I'm Boiling. May I Erupt?

Steam rising from a beautiful, colorful hot spring

I started writing this post before the killing of George Floyd. We were still grieving Ahmaud Arbery’s senseless murder. We cry, “Enough is enough.” We wonder when this wretched devaluing of life and livelihood will end. And we are justifiably angry.

I don't normally mention people or current events in my posts. 'Always relevant' is my aim. But this is critical. It's serious. And it is, indeed, always relevant. I had planned to write about this topic before either of the two murders had occurred, so this is even more awakening for me as a writer.

This is what I hold fast to and what I conclude from God’s sacred Word: 


Everyone has value.
Everyone is somebody.
God cares about everyone.

We should, too.

When we hear about heartless killing, we get angry and we might even rise up and do something about it.

 

There’s a story about Jesus in John 2 where we imagine Him in a fit of rage. We imagine Him trashing the profiteering exploits of the wicked people who set up shop outside the temple in Jerusalem. It feels like this story gives us permission to be angry and unleash our own rage, albeit “without sinning” (Ephesians 4:26).

Dear readers, I know this will be unpopular, but the story in John 2 didn't unfold that way and we don't have God's permission to unleash our rage.

Jesus had just begun His public ministry. He assembled His disciples, performed His first public miracle, and headed to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. And then we come to John 2:14-17:


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.”


Key phrases like "made a whip," "drove...from the temple," "overturned...table," and "zeal...," along with the inclusion of exclamation points, affect us emotionally and we naturally associate them with our own life experiences or the way we read between the lines. But it is important to notice exactly what is written. By reading phrase by phrase, we can be clear about what happened, and we can draw some conclusions. Here are some facts:

  • People sold animals to be used as sacrifices and offerings in the Passover celebration.
  • People exchanged foreign money for Jewish coins to be used in the Passover celebration.
  • Jesus considered these transactions to be desecrations of holy celebration and the temple, which He considered to be God's house.

Conclusion, with an eye toward what is happening around us today:


The actions of the people with power were deplorable and they took advantage of people with less power.


And the key to our learning points about anger and the value of people and life is in what Jesus did as a response:

  • He made a whip.
  • He drove the cattle and sheep and those who sold them out of the temple courts.
  • He scattered the coins of the money changers and he overturned their tables.
  • He requested the dove sellers to take their doves away from the temple courts.
  • He told the dove sellers to stop using God’s house as a place for their own profit.

Conclusion, with an eye towards what is happening around us today:


He confronted those who desecrated God and His temple, and, without violence, He effectively drove them away.

How can I say He did this without violence if He crafted a whip and probably raised His voice? The Bible doesn't say He used violence, and the fact that He planned His response with careful intention supports the absence of violence.

  • He didn’t explode or fly off the handle. He took time to make a whip. Maybe it didn't take Him long, but He still paused to do it.
  • His responses were different and targeted for each of the offender groups:

o   To those with cattle and sheep, He drove them out of the temple courts. My guess is He used the whip to make the animals run off and their owners quickly followed after their livelihood.

o   To those who exchanged money, He scattered their coins and perhaps other items that were on the tables. By doing this, the money changers were sure to drop to their knees and scrape up what belongings they could gather before dashing off.

o   To those who sold doves, He spoke. He didn’t do anything that would cause the doves to fly away. This is probably because they would lose their well-being. He gave them an opportunity to walk away with their livelihood. But He was also very clear to them and to anyone else in earshot. He would not allow them to desecrate God and His temple, and surely not for the sake of their own profit.

 

Conclusion, with an eye towards what is happening around us today:


The offenders committed the worst of crimes, but Jesus valued them and their belongings enough to not destroy their lives. His intent was to clean up the temple and to assure those who came to worship could conduct a proper Passover celebration. As a result, those who came had a safe and God-honoring environment in which to do so.

 

I imagine some of us hear a different retelling of this story on Sunday mornings. I used to understand it differently. I used to wonder how to execute outrage without sinning. But over the years, my outrage was always sinful. Now, when I read this story, regardless of how it may be recited from the pulpit, I see Proverbs like these:

 

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1

 

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.

Proverbs 15:18

 

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

Proverbs 16:32

 

Whoever is patient has great understanding,
but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

Proverbs 14:29

 

I am not a black man. I can’t begin to understand the depth of disadvantage, oppression and racism that comes with the color of a black person’s skin. I can’t begin to identify with the need to continually prove, defend, and justify myself, or to live with the daily fears of inadequacy, prejudice, accusations, unworthiness, and death. And I’m certain I did not include enough verbs and adjectives in these lists.

