Now that it’s November, it’s finally culturally appropriate to get excited about Christmas!! In honor of that, let me kick off this blog with a reference from the classic Christmas movie Elf. When Buddy the Elf is in the department store and they announce that Santa is coming, Buddy SCREAMS and jumps up and down with hysterical excitement! (For your enjoyment, here’s the scene).
I only wish my heart would respond the same way when I hear the name Jesus as Buddy when he heard the name Santa. Though the word “gospel” literally means “good news” my heart responds to it like it’s old news. My heart leaps with excitement when theLonghorns win (hook ‘em!), when I think about Christmas coming (only 44 more days!!), and when someone brings out the dessert (yum!). But rather than being exhilarated about my God, my heart is often apathetic towards the Author and Perfecter of my faith.
Romans 12:11 says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines zeal as “a strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something.” Or, as I would define it: an intense love that leads to extreme action. I’ve always thought having zeal meant I had to channel Buddy, screaming and jumping up and down yelling “JESUS!” instead of “SANTA!” So when I didn’t feel like that, I would feel guilty for not being more excited about God! I thought the surges of excitement I have experienced are supposed to be sustainable and I would compare myself to people who are naturally more excitable and expressive. While there’s something to be said about the excitement Buddy feels for Santa,I do not think excitement is the same as zeal.
Zeal may look like excitement at times, but I think it’s so much more than that.
Zeal is a deep love and affection for Christ that causes you to not just be excited about Jesus, but to follow Jesus. To lay down your life for him. To follow him at any cost to yourself. After all, isn’t this what Jesus did for us? If zeal is an intense love that leads to extreme action, then isn’t our God a zealous God? This is the gospel. God’s “strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm” – his love for both his own glory and his people – made him “very eager or determined to do something” – namely, to send Jesus to lay down his life for us. Yes, indeed, God’s intense love leads to extreme action.
Psalm 69 foreshadows the coming Savior:
“For zeal for your house has consumed me,and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”
Jesus fulfills these verses when he overturns the money-changers tables in the temple. John 2 tells us that Jesus made a whip of cords and drove the people who took advantage of and interfered with the worship of God. Specifically, this was in the temple area where the Gentiles (or non-Jews) were, foreshadowing that Jesus himself would bring unhindered worship of God not only to the Jew, but also to the Gentile. When Jesus’s disciples saw this, they remembered Psalm 69. Jesus also tells the Jews there something they found confusing, which now seems obvious to us: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They didn’t understand, but Jesus was speaking of his upcoming death and resurrection, again revealing that through his death he would grant us direct access to the Father, to worship God without hindrance.Jesus’s zeal is what gives us the gospel.
Isaiah 9 also speaks of the coming Savior (a popular Christmas verse):
“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end… The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
God’s zeal gave us Jesus.God has an intense, strong, enduring love for both his glory and his people. And it’s this strong emotion that led him to extreme actions. Jesus – God himself – was born into the frame of a man. God with us. Jesus, who never sinned, took the punishment for our sin. He laid down his life to unite us to God. Our zealous God went to extreme measures to bring us to himself.
I don’t get the impression from the Scriptures that Jesus was JUST SO EXCITED to die and take on the wrath of God. He wasn’t jumping up and down about it. In fact, before his death he was in “agony” (Luke 22:44) and Isaiah 53 describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” But because of his deep love for us, he submitted to the Father’s will and laid down his life.
Sometimes we won’t feel so excited about the gospel, but let us keep the gospel of Jesus fresh in our hearts because it truly is “good news”. But let us also find freedom in that being zealous for God is even deeper than excitement. Let us, out of our conviction and deep love for Christ, submit to our Father’s will. Let us follow Christ at any cost to ourselves – even our very lives.