One of the stories in the gospels that intrigues me is when Jesus got so ticked off He started turning over tables like a mad man.
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. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:13-16)
I guess I’m drawn to this part of Jesus because I can identify with feeling angry. I get angry every day. Anger is a commonplace human emotion, and to read that Jesus experienced this emotion, too, makes me feel like He gets me. He understands. He wasn’t always cool, calm, and collected.
What’s peculiar to Jesus, though, is that while He was angry, He didn’t sin. He couldn’t sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). Even when He looked totally out of control, He wasn’t sinning.
Of course, that’s not usually the case with us. When we get angry, we often sin. Sometimes our anger prompts us to use speech that tears down others (Ephesians 4:29), to retaliate against the person who hurt us (Matthew 5:38-42), or to harbor bitterness and resentment (read: unforgiveness) (Ephesians 4:31).
As Jesus illustrates, it’s not the anger that is sin. As we demonstrate, it’s the feelings and behaviors that flow out of anger that can be sinful (Ephesians 4:26).
Truth be told, I struggle with knowing how my outbursts are any different/worse than Jesus’ tantrum in the temple courts. And on the outside, they may look very similar. But inside – in my heart – things might not be so similar.
Everything Jesus did was motivated by love for His Father and love for people. Everything. Even scattering animals and flipping over merchant tables (John 14:31, 15:9).
Jesus wasn’t angry because He wasn’t getting attention or because things weren’t going His way or because somebody hurt His feelings. Jesus’ anger wasn’t fueled by self-focus at all.
Jesus was angry because God the Father was being disrespected. Jesus loved the Father too much to idly sit by and allow others to disrespect Him.
At the same time, Jesus was angry that the money changers weren’t making God-honoring decisions for themselves. Jesus loved every person in the temple courts. He loved them too much to idly sit by and allow them to disrespect God because He knew that wasn’t in their best interest; Jesus wanted better for those money changers.
When we find ourselves turning over tables, or at least wanting to, we need to ask ourselves why? Why are we angry? Are we angry for self-centered reasons or for God and others-centered reasons? Is love the motivation of our violent display of emotions? If not, we should probably hold off on pulling a Jesus-in-the-temple-courts.