“Up In Arms,” Week 4 — The “Righteous” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message ….

  • Wrapped up the “Up In Arms” series;
  • Began with Scripture as opposed to anecdotes or concepts;
  • The Scripture with which it began was Jesus turning over the tables in the temple in Mark 11;
  • Landed at this bottom, in the form of a question:  Who gets better when you get mad?


Hoo boy, today we get to look at a biblical story that every hothead in the world just loves.

            The kind of story that if you’re an UP IN ARMS kind of person, you read it and all of a sudden you like the company you keep.

            It’s a story that I suspect thousands if not millions of people throughout the centuries have pointed to AFTER THEY LOST THEIR TEMPERS and said, “Well, it’s OK!  Jesus got mad, too, didn’t he?”  It’s a story that for those of us who have only a cursory understanding of Jesus – and face it, that’s most of us – seems so out of character, so off kilter that we struggle to make sense of it.  Which is why, I suppose hotheads and up in armsers have been so eager to claim it as their own and use it to justify all kinds of behavior and all kinds of explosions and all kinds of malarkey. 

            But what if I tell you that that most of those uses of the story are actually MIS-uses of it?  What if I tell you that both the source and the purpose of Jesus’ anger here is much different – and must less self-centered than we think?  Let me show you what I mean.  Because as we wrap up Up In Arms today, make no mistake about: Jesus gets mad.             Yes, he becomes offensively offensive.  A time when he definitely showed some anger, definitively got up in arms.  But the WHY and the WHO behind it make all the difference.  And help us see how Jesus’ righteous up in arms – GOOD ANGER – shapes our own. 

Take a look at Mark 11:12-14 where Jesus has this oddly aggressive encounter with a fig tree:

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

 Now: I’m offended at that!  What is he talking smack to a tree for?  What possible justification could there be for that?  Well, it may just have EVERYTHING to do with happens next because Mark (brilliant) doesn’t just throw things together; all the elements of his story-telling align perfectly.  It’s almost like he’s inspired or something.

            Look at 11:15a:

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts

 STOP there.  Did Jesus go to the temple longing to worship or looking for a fight?  We don’t know his heart because Mark doesn’t tell us, but we do know what happened next. 

and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.

What a scene!  I wonder what it was like!  Well, wonder no more.  Because in a recent archeological find, we have uncovered evidence that a bystander had his iPhone with him that day and caught the mayhem on film.  Here it is:


Now: there might be a little exaggeration there, including Jesus with a baseball AND a British accent, but you get the picture.  Or you get what people have done to fill the picture in.

But what in the world is going on with suddenly angry Jesus?  Is his indignation RIGHTEOUS or something else?

            Well: to understand Jesus’ reaction here, you need to know what these merchants were doing.  The Jerusalem temple was this enormous, multi-layered structure with strict rules about who could enter where.  Who could go DEEPER into the heart of the building.  There was the outer area for the non-Jews (Gentiles) & that’s where this action is. Then there were a series of progressive courts and you had to have a certain level of “ordination” or holiness to keep progressing.  Gentiles – Jews – Good Jews – Priests – High Priest.  Access got progressively more and more limited.  And the purpose behind the temple and especially for the holy areas in the center was to offer sacrifices on behalf of the people to deal with their sin.  That’s why they were selling doves – not because doves made great pets back then or because doves were that year’s Beanie Baby fad, but because they were a small, inexpensive animal who could be used as sacrifice.      But the way Mark describes it, this whole scene is like those stores at the airport, where captive audiences have to pay double for everything … because the store can get away with it. The stores charge it because they CAN.  Can I get a piece of bubblegum, please?  Sure! That’ll be $20.  That’s the way it was with the exchange rate for the money changers and the cost mark up for the dove sellers.  And the net effect of all that chaos and all that mark up was to limit access, to create a barrier, TO BECOME A DE FACTO TOLL BOOTH  to anyone different.  To CAUSE OFFENSE to anyone not among the “in crowd.”  Anyone not “like us.”  So that’s why Jesus gets so angry and goes on the offense and turns from Savior to Terminator while in the terminal. 

            But guess what?  The story here is a little bit less about what Jesus DID and quite a bit more about what he SAID.  We get so wrapped up in the image of angry Jesus (bad___ Jesus) that we overlook the words he uses to explain what he done just did.  Look at 11:17:

17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’[a]? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]”

My house.  Not our house.  Oh my goodness.  He stakes a claim that all this sacrificial system, all these doves and all that coin … its season is OVER.  Done.  Just like the fig tree.  Jesus can clean the temple out because he is in the process of replacing it.  He doesn’t want a temple upgrade; he wants a temple upended, torn down, and rebuilt in himself.  Think about it if you know the rest of the story, from the crucifixion to the resurrection to the reign and return.  The sacrifice:  Jesus.  The object of worship:  Jesus.  The high priest:  Jesus.  The access: Jesus.  The community: Jesus.  He becomes righteously indignant here because all the merchandising of religion is an affront to him.  He’s not just cleaning the temple out; he is in the process of tearing it down.  Because it’s his to begin with.

