Are We Getting in the Way of God's Salvation Story?

Have you ever been so angry that you did something dumb? I got so angry once that I punched the steering wheel on my car and broke the horn. From that day on the horn would honk on its own whenever it wanted to. It didn't matter if I was at a stop light, in a parking lot, or driving down the university campus on a calm Sunday morning. The car would honk and honk and honk until I got so fed up I pulled the fuse and was left utterly hornless. The car died soon after, so no, I never got it fixed.

As I think about this moment of ridiculous anger I am reminded of Jesus in Matthew’s biography, chapter 21. Here Matthew recounts the time that Jesus went into the Jewish temple and the following took place:

Jesus came to the temple. He drove out all those who were buying and selling. He upended the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ benches (12).

We don't often think of Jesus as an angry guy – and with good reason. It's hard to imagine him with a whip, flipping tables and chasing people around. And yet here he is. Jesus is angry. To be more precise he is furious. Some may even say Jesus has lost his cool. There is a fire in his stomach, a rage that boiled over and is now spilling out onto the onlookers. Gone is that gentle, pensive face. A frown adorns his brow, his breath is heavy, his heart is thumping, his thoughts are racing. Instinct takes over and Jesus, our gentle Jesus, appears to have lost control.

But he hasn't lost control. Had Jesus lost control he would have destroyed that entire temple and everyone in it. In his fury and power he could have split open the ground to swallow the entire place. No, he hasn't lost control. He knows what he is doing. He is perfectly in control.

And yet, he is beyond furious. Why? How is it that the one whom the OT describes as "slow to anger" now suddenly appears very quick to it? How is it that the one whom the prophecies have described as the "prince of peace" is now waging war with the salesmen in the temple courtyard? How is it that the Jesus who would someday patiently endure abuse, mockery, and torture at the hands of Roman and Jewish leaders is on this day seemingly impatient? How is it that the one of who it is said, "as a lamb he was led to the slaughter…and he opened not his mouth" now shouts at the top of his lungs "get out!" You can try to wiggle out of this one all you want but here is the truth. Jesus got angry. And there is no interpretive gymnastics that can get us out of that conclusion.

In other words, Jesus is not the teddy bear many of us have made him out to be. There is a side to Jesus that is shocking. There is a side to Jesus that doesn't come with a smile, a gentle word, or a cool and collected vibe. Instead, Matthew introduces us to a side of Jesus many of us would rather pretend is not there – an angry side.

What are we to make of this? Is Jesus bipolar? Is he perhaps mildly schizophrenic? Did his biographers get confused and introduce a contradiction into the story? Or was Jesus a really good actor – able to put on a facade of gentleness and self-control, only to show his true colors on this random day? Or maybe, just maybe, there is nothing wrong with Jesus’ mental health, his biographers were not inconsistent, and Jesus himself lived authentically. If this is the case then the problem shifts to me. Maybe I am the one who has misunderstood Jesus. And by misunderstanding him I have presented a cheesy and unrealistic picture of a complex and emotional being. Maybe the problem is I have only accepted the parts of the Jesus-story that I am comfortable with and conveniently left the other parts out. But whatever the case, I can't get away from the conclusion: Jesus got angry.

Now that I have come to terms with that reality, I am left with another question. Why was he so angry? Was Jesus short-tempered like me? Was his ego so offended that he reacted in a fit of anger that puts my broken car horn episode to shame? I have already concluded that he did not lose control as I did. So the answer must lie elsewhere. If Jesus’ anger was not fueled by his ego, then what was it fueled by?

The answer is found in the narrative of the temple. In his book, It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity is about More than Going to Heaven when you Die, Jefferson Bethke points out that in the Old Testament the temple was considered the place where heaven and earth met. In other words, Bethke explains, it was the place where the human dimension and the heavenly dimension collided. If we could imagine two circles with one representing the human realm and another the heavenly, and then we overlapped those circles (below) the point of overlap, says Bethke, is the temple.

But what was the point of this overlap? What was the point of this collision? God himself answers that question when he said, "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them" (Exodus 25:8). The temple in Israel was not just a place of worship, it was a theater of sorts. All of its services and rituals were like scenes in a movie. It told a story. That story was simple: God wants to live with people. He wants to be close to us.

So when people came to the temple, they didn't come for mindless rituals. They came to connect with a God who wanted to be with them. They came to speak to a God who wanted to be close to them, to bless them, and to heal them. They came to discover and rediscover his beauty and his love.

And then Jesus, the eternal God in human flesh, shows up. He who spoke the words, "Have the people of Israel build me a holy sanctuary so I can live among them" is now there, in person. And when he walks into the temple, when he enters the place where heaven and earth collided and where his story, and his glory, and his love were meant to be experienced and celebrated, this is what he found:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money (John 2:13-14).

