“Worship the King”
One of the reasons that I wanted to go through one of the Gospels is because there was so much of Jesus’ life, ministry, and especially his teachings that I wanted greater clarity on. And I would imagine that many of you are in the same boat. Jesus says and does some curious things that, on the surface, are a bit confusing. And so it is with our passage this morning. Here we see the King of the Jews enter Jerusalem on a colt. In one instance, the crowds hail him as the one who would restore the kingdom of David. Within a short time, this same Jesus is hanging on a cross and rejected by many.
We also come across a familiar account where Jesus curses an innocent fig tree and we wonder what the point is. Is Jesus having a moment of selfishness and unrestrained anger? Then we see him enter the temple area in Jerusalem and are again confused as to why Jesus would have such a strong reaction to the activities going on inside. So this study, for me, helps me to slow down and consider these things and gain a greater understanding to otherwise familiar accounts. Let’s read the text as we get underway. We are in Mark 11.1-25. READ.
Jesus and the disciples have been on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus is approaching the close of his mission. And Mark will focus in on these events and slow the pace down while we are in this geographical region and theologically significant territory. Mark indicates that they are drawing near to Jerusalem and come to the surrounding areas of Bethpage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Bethany, you will remember, was the hometown of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and could be viewed as the home-away-from-home of Jesus. These were people near and dear to him and he likely spent considerable time here. Though not certain of its exact location, Bethpage was probably on or near the road from Jericho to Jerusalem and between Bethany and Jerusalem.
The first point this morning is “Enter the King.” It is the time of Passover in the land. And it is during this time that Jews travel to Jerusalem to celebrate their exodus out of Egyptian slavery. It was also the time of the annual temple tax when the Israelites would give half a shekel and purchase animals for sin and thanksgiving sacrifices. These details will become quite relevant as we witness Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem.
Having come to this point, Jesus sends two of the disciples ahead to into the village and tells them that they will find a colt. In fact, this is a colt that no one has ever sat upon. He tells them to untie and bring it back to him. And, of course the person whose colt they are taking might be a little curious to say the least. So, if they are questioned, Jesus tells them to say that the Lord has need of it and will return it shortly.
This is not your everyday request. But notice the certainty in the details. Doesn’t it seem as though Jesus knows precisely what will happen? And that things are going according to plan? Remember last week when Jesus tells his disciples that he will be handed over to the Jewish leaders and then the Gentiles? He knows exactly what is happening and his mission will soon be completed.
So the two go and (surprise, surprise) they find a colt tied at a door outside in the street. They untie it. Some folks standing there say, “what are you doing, untying the colt?” They tell them what Jesus told them to say and they are let go with the colt. They bring the colt back to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it. Jesus sits on the colt. And all the while I am sure that Jesus had the words from the prophet Zechariah in his mind. In Zechariah 9.9, the Old Testament prophet records these words: “9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! 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.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has taken great pains to try to conceal his identity as Messiah. The acts that follow will demonstrate that this is certainly no longer the case. No longer is Jesus hiding but claiming the authority as the King of the Jews. Now, if you were coming to town to declare your kingship, you would probably choose to enter Jerusalem on something like one of these horses. Wouldn’t you? Or this? How about this? Probably not!
In fulfillment of prophecy, the King of Kings enters the holy city of Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. And he is led in by his company of disciples and other followers. They spread their cloaks on the road. We know that this is customary for paying royal homage. When Jehu was anointed king of Israel, 2 Kings 9:13 records, “13 Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”” Branches were also waved in homage to rulers.
And here we have the rightful heir to the eternal throne of David entering Jerusalem to the excitement and chants of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” “Hosanna” means “O save! Save now O God!” During Passover, it would have been customary for the Jews to sing the Hallel Psalms of which this was one. Psalm 118.25-26, “25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord.”
As the Passover season reminded the people of their freedom from Egyptian slavery, so they likely anticipated the time when they would escape from under the Roman oppression as well. This time would have a heightened sense of hope for the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom. The Romans were probably well aware of possible insurrection during this season as they had troops that stayed within the Antonia Fortress on the end of the temple area.
It’s difficult to know with certainty what actually transpired here. We know from elsewhere that people misunderstood the coming Messiah. They anticipated that he would come as a political and military figure who would relieve them of oppression and establish the kingdom. And yet they missed the more important features of the coming Messiah – that he would first have to conquer Satan, sin, and death.
So as I ponder this text, it is unclear as to what the scene actually looked like. The Jewish historian, Josephus, suggested that Jerusalem could have swelled to two and a half million people during the Passover season. Normally, it would hold about a half a million.
Is it likely that the majority of these people saw Jesus and his company and joined in this declaration?? Or was it that it was primarily by those who were with Jesus? The reason I ask these questions is because the excitement quickly fizzles out as Jesus enters the temple, looks around, and goes home. Would this be possible if the people had genuinely joined in the declaration of the fulfilled prophecy? Or would they have lifted him up on the shoulders of the masses and escorted him right to the throne?
