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Sermons about Mark
On Monday Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the triumphant cheers of a great crowd. On Tuesday Jesus came into the massive Court of the Gentiles at the Temple and threw over tables and chased out those who had turned the House of Prayer into a den of robbers. Today is Wednesday and Jesus returns to the same Court of the Gentiles and as the other Gospel writers tell us Jesus walked through the Temple area teaching and preaching the Gospel, the Gospel of repentance of sin and the righteousness and judgment of God (John 16:8-11). The Temple and all the religious life of the Jewish people were under the authority of the Great Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, the most powerful ruling body in Israel, made up of the chiefs, scribes and elders. These men were revered. They had been ordained and set apart from the rest of the people. They could trace their lineage all the way back to Aaron, the first priest. The Sanhedrin’s roots went back to the 70 elders that Moses put in place to help him rule the people of God. In the most authoritative place, the Temple, and before the most authoritative body in Israel, the Sanhedrin, Jesus was challenged concerning His own authority.
You can tell a lot about a nation or a religion by what they worship and where they worship. The Temple in Israel was the very heart and center of all Jewish worship and religion. It represented that place where God met with man. The large outer court that surrounds the Temple was called the Court of the Gentiles. It covered nearly thirty five acres. It was the court where Gentiles were allowed to enter to pray and worship the one true God. The Gentiles who came to worship Israel’s God were sometimes called God-fearers, people like the Ethiopian Eunuch or the Roman Centurion whose servant Jesus healed. The temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for all nations. This court had become filled with stockyards of bulls, sheep, goats, and birds, a veritable petting zoo of merchants buying and selling, banks exchanging money, the equivalent of ATMs. The volume of trade going on was staggering and this was Passover. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that in 65AD over a quarter of a million lambs were slaughter at the Temple. The amount of people and animals must have been deafening.
Jesus gives us his "final answer" in the form of a quesiton concerning who the messiah is. What is your final answer on who Jesus is today?
It has been a while since we have had one of Mark’s sandwiches but we encounter another one here. Mark likes to use this little literary equivalence of a sandwich. The bread is this two part story of the fig tree that surrounds the story of the cleansing of the temple which we will consider next week. This miracle story of the fig tree has bothered a lot of people over the centuries. It has invited untold interpretative abuse. Some people use it to suggest Jesus was mean-spirited and rash, killing a living thing out of frustration just because it didn’t provided what He wanted. Preachers and professors alike have wasted a lot of breath feeling sorry for that poor fig tree; they have waxed eloquently trying to defend that poor defenseless tree. It wasn’t fig season yet Jesus zaps it for not having any figs. The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell took particular issue with Jesus’ “vindictive fury” for blaming a tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t the season for figs. This so tarnished the character of Jesus for him that in his book, Why I Am Not a Christian, he wrote “I cannot myself feel that either in the matter of wisdom or in the matter of virtue Christ stands quite as high as some other people known to history” (p. 17-19). People are quick to do that with God. People are often blaming God for being unfair or demanding that God give a reason for what He does or why He lets certain things happen. We are so incredibly arrogant and self-righteous putting God on the stand and making Him answer our questions. Where’s the humility, where’s the submission? But others both wiser and humbler have seen in this event a parable of what was about to happen in Israel. This fig tree becomes one of the most useful trees that ever grew, more useful in dying than in living. This morning a withered fig tree will be our teacher.
It has been a rough week in our world this past week. It’s painfully obvious that we live in a broken, fallen, sinful world filled with evil and evil people with evil intentions. First, the senseless killings at the Boston Marathon, then the continued explosions and deaths in the following manhunt. More news of terrorism, suicide-bombings in other countries, and sabre rattling in North Korea. There is a thread, a link between them all. It’s the sin and evil in the hearts of every human being, inside my heart and yours. And with every breaking news story our hearts grow a bit more numb, a bit more calloused, a bit more removed and distant. Tragedy repeated blurs things and desensitizes. Compassion turns to anger which turns to hate which turns to apathy. After a while we don’t have the emotions to care anymore. How many times can we keep giving to disaster relief or humanitarian aid? What are we to do in a broken world full of sin and evil? How then shall we live? When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? In the sweet providence of God our text for this morning is a beautiful microcosm of how we should all live and respond in a world of suffering and sin. Remember where Jesus was going, to Jerusalem where His life would be violently taken in a terrible act of injustice and barbarism. Yet God is sovereign and in control and has a purpose and plan that cannot be thwarted and must work for His glory and our good. Let’s take a closer look at the story.
As we return to Mark’s Gospel let me point something out that we overlooked before. Three times before getting to Jerusalem Jesus foretold to His disciples His torture, death and resurrection. After the first time, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him for such talk. After the second time the disciples were heard by Jesus to be arguing about who was the greatest. Now after the third foretelling of what would happen to Him in Jerusalem, Jesus got a request to sit next to Him in glory. Clearly before the crucifixion and resurrection the disciples didn’t get what Jesus was talking about. The disciples clearly had a mental block about the Messiah being a suffering servant. It just didn’t make any sense to them. All they seem to comprehend was some sense of a coming kingdom with glory and they were grasping and jockeying for some part of that glory. If this confusion and ignorance was possible with two of Jesus’ closest disciples, James and John, how much more is it possible with us? This story is a picture of all Christians. Aren’t we all a mixture of faith and ignorance? We have clarity about some things and complete cluelessness about other thinks. Are we not like them, committed to following Jesus, submitting to His ways but then carried away with some greed or pride or self-righteousness?