When I was growing up, I could tell my Sunday School teachers always felt a lot of pressure to explain why Jesus got so angry in the cleansing of the temple. Jesus, they always told us, was mild and meek, so it was rather confusing to find him tossing over tables and driving people out of the temple with a whip. What did these people do to deserve this?
My Sunday School teachers had the answer, holy tradition passed down through countless generations of sweet Lutheran ladies who volunteered to wrangle curious children. The money changers and the animal sellers were charging too much money. That’s why. But I don’t think that answer is quite right. I think it’s much simpler. Jesus got angry because they were selling animals when He was right there.
When John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, He was declaring that Jesus had come to fulfill the promises made by every lamb and bull and goat that was ever slaughtered in the temple. Jesus had come to shed the only blood that actually could take away sin, the blood of God’s own sinless Son. And in this moment, the Jews should have rejoiced. No longer did they have to bring their animals to the temple. No longer did those coming on long journeys have to change their foreign currency and buy animals in Jerusalem to offer up as sacrifices. Salvation was here. It was full. It was complete. And it was free.
But the people chose the metaphor instead of the real thing. They chose the shadow instead of the fulfillment. Those chose earthly lambs over the true lamb and the earthly temple over the true temple. That’s why Jesus drove the money changers out and told those who questioned His authority that He was the true temple whose torn down body would be raised again on the third day.
And so, in the anger of Jesus, we see God’s love. In the rage that frightens little Lutheran children, we see the comfort of salvation. Why was Christ angry? Because salvation is free. The cost to become a child of God is zero. Every ounce of that cost has been paid by God Himself and you owe absolutely nothing. When you owed God a debt that could not be paid with the cost of a trillion bulls and goats and sheep, the Master paid the debt His servants owed Him. You are forgiven, freely and fully in the blood of the true Lamb.