“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!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me’” (John 2:13-17).
A thought came to me, as I wondered how I would finish an Advent series with these verses. Paul says to the church at Corinth: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). If Jesus was that fired-up about goings-on in a building where worship-rituals were performed, how much more zealous will He be for us – the people He loves and wants to spend time with!
Are you a follower of Jesus? Then you’re His temple. He’s up there in heaven, pleading with God for you. By believing in Him, you became a part of His Father’s household, so you can be sure He’s absolutely committed to you.
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I have a Saviour who’s been proclaimed by angels; born in Bethlehem; Creator and Nurturer of everything; deity; Everlasting Father; glorious, Holy Spirit-filled, God-with-us Immanuel; Jesus; King; Lord; Messiah; Nazarene; one with the Father; peace-giving; quiet; righteous; servant-hearted; timeless; unparalleled; victorious; the Word; my yesterday, today and forever zealous God! So many reasons to celebrate Him this Christmas.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8), but that doesn’t mean much unless you know who He is. We’ve already seen that God and Jesus are one. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3), so anything we read about Jesus can also be attributed to God and vice versa. “Christ Himself is our peace”, says Paul. “God is love”, says John.
If God is love, then surely those two words (God and love) are interchangeable. Here’s part of 1 Corinthians 13 in my own words, replacing ‘Love’ with Jesus or God:
God is patient, God is kind. He’s not envious or boastful. He’s not proud or rude, or self-seeking (if God had sought adulation, He would have made us robots incapable of feeling anything else). Jesus isn’t irritable and keeps no record of wrongs. He doesn’t delight in evil, but He’s happy about the truth. God always keeps us safe, gives us His trust, is constantly hopeful and never tires of us. God never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
That’s who my Lord is, and He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. If I snap at a parent I’m supposed to honour, God is still patient. If I’ve harboured an unkind thought, God’s still kind. When I’m struggling, His peace is still available to me. If I feel like throwing in the towel, God’s not about to give up. “If we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
I think I’m glad I serve a God who doesn’t change.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This was read every Christmas at my primary school, and my child’s mind couldn’t wrap around it. I never knew this Word was a person. The person called the Word, who was with God in the beginning and who was God, His name was Jesus. I never understood that, even though John explains it a few verses later. “The Word became a human and lived among us” (John 1:14). That’s the very thing Christmas celebrates: Jesus coming from heaven to earth.
But that’s not all; here are three other things the Word does:
He creates. “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth” (Psalm 33:6).
He controls. “The Son is … sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).
He cleans. “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
I’ve got Jesus to thank that I’m even in His church, being made holy before God. I’m so glad He came.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:35, 37).
In all these things. Jesus has won a resounding victory!
He’s defeated death. “’O death, where is your victory? Where is your power to hurt?’ Death’s power to hurt is sin, and the power of sin is the Law. But we thank God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
He’s triumphed over trouble. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
He dominates darkness. “The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over Me” (John 14:30).
Evil will ultimately be subject to Jesus. Doesn’t that leave a bit more room for hope?
“Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and told the nation’s leaders and the elders: ‘You are questioning us today about a kind deed in which a crippled man was healed. But there is something we must tell you and everyone else in Israel. This man is standing here completely well because of the power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth. You put Jesus to death on a cross, but God raised Him to life. He is the stone that you builders thought was worthless, and now He is the most important stone of all. Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone.’ The officials were amazed to see how brave Peter and John were, and they knew that these two apostles were only ordinary men and not well educated. The officials were certain that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:8-13).
When you repeat Jesus’ statement that no one comes to the Father except through Him, people don’t like it. I suppose they think you’re arrogant, saying you’re right and they’re wrong, but Peter would go along with you. “His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone”, Peter said of Jesus, and he wasn’t speaking on his own. He wasn’t just an opinionated so-and-so; he was filled with the Holy Spirit. When the leaders saw his courage, they knew Peter had kept company with Jesus.
Jesus truly is unique. No one else can save us, and with His Spirit living in us, we can have an unction we’ve never had before. Earlier this month I mentioned the fruit of the Spirit, including gentleness. Thanks to Him, we can bring a message without hostility or hate. “Something from the Spirit can be seen in each person, for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). I want the words I speak or write about Jesus to be for the good of those who hear them.
“Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’
“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM’” (John 8:57-58). Jesus was around before Abraham existed – before the world was even created.
A favourite songwriter of mine is Michael Card and in one of his songs, “The Final Word”, he tells us: “Eternity stepped into time.” The awesome thing is that one day, we’ll do it the other way round. We who were once constrained by time will step into eternity. “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Time loses its importance when I understand things from a heavenly perspective. “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Every earthly institution will be done away with. There’ll be nothing left except those things which are eternal.
