Fruitful (Part 2)

(This is an excerpt from a recent sermon covering Mark 11:1-12:12, you can click here to find the audio) 

In my previous post, I offered a few thoughts on the Royal Procession of Jesus towards Jerusalem. Though the next day begins with the cursing of the fig tree, I chose to save that for the end of the message.

Read Mark 11:15-19 

As Linda Richman might say, the cleansing of the temple was neither a cleansing, nor a temple… discuss… There are passages where the bold headings are helpful… Mark 11 is not one of them. I’d like to challenge the notion that Jesus was cleansing the temple as we examine these details. He entered the court of the Gentiles, an area approximately 500yds x 325yds. That amounts to roughly 35-acres. The central courts that held the temple measured more than a football field alone. Why do I bring this up? Because Jesus, one man, granted the God-man, but one man, raised a scene. Was it sufficient to bring 35-acres of activity to a halt? Was it enough, in a moment, to cleanse a broken system? The assumption would be that, following a cleansing, the temple would be… clean. 

He drove out the sellers. But did you notice he also drove out the buyers?! We think of Jesus sending away the corrupt traders and money changers, but why the buyers? Why the worshipers?

Animals bought and sold as commodities were a part of temple life. Pilgrims weren’t often able to bring the necessary sacrifices. Temple giving required a particular unit of currency, the temple shekel, which required money changers. And this was the week of Passover, the most grand and busy festival of the year. Because God’s worship was very specific, these merchants found use in the temple system. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been in the court. Perhaps they were corrupt. But it was a desire to adhere to the law that gave rise to their trade.

The last verse of the prophet Zechariah says that one day, there would be no more traders. And on that day… Something would shift. The shift would draw the worshipers nearer to the LORD who saves them.

Notice Jesus wouldn’t let anyone carry anything through, as if Jesus, rather than seeking to purify the totality of what was happening, was actually trying to disrupt totally, on a small scale, everything and everyone, as if planting a seed or setting to motion a ripple effect approaching something larger… all so he could teach from Isaiah 56… a chapter about the salvation of the Gentiles. A house for the nations. Everyone who holds fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Isaiah goes on to call Israel’s leaders idolatrous blind watchmen, and to preach the humility that pleases God.

Jesus was ready to bring Jews and Gentiles together, to tear down the dividing wall of hostility, as Paul called it in Ephesians 2:14. Because of sin, ethnic distinction was necessary for a season of God’s plan. It was ethnic distinction that set apart the family line that would welcome Jesus. God chose, save, protected, and preserved a particular nation as part of the plan to choose, save, protect, and preserve people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Now in Christ, all of the resentment could be restored and healed. Sinners united at the foot of the cross.

There were, at the time, signs posted in the temple distinguishing the various courts. The courts were a progression towards the presence of God. The outermost court was for the Gentiles. Next came the court of the women, then the court of the Israelites, and the court of the priests. Inside the temple, of course, was the distinction of the holy place – visited only by priest – and the most holy place – visited only by the high priest, and only once each year. Each distinction communicated a message of the realities of God’s redemption, but the messages had descended into hostile division. History reports that signs posted in the Gentile court threatened death for any who was found ascending beyond his or her position. Divisions designed to create longing instead created enmity. 

The time had come, not only to preach a message of unity, but to provide – through the cross – a means of unity.

Jesus then mentions robbers, and we think again of those pesky merchants. But think about this… what is the robber’s den for? They don’t rob the den. They leave the den for crime. They come home to hide. The den is a reference to Jeremiah 7, where God warns the worshipers, Do not trust in these deceptive words: This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD. It is foolish to trust the building. Don’t hide in the building.

Jeremiah blasts Israel’s oppression of foreigners, orphans, widows. They live in sin, and are then all-too-confident to return to stand before the LORD expecting deliverance. They treated the temple like a den. A hideout to bury a life of treachery Jeremiah warns the people of coming judgment in the hands of the LORD. Now Jesus takes these verses and applies them to the temple mount, the den.

Instead of reaching out, they were cowering inside. God’s good system was defiled by sin. Sure, it was impressive to look at… but there was no fruit inside. The temple mount was a pretty picture, but a hollow practice.

It wasn’t just the sellers who needed redemption.

I can’t see Jesus going to any great effort to reform or clean temple worship when, in three days, he would open the door to God’s presence for all mankind. Tabernacle and temple worship were a season of preparation in which the nation of Israel was to stand as a beacon of light, shining the truth of the one true God. Her worship should have foreshadowed true worship, sacrifice, prayer, relationship, and obedience that would come with the Messiah. And now, in the fullness of time, at the climax of human history, the temple had exhausted its ability to produce Godly fruit.

