THE ZEAL OF THE LORD
A Sermon by Rev. Kurt Horigan AsplundhPreached in Bryn Athyn January 21, 1996
“When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up”‘ (John 2:15-17).
How often do we think of the Lord showing this kind of zeal? The familiar picture of Him is as the gentle Shepherd, the Man of peace, the Lamb led to the slaughter. We think of His blessing little children, forgiving sinners, turning the other cheek, and going the extra mile. He is long-suffering and kind. Because of the promise of heavenly reward for this selfless life, many Christians have made it their goal to follow Christ’s saintly example. Praiseworthy as this is in itself, it is not enough. Those who believe the evils of the world can be overcome simply by a life of unconditional love are sadly deluded. The human race is susceptible to evil, not to good. We make no lasting impression on the state of the world through “random acts of kindness,” well-meaning as they may be. Our chief responsibility as Christians is to fight the evils within ourselves, not to influence others by our good deeds. In fact, our deeds are not good until the evils within have been set aside. The doctrine of life is summarized in the following passage: “Christian charity, with everyone, consists in faithfully performing what belongs to his calling, for by this, if he shuns evils as sins, he every day is doing goods, and is himself his own use in the general body. In this way also the common good is cared for, and the good of each person in particular” (Life 114).
The Lord came on earth to overcome the hells, not to win them over. He fought evil by truths filled with Divine power from within. This is the example the Lord has given us; we must do the same: fight the evils of our life with the truths He has provided in His Word, joined with the zeal of His love.
The account of the Lord’s confrontation with the moneychangers in the temple, which is our text, shows a very different picture of the Lord from that of the gentle Jesus so often portrayed. Here the Lord drives thieves out of His temple with a whip, deliberately spills their money on the ground and throws over their tables. “Take these things out of My Father’s house!” He commands.
Readers often have noticed the difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. The God of the Old is seen to be demanding, a jealous God to be feared. In ancient times He was even called the “Dread of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42). The God of the New Testament is seen to be a God of love, gentle and forgiving. For some, this confirms the concept of separate Persons in the Divine Trinity: God the Father, angry and condemning; God the Son, our Friend and Savior.
But this picture is not consistent. Sometimes Jehovah is presented very differently in the Old Testament: “I, Jehovah, am your Savior, and your Redeemer,” He says (Isaiah 49:26). Isaiah says, “He will feed His flock like a shepherd … and gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40: 1Of). “His anger is but for a moment,” says the psalm. “His favor is for life” (Psalm 30:5). “You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me” (Psalm 86:17). All this is from the Old Testament where Jehovah God is described.
On the other hand, in the New Testament, where we expect to find a mild Jesus, we read of His not only ejecting the moneychangers from the temple, but showing anger toward those in the synagogue watching critically to see if He would heal a man on the Sabbath day (see Mark 3:1-6). Several times He rebuked the Pharisees, lawyers and scribes harshly for their hypocrisy (see Luke 11:39-52); He called the disciple Peter “Satan,” and provoked the Jews more than once to the point where they took up stones to kill Him (see John 8:59; 10:31, 39). All this from the New Testament.
The fact is, there is but one God, who has revealed Himself in different ways at different times. His appearance, whether harsh or gentle, varies according to the quality or state of those who see Him. “Everyone sees these things from his own quality,” we are told. “Hence it is that the zeal of the Lord, which in itself is love and compassion, appears … as anger …. [So some] attribute wrath and anger to the Divine, and also all evil, when yet in the Divine there is absolutely nothing of anger, and absolutely nothing of evil, but pure clemency and mercy” (AC 8875). When we read in the Word that “the zeal of Jehovah shall perform [some cleansing act],” it means that He will do it from “the ardent love of saving the human race … from love and mercy” (AC 8875). There is one God of infinite love and mercy who longs for our salvation!
We can more readily understand the nature of the one God when we see the difference between anger and zeal. This distinction is crucial to our idea of the Lord. The disciples remembered rightly what was written of the Lord: “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17).
The appearance of God’s anger in the Old Testament is just that – an appearance. The truth is that God is never angry, never condemns, never punishes. His Divine love seeks only our salvation and happiness. To this end He works by what the Heavenly Doctrine calls zeal. ” ‘Zeal’ in the Lord is not wrath [or anger],” the doctrine declares; “it only appears so in externals; interiorly it is love” (AR 216). Appearances can be deceiving. The appearance of rough treatment and harsh words may lead us to conclude that we are not loved. Children often believe this when punished by their parents. Yet we know that just punishment, even when harsh in outward form, springs from a deep love and a desire for the happiness of those who are punished as well as others who might be harmed by what is evil. If parents have this love, how much more does the Lord! (See Luke 1 1: 1 1; Matt. 7:9.)
Here is the difference between zeal and anger: “Zeal has good in it, and anger has evil (n. 4164, 4444)” (AC 8598:2). “Zeal in its outer manifestation appears as anger and wrath,” we are told, “for it is love enkindled and inflamed for the protection of itself against a violator and for the removal of that violator” (CL 363). Anger, on the other hand, goes beyond protection or defense. It is a destructive fire. Where zeal springs from charity and the love of what is good and useful, anger springs from self and the love of self. These are two different fires of life. The fires of anger are driven by an inner hatred. “It is in flames both outwardly and inwardly” (CL 363). With anger the internal is said to be “inimical, fierce, hard, breathing hatred and revenge, and it feeds itself on the delights of these passions. Even when there is reconciliation,” we are told, “these passions are still latent, like fire in the embers beneath the ashes; and these fires break out, if not in this world yet after death” (CL 365). By contrast, the fire of zeal is only an outward manifestation of a good love. It blazes up to protect what is good when this is threatened or attacked. When the threat of evil has been rebuffed, this outward fire subsides. “Its flame dies out and is quieted as soon as his adversary returns to reason,” we are told (TCR 408).