Have you thought about where you’ll spend eternity? Because Jesus spoke about everyone rising from their graves – some to eternal condemnation and others to eternal life (John 5:28-29). Eternal life is knowing God, and knowing Jesus whom God has sent (John 17:3). If you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that life is yours, and you’ll spend not only time but the whole of eternity with Him.
Have you ever felt like something was beneath you? I remember volunteering with an organisation once, and all they gave me to do was rip the edges off pieces of scrap paper. To this day I still don’t understand why I was there, but Jesus clearly understood His purpose here on earth. “If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give His life to rescue many people” (Mark 10:43-45) or, as another version puts it: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
Surely, that must have been a temptation for Jesus – to feel like this was beneath Him. He left the glory He had with God in heaven and came down here, to serve us. He taught; healed diseases; even washed people’s dirty feet, and it was after this that He said: “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:16-17). In other words, Jesus has served, so it’s up to Christians to do the same; we shouldn’t expect to get out of it. Jesus is our Master. Doesn’t any athlete strive to follow what their coach tells them? If you’re looking for true greatness, it may well involve humbling yourself, and being willing to start at the bottom.
In “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, there’s a great section about hungering and thirsting after righteousness and what righteousness actually is. The author, Kenneth E. Bailey, makes the point that righteousness isn’t a quest for perfection; it’s not just adhering to the Law, but it’s treating others the way God’s always treated His people – with kindness and compassion.
The ultimate Righteous One is Jesus, and His ultimate act of kindness and compassion happened on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. “Father, forgive them,” He said of those crucifying Him, and you don’t get kinder than that. Jesus took the punishment we deserved so we wouldn’t have to, and you can’t get more compassionate than that. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“’Here is My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen one in whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out. In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope.’
“This is what God the LORD says – the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“‘I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not yield My glory to another or My praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you’” (Isaiah 42:1-9).
Christians see those verses in Isaiah as a prophecy about Jesus. Prophecies are messages from God to those He loves, and I’d like to go through this one phrase by phrase:
God’s chosen Jesus, and of course He’s going to delight in His Son.
God’s Holy Spirit came to rest on Jesus when He was baptised (Luke 3:21-22).
Jesus brought justice, but it wasn’t packaged the way His friends thought it would be. He didn’t come shouting out or aggressively raising His voice in the streets, keen to do battle with the Romans; His was a quieter and altogether different deliverance. He came gently, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Jesus won’t kick you when you’re down. Maybe as a young Christian, you were fired-up, but life’s knocked you about a bit. You’re feeling bruised, or as if your candle’s been smothered. Jesus isn’t waiting to condemn you, or to replace your dying embers with a brighter flame. He wants to fire you up again – get you back in the race.
During His life on earth, Jesus was in constant communication with His Father, holding His hand in prayer.
God sustained Jesus, and yes, He has become the New Agreement between God and His people. Whereas beforehand the Jewish High Priest would offer sacrifices to make the people acceptable to God, now Jesus has sacrificed His life as the peace-offering for all who will believe in Him. “In the same way, after supper, Jesus took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new agreement that God makes with His people. This new agreement begins with My blood which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:20).
Jesus came into this world as the Light for everyone – to open eyes, physical and spiritual; to free from prisons, real or imagined.
God gave His glory to Jesus, and told us about Him centuries before He was born – this quiet Deliverer of ours: Not aggressively raising His voice in the streets; just inviting all those who are thirsty to come and be satisfied.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, the Christmas carol says. Had that been sung over Him when He was born, it could have been prophetic. Jesus was able to sleep in heavenly peace not just when He was an infant, but throughout His earthly life. Even when a storm swamped the boat He travelled in, Jesus could sleep (Matthew 8:24).
Jesus isn’t just some historical figure; He’s an example to His followers, so we can expect that kind of peace to be available to us. He said these words the night He was arrested: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). This world’s peace is an absence of war; an absence of conflict; an end to turmoil, but Christ’s peace comes in the midst of difficult circumstances. Psalm 127 tells us God “gives sleep to those He loves.” “When you lie down, you won’t be afraid; when you lie down, you will sleep in peace” (Proverbs 3:24). Why would God say ‘You won’t be afraid’, if there was nothing to be afraid of? What He wants is for His people to be set apart – to lie down and sleep in peace, despite what’s going on around us. Knowing that God’s in control of everything makes a difference. “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered for ever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD” (PSALM 112:6-7).