What I’m Listening to: Are All the Children In by Johnny Cash
This is part one of a two part series covering Mark Chapter 11.
This last week in my church’s bible study we covered Mark 11, which starts with the story of Palm Sunday.
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
~ Mark 11:7-10 (NIV)
Then, the next day (still in Mark 11) the narrative takes a bit of a downswing from the parade we see above, mainly through three events that round out the chapter. The first is that Jesus is walking and He sees a fig tree.
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
~ Mark 11:12-14 (NIV)
The next event that happens is that Jesus arrives at the temple courts.
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts 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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.
~ Mark 11:15-16 (NIV)
Finally, some chief priests, scribes and elders of the Jewish religion come and talk to Him.
They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?”
Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Jesus said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
~ Mark 11:27-33 (NIV)
Now, if I leave the story there, it sounds not great doesn’t it? Jesus sounds kind of fickle, spiteful and out for His own gain, like a selfish, fallen human. But the truth is, there is important context missing from each of those stories. In the first, it’s important to know that fig trees bring forth leaves and fruit at the same time, so there should have been plenty of fruit on the tree, (if perhaps hard and underripe), not only leaves. In this way, we are shown that God does not hunger for us to have “perfectly ripe fruit”, only that we have some, perhaps very imperfect fruit; that we try to grow and serve and fulfill our heavenly purpose. To have only leaves is to live only for ourselves, to be selfish and unwilling to aim for the prize of Heaven.
The second story is important because Jesus was not walking into a place of Holy worship and turning out the faithful, He was casting out people who were perverting God’s laws for their own selfish gain. The money changers would charge exorbitant fees to exchange money for tithing. As for those selling sacrifical animals, they would force people to buy their wares by warning travelers that the animals they had brought were not clean enough to be sacrificed.
The final story is all about intentions, when the Pharisees ask Jesus what authority He has, they did not want to get a real answer, they wanted to trick Him into saying something they could decry as blasphemy.
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.
~ Mark 11:18 (NIV)
Mark 11 is such a powerful passage, and one of the reasons for that is because when you skim it you’re a little taken aback because some of the things that Jesus does seem uncharacteristic. However, when you read deeper into the passages, you begin to understand that they are actually perfectly in the character of a, if you will, perfect character.
(P.S. I’m not apologizing for closing my devotional with a pun.)