November 1, 2010 David Balzer

Mark 11: The King is in the House!

Sometime in the Middle Ages, so the story goes, Robin of Loxley arrived back in England. He’d been fighting in the Crusades in the Holy Land. Helping his king, King Richard the Lionheart. Liberating Jerusalem from the hordes of Islam.

 

But things were different in England these days. Now Prince John was in control. Holding the fort for his brother, Richard.

 

And John ruled the land with an iron fist. He’d even assumed his brother’s throne. Crowned himself King. There were crippling taxes. Inequality. Violent and corrupt soldiers did as they pleased. Greedy and self-serving lords milked the peasants dry for their own ends. Taking over the lands and property of the nobles who’d left to fight in the Crusades. Including those of Robin of Loxley.

 

And so Robin decided to restore the balance. To rob from the rich to give to the poor. So goes the story of Robin Hood.

 

Those in authority, like Prince John, were showing how little they deserved their authority. Instead of PROTECTING the people they were EXPLOITING them.

 

The people longed for justice. “If only Richard would return. When King Richard returns, he’ll set everything to rights”.

 

It’s a great story, isn’t it? But despite what many people have tried to prove – that’s ALL it is. A STORY.

 

But not so in Jesus’ time. The scene in around 30 AD is FACT. The leaders of Israel are supposed to be shepherding the sheep. Leading, and looking after them. But it’s the blind leading the blind. They’re supposed to be loving and obeying God. And encouraging and teaching the people to do the same.

 

But instead of obedience and justice, the law’s been twisted into a hard-hearted legalism. What was meant to be the way to THANK God for his goodness/ had become the way to EARN your salvation. To show God how WORTHY you were of his favour.

 

And the temple. The sacrifices and the washings of the temple – which were supposed to be reminders of God’s holiness. Which were supposed to be just the MEANS to the end. Had become the END IN ITSELF. It had all been twisted into superstitious ritual.

 

Israel was rotten to the core. If only the king would return. If only God’s chosen king would return/ he’d set everything to rights.

 

That was the cry of the good Jew around Jesus’ time. We find it on the lips of many of the Old Testament prophets.

 

Like Micah. He despaired how godless Israel had become. There wasn’t a good person among the lot of them. Like a fig tree with no fruit. But he was hanging out for God’s king to return. Then things would be set to rights. Listen to these verses from Ch 7.

(Micah 7:1-7 NIV)  What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; THERE IS NO CLUSTER OF GRAPES TO EAT, NONE OF THE EARLY FIGS THAT I CRAVE. {2} THE GODLY HAVE BEEN SWEPT FROM THE LAND; NOT ONE UPRIGHT MAN REMAINS. … the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire– they all conspire together. {4} The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. The day of your watchmen has come, the day God visits you. Now is the time of their confusion. …{7} But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

 

And Micah’s pointing the finger at the leaders. The one’s with the power. And the responsibility. And it was the godless leaders who’d better watch out. The shepherds who didn’t shepherd. That was the warning from Zechariah. Ch 10.

(Zech 10:2-3 NIV)  The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore THE PEOPLE WANDER LIKE SHEEP OPPRESSED/ FOR LACK OF A SHEPHERD. {3} “MY ANGER BURNS AGAINST THE SHEPHERDS, and I will punish the leaders; for the LORD Almighty will care for his flock, the house of Judah….

 

And listen to what Zechariah said about GOD’S KING HIMSELF. When he came to Jerusalem, he’d be a king like no other. A humble and gentle king. A king who’d bring peace and joy and unity. Zechariah 9.

(Zech 9:9-10 NIV)  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! SEE, YOUR KING COMES TO YOU, RIGHTEOUS AND HAVING SALVATION, GENTLE AND RIDING ON A DONKEY, ON A COLT, THE FOAL OF A DONKEY. {10} I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

 

What a day that would be! No wonder the people were saying “If only God’s king would come. Then he’d set everything to rights”

 

1. The King’s arrival 11:1-10)

And in Mk Ch 11/ God’s king arrives. And he’s about to set everything to rights. Jesus has finally made it to Jerusalem. It’s been a long journey. 200 km. From the very north of Israel in Mk 8. Right down here to the south. But he’s made it.

 

And now’s the time to let everyone know who he is. The time for secrets is gone. It’s time to shout it from the rooftops. So Jesus gets organised. Verse 1.