In the middle of this exhaustion stands Jesus… the Savior. The time had come to forge a better way to the Father. Not to erase the temple, but to fulfill its purpose.

The scribes and chief priests heard about the ruckus, understanding enough about the Lord’s actions that they sought to destroy him. The incident itself, the “cleansing” was small-ish. The area of catastrophe was likely clean and in operation again by morning if not sooner. But the message of judgment was big. This was no cleansing. It was a declaration that change was coming. The people didn’t realize the depth of change, that the loving redemption of worship was only days away.

Jesus went to Bethany for the night.

 

 

 

Fruitful (Part 1)

(This is an excerpt from a recent sermon covering Mark 11:1-12:12, you can click here to find the audio) 

In the early 90s, there was a skit on SNL called Coffee Talk with Linda Richman. She talked coffee, NY, daughters, dogs, you know, no big whoop… just coffee talk. Mike Meyers played Linda Richman.

Every so often Linda would get a little verklempt… Talk amongst yourselves… here, I’ll give you a topic… Rhode Island is neither a road, nor an island… discuss… The New Deal was neither new, nor was it a deal… discuss…

Linda Richman could have fun with the bold heading in my Bible for this particular chapter.
The Triumphal Entry was neither triumphal, nor an entry… discuss…

Check out Mark 11:1-11 (Link to BibleGateway)

The royal procession is recorded in all four gospels. It’s important to notice that Jesus staged this event. He didn’t lay the branches or the clothing in the roads, but he sent his disciples ahead to prepare his ride. Sometimes, it seemed as though Scriptural fulfillment just happened to Jesus. (i.e. his birth) Other times, he was very intentional in ministry. In this case, he was making a very thinly veiled statement of his identity that perfectly fulfilled Scripture.

He started from the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. The prophets had foretold that this mountain was the place the Messiah, the king of the earth, would set his feet before conquering. But this is no victorious ride… at least, not from any earthly vantage point. There is a particular rabbinical teaching that if the LORD found his people to be faithful, even for a day, that the Messiah would arrive on a white horse to reign. If not, he would arrive humbly, on a donkey. The people had need of redemption, need of forgiveness. Only the colt would do!

The colt, also, was significant for the Jews. The prophet Zechariah (9:9) had said, behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Colts were primarily used for transportation, so Jesus essentially sent his friends to borrow a guy’s ride. But he gave them a solid explanation if anyone started asking questions… Where ya going with that? Uh… the Lord needs it. We’ll… uh… bring it back when we’re done.  Oh! Ok. Very well. Even if Jesus assured them it would be all right, they had to feel suspicious…

The disciples laid their cloaks – more literally their clothes – on the colt while the crowd laid their clothing and branches on the road. This was a sign of political alignment. (2Kings 9) They were placing their trust in this KING. They were crying out from Psalm 118, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

In consecutive stories now, Jesus is referred to as the son of David. Bartimaeus, if you remember, cried, Son of David, have mercy on me! Ten centuries earlier, God had made an eternal covenant with David unto a kingdom (2Samuel 7) that would span eternity. Israel was waiting – begging – for the realization of this kingdom. To call Jesus the Son of David is to recognize him as the king. The awaited Messiah.

Now the people cry Hosanna! which simply means, save us!

Side note: So often, in an effort to emphasize the contrast of responses among the people, and to attempt to highlight the fickle human heart, folks link this particular crowd to the crowd crying for the crucifixion of Jesus on Friday morning. I do not believe these are the same people. We’ll see by the end of our chapter today which group would insist upon his death. I don’t see them as the bloodthirsty mob of Friday morning. This crowd, much like the disciples, would fail to stand up for Jesus, but I believe we should stop there when the Scriptures are silent.

This royal procession gathered outside the gates and led him to the city. His humble arrival spoke a loud message – Jesus was laying claim to the throne of David.

He entered Jerusalem. Jesus had been here before, but in Mark’s gospel this is the first recorded visit. Mark has been funneling his gospel to this point. It’s as if he avoided talking about Jerusalem earlier in the life of Christ so as to turn this week into a bold-faced highlight. This is the week, the visit to the city and the temple, that we’ve been sprinting towards.

Christ entered the temple.

This is no small moment. God with us ascended the temple mount. The radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature set foot again on the hallowed ground. He looked around. He left for the night. His pattern for the week would be to spend days in the temple, and nights in Bethany.

I have to wonder if he considered at that point what would happen in the morning.

For now, the people cried for their God and King to save them.

 

 

References:

There are some GREAT commentaries on Mark. A few favorites:

The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) by R.T. France
The Gospel According to Mark (Pillar) by James R. Edwards
Mark (NIV Application) by David E. Garland
Jesus the King by Tim Keller
Mark: St. Andrews Expository by R.C. Sproul