Knowing my great love and admiration for C. S. Lewis, my wife gave me a copy of The C.S. Lewis Bible (NRSV) on my birthday several years ago. In this Bible over 600 readings are paired alongside relevant passages in the Bible allowing me the benefit of the years Lewis gave to his close personal study of the Bible and how it informed his personal writing.
In a memorable passage in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader that touches on John 2:12-22 Lucy and Edmund are engaged in their adventure when they come to a large grassy expanse. The sensuous green of the grass spreads off into the blue horizon except for a white spot in the middle of the green expanse. As Edmund and Lucy look at this spot intently, they have difficulty making out what it is. Being adventurous, they travel across the grass until finally the white spot comes into view. It is a lamb! The lamb white and pure, is cooking a fish breakfast.
Author C.S. Lewis probably based this passage on the imagery in the twenty-first chapter of John, where we find Jesus cooking a fish breakfast for his disciples. The white lamb is a Christ figure.
The lamb gives Lucy and Edmund the most delicious breakfast they have ever had. Then ensues a wonderful conversation as they talk about how to get to the land of Aslan – Heaven. As the lamb begins to explain the way, a marvelous thing happens. As Lewis records it, “His snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.” What a picture!
Lewis was illustrating a great truth of our faith – the Lamb is the Lion. In biblical terms, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Qualities we consider to be lamb-like – gentleness and meekness – are indeed in Christ, but so are the regalness and ferocity of a lion. The Book of Revelation speaks of “the wrath of the Lamb” (6:16).
This passage begins in the wake of the beautiful miracle in Cana of Galilee, and we must view it with that in mind. Jesus had been to a wedding, and when the wine ran out, he changed the water into wine. The message of the miracle is that when the natural joys of life wear out, our Lord brings new wine - new joys. When the steward tasted the wine, he said, “You have saved the best till now.” That is how it is with the Christian life. The best comes at the last. As we grow in him, the joys and wines of life become more perfect and more satisfying.
From Cana Jesus traveled the twenty miles to Capernaum. It was an idyllic time for our Lord, his brothers, his mother, and his newfound disciples, especially in the light of the excitement and freshness of the miracle. It was also almost Passover, and there was a spirit of expectancy across the land. The entire land bustled with the spirit of Passover. Jerusalem, although not a big city by ordinary standards, would have as many as two and a quarter million people crowded into its confines at Passover. So it is very natural to add in verse 13, “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.”
We can surmise that as our Lord traveled south to Jerusalem, the roads became very congested. When he entered the gates of the city and approached the cream and gold of that temple, the congestion became even worse, with sellers of trinkets and souvenirs on all sides. Some of that must have bothered our Lord, but not, I imagine, as much as when he saw at the temple. Notice verse l4: “In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others siting at tables exchanging money.”
From the Lord’s point of view what he saw in the temple was an outrage! The money changers claimed their business was a necessity – changing foreign currency into Jewish currency because foreign was not acceptable for offerings in the temple. Authorities tell us that the money changers charged as much as two hours of a working man’s wage to change a half shekel*. They charged the same amount again for every half shekel they gave in return for a larger coin. So if a man came with a two shekel piece, he would have had to pay an entire days wage just to change his money! This brought a lot of money into the temple. In fact, some years before, when a man came and ravaged the temple he took close to $20 million and did not come close to depleting the treasury of the temple!
Extortion was common in the temple confines. To make things worse, Annas, the high priest, was behind the whole thing! Sarcastic commenters in those days dubbed the temple the “Bazaars of Annas.” They knew the high priest actually sold franchises for money-changing and animal sales.
So when our Lord came to the temple, he found a religious circus! As his eyes scanned the great Court of the Gentiles, he saw sheep, oxen, and everything that goes with them. There was huckstering, bartering, and haggling over the weight of a coin. The commotion that must have been within the temple is almost beyond our imagination. It was certainly unacceptable to our Lord!
The following verses only give a glimpse of the drama that occurred. Jesus reached down, picked up some cords, and quickly knotted them together. Then he began to cleanse the temple. One commentator said he must have appeared to be seven feet tall as his whip began to fly. Tables crashed and money jangled across the floor as our Lord drove the money changers, the sellers, and the inspectors out of the temple. Jesus’ words were, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market?” (verse 16). The Lamb was a Lion!