With zeal, things relatively harsh in externals become mild and gentle as they are raised up from what is natural. A beautiful passage in the doctrine calls spiritual indignation not anger but “a certain sadness that is attended with a prayerful wish that it be not so, and in a form still more interior … merely a certain obscure feeling that breaks in on the celestial delight on account of something not good and true in another” (AC 3909).
This was the spirit within the Lord’s act of driving out the moneychangers from the temple. Outwardly, His eyes flashed with fire; His face was inflamed, His actions aggressive, but all from the zeal of protecting what was holy and necessary for human salvation. Inwardly, He felt sadness, prayerfully wishing that it were not so; and, even more deeply, He sensed injury to the celestial delight that looks to everyone’s salvation.
What then does this mean? What has the Lord shown us by His cleansing of the temple? He has shown us that we too must drive out from our lives all that which defiles and profanes spiritual good. We cannot suffer these evil things to remain in place, allowing their influence and damage to increase. The battle must be joined. And battle it is! The Lord went after the moneychangers with zeal. The fire of His love blazed up with strength to meet the challenge. There was nothing lukewarm about this act. The Lord once warned: If you are lukewarm “I will spew you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
The life of religion requires zeal. We must go after the foes in “our own household” with fighting truth. “In the course of regeneration, when man is being made spiritual, he is continually engaged in combat,” we are told, “on which account the church of the Lord is called ‘militant’ …” (AC 59). The New Church is called “militant, but against falsities and evils” (AE 734:14).
For the most part, this is an inner personal struggle. The Lord has shown us what is good, and we must honestly examine ourselves to discover the evils in our lives that threaten our spiritual life. The truths of the Word, especially when explained by doctrine, light up the dark corners of our holy temple. And when we find the thieves of our spiritual life – those loves and their falsities which the Lord observes with sadness and the prayerful wish that they were not part of us – we must drive them out.
We think here of what is said in the Heavenly Doctrine about the man of war. “He does not love war. He does not go to war except for the protection of his country, and thus is not an aggressor but a defender. But afterwards, when war is begun, if so be that aggression is defense, he becomes also an aggressor … In his inner self he does not exult in the overthrow of his enemy and in the honor of victory, but in the deliverance of his country and his people from the invasion of an enemy …” (Char. 164). So should we fight: with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, not taking honor for ourselves in any triumph, knowing that it is by the Lord, but exulting that we have been delivered from an evil and its resulting ruin.
While our own cleansing should be the primary object of our zeal, there are times when we must also stand against evils that threaten the good and useful things of our families, our community and society. The false ideas that abound in the world need to be identified and compared with the teachings of doctrine. We can apply the teachings of the Heavenly Doctrine to those attitudes and practices of society that threaten to destroy the spiritual and moral values of religious life. This is to be done with zeal, but not in the spirit of anger, thus “not from any enmity and hostility … but to remove those who are in falsity and evil, to prevent them from hurting those who are in good and truth” (AC 8598:2). Furthermore, we are told, after “… anyone who has charity resists an enemy, punishes the guilty, and chastises the wicked…. he returns to the charity that resides in his internal man, and then, so far as he can, and so far as is useful, he wishes him well, and from good will does good to him” (TCR 408). “In this way does a man consult the welfare of one who is in evil, or his enemy, and express his good feeling toward him, as well as to others, and to the commonwealth itself, and this from charity toward the neighbor” (AC 2417:7).
The true Christian life is not a life of passive resistance or forbearance. It is a kind of military service in which we are on watch constantly to combat falsities and evils (see AE 734:14).
Thus says the Lord, “When I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman, when he sees the sword coming upon the land, if he blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head …. But he who takes warning will save his life …. So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me” (Ezekiel 33:2-7). Amen.
Lessons: Ezekiel 33:1-16; John 2:13-22; CL 365-6
365. V. THAT INWARDLY IN THE ZEAL OF A GOOD LOVE LIE LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP, BUT INWARDLY IN THE ZEAL OF AN EVIL, LOVE LIE HATRED AND REVENGE.
It was said that in outer manifestation zeal appears as anger and wrath, both with those who are in a good love and with those who are in an evil; but because the internals differ, the anger and wrath also differ. The differences are: 1. The zeal of a good love is as a heavenly flame which never bursts out against another but only defends itself; and its defense against an evil man is as a defense while the latter is rushing into the fire and being burned. But the zeal of an evil love is like an infernal flame which bursts out of itself and rushes upon another and wills to consume him. 2. The zeal of a good love instantly dies down and becomes mild when the assailant withdraws from the attack, but the zeal of an evil love persists and is not extinguished. 3. The reason is that the internal of him who is in the love of good is in itself mild, bland, friendly, and benevolent. Therefore, while, for the purpose of defending itself his external is rough, bristles up, and erects itself and so acts with severity, yet it is tempered by means of the good in which is his internal. Not so with the evil. With them the internal is inimical, fierce, hard, breathing hatred and revenge, and it feeds itself on the delights of these passions. Even when there is reconciliation, these passions are still latent, like fire in the embers beneath the ashes; and these fires break out, if not in this world yet after death.
366. Because in outer manifestation zeal with a good man and zeal with an evil appear to be alike, and because the ultimate sense of the Word consists of correspondences and appearances, therefore, in the Word it is often said of Jehovah that He is angry, is wrathful, avenges, punishes, casts into hell, besides many other expressions which are the appearances of zeal in its outer manifestation. For the same reason He is called jealous, when yet in Him is not the least shade of anger, wrath, and vengeance, He being mercy, grace, and clemency itself, thus good itself, in whom nothing of the kind is possible.