But I am a person of color and I have been wrongfully zip-tied and set in the back of a police car. I was either racially or visually profiled. I was a victim of verbal abuse, flat out lies, and a wrongful body search. I was a victim of a good cop/bad cop ploy.

But I merely drove along city blocks from my workplace to pick up my wife at her workplace before driving to pick up our son from preschool. And after I pulled up in front of the building where she worked, she and many others witnessed it all. And I had no idea why the police pulled me over. They eventually let me go.

This was years ago when I would’ve naturally responded with anger, but fortunately the shock of it all had me in a stupor. Much of what the police officers did was reproachable, but my calm stupor and the earnest pleas of my wife relieved the situation. Another thing that kept me calm was the fact that my son was at preschool. I sat in the back of the police car wondering what would happen to him if we didn’t pick him up before the preschool closed.

The police found nothing incriminating. They said I was speeding but that was a flimsy lie because they never caught up to me [apparently] for several blocks until I pulled over unawares.

But what could have gone wrong in this situation? What would have happened if I was my normal, arrogant self? What if I wasn’t in a stupor or concerned about my son? What if God hadn’t managed the situation on my behalf?

A fit of rage fueled by a hot temper would’ve landed me in jail or worse. Exercising patience [a.k.a., forbearance] is always the better choice. This is a universal truth, relevant in many everyday situations. The officers didn’t earn what minimal forbearance I mustered, but earning is not part of the equation. They held the power. I didn’t. And God, in His mercy and grace, delivered me from that injustice.

God notices when we forbear, and He expects us to value people – to care for their well-being. He values them, too (Ephesians 2:3-5). He sent His only Son to die on the cross for people (John 3:16) and He waits patiently for them to come around (2 Peter 3:9).

Please offer patience, not violence, to those who offend us. Please forbear.

 

 

 

See also this post about Jesus who was a victim of injustice.

If you want to know more about how to have a relationship with the God who values people, please email me at authordlv@att.net. He understands injustice and He helps us rise above it.

 

Read more blog posts here.

 

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Comments

  1. Very well thought out blog and very spot on. Thanks Stephen. We need to hear and understand.

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    1. Thank you, Yvonne. This goes against our grain. I hope that some of us will have 2nd thoughts before acting.

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  2. Thank you for this important post. Thank you for the reminder to offer patience, not violence. Pausing and praying before responding would help the world.

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    1. Yes, Melissa. We need to give in to the Holy Spirit so we don't do what comes naturally. We need to let God do His work.

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  3. Yes! Jesus stood up to injustice with righteous (but non-violent) anger and accountability. It's so important to be vocal and speak out in love and with patience about injustice. Being patient and letting God's light shine through us is the way to open hearts and minds. God bless you!

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    1. If you ask Solomon, patience is the opposite of a hot temper. So it is not our first instinct. Solomon said a patient person is also better than a hero. We don't need a hero. We already have One. We need to let Jesus shine through us while we respond with patience.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your personal story, Stephen. It is powerful and timely, and it was gracious of you to share it with us. These is much wisdom here for people of color who are wrongly put into the back of a police car, indeed for any of us who are wrongly accused. Praise God that you contained the anger and humiliation you must have felt, and kept your young son in mind.

    I'm grateful that Jesus had that moment when he defended the sanctity of the Court of Gentiles, where the moneylenders had set up shop, selling animals for sacrifice, the kind of small-sized offerings usually purchased by the poor. And, in that space, the money lenders and the sellers of goods accomplished two kinds of evil. They exploited the poor, who could barely afford their offerings, and they prohibited Gentiles from being able to come into that space to worship God with any focus. How would we all feel if we showed up for church and it had been turned into a bazaar, which we were to ignore while trying to hear the pastor and sing the hymns? Jesus wanted us Gentiles and and those of us who are poor to be able to come close to God. I love him for that. Of course, he was angry. Injustice had been spoken of in his Word all through the Old Testament.

    We must speak his words, because right now, after decades of attempts at change, we find we haven't made much progress. My husband and I were children during the Civil Rights Movement, and it is STILL going on, not much changed. We are angry. We are speaking up as much as we can. We must also write. You have done an excellent job here in sharing your story. Your words of wisdom might save someone from reacting in a way that they would always regret. God bless you, brother!

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    1. I'm glad you pointed out the Gentiles, Melinda. Gentiles were not allowed in the temple so they needed those temple courts cleared of all that would impede proper worship. And how great that is was okay for Gentiles to participate in Passover.

      I think about coffee bars at some churches, including my own. It is very easy to socialize around coffee and miss the worship service entirely, especially in large congregations. I trust that is not the case for our brothers and sisters.

      And I'm sorry to hear that much has not changed since Civil Rights. And much has not changed since Jesus walked the earth. Though we hear of communities, even sports teams, where Jesus shines. Praise God for that. We need more of it.