So Matthew tells us that Jesus "drove out all those who were buying and selling. He upended the money-changers’ tables and the dove-sellers’ benches." But then something amazing happens. Something that single handedly makes sense of all of this. Matthew adds:

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them (14).

So Jesus cleanses the temple, but no sooner had he done so than blind people, and paralyzed people, show up at the same temple. But here is the question Matthew dangles before us. Why weren't these people already there? The answer is obvious. They were being excluded and kept away by the money makers. In other words, God was trying to tell the world about himself, his love, his plan, his grace. And his own people were getting in the way.

The Jewish temple no longer exists. But Jefferson Bethke brings an interesting conclusion out of all this. He says that according to the New Testament, we are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Us. Believers. Individually and collectively, we are now the temple. In other words, we are the place where heaven and earth collide. You are a walking temple. You are a living and breathing temple and in you and in me the human realm and the heavenly realm meet. And in the same way that God wanted to communicate his love to the world through a physical building in the OT, he continues to do so now through us, individually and collectively, via the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. We are the place where people can see the beauty of God.

And yet the story of Jesus cleansing the temple brings to mind a sobering question: If we are the temple, if we are as believers the place where heaven and earth meet and the lives through which people can come into contact with God’s story of love, then we must ask ourselves - what things are there in our lives and in our church that keep people from seeing the love of God? In what ways are you, and I, like the money makers, getting in God's way?

I can't pretend to have the answer. There are many answers, in fact. Sometimes our traditions get in the way. Sometimes our self-confidence gets in the way. Sometimes our attitudes get in the way. Sometimes our structures, agendas, and hypocrisy get in the way. And Matthew’s story is clear. When we get in the way you had best believe that God gets angry. This is not light matter. The one time Jesus demonstrated his wrath as a human being was when his own people got in the way of his salvation story. Are we getting in the way? If we are, I think perhaps it’s time we repented.

Today I would like to invite you to consider Jesus’ moment of rage as a call to introspection: How are you getting in the way? I want to invite you to think about the ways in which you are contributing, whether largely or microscopically, to getting in the way of others seeing the story of the love of God that they should see in you, in me, and in us. But here is the beautiful thing. Once you discover it you don't have to be afraid. Because according to Matthew, Jesus is not only a cleanser he is also a healer. Let him cleanse you of the stuff that gets in the way, and let him heal you. Come to him poor, blind, and naked. Come to him paralyzed with guilt and shame. Come to him as you are with all your broken mess. With your pride. With your selfishness. With your divisiveness. Come to him with your lack of faith and with your hidden sins and struggles. Let him cleanse you, let him heal you, and then let him fill you so that others may find in you a place where heaven and earth collide.

Originally from New Jersey, Marcos now lives in Australia with his wife and children. Marcos' greatest passion is to help others realize that Christianity is a passionate and committed relationship with God, not a religion. He also runs his own blog at www.pomopastor.com where this article originally appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8036
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In Acts chapters 2 and 5 Luke presents us with 2 stories. BOTH about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit connecting Earth and Heaven.
The descending tongues of fire created mobile temples of the group gathered in the room together. Visible as “Little Shekinahs” over the heads of each one assembled.
Later the Holy Spirit descended on the crowd assembled at the Temple. And, creating mobile Temples of people from ALL Nations, speaking a universal language of Love that allowed them to understand one another’s diverse languages.
The Holy Spirit within us connects in us Earth and Heaven. And we each become Mobile Temples.

Sam – I see the word ANGER as more of an Adjective.
RAGE is more of a VERB, an Action Word. It is putting ANGER into an activity.
Maybe that is what Paul meant.
Anger, but not carry out actions that become Rage and can harm the other person.

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On May 29 May 2017 Marcos Torres
“Today I would like to invite you to consider Jesus’ moment of rage…”

Marcos your fine article is presenting good questions we all need to ask ourselves. Although, I wish you had used the word anger instead of rage in this sentence. In today’s news we hear about a person in a train and what he tragically did to three good Samaritans when they intervened as a man near then had gone into a rage against another passenger. Anger tis very different than rage. We need to express the anger of Christ which requires two aspects. First, it must be properly motivated. In other words, anger because you do not get your way in a situation does not count. Religious hypocrisy or injustices of poverty or oppression are proper, godly reasons to become angry. The second aspect required for our anger to reflect Christ’s anger is to act appropriately when we are angry. A person in a state of rage may also lose much of their capacity for rational thought and reasoning, and may act, usually violently, on their impulses to the point that they may attack until they themselves have been incapacitated or the source of their rage has been destroyed. Anger will not let you stay in your comfort zone. It compels you to act, engage, say no to that which does not belong, and yes to the change that must occur for the sake of life and your wholeness as a child of God. Anger inspires force. As Scripture says, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Your anger, unleashed with wisdom and out of passion for true life, can be a source of healing.