To be sure, this would have drawn some attention and will certainly force the issue that leads to his death. I’m not sure of this, but perhaps it was similar to a rallying cry that people enjoin in the moment – kind of like O Canada in the midst of the Olympics. If the people were accustomed to the singing of the Psalms at Passover, they could unite over the coming hope of the Messiah. And yet they missed it again.
Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes to the temple. When the Gospel writer speaks of entering the temple in our text, I believe he refers to the temple area and not specifically the place where the priests would enter.
Mark indicates Jesus entered this vicinity when the daily activity had begun to subside. It was later in the day. As we will see, and in fulfillment of more Old Testament prophecy, Jesus enters the temple to inspect it, and the next day’s events reveal that he comes not to restore the temple but to pronounce judgment on it. Malachi 3.1-2 state, “1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” Jesus then retreats to Bethany with the twelve disciples in anticipation of what will happen in the morning.
What is interesting and important in Mark’s Gospel is that he structures his accounts by sandwiching Jesus’ cleansing of the temple between the situations regarding the fig tree. This is a clue that indicates that the fig tree serves to teach a spiritual lesson regarding the temple incident.
And this will introduce the second point, which is “Inferior Worship.” Jesus and his crew leave Bethany where Jesus becomes hungry. He sees a fig tree in leaf and yet is lacking figs to eat. Figs normally did not produce fruit until late summer. But the point he is making is that the external appearance of the fig tree is deceiving because it remains fruitless. And we will see how this translates in the temple. Jesus curses the tree and will explain later.
Verse 15. And they came to Jerusalem. Knowing what he would see, Jesus begins to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple – overturning tables of money-changers and those who sold sacrifices. He prevented anyone to carry anything through the temple. Why?? Well, he teaches them. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” And then he quotes from another prophet, Jeremiah. “You have made it a den of robbers.”
Many interpretations have been offered for the actions of Jesus here. The understanding that I have had is one where Jesus is trying to eradicate the abuses going on in the temple area. Perhaps Jesus was distraught over the presence of money-changers in this temple area. It had become business. Well, this was merely a service offered so that currency could be exchanged from Roman to Jewish. Maybe the money-changers and those offering sacrifices were robbing the people by utilizing an unfair exchange rate. That could be part of it. Perhaps Jesus was disgruntled over the commerce and the hustle and bustle made worship extremely difficult. Some have suggested that the commerce would have occupied the space for Gentile worship. Well, according to our image here, there was ample room for the people because the business likely took place here.
The challenge from accepting any of these as the primary reason for this strong reactions is this: Why would Jesus be so consumed with purifying temple worship when it would be eradicated in the immediate future? Jesus was very intently headed for the cross where he would be the final and ultimate and perfect sacrifice. There would be NO need for any animal sacrifice or temple hereafter.
In the Old Testament, God was trying to give the ancient Israelites categories in which they would come to know the holiness of God, the need of sacrifice and the seriousness of their sin, the function of priests, and the special presence of God. So, beginning with the tabernacle, God taught them these things. But all along, these provisions were temporal and inferior. They could only cultivate an inferior worship until the Perfect Lamb would come. So, Jesus comes and declares that this system would be eradicated. The Old Testament prophets would often create a strong visual to make pronouncements. And such is the case here. Jesus provides them this powerful declaration that would eliminate the need for worship in this place.
We’ll flesh this out a bit more in the third point, “False Worship.” Turn to Isaiah 56 with me. This is the context in which Jesus indicates that his house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations. READ. Isaiah 56 is God’s promise of blessing for all those who feel excluded from God’s plan of salvation. Those who were previously disallowed from entering the temple could expect a day when such restrictions would be eliminated. And this is where we find ourselves.
During Jesus’ ministry, he has been ministering to the impure outcasts and the physically maimed, and even Gentiles. He expects the temple to imitate and embody this kind of love. Regarding the temple, David Garland writes, “In Jesus’ day the temple had become a nationalistic symbol that served only to divide Israel from the nations. If it were to become what God intended, “a house for all nations,” walls would have to crumble. Indeed, walls will soon collapse and barriers will be breached. When Jesus dies, the temple veil is split from top to bottom, and a Gentile confesses that he is the Son of God (Mk. 15.38-39).
As you may know, the temple proper was off-limits to Gentiles. The temple was where God’s special presence was to be found. This originated with the construction of the Old Testament tabernacle and the Holy of Holies. This temple area had a wall which separated Jew and Gentile. The area in which the Gentiles were permitted was the Court of the Gentiles. This was likely viewed less as a positive thing than as a restrictive wall prohibiting them from true worship. When Jesus declares that the will of God is that it should be a house for all the nations, he indicates that there is no barrier to God. All are free to come to him.
Isn’t this what Paul is referring to in Ephesians 2:15-22 when he writes, “14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit?”