            And look again at what he says about my house … to be a house of prayer for all nations.  All people.  Not some.  Not elect.  Not elite.  Not circumcised.  All.  And what has this system done, with its commercial chaos outside, its toll booth mentality, its progressively selective path to the holy of holies?  Limit it to some.  That makes Jesus very angry. He has a global population full of people whose lives he wants to make BETTER by making them ETERNAL and his ire gets stoked when he sees religious people trying to limit access.  He’s ushering in a new era where it’s not us v. them, not the welcomes in vs. the kept out, not chosen vs. neglected, it’s instead all means all.  And when he sees the outcasts excluded, he gets angry and does something about it. 

            So Jesus’ unmistakable display of anger does not benefit him in the least.  It’s all on behalf of others; the least, the last, the lost, the desperate.  It’s as far removed as possible as an excuse for every hothead here to say yet again, Well Jesus got mad, too!  It’s the opposite of the person who says I have this temper; I might as well use it!  It instead exposes that there is a place for righteous anger, but only, only, ONLY when coupled with this question:  Who gets better when you get mad?  Whose life is improved because you have become indignant over something? 

            See, Jesus’ anger here does not benefit himself.  It was righteous because it benefitted those who are helpless.  He gets all offensive here on behalf of the defenseless.  If you’re one of those prone to get angry “at the drop of a hat,” you do well to ask just whose hat has dropped!  Whose life are you trying to make better by your display of temper?

            I’m pretty sure that most of our anger is not righteous because it is self-centered.  We’re mostly mad AT SOMETHING.  At a light that turns red at the most inopportune time.  At the traffic patterns in Steele Creek.  At the parents who raised us.  The spouse who left us.  The business partner who cheated us.  The politician who annoys us.  The co-worker who edges us out.  But it’s the kind of anger that benefits US, that advances OUR position, that expresses indignation when WE are wronged.  That makes it understandable, but not righteous.  In general, that kind of UP IN ARMS doesn’t help anyone, including ourselves.  It often paralyzes us with rage.

            But righteous anger catalyzes to action.  It is motivated by the mistreatment of others.  It asks that question at the first stirrings of adrenaline, those initial flashes of anger:  whose life will get better because I get mad?  It’s an anger that fuels action.

            Oh my goodness, every great movement was launched with flashes of anger.  It’s how William Wilberforce started the movement that ended the slave trade (get quote or clip?).  Whose life got better?  Not Wilberforce’s, that’s for sure.  It’s how 200 years later MLK led the move towards civil rights in the USA.  Whose life got better?  Not MLK, that’s for sure.  It’s how Chuck Colson led a movement for prison reform and the opportunity for evangelism in prison.  Closer to home, it’s how YOU ALL – yes, you! – when you hear of the horrors of the rape-for-profit industry known as sex trafficking, you get involved, you get generous, and you have given over $700,000 to the cause of freedom and restoration.  And it starts because you get mad enough to ask the question Who gets better when you get mad?

            I know how true this is because there was a time I was on the other side of it.  20+ years ago, in Monroe, I did some dumb things and I faced some opposition.  Mainly the church was getting too contemporary and some great discomfort with talking about things like how single race churches are an offense to God. But it looked bleak and I looked glum. And then four men – pillars, really – became quietly determined and just mad enough to say, “we’re not letting the church get taken from us.”  And all of a sudden I was no longer alone.  And they confronted, protected, persevered.  They asked Who gets better when you get mad? and the answer in that case was ME. 

            Who is there in your life, in your circle, in your sphere of influence, who needs you to get just a little bit mad on their behalf?  Is it the guy at school no one talks to?  Is it the in law that everyone wishes was an outlaw?  Is it the people in our region who are, as they say, “food insecure”?  (food drive next week) Is it the woman at work everyone is talking about?  Is it even the lady at the store who gets ignore and mistreated because English is quite obviously not her first language?   Is it the one at church who is looking lost?  And you’re upset no one is talking to him or to her?  Hey – in that case, don’t turn any tables out in the lobby over (cuz we’re not selling).  But let “mistreatment” motivate you to notice the overlooked and begin inviting them into a living relationship with Jesus.  Who gets better when you get mad?

            Because do you remember how I said that Jesus IN HIMSELF is replacing the temple in this scene.  He is both priest AND sacrifice?  His anger does not help him one bit … in fact, look at the story’s summary line in 11:18: 

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

  His anger didn’t raise his cred; it sealed his fate!  But we benefit so much from hindsight and perspective.  Because the one who turns tables over is the one who invites us to his table.  Jesus took THE place of the temple by taking YOUR place on the cross. 

            I guess that means that the REAL answer to the question Jesus must have asked – Who will get better because I get angry – is every one of us.  Hallelujah and amen.