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A good point there Sam. Thanks for that!

I love that phrase “mobile temples” Steve. The temple was always meant to be mobile (original tabernacle was) and Gods throne is said to have wheels on it and it moves. So this concept of “mobileness” is very prevalent. Thanks for your thoughts!

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Pastor Torres, Are you blowing your own horn? Smile!. Now you can be anger, but sin not. What Jesus had achieved is nothing new . Once the Jews understood the sanctuary , they where to go out amongst the heathen nations and shares God’s love .If you are a student of the bible, tell me if you can see this ? How many people left Abraham’s tent and went to Sodom ? Note , In all the bible, the number 10 is never mention to refer to a number less than ten . Hold on, I’m going somewhere with this. How many daughters did Lot have ? Two single daughters, plus Lot and his wife, make 4. Hold on! Now read Genesis 19 :12 &14. And answer the question asked, Are there any more besides these, Sons in law (plural ).Why would the angel say to Lot , sons in law/plural ? And why do we stop counting ? Because in the end , we know the cities got destroyed . But let’s just keep counting for a moment,: Lot , his wife, and 2-single daughters = 4. Now add to that, sons in law /plural ,which gives us at least 2 more daughters and their husbands . We are now at 8 ( 4 +4 =8). Add to that the quote from EGW in PP, that says, " Had Lot’s entire family left Sodom, God would had put off their probation to another time , " which would had satisfied Abraham’s original request to Jesus in Genesis 18:23-33 , for 10 righteous . So, here we see that there where 10 righteous there in Sodom. Abraham knew that , because they had left his tent . And had they stood for God in this crisis , by their godly lives, they would had saved thousands. Living , moving temples for God .God is looking to save in the most impossible situations . Yes Pastor, We are the Light of the world, and the Salt of the earth . Ever wonder why we are told to , " Remember Lot’ s Wife ? " Yes. Now you have cause to blow your horn .

"How are you getting in the way?..Let Him cleanse you, let Him heal you and let Him fill you…

One of the most profound prayers in the OT goes something like this, “Create in me a clean heart O God and renew a right spirit within me.”

It took creative power to heal the way Christ healed after He cleansed the temple. When it comes to saving sinners Christ is more than a great healer He is the Creator. Sinners need a creator and only Christ because of His shed blood and His resurrection can 1. Completely remove the sinfull nature that is ours in Adam and 2. create in us a new spiritual nature so that we are born again into the family of God as His beloved children.

I’m suggesting here that healing is not enough. God is not in the business of healing sinful human natures. And yet that’s just what we’ve taught for so many years in Adventist theology. Sanctification is the work of a lifetime and as the story goes, and with the help of the Holy Spirit we spend a lifetime trying to get the victory over sin. There are even those among us who believe they will make perfection just in time for the Lord to come. No, the Lord can’t return till they actually make it to perfection.

Underlying this theology is the belief that born again Christians still have a sinful spiritual nature which means they still have a rebellious wicked heart but they are gradually overcoming sin with the help of the Holy Spirit. No wonder we get in the way.

Paul in Romans 6 should leave us in no doubt that when we are baptised into Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit our sinful spiritual nature is crucified, dead and buried. Then Christ through His power given through the Holy Spirit has created in us a new spiritual nature to completely replace the old. This is what it means to be born again. This is the new creation that the gospel of grace makes a reality in our lives.

Yes, sin still lurks in our flesh like a virus and we go against who we really are and what we are at our very core and too often we sin. But sin goes against our new nature. We hate it but we are forgiven saints and God never holds our sins against us because we are born again and we are in Christ and He is in us.

The immediate result of this new birth is that the Holy Spirit fills us and pours the love of God into our hearts.

Then we can stop getting in the way of all that God has in mind for us.

