Some of the events that are recorded before us today are probably very familiar to many of you. If you’ve been at church on the major holidays during your life then you’ve probably heard a few messages on Palm Sunday, and may have been given little palm branches to take home. Well, today is not Palm Sunday, but we are going to be looking at events that start on what is called Palm Sunday and continue to Tuesday in what is known as the Passion week.
However, I would like to forego a lot of the traditional emphasis that is usually placed on these events and instead focus our attention on the spiritual aspects of what is recorded here for us. Because as you are probably aware, the Jews were looking for the Messiah to resurrect the Davidic kingdom and the overthrow of Israel’s oppressors. And as such they missed out completely on the significance of what was happening. Jesus came the first time, some 2000 years ago, to establish a spiritual kingdom. He will return again one day to usher in the physical consummation of all things at His second coming. In the meanwhile, we are concerned about entering into the spiritual kingdom of God. That spiritual kingdom is where Christ rules and reigns in the hearts of His people. So that is the focus of this message and what I would like to try to show as we study this passage. It’s a rather long passage, covering a lot of material and we could spend three or four Sundays exploring all the references and cross references that have to do with this passage. But just as I believe Mark does in his gospel, I want to focus on the spiritual characteristics of the kingdom of God, as Christ comes riding into Jerusalem in triumphant procession and enters into the temple of God.
As we finished up the previous chapter, we saw the Lord Jesus resolutely leading His followers towards Jerusalem. Mark has really focused practically all of his gospel on the last few months of Jesus’s ministry, and now we are at the last week before His crucifixion. There are just 16 chapters in Mark’s gospel, and we are already on chapter 11, and in verse one it is Sunday morning, the first day of the passion week. Mark is rushing us towards the climax of the gospel story, and in this first day of the week we see what I am calling the triumph of the gospel. A triumph refers to the Roman victory procession when the victorious general would parade into the city with his captives in his train, and his soldiers following him, and he would be celebrated and praised by his people. And that is essentially what we see here in spiritual terms as Christ enters Jerusalem.
As the chapter opens, we see Jesus instructing two of His disciples to go into the next village, Bethany or Bethpage which was practically a suburb of Jerusalem, and find there a colt of a donkey which was tied there near the entrance. Mark says it was a colt that was unbroken, no one had ever ridden it. And so the unnamed disciples go there and find the colt as Jesus had described it would be, and as they started to take it, those who were nearby said “why are you taking the colt?” And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” All of that discourse was exactly as Jesus had said it would be.
Some commentators find it necessary to explain that Jesus must have prearranged this sometime in advance in order for this to work out in this way. But I believe that Jesus knew that the donkey would be there. And furthermore, Jesus knew who the donkey belonged to. And this owner was undoubtedly a follower of Christ. I believe that because Jesus tells them to say “the Lord has need of it.” If they were not a believer, then it would have been necessary to say “Jesus of Nazareth has need of it.” But since they were a believer, all that was necessary was to say “the Lord has need of it.”
And I think that this is an indication of the all encompassing nature of the kingdom of God. Here was this secret disciple, or at the least, a not so obvious follower of Christ who was unknown to the rest of the disciples. I’m reminded of the time Elijah was discouraged and said to God, “I alone am left.” And the Lord said I have 7000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The spiritual kingdom of God would extend far beyond the immediate circle of the disciples, to the far reaches of Israel, and to include all the nations of the earth, as Mark records Jesus adds in vs 17, saying that the house of God would be a house of prayer for all the nations. The disciples had a limited view of the kingdom. They were picking out the chief seats for themselves around the throne. But the Lord had a view to reach the nations with the gospel, which they were at this point unaware of.
And I think it also speaks to the necessity of our involvement in the establishment of the kingdom. The Lord desires to work with us and through us to establish His kingdom. We are to participate. We see that in the praise and worship of the multitudes, the obedience of the two disciples who fulfilled their mission, and the sacrifice and faith of the person that gave his colt to be used by the Lord. Some served in great acts, some in lessor acts, but God uses both great and small gifts in the furtherance of His kingdom. Everyone contributes according to his ability and his stewardship. So in the words of the Lord, let us not despise the day of small things. One man gave a lowly donkey, and yet it was used to usher in the Lord of Hosts in the triumph of the gospel. It was used in fulfillment of prophecy, particularly Zechariah 9:9 which says “ Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.”
I would urge you here today, if you are a follower of Christ, to consider how you are contributing to the furtherance of the kingdom. What resources has God given you that you might give back to God for His use? God would like to use you, to bless you, if you are willing to use your stewardship for His glory. “The Lord has need of it.” What is your response? “No, I need it more?” Or rather acknowledge that if He is Lord, then it is His to use as He sees fit.
So the disciples bring the donkey to Jesus and they laid their garments on it’s back as a saddle, and the Lord begins to ride into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. There is a large crowd following Him now, and they lay their robes on the ground that He might ride upon them, and then they lay down palm branches in the road, all the while the enthusiasm and excitement is building and they cry out “Hosanna!” which means “save now”. “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!” Notice that there is an element of sacrifice in their worship, as they laid down their cloaks in His path. Worship always involves sacrificial obeisance.
However, though it’s true that they call out praise to the Lord because they believe He is the Messiah, yet it’s pretty obvious as the events roll out during the week that their praise was founded on wrong expectations concerning the Messiah. That is indicated perhaps in the phrase, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” They are looking for Christ to take the throne of David, not in a spiritual sense, but in a physical way, to sweep away the enemies of Israel and resume the throne in Jerusalem and reestablish Israels sovereignty.
But lest we think too little of these poor peasant people who are following Jesus into the city from Galilee, let’s make sure that we are not suffering under the same delusion. Do we also put undue emphasis on the gospel of the kingdom in regards to fulfilling our physical expectations? Do we expect God to fill our cupboards as He fed the multitudes? Do we expect God to heal our diseases as He healed blind Bartimaeus? Do we become disgruntled and dissatisfied with God when He doesn’t fulfill our expectations of physical deliverance from whatever difficulties we are encountering? I know I have to restrain my discouragement when God doesn’t act on my perceived difficulties as I expect Him to. And I am sure that many of you as well find yourselves at times disgruntled with God that He does not deliver you from whatever difficulty you are dealing with. Sometimes I think we would rather have a physical or political Messiah than a spiritual one.
Now notice vs11, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.” The temple was of course designed to be the center of spiritual, religious life in Israel. And here we see Jesus going there late in the evening and looking around. It would be easy to skim over that and not see the importance of this incident.
Many years ago I used to work in a very large luxury hotel in Florida. And the hotel general manager was notorious for going through the hotel at night after many of the department managers had left for the day and doing an inspection. And it was a terrible thing to come in the next morning and find these write ups that he had done on your department the night before. Things that he had found lacking.
Perhaps to some extent that’s what is going on here. Jesus has come back to Jerusalem after being gone for some time. And He goes into the temple, what He has previously called “His Father’s house,” and He makes an inspection. If you read between the lines it would seem that He did this without any fanfare. Perhaps He even disguised Himself. I don’t know. But He looks around at His house, and He is not happy with what He finds there.
I don’t know about you, but I tremble to consider what kind of invisible inspections the Lord must do in our houses. We are the house of God, not this building, but you people are the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1Cor. 6:19 “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
I wonder if Christ secretly walked through your house last night and did an inspection. I wonder what He saw that He may have been displeased about, or what He found that He was pleased with. I wonder what HIs assessment of our temple would be? Paul said, We are not our own, we