(Mark 11:1-3 NIV)  As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, {2} saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. {3} If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'”

 

Jesus organises a donkey to ride on. Just like Zech 9 predicts. The king will enter Jerusalem on a donkey. The humble king of peace riding a humble, peaceful animal.

 

And the fellow travelers, and the disciples, give him a reception fit for a king. Like a ticker tape parade for a victorious Commonwealth Games team. Verse 9.

(Mark 11:9-10 NIV)  …”Hosanna! ” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” {10} “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

 

Hail King Jesus!

 

2. The King’s inspection (11:11)

But it seems that they don’t realise how appropriate their words really are! Because once Jesus actually makes it to Jerusalem/ the king’s procession stops. The crowd loses interest. Disbands. Finds something else more interesting to do.

 

It seems to be just Jesus and the disciples left. And rather than a great crowd heading straight to the king’s palace for a civic reception, or a jubilant speech. Jesus has got a different priority. And it’s not what we’d expect. It’s time for the king’s inspection. Look at v 11.

(Mark 11:11 NIV)  Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to… the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

 

Just Jesus and the disciples. And what’s Jesus inspecting? The temple. For him, it’s the centre of Jerusalem. It’s the most important building there. Because it’s there/ that God’s people meet with their God.

 

He’s only got time for a quick look. It’s nearly closing time. But that’s enough. He’s taking the spiritual temperature of the nation. And although we don’t know it yet, they’ve got a fever. Israel’s got a spiritual disease, and it’s highly contagious.

 

But Jesus will deal with it tomorrow.

 

3. The King’s judgment (11:12-25)

The king’s arrived. The king’s inspected. And now, the king sits in judgment.

 

The following morning, Jesus heads back into Jerusalem. Verse 12. But before he makes it there, we get part 1 of this strange episode involving the fig tree.

 

Jesus sees a fig tree in the distance. He notices the leaves. Big and green and healthy. But when he gets up close, there’s no fruit on the tree. (Which is exactly what you’d expect – since Mark goes to the trouble of telling us that it’s not the season for figs.)

 

This tree is ALL SHOW, and no GO. What use is a tree with leaves, but no fruit?

 

And because there’s fruit, Jesus curses the tree. “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”

 

And then he continues on his way.

 

Now, we might have all sorts of questions. What did the tree do wrong? Was Jesus just taking out his bad temper on it? Why was he hungry? Was he too silly to know it wasn’t the season for figs? But let’s keep moving, because that’s what Mark does. And all will become clear.

 

Look at v 15. Jesus makes it to Jerusalem. And once again, he heads straight for the temple.

(Mark 11:15-16 NIV)  On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, {16} and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.

 

Jesus knows exactly what he’s going to find in the temple. Because he’d been there the day before. And he’s seen everything. And he’s filled with anger. Because people had turned the temple into a marketplace. They’d flipped everything upside down.

 

Instead of the sacrifices helping people to draw near to God, and to know him better, they’d become the most important thing. Actually PRAYING to God, and HAVING A RELATIONSHIP with him had become SECONDARY in importance.

 

And so, JESUS flips everything upside down. Tables, cages, piles of coins, chairs. And he throws them out of the temple.

 

Now, the Pharisees hadn’t TECHNICALLY set up a market IN THE TEMPLE. The tables were all in the court of the Gentiles. That was a large outside area that was as close to the temple as Gentiles – non-Jews – could come.

 

And what Jesus saw/ was that it was so cluttered and noisy/ that Gentiles couldn’t actually DO any praying. And look at Jesus’ judgment in v17.

(Mark 11:17 NIV)  he said, “Is it not written: “‘My house will be called A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS’ ? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”

 

So who is Jesus actually condemning here? Who’s the “you”? The temple itself? That’s what lots of people say. But I don’t agree. The traders? They’re the one’s he’s turfed out. I don’t think so either.

 

It’s the LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE. The one’s who’ve allowed all this to happen. They’re the one’s Jesus is gunning for. Just like the prophecy from Zech 10 we read earlier. “My anger burns againast the shepherds”

 

And they know it too. Look at v18.

(Mark 11:18 NIV)  The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

 

The king has judged the leaders, and found them guilty. Because instead of providing the means for people to worship God. They’d actually STOPPED them.

