Each us have, one time or another, closed our eyes and tried to picture what Jesus looked like? We’ve tried to picture the color of his hair or even how tall he was.
Our Scripture writers didn’t give us these kind of biographical descriptions. They weren’t worried about telling future generations about what Jesus looked like, but about how Christ called each of us to live in obedience. So, when our imaginations turn to picturing what Jesus looked like, we are limited and influenced by artistic renderings.
Some of these pictures are quite familiar to us. In the late 15th Century, Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper. In it, Jesus sits quietly in the middle of the painting as the Disciples question who might be the one to betray him. Another famous one is the Head of Christ, which was painted in the 1940s by Warner Sallman, and which shows the glory and righteousness of Christ. In recent years, we’ve seen photos that focus on Christ as happy and friendly, perhaps even our buddy.
Even though artistic renditions focus on different Scripture passages, there are a number Jesus’ characteristics that get the most attention. These paintings highlight Jesus’ pastoral nature. We often see him caring for others. We see his strength exhibited. We see his holiness and righteousness. We also see the fullness of his ministry from his prayer life to, of course, his self-sacrificial nature in taking on humanity’s sin on the cross to be the atonement sacrifice for all generations and all times.
One aspect of Jesus’ character we don’t often see in these paintings is his temperament that comes out in John 2:13-22. In this well-known and uncomfortable interaction, Jesus shows a side we don’t like to focus on. He comes into the Temple and overturns tables. He clears out the people. He makes a whip. This is not the peaceful side of Jesus we are so used to focusing on. This is a side of Jesus that we are not comfortable with. We would rather focus on the sides of Jesus that makes us comfortable or even secure in our faith.
Jesus invites his followers to take on the side of his character that comes out in this scene. He doesn’t necessarily call us to overturn tables and make whips as an outflow of our faith, but Jesus does invite us to participate in the reason for his actions on this day. To understand the fullness of Christ, we have to wrestle with why he walked into the Temple and, essentially, cleaned house.
Each of the four Gospel narratives includes this scene. John is the only one to include it at the beginning. Matthew, Mark and Luke include this story in their descriptions of Jesus’ activities in Jerusalem the week of his crucifixion. The placement of the story is not important – John is writing a theologically-focused discourse – but what is important is that this event happened during the Passover, which was the most important time of the year for someone of the Jewish faith.
Jews, such as Jesus, would have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Part of those celebrations would have been to offer sacrifices at the Temple. Oxen and sheep would have been regularly used for the sacrifices, and it’s likely that marketers had opened shop in the Temple to tap into people’s interests. There were other things likely being sold as well that made the Temple not a place of God, but a place of trade and commerce. It was no longer the symbolic place where God’s spirit would rest, but a supermarket.
John tells us that Jesus saw this scene and reacted, but why? Why would Jesus be so passionate about this? What would cause Jesus to make a whip and clear out the entire Temple?
Verse 17 is John’s commentary on these questions, and it points us back to the Old Testament for an answer. John quotes Psalm 69:9, which says, “Passion for your house has consumed me.” Derek Kinder writes that in this verse, which sees its fulfillment in Christ, we see David talking as a “devoted ambassador” of God’s purposes and house, which was the Temple. When Christ arrives, he is the “devoted ambassador” who is passionately consumed and committed to God’s house, which sees its fullness in the Kingdom of God. Jesus is completely dedicated to the kingdom and desires to bring all of God’s people into the kingdom and in a relationship with God.
Jesus exhibits his passion and devotion to the things of God. He actively removes those things that have become obstacles to a full relationship and fellowship in the kingdom. Jesus is not merely a nice, happy, and peaceful teacher. He is the King of Kings, the Son of God, whose purpose is to inaugurate the kingdom of God that reflects God’s righteousness, truth, justice, and peace.
This isn’t the only time we see Jesus as being completely devoted to the truth of the kingdom. His interactions with the Pharisees are highlighted by a deep compassion and commitment to the things of God. His miracles and acts of mercy were signs of the compassion that flowed from the kingdom. His ministry was a passionate display of truth that attempted to point all people, both then and now, to the fullness of God’s kingdom that is available to all who would freely believe.