Could it be that the church is also susceptible to similar dangers? Do we sometimes erect artificial walls that may keep people from worship of Jesus Christ? Jesus is not nationalistic! He did not come to save only Caucasian westerners, or East Indian, or African, or Asian, or even First Nations. Because he is for all the nations! Our church should represent a sampling of our geographic context. Granted that the results come entirely from God, but shouldn’t there be some from all nations represented here? Let’s make sure that we are not only active in the process of making disciples of the nations, but that we also don’t become an obstacle as well.
Jesus adds that they had made it also made it a “den of robbers.” I don’t think that this is referring to a place where the thievery happens, but rather where robbers hide. I suppose I need to explain that one. Let’s look at the original context. Turn to Jeremiah 7. Jeremiah 7:1–11 “1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ 5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.”
Do you see what is going on? Jeremiah (and Jesus) denounce the false security of the people when they would commit atrocities and hide under the guise of sacrifice and forgiveness. David Garland writes, “Jesus indirectly attacks them for allowing the temple to degenerate into a safe hiding place where people think that they find forgiveness and fellowship with God no matter how they act on the outside. Jesus’ prophetic action and words attack a false trust in the efficacy of the temple sacrificial system.”
Jesus has already begun to reveal the hypocrisy and evil of the religious leaders. And they hide behind the sacrificial system of the temple. Matthew 9:12–13 “12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The place was full of hypocrites who believed that they could live the way they want and then offer sacrifices at the temple and escape the wrath of God. Isn’t this similar to what many of us do today. No, we don’t have sacrifices any longer. But track this thought with me. How many times have we come across a temptation to sin and said to ourselves that it would be ok because we would ask for forgiveness afterward? I’ve even heard people verbalize this! I know God promises to forgive our sins. But isn’t this preceded by repentance and remorse? Can we be truly repentant about something that was preconceived?? When we follow through on things we know to be an affront to God’s character in anticipation of future forgiveness, don’t we dwell in a den of robbers? This is false worship.
The chief priests and didn’t understand but began to plot his destruction. Everything still going according to plan. And they went out of the city.
Jesus and the disciples pass once again by the fig tree which was now withered away to its roots. This would serve as a picture of the future of the physical temple.
Looking back to verse 13 we see that Mark points out that it was not the season for figs. What is not clear from the English text is the word translated “season.” This is the Greek work “kairos” that is best translated “time.” And it is the same word that we find at the outset of this Gospel. In Mark 1.15 it says, “15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The times they are changing. Jesus has come and inaugurated the kingdom of God. There will be no more need of temple sacrifice. The fig tree that you cursed has withered. Jesus did not come and prune or manure the fig tree so that he might help it bear fruit. He cursed it so that it died. The temple was not cleansed so that it could continue with more appropriate service to God, but would come to an end.
Then Jesus adds these seemingly random thoughts that I believe are not that random. Jesus indicates that the kingdom of God is centred on faith, prayer, and forgiveness. This is the last point, “True Worship.”
After indicating the demise of the temple, the first subject Jesus introduces is faith. Many have suggested that the statement in verse 23 speaks of incredible faith that works the impossible. Contextually speaking, I don’t think that this is what it means. Doesn’t Jesus speak of a particular mountain and not general mountains? You see, this spot is known to the Jewish people as Mount Zion. I believe that Jesus refers to the temple mount and is reinforcing the demise of the temple. God is doing a new thing that requires unwavering faith. This is not a “name it and claim it” verse where God is at our disposal. That would be ripping this out of context.
A quote I came across recently goes like this: “"Prayer is not imposing our will on God but opening up our lives to God's will. True prayer is not an endeavor to get God to change his will but an endeavor to release that will in our own lives. Prayer is like a boat hook that a boatman uses to pull the craft to its anchoring place. The boatman does not try to pull the shore to the boat, but the other way around.”
The one with faith lives a life of forgiveness. The person who understand his sin is better able to forgive others. The one who does not readily forgive others does not understand their sin and the forgiveness of God the Father.
Lastly, a new way has been opened up to God as well. We can pray boldly to the Father. Previously, it was the only the high priest who could enter the Holy of Holies and the priest who could enter the temple. With the finished work of the Lord Jesus and faith expressed in him, the Christian becomes the temple of God. Can you get your head around that one? Listen to these great truths. 1 Corinthians 3:16–17 “16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” 2 Cor. 6.16 says that we are the temple of the living God. Ephesians 2:22 “22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 1 Peter 2:4–5 “4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The believer in Jesus Christ has unprecedented access to the Creator of the universe!
One of the dangers for many church attendees this time of year is that we often come and worship on Palm Sunday and cry out “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” Then the following Sunday and celebrate “Christ is Risen.” He has conquered the grave. We have hope for eternal life. And we forget that all this celebration is only possible through the way of the cross. As believers, we DO have tremendous blessing and hope. But only because of the suffering of the King of Kings. I encourage you and challenge you to take a hard look at the cross this week. Join us Friday morning as we participate in Communion. And then absolutely return on Sunday where we will celebrate the hope of the resurrection. Let’s pray.