 

And the king has returned, and he’s started setting things to rights.

 

But once again, the day’s gone. And Jesus travels back to Bethany. And the next morning, they come to the fig tree again. Verse 20.

 

(Mark loves to write this way. Fig tree. Temple. Fig tree. He tells PART of a story. Then adds a second story. Then finishes the first story. The technical literary term is “The SANDWICH technique”. He did it in Chapter 5 with Jairus’ daughter and the woman with bleeding.)

 

The idea is that we use each story to comment on the other. To help us understand the other. There’s some common theme that Mark wants us to think about.

 

And when we remember that, it becomes much easier to work out what Jesus is on about. It’s not that he had a bad night’s sleep. Or missed his breakfast. Or that he was too silly to know that it wasn’t the season for figs.

 

He was acting out a PARABLE – a SKIT. And because it’s played out on either side of his cleansing of the temple. It’s a skit about the TEMPLE, or more accurately – about Israel and its leaders who are IN the temple.

 

Jesus is saying that Israel is like the fig tree. And they’re a tree with no fruit. Just like in Micah Ch 7 that we read earlier. Remember?

(Micah 7:1-2 NIV)  What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. {2} The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains …

 

Jesus is hungry. He’s craving the figs of godly men and women. But there ARE none. There’s only leaves. The religious SHOW.

 

And a tree without fruit is useless. And so he pronounces judgment on the tree. And in the same way, a temple without godliness is useless. So he starts to deliver judgment on the temple. The king is setting things to right.

 

And look at what happens to the fig tree. Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment has its effect. Verse 20.

(Mark 11:20-21 NIV)  In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. {21} Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

 

Withered from the roots. Completely useless. It’s a picture of the religion of Israel. Of the temple. There’s no fruit of righteousness. It’s all show and no go.

 

And the destruction of the fig tree is a warning. For the destruction of the temple.

 

Now, most people say that Jesus is warning about the LITERAL, PHYSICAL, destruction of the temple in 70 AD by the Romans.

 

But remember it’s not the temple AS SUCH, that Jesus despises. He LOVES the temple. It’s the religious leadership. It’s the fake, godless, ritual he’s come to destroy.

 

And that doesn’t happen in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans. It happens on the cross. It’s at the cross that Jesus replaces the old temple with the new temple of his body. HE is the way people approach God.

 

The OLD people of God approached God through sacrifice, and cleansing. Over and over again. They only saw him from a distance. With a priest approaching on their behalf.

 

And the new people of God ALSO approach him through sacrifice and cleansing. But it’s done by Jesus. The new place of access to God. His sacrifice on the cross. Once for all. One cleansing. Our hearts are washed clean. Forgiven and blameless.

 

And the withered fig tree is a sign of all that. The judgment and destruction of the old, fruitless religion.

 

And Peter is amazed at the sign. “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

 

And, from v22, Jesus replies with some difficult sayings. About prayer. And about faith.

 

What do they mean? And more importantly, how do they fit into the theme of this whole section? What do they have to do with us today?

 

I’ve been struggling with these verses all week. And I’m not sure if I’ve got anything all that insightful or definitive to say. But I’m not alone. I look up about 7 commentaries. And none of them had much to say either.

 

Let me read the verses out first. Then we’ll think about them for a few minutes. Verse 21. Peter points out the withered fig tree to Jesus. And Jesus responds in v22.

(Mark 11:22-25 NIV)  “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. {23} “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. {24} Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. {25} And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

At the very least, Jesus has achieved his intention of making us sit up and take notice. “Hang on a minute! What did he just say?”

 

Now, when it comes to understanding difficult verses, there are a number of strategies we can use.

Be sensitive to the type of literature.

Allow scripture to interpret scripture.

Remember the historical setting. Don’t jump straight to US.

Appreciate the context.

One mistake we can make is to interpret them LITERALLY. By that, I mean. Jesus is talking about a LITERAL mountain. ANY mountain. And as long as ANY Christian has enough faith and prays, God can move ANY literal mountain into ANY sea.

 

Put your hand up if you’ve heard a sermon something like that.

 

That’s breaking rule number 1. We need to be sensitive to the type of literature. It’s important to remember that Jesus frequently used HYPERBOLE. Exaggeration. To make people sit up and take notice. Like “if your eye sins/ poke it out”.