We are invited to take on the cause of being completely dedicated to the kingdom in our own lives. This means to be completely sold out for the cause of Christ and the purposes of the kingdom so that nothing else hinders our devotion. We are not called to just be followers who sit on our hands and be simply reflective about faith. We are also called to be children of God who take up our crosses and passionately grow in what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Being consumed by all things Christ is a goal we all desire. Do we live this out? Sadly, we can get caught up in being passionately consumed about things that don’t matter and are not reflective of a deep faith in Christ. There are several examples we could highlight.
We can be totally consumed by our worship desires. In this, we say unless you worship God in the same style, with the same songs, and the same liturgy as we do then you are not a true Christian. There are people who will get angry if God is not worshiped in the ways that best suits them, and claim that Christ is not glorified by the “wrong” expressions of “joyful noise.” In the same vein, we get too caught up in the color of carpets, when the church meets, and if we sit in pews or chairs in worship. All these are distractions of comfort to what it truly means to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
As well, we get too consumed with being at the “right” church. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen people proclaim that unless you go to their church or believe exactly what they do you’re not a true Christian. This “us versus them” attitude has done so much harm that is outside the realm of this sermon. It is best to say that the right church, the true church, is the one that stands on the witness of Scripture and lives out the fullness of the words of the Apostle’s Creed that proclaims the church to be one, holy, apostolic and universal.
We can get too consumed and devoted by partisan politics in the church. Now let me say this, I believe the church should be political. It should have a voice in the public square on issues that matter. We have something to say about hunger, about war, about justice, and about life in general. But, the church should never take a partisan side and should never be aligned with one political party or another. Too often the church is focused on aligning itself with the ideology of its leadership’s preferred political party or ideology than about being the living witness of Christ. True witness of faith in Christ will make the Democrat and the Republican uncomfortable. Jesus is truly not a Republican, a Democrat, or even a member of the Tea Party. He is above these things, but yet he informs our involvement in the public square.
There are so many more things we could address of how we can get passionately consumed by the wrong things. Perhaps, there are things in your life that you are so passionately consumed by that it distracts you from being passionately consumed by your faith in Jesus Christ.
Why is that? Why is it so easy for all of us to be consumed by the wrong things and not our faith in Christ? In all of these “consuming attitudes,” there is a common denominator. We can be consumed and devoted to ourself, first, above being devoted to God. What these consuming actions show is we are all capable of using our faith to passionately get what we want or to advocate what we want. Even more, we can get so caught up in ourselves that it distracts us from seeing Christ active in our lives.
We must be careful to not be like the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2, which did a lot of hard work for the Lord but lost its first love. 1 John 4 tells us God’s very character is love and we are called to love others, because God first loved us. The fact God loves us unconditionally should be our passionate commitment. It informs our actions and our witness to others. When we are consumed with ourselves, we are the person who occupies the space God desires in our lives. Everything becomes about what we want and how we can get it.
If we want to be truly passionate and committed to the things of Christ, then we must take the focus off of us and put it on the things of God. We must be totally committed and concerned about the things that God is concerned about. It is difficult and challenging, but we are not called to make disciples who are carbon copies of ourselves. We are called to make disciples who are living reflections of the love of God that was exhibited in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What would it look like for us to be totally committed to and passionate about the things of God? There are a couple things we could comment on here, but Luke gives us a good picture. In Luke 4, Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth to preach for the first time. He opened up the Scripture to Isaiah 61:1-2, which says the “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” In taking on this prophetic call upon himself, Christ says to his followers that if we want to be truly and completely passionate for Christ, then we will live this out.
Being truly passionate for Christ is to be witnesses of Christ who take on the cause of the poor and oppressed. It means sharing the love of Christ and entering into relationship with those who are outside of the church. It means we are passionate for righteousness and holiness, but share it in ways that we hear their story and help them to walk into the story of Christ.
It means placing our faith and trust in Christ, first above all things, and growing each day in our relationship with Christ.
There are so many ways we can be fully compassionate and passionate for Christ. Each of us in will have unimaginable opportunities to share the love of Christ and to be witnesses of Christ with all the people we encounter. Each day is a new opportunity to be passionate for the Lord in ways that brings others to a relationship with Christ.
The question for us is: are we willing to be used by Christ in such a way? Are we willing to be truly passionate for Christ so that all might know him? Or, are we too caught up in our own needs that we forget what it means to be passionate for Christ?
So, what are you going to be passionate about?