Clearing the temple of those who had made of it a business opportunity rather than spiritual worship, was one face of the zeal for God which lived in the heart of Jesus. But it was only one face. I think we sometimes believe that zeal is to be equated with a boundless energy that can’t quite sit still but always has to be doing something obvious for God. Zeal, we think, is best demonstrated by the high-strung personality that seems to want to ride off in all directions at once. However zeal is not necessarily to be equated with nervousness or activity or abruptness.
Following are some synonyms for the word “zeal”: enthusiasm, spirit, fire, eagerness, devotion and passion. All personality types are capable of possessing zeal. And the zeal which has God’s approval is guided not only by sincerity and passion, but by truth. Do you remember Paul’s statement about his fellow Jews in his letter to the Romans, chapter ten? His heart goes out to so many of them because they did indeed have a “zeal” for God. But their zeal was not guided by truth (v.2). They had rejected Christ and the further development of truth that He brought. This left them in wilfull darkness pursuing their own vain means of securing righteousness. Truly a bad place to be!
The truth about the zeal which has God’s approval is that it is a devotion to God and His will which makes appropriate response to the circumstances in which it finds itself. Surely we would agree that Jesus had zeal for God throughout His life, and not only during His public ministry. So what did zeal for God look like at various times in Jesus’ life? When Jesus was twelve years old, His zeal for God was demonstrated by His sitting in the temple courts for three days among the teachers listening to them and asking them questions? A bit later, His zeal for God is seen in His obedience and submission to His worried parents who had been searching for Him. And though it is not nearly as dramatic as cleansing the temple, when Jesus did His boyhood chores, ate the food set before Him, cleaned up after Himself as well as cleaning Himself, learned His lessons, played with friends, and habitually went to synagogue on the Sabbath, He was demonstrating zeal for God. Everything He did was connected to God’s purpose for Him. It was zeal for God that caused Him to put forth His best efforts in the carpenter’s shop. He believed that the God Who was always with Him deserved His best efforts. Sometimes zeal would sit and teach folks the ways of God. Sometimes zeal would walk the hot, dusty roads of Galilee in order to help those God longed to help. Sometimes zeal would sit down tired by a well, longing for a drink, but, mostly, longing to teach the next weary soul who came near and was thirsty. Sometimes zeal would take babies in its arms and bless them. Sometimes zeal would stoop to wash and then dry dirty feet. Sometimes zeal would sing…sometimes pray…sometimes heal…sometimes feed…and always was looking to serve God by serving those He loved. The zeal for God that consumed our Lord arose from the fact that God was such a wonderful God Who inspires within us all an unquenchable enthusiasm, fire, and devotion that will see us all through life!