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, is a concept that has been so overworked that many today preach and follow a Christ who has no resemblance to the Christ of the New Testament. That Jesus is an idol, drained of his deity – a weak, good-natured deity whose great aim is to let us off the hook.
Do not get me wrong. Jesus is meek and mild (Matthew 11:29). Dozens of Scriptures in the New Testament testify to his gentleness. But we need to balance this with other descriptions of our Lord. For instance, in Mark 3:5, the passage describing the man with the paralyzed hand, Jesus looked around at all those who were questioning whether or not he could heal on the Sabbath, and “he looked around at them in anger.” Jesus’ anger was a swelling wrath. There was nothing gentle in the fierce message to Herod either: “Go tell that fox. . .” (Luke 13:32), or in response to Peter: “Out of my sight, Satan!” (Matthew 16:32). I am sure the Pharisees in the temple saw nothing of his gentleness, meekness, and mildness when he said, “You are like whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:37) and “You snakes! You brood of vipers. How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (verse 13). The scene described in our text is a wild scene! Men were grasping at their moneybags and tables as Jesus applied the whip to those not moving.
But the fact is, Jesus was as God-like here as he was when he hung on the cross. He was revealing as much of God on this occasion as he did at Calvary. He was displaying a great underlying truth: Love presupposes hatred. A love for the downtrodden, the poor, and the oppressed also brings about a hatred for the conditions that caused their suffering. That truth has been evident in the preaching of great men down through the centuries. Men and women of great love have always been people of great hatred. In fact, you can tell as much about a person by his hatreds as by his loves. So what has been revealed through Christ’s anger is very important.
For many, Christ has become a pop Jesus who lies back with his headphones in place, reading Sports Illustrated. The result is contemporary idolatry that at its core is a distortion of God into man-made and mental images. Our irreverence reflects an idolatrous concept of God. The flip phrase “the man Upstairs” is an idolatrous statement, born out of ignorance and a wrong understanding of God. “The Big Man in the sky” is not the God we worship. No wonder Jesus was so indignant about the irreverence he saw!
Our hearts can become like that outer court of the temple of Jerusalem. Even while we sit in church, the bazaars of suburbia can be spinning through our heads. We may be thinking about the next business deal we are going to close, athletic events that await us, shopping trips, or computer games. Solomon said it all when he said in Proverbs 5:14, “I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.” It is possible to be almost in “utter ruin” even while we are part of a Bible-based church.
When we become sufficiently desensitized to the greatness and holiness of God because of the irreverent spirit and the idolatrous concept of God affecting our lives, our manner of service is also affected. Just as in the temple, the profit motive moves easily into the religious life of the church. Since in our view God is impotent, effete, and obsolete, we rationalize that we need to bring in the things of the world to help him out. D. L. Moody used to preach a sermon titled, “If Christ Came to Chicago” about the return of Christ. It was a great sermon, but an even greater sermon for us would be, “What is Christ Came to the Temple of Our Lives?” What would he do?
Let me finish. Remember the lamb in the C.S. Lewis story? “As he spoke, his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.” What marvelous twin images of God – the Lamb and the Lion. The hand that was stretched out on the cross and had that nail cruelly driven through it is the same hand that grasped the whip – the Lamb and the Lion.
Let us be known for our hatred of sin and idolatry. We must not apply the whip to others, for we are not Christ, but let us apply it to our own lives. Let us be people so zealous, so overflowing, so burning, so full of him that nothing else can intrude. Do you know what the effects will be? First of all, we will have reverence for God in our lives. People will see our ethos (what you are as a person) – that it is real. It will affect our worship wherever we are, and our own church will become a house of prayer for the nations. The grace of God will go forth. May God deliver us from idolatry – a lower concept of him than we see in our awesome, transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient Lamb and Lion.
* Every Jew was required to give a half shekel to the Temple coffers (annual tithe) – equal to 160 grains of barley, which in modern measurement would be approximately eight grams of silver.
It is impossible to know silver’s value in biblical times. At today’s rate of approximately 17 US dollars per ounce, 8 grams of silver is around $5.00"