Week of March 5

Traditions that May become Distractions

Read: Numbers 34-36; Mark 11
“And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’”
Mark 11:17, ESV


Something big is about to happen! In a highly-charged political atmosphere, Jesus was about to ignite a totally different revolution than the Jews passionately desired. Only He and His Heavenly Father fully understood what He truly was about to do. Even His followers were to be taken by surprise, even though He had spoken plainly about His upcoming Passion! Easter will arrive in the coming weeks, and this passage provides us with a wonderful invitation to prepare for its arrival and to “dress accordingly.” We do well to recognize the signs of His coming as Messiah—even today.

The Meaning of the Text

The style of the passage tells a story
Modern television dramas often open an episode with an incident, move to a main event and theme, then conclude with a return to the initial scene to connect all the parts into a whole. The show’s writers will “sandwich” the main action and characters between the opening and ending scenes. Mark, the Gospel writer, is known for “sandwiching” events, which New Testament scholars will term as “bracketing” or “inter-calation.” The seemingly disconnected fig tree event is wrapped around and directly linked to the Temple cleansing in between (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). Our interpretation and application of the key verse above is grounded in rich symbolism that is associated with the fig tree.
Messianic signs in Christ’s triumphal entry
Humble donkey not prancing steed. Jesus’ movements in this chapter of Mark hold profound implications for our understanding of the meaning and purpose of His ministry. First, note well that He enters Jerusalem triumphantly on the back of a young donkey (11;1-2, “colt”). Most all of us will know that the donkey was considered to be the beast that would bear the Messiah (Zechariah 9:9).
Notice, too, that Jesus required His disciples to secure a colt that had “never been ridden.” Walter Wessel notes that these animals were thought to be “especially suitable” for sacred purposes (cf. Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; 1 Samuel 6:7; EBC). In fact, a respected Bible scholar, I. Howard Marshall, believes that the Gospel writers saw this event as a testimony to the authority of Jesus (Commentary on Luke, 1978). Therefore, there was deep meaning in the choice of a young donkey. So? Well, Jesus was not coming to conquer evil Rome, but to complete redemption!
Scriptural fulfillment. I do not read too much into the text when I state this, because even the crowd shouted “Hosanna,” which literally means, “save now” (11:9-10). They were quoting Psalm 118:26, one of the Hallel Psalms (see Psalms 113-118). The typical use for this psalm and shout of praise was a customary religious greeting or blessing pronounced on pilgrims who were entering Jerusalem for the feasts of Tabernacle and Passover.
Nevertheless, it is also possible that Mark was intending for his readers to see the Messianic significance in the phrase “he who comes in the name of the Lord” (11:10; NIC, EBC). At the very least, these worshipers proclaimed in Jesus’ entry the coming of God’s kingdom. All right, put down your tambourines and hurry the praise team off the platform; Jesus now turns our focus to judgment!
Coming reform. Mark records that Jesus enters into the Temple long after the crowds had dispersed for the day. His survey of the surroundings anticipates what will soon happen. The sovereign Lord was looking to see if that institution was fulfilling its divinely appointed mission, and the cleansing would soon follow!
Our big challenge: Clean our spiritual house of impurity
Mark inserts at this point a miracle account of Jesus cursing a barren fig tree that was still three months from producing figs (11:12-14). The fig tree obviously represents the nation of Israel, a nation fully leafed but bearing no fruit, and it portends the upcoming serious nature of Jesus’ actions (cf. Hosea 9:10; Nahum 3:12; Zechariah 10:2; cf. Temple cleansing). Jesus challenges Israel’s hypocrisy because they honored God outwardly, but their hearts were far from Him (see 7:6).
The opening scene captured the disciples’ attention, but the main action is forthcoming. It is the only miracle of destruction attributed to Jesus in the Gospels (EBC). He even tells His readers this fact (11:12). Mark helped them to know this since they did not live in Palestine. This was a sign of judgment upon the “hypocrisy and sham of the nation of Israel” (EBC). They honored God with their lips, but they certainly did not follow Him with their whole hearts. Therefore, the nation was ripe for judgment (see 11:15-19).

The Message for Our Lives

One of my favorite childhood memories surrounded the Easter season because I would always receive a chocolate bunny. I would open the package and promptly bite off the ears. Don’t ask me why. I have no clue. Anyway, I have carried that tradition forward throughout my lifetime!
I would also receive a new set of Easter clothes to wear to church; a tradition that we carried forward with my own family. I am equally unsure as to why I continue to practice this tradition.
Spiritual point to ponder. There is entirely too much “business as usual” among God’s people which blinds us to our usual spiritual business. The Temple cleansing, following the Triumphal Entry, represents Jesus’ second Messianic event of the Passion Week (Malachi 3:1-3). The chaos inside the Temple courts, combined with the outrageous practices of the money-changers, aroused Jesus’ righteous indignation. It was convenient and more certain to purchase one’s sacrificial animal there at the Temple; however, people had to exchange their Roman currency for Tyrian money (closely akin to the Hebrew shekel) to purchase their sacrifices, and these transactions were lucrative.
The one place that Gentiles could draw close to God had become a noisy, smelly marketplace for crooks (see Jeremiah 7:11). Jesus demonstrated that the magnificence of the Temple belied the “corruption and false security” that was just behind the scenes. Judgement would soon fall upon that nation and the Temple would be utterly destroyed (cf. A.D. 70). Well, this passage certainly delivers a double shot of devotional espresso to greet the day! Moneychangers exploited the pilgrims, thus hindering their worship. How have we commodified worship today and exploited those who are poor and brokenhearted?

For Thought and Action

1. Take a moment and snap a spiritual “Easter selfie.” Look at the root and fruit of your spiritual life. What hypocrisies will Christ want to prune as He walks by your life today?
2. Ask the Lord to visit His Church, in each of its local forms, to prune and care for His body, so that it may be useful to bear witness to Him. Ask Him to send faith-seekers to feed upon the fruit of His grace through your good witness (Matthew 5:16).
3. For Families: Easter is coming in a few weeks! To help your children understand part of the Easter story, they might need to know how God’s people had moved far away from God. They needed a Savior.

They had even turned His Temple (like our church building) into a bazaar, or market place, that made money for a few, and turned many more away from God. Instead of the people coming to the Temple to pray and worship, the church leaders were making money hand-over-fist! Here is a brief video of Jesus upending the money changers and animal-sellers in the Temple area: Click here.

After supper one night this week, ask your children to watch this video and to point out what the church leaders were doing wrong and why Jesus was so angry with them. Share the reasons, based upon the passage above, and ask your children to think of ways that your church could be guilty of this very thing, but in different ways. “If our church did . . . , then we would be disappointing Jesus too.” Pray together as a family that your church will remain a house of prayer and worship and gospel-sharing.
May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock