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Mark 11:1-25: First Lessons in Jerusalem Print E-mail
Sunday, 04 November 2007

The history of the Church reveals our constant struggle to maintain the essentials of the faith.  In fact, even in the epistles of the New Testament, we constantly see Paul calling the early believers back to the center.  For example, consider the book of 1 Corinthians.  The Church in Corinth was arguing about following Paul or Apollos, to which Paul responds: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).  Paul takes them back to the basics and reminds them that God is the only One who is to be recognized.

This was not the last time that the Church struggled to remember the basics.  We had our first annual Reformation Celebration on Wednesday and looked at the life of Martin Luther.  One of the amazing parts of the story of the Protestant Reformation is what they were fighting to restore: scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone.  These are not the peripherals of the Christian faith.  They are the basics.  They are the first things.  The fight of the Reformers was not over new truth, it was a fight to restore the essentials.

As we noted last week, the story of Jesus in Mark is now shifting to Jerusalem.  The remainder of the Gospel will be focused on Jesus’ ministry in this city, all leading up to the climax of His death and resurrection.  In our text this morning, we read of Him coming into Jerusalem and wasting no time in issuing His challenge to the religious elite.  One of the commentators I read called this section: “Throwing down the gauntlet.” 1  Although Luther may not have been aware of all of the consequences of his actions, when he nailed his 95 thesis to the Church door in Wittenberg, he too was ‘throwing down the gauntlet’ and offering a challenge to the religious leaders of his day.  As we consider these challenges of Jesus, I want us to notice the simple lessons that Jesus is teaching here through His actions.  Let’s look at three of them.

First, we should recognize and worship Jesus as the promised Messiah (v. 1-10).

Why should we see Jesus as the promised Messiah?  Mark has been continually revealing this to his readers throughout the book.  Mark has told us about Jesus healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead, calming the storms, feeding the masses, and more.  A few weeks ago, we considered the confession of Peter about Jesus where he said: You are the Christ (8:29).  Last week, we noted that blind Bartimaeus called Jesus: Son of David (10:47-48).  Through all of this, Mark is revealing to his readers that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

But what about in our text?  How is Mark showing us that Jesus is the Messiah in this passage?  Look at verses 1-6.  Before they entered the city, Jesus told two of His disciples to go and get a colt for Him.  He takes the initiative in this action.  The disciples obey and it turns out just as He said it would.  Then look at what happens in verses 7-10.  They bring the colt to Jesus and place their garments on it in recognition of His authority.  As He comes to the edge of the city, the crowd that has been walking with Him from Jericho began to spread their cloaks on the road to honor him 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!  Although they did not recognize all that it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, they still recognized Him as the One who would bring the Kingdom.  Likewise, Him entering the city on a colt is a direct fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which is a prophecy about the coming Messiah.  Thus, Mark is continuing to reveal to us that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

So then, how should we respond to such news?  We should respond as those following Him responded that day.  We should humble ourselves in His presence and do all that we can to honor Him.  We should offer our praise to Him.  Brothers and sisters, we need to recognize this morning that the One we are singing about and giving to and praying to is none other than the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the King of Israel.  He is still worthy of our praise and honor.  This is not new truth, but it is essential.  We are not here to honor us or praise us or make us feel good.  No, we are here to honor the King.  Thus, when we come together to worship in the corporate setting, may we remember why we are here and may we lay it all down at the foot of the One who humbly came to Jerusalem riding a donkey.  And just so you know, when He returns to the Holy City, it will be altogether different.  Every knee will bow on that Day.

Second, we should be about prayer in the House of the Lord (v. 11-19).

Why should we about prayer?  Again, I think there are two reasons from the text.  First, and most obvious, we should be about prayer because that is the intended purpose of the House of the Lord.  Look at verses 15-17.  Jesus drives out the moneychangers and the merchants from the temple because that is not what is supposed to be happening in the temple.  Rather, the temple is supposed to be a place of prayer.  Yet, it had been turned into a place fit for commercial success.  There was money to be made in the selling of animals for sacrifice and exchange of money for temple tax.  Yet, this is not what temple worship was supposed to be about.  It was supposed to be about prayer for the nations and reverence for God.  Jesus quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah to show them that their practices are detestable.  Of course, the chief priests and the scribes were not happy about Jesus’ actions and were seeking a way to destroy him. 