 

So what Jesus is saying is “Pray big! Have faith! God can do it!” That’s the first things we can learn from these verses.

 

A second mistake you can make with these verses/ says something like “If you pray, and God DOESN’T move that mountain, then it must be because you didn’t have enough faith. That cancer wasn’t healed, or your short-sightedness wasn’t corrected, because you lacked the faith”.

 

But that’s ignoring rule 2. Scripture doesn’t contradict itself. Other parts of Scripture promise that God always HEARS our prayers. But sometimes he just says NO. Only God is God. We’re not. All we can do is pray for what we want. And if it’s for the ultimate good of God’s plans, then God will do it.

 

And Jesus himself said that it’s not the AMOUNT of faith that’s important. Even faith the size of a mustard seed is enough. It’s WHO THE FAITH IS IN that’s important.

 

So Jesus ISN’T saying you should work yourself into a faith-frenzy/ trying to generate enough faith/ so God will hear you.

 

A THIRD mistake is to assume AUTOMATICALLY that Jesus is saying to ALL Christians that they can cause mountains to be cast into the sea. In these verses/ Jesus is talking to HIS DISCIPLES. I think, in the end, we CAN say that these verses DO apply to us. (Jesus said that if ANYONE says to the mountain). But we need to remember that, at least in the first instance, Jesus was speaking to his disciples.

 

The fourth mistake is to forget the context. That’s what most people seem to do. They cut these verses out of their Bible. Put them on the desk. And try to make sense of them all by themselves.

 

But we need to remember that this section is about Jesus the King coming. He’s coming to judge, and to bring in the new kingdom of God’s rule. One of the problems with the OLD way/ was that it was stopping the Gentiles from PRAYING. And these verses are about the NEW way of praying.

 

Jesus has announced the end of the temple ritual. And declared that HE is the new temple. The new people of God will gather around Jesus. They will pray in faith. They will forgive each other. And God will hear them. He will answer their prayers. He will forgive them.

 

And this is something available to ANYONE. Whether you’re a Jew or not. That’s what Jesus says “If ANYONE says to the mountain” The problem with the leaders in the temple was that they’d locked the Gentiles out. But not so with Jesus. Which is great news for us, Gentiles. ANYONE can do it. Can pray with faith.

 

And here’s another reason I think we’re meant to compare the NEW way with the OLD way. The NEW leaders with the OLD leaders. The disciples with the Jewish leaders. Because there’s another sandwich technique.

 

Verse 18 The chief priests look to kill him. Then v22-25 he’s talking to the disciples. (It’s a plural “you” there). And then, in v27-33, Jesus is arguing with the chief priests again.

 

The Disciples versus the Jewish leaders. Out with the old. In with the new. The king is coming. And he’ll put everything to rights.

 

What about YOU. As we read these verses, we need to remember that the king HAS come. King Jesus has judged the wicked and self-seeking ritual of Israel. He HAS set things to rights in his death on the cross. God’s kingdom has arrived.

 

Are you part of it? Have you declared your allegiance to King Jesus?

 

If you have/ then Jesus’ words on prayer are for you. Let’s think again about his amazing promises. Let’s not take TOO much of the sting out of them. Yes, we need to remember they’re HYPERBOLE – exaggeration. We can’t LITERALLY move mountains. But Jesus is STILL saying that if we are one of God’s children/ we can CONFIDENTLY pray for ANYTHING.

 

Not that we’ll automatically RECEIVE it. But that God is ABLE to do it. And that he LOVES us enough to GIVE us good things when we ask for them.

 

What “MOUNTAINS” are you praying for? What do YOU want to see moved? Nothing’s too big for God. Don’t give up.

 

We prayed for Pam Harvey’s dad at Bible study. He’s in his 80’s, and not a Christian. And from the outside at least, he seems as hard to the gospel as ever. But we keep praying. Because God can change a heart as easily as he can wither a fig tree.

 

God can convict a conscience, and mend a marriage, as easily as he can wither a fig tree.

 

God can find a job, or provide a husband or wife, or give guidance or peace, or cause an uneventful birth of a healthy baby, or heal cancer. And he can do any of them as easily as withering a fig tree.

 

The king has arrived. And he’s set everything to rights. Praise King Jesus.

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