. Just fancy defying death! worms of the earth defying God! and I am afraid that is what we are doing as a nation today. When men take His name in vain, mock His Father's house; the same zeal for this Bible as for His Father's house; the same zeal for His church as He had for His Father's house. When He came to it in the first instance He said, "This is My Father's house; it is My Father's house that you are turning into a den of thieves, a house of merchandise." By-and-by, before He ended His mission, He entered again His Father's house, and the same thing is performed. Then their house became desolate; it was once His Father's house, now it is their own, the house of men. Let me tell you that it is repeated every time where a house of prayer is used wrongly. That house of prayer was given for the proclamation of the gospel; it was His Father's house; and by-and-by prayer departed from it, all manner of things were done, the gospel had gone out, and the house once called the house of God was so no more; the house of God has departed, and the house of men is left unto them, desolate.
What is the lesson we may learn from this? We learn to regard God's things as His, not ours; to regard our own positions as stewards of God's house. The time will come when we shall face God, and on the Day of Judgment when the Lord says, "What didst thou do with that house of prayer; that house of truthfulness, what hast thou done with it?" I sincerely hope I shall be able to say without flinching, "Through grace, O God, I have endeavored to speak Thy word, preach Thy gospel, and keep the house of God as clean as it was when I found it." Are we followers of Christ? If we are, we also have our due measure of zeal for divine things, we are following in His steps. I was preaching a few weeks ago at a Strict Baptist Chapel in Nuneaton, and as I came out from the evening service I noticed across the road a General Baptist Chapel. On looking a second time, I saw hung across the front a great banner, and written on it were the words, "All the fun of the fair. Sixpence." A house of God turned into a house of merchandise! Yet these things are in their Bible as well as in ours. We are stewards and followers of Christ. We know people may have a zeal for God; yes, blind zeal, but no knowledge. For instance, the Atheists, or the Salvation Army--I do not wish to condemn all they do--but they manifest a good deal more zeal than we do--although of a different nature. Just think of the miles and miles our fathers went to hear the gospel. I am afraid they had a good deal more zeal than we have today; and they did not tire as soon as we do today. May the Lord grant us more of His Spirit, and revive His work in our hearts. Amen.