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  5. Love, Love, Love this blog! I hope and pray these events are the catalyst to sweeping reform, starting with the heart of the church. Racism in the name of Jesus can never be tolerated and the church must speak out against it.

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    1. I'm glad it is meaningful for you, Candice. So much reform is needed in both systems and people, and, yes, also in the church. Jesus shocked His disciples with His compassionate heart that looked beyond the color of skin.

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  6. Stephen this is such a powerful post on every level. First of all, thank you for walking us through the scripture to clarify step by step, what Jesus actually did and did not do when He cleansed the Temple. And God does not give us permission to unleash our rage. We need to look at Jesus on the cross and reset our hearts. Thank you for sharing your personal story. It is heartbreaking to read these accounts of racial profiling and mistreatment. Thank God you were able to maintain your calm. We know a calm and steady response has a much better chance of diffusing volatile tempers. Only God can help us walk in His Spirit with such calm. Your closing remarks echo in my soul: "Please offer patience, not violence, to those who offend us. Please forbear." Powerful words of wisdom. God bless you.

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    1. Yes, Melissa. Jesus hung on the cross and said, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they're doing." Passion doesn't always equal rightness. We need to understand God and His Word and be led by the Spirit in order to know what is right and to respond in ways that honor Him.

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  7. Great post Brother I really appreciate it. As a Christian Black Man I always focus on God's commandments to Love. Even though at times I may have been judged solely on my color, I always focus on remembering who I am. The enemy is working over time in 2020 and when we realize it, it makes it easier to deal with how the tables are turning. The knee I choose to take will always be to pray. It truly is sad what has happened to not only Mr. Floyd but many others who were killed in mistaken identity as well. My mind goes 100 miles an hour because I also think of the murders that happen every weekend around the world that many are not taken as seriously as a white on black murder. The Holy Spirit showed me something last week and that is, God created us and looks at us as His creation, then along comes satan and takes what is good and tries to divide us... the color of our skin.... skin color... the more I say it or write it, the more ridiculous it sounds.. he wants to divide us and destroy us, but God has a better plan...to Love. Thanks for your message and also sharing your testimony, God Bless

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    1. You are so right. Satan is the one who "colors" our perspectives and we become divided as a result. God created one human race as reflections of His image, and He wants us to respond to Him. Satan has created a great distraction/detraction that feeds our natural focus on self. Thank you for the reminder that our focus should be God's commandment of love.

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  8. Valuing and respecting people. They can make a big difference in our world today. Thanks and God bless!

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    1. Yes, Nancy. I pray we will have more of that: valuing and respecting. Thanks.

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  9. Thank you for a thoughtful exposition of a passage we think we know well simply by virtue of familiarity.
    And thank you for sharing your personal experience as well.

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    1. I'm glad you could read it, Ava. Familiar Scripture is sometimes the most elusive simply because we think about it less. But every verse is rich in message. Every verse is valuable just like every person. May we learn how to value people and life better and touch hearts with the gospel.

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  10. Stephen, I so appreciate your powerful words here. First, I am sorry you were treated so harshly by the police in your story. I have never viewed this story about Jesus in the light which you share it. This perspective makes so much sense. He sets the example for "in our anger do not sin." It's so hard, but when we can view the other person with patience and forbearance, when we can view them through Jesus' eyes, it's a little easier to choose not to rage on others. May we all grow in loving others as Jesus does. May we all reflect His love to those around us. You've given me much to think about today. Thank you for that.

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    1. I appreciate your words here, Jeanne. It's really about furthering the gospel message. We work against the gospel when we act out our rage, but we keep an open door to the gospel when we respond with compassion. I imagine Jesus would've gladly welcomed any of His offenders back to the temple if they returned in repentance. But why would they if He instead acted with violence? Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

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  11. Thank you for this oh so important post, Stephen. I love your spot on interpretation of Jesus at the temple. It is misinterpreted too many times, in order to justify unrighteous anger. I am so sorry you had the experience you had. But now God can use it for you to help others having the same crazy experience. Bless you brother!

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    1. Yes, Barb. There is no justification for unrighteous anger. And even "righteous" anger needs to be reigned in. It's too easy to let our emotions suggest our next steps. I'm so thankful God worked on my behalf during that encounter with the police. It was a gift of His grace.

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  12. Thank you for your honesty in this post, Stephen. Sharing it on Pinterest. Great read!

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    1. We live in a difficult society where many are bear the responsibility of few. What these couple of officers did to me gives the many, many good officers a bad rap. I hope this helps us respond well when officers are doing their jobs well and when they are truly out of line. Thank you for sharing on Pinterest.

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