A second reason why we should be about prayer is that if we ignore the first reason, then judgment will follow.  Look at verses 11-14.  After Jesus comes into the city, He immediately goes to the temple and looks around.  Then He and the disciples go to Bethany to spend the night.  On the next day, as they are returning to the temple, Jesus has the encounter with the fig tree where He curses it for not having any figs.  Even though the fig tree was in leaf, when Jesus looked for the figs there were none to be found because it was not yet fig season.  Jesus then curses the fig tree.  We are told later that the tree had withered away to its roots (v. 20).  What is the point of this story?  Seemingly, Jesus is using the fig tree as an illustration of what will happen to the temple.  He had seen the detestable practices the night before and was on His way to address them when the cursing of the tree took place.  Later He will foretell of the temple’s destruction (see 13:2).  The fig tree illustrates what was taking place in the temple, namely there was promise of fruit, but upon examination none was to be found.  Thus, a second reason why we should be about prayer is because we want to avoid the judgment that comes on those who make the errors that the religious elite were making in the temple.

I should note at this point that the temple of Jesus’ day and the Church of our day is not an exact parallel.  Yet, the call to pray for the nations still stands.  The call to be faithful to the Lord in His own House, which is now the Church, is still applicable.  We cannot afford to ‘go in our own direction’ in the Church.  We cannot be so consumed with money and ‘success’ that we forget the essentials, namely prayer for the nations.  For this reason, we give you the opportunity to gather with other believers for prayer on Wednesday nights.  Will you value this essential and join us? 

Third, we should pray for and with great faith (v. 20-25).

The illustration of the fig tree offers Jesus the opportunity to once again teach His disciples about the importance of faith.  Look at verses 20-25.  Why should we pray for great faith and with great faith?  Because cursing fig trees is not hard for the Lord.  In fact, according to Christ, the person who has faith can cast mountains into the sea.  Thus, we should ask for faith and pray in faith because of all that the Lord can do. 

Yet, how exactly should this look in the life of a believer?  I mean, the simple reading of this text would say that as long as we have enough faith we can do anything.  It would also say that if we pray for something and it does not happen, then we simply did not have enough faith.  I think this reading is too simple in light of the rest of the New Testament.  In other words, the qualification of God’s will seems to be closely connected to these sayings (see 1 John 5:14).  The example I have given before is Paul and his thorn in 2 Corinthians 12. 

Now, I do not want to just explain this verse away, but I do not want to miss its intended meaning either.  Thus, I think it is appropriate to read it in the larger context of the New Testament which calls for the qualification of God’s will.  In the same way, in verse 25 we are given the qualification of forgiveness of others if we expect to be forgiven ourselves.  Thus, we need to forgive others as we pray for forgiveness and we need to have faith as we ask for great things from the Lord.  In all of this, we must trust in His goodness and entrust ourselves to His faithfulness.

As an aside, let me just note that I do believe that God often gives people a gift of faith for a particular prayer.  I see this in the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.  Thus, I think that it is appropriate for us to actually pray for faith.  I pray for a gift of faith when I am asking the Lord for children.  I want to make my requests known even as I submit them to His will.  I have made this request known to you that you might pray as well, so that if the Lord sees fit to grant us children, we will all encouraged by His gift (of children and of faith).  I know this might raise a number of questions that I do not have time to address, but I did want to mention it in light of Jesus’ teaching in Mark 11.

We have said before that the Gospel of Mark is about who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him.  In our text this morning, we have seen that He is the Messiah.  He fulfills prophecy, calls for prayer, and performs a miracle (while warning of judgment).  Thus, as His followers we should respond accordingly.  We should worship Him as the promised One.  We should pray to Him as the One who hears and the One who is able.  And we should have faith in Him to do great things, the greatest being to accomplish our salvation through His death and resurrection.  These are essential lessons for the follower of Christ.  By God’s grace, may we be faithful to heed them in all that we do.  Amen.

1 R. T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2002), p. 427-28.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 15 November 2007 )

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