Jesus’ action in the Temple was quite correct. His situation , when the history is examined was that he was then the leader of the New Covenant Mission, and if he showed weakness in this matter which threatened to block access tothe Temple of the very people he came to teach the higher things of life, his credibility could have plummetted tremendously. Already there were rumours that he was illegitimate and not of the line of David, and that his real father was a Roman soldier. Also he showed no signs of taking up the mantle of a warlord Messiah to rescue the people from Roman tyranny.
The New Covenenat Mission was started in the reign of Herod the Greatwhen there was considerable optimism that the young king, though not Jewish, seemed to be working for the upliftment of Judea. A plan was devised to r aise money for Public Works by marketing Judaism to Jews who had settled abroad, had become quite wealthy, and were eager to reconnect with the old religion.Many gentiles also wanted to be a part of this reliogion and so a Hellenised version of Judaism called New Covenant was established. This was very successful.A half- shekel was paid by members on admission and baptism; the missionnaries who left Judea with only white stones from the Jordan , a “pound” for expenses,and of course their knowledge, would set up classes for instruction in the religion for members in “cells” under their suprevision and instruction.New Covenant was so successful that there began talk of a World Empire ofn the Jews in which the dominant religion would be Judaism. Gentile had become disaffected with the moral deficincies of the pagan religions of the day.When the Romas abolished the Herodian monarchy in A.D.6 these hopes were dashed , and armed insurrection began against this action by Rome. immediately. To be brief , when Jesus assumed leadership of New Covenant in by virtue of being a (putative) descendant of the royal line of David he, as usual sought to be very inclusive, which did not please everyone. He did not require adult circumsision from gentiles , and he admitted the halt, the lame , females, and so on. However the Israelite tribes had become competitors with each as to who could raise more money by selling tokens of animals representing their tribes in the form of symbols, NOT the literal animals, for which there would have been no space anyway . This competition became so fierce that it threatened to marginalise Temple services; symbols of various animals were adopted by the tribes , and selling became so fierce as to disrupt Temple worship. Jesus , as leader, therefore took corrective action to remove this symbol-selling from the presincts, and since words alone were not heeded he emloyed the “ROD OF CORRECTION” . Thank you Jesus my saviour!!!

To answer the question - Are We Getting in the Way of God’s Salvation Story? - the answer is " NO". Nothing will get in God’s way. If we don’t give the gospel, “the rocks will cry out”.

One additional point -belonging to the SDA church, or any church for that matter, does not mean we now automatically belong to a group called “God’s people”. The Israelites called themselves “God’s chosen people”; and we have taken their title and applied it to our own church. God “knows His own”, and not by nationality or church affiliation. God’s people are God’s people - not by perfection, but by our standards - by our life’s motivations and our relationships with God, and those we come into contact. God’s people are God’s temples, but not based on church affiliation, or on what they do or say, but by the condition of heir “hearts”. God’s people don’t have to plead for the Holy Spirit - it’s (He’s) there by definition of who they are…

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I mused as I read the article. First off, it asks a great question. I am far more a fan of questions than answers. On the other hand, I was disappointed.

Why was I disappointed? First off, our misunderstanding of God in the person of Jesus is only the tiniest sliver in a forest full of trees. The following list is not inclusive:

  • The understanding of Biblical inspiration and how the Bible came into being. Frankly, few in the Adventist church have any idea. My friend Alden Thompson gets the closest to my understanding some of the bigger questions, but even Alden doesn’t see all the biggest questions with inspiration. The reason this one is first on my list is that it directly leads to many other errors of thought that are almost unavoidable if you didn’t get the memo on inspiration. In the simplest terms, the Bible is a collection of stories that were over time found to be useful. That’s right. Useful. Secondly, the biggest part of Biblical inspiration is not with the Bible writer. It is with us, the readers. Simply, if we allow and request, the Holy Spirit will be with us and bring to our minds clarity of thought on many topics about God, God’s law and many others. In short, the Bible is only a catalyst for our thinking.

  • The Sabbath story is so closely wrapped around the story of creation that the two cannot be separated. Thus it is a never ceasing mystery to me that Adventists remain so over focused on the number 7 and keeping a day holy that they miss the main course of the meal. God created. Stop there. What did God create. Why did God create. And even more importantly, why did God create man with so little capacity for knowing truth, but so much capacity for love. Have we forgotten that God swore, “they will never enter into my rest.” So what rest is it that God refers to? A certain way of “keeping holy” the 7th day of the week? Never! Read the story of creation! “On the seventh day God rested.” Believe me God was not tired. So in what way did God rest? And later, “they will never enter into my rest.” The answer is simplicity. God was celebrating God’s creation. God was reveling in being God, the creator. God was so wrapped in God’s celebration of God’s creative power that God did something that has never been done before or since. God created a marker in time. Back to the point about Sabbath directly. Sabbath is the celebration every day of the week and for all time. In this ongoing and never ceasing celebration of God, we see not only the physical creation, but also the genesis of the story of salvation. Mankind was created in a specific way with specific things missing that angels have. We will never understand truth they way God or the angels do. Not ever. We were created in God’s image to have enormous capacities for love. If you are given a choice between understanding truth fully and being able to love fully, pick love. It is in our love that we begin to understand God’s celebration on the 7th day. We love fully. We love always and without ceasing. Did you say something about 7th day? What does that have to do with God’s celebration for all time of our love?

  • As I look back over the last two bullets, they are more than enough to spark a good conversation. I will bet, if you are Adventist, I broke several of your favorite idols in just two bullets. There are many more useful questions. But until we understand the first two bullets, we will never grasp the infinity of questions beyond. The traditional answers to those two questions fully blocks your ability to see and ask those questions.

  • It isn’t what you know that prevents you from learning. It is what you know that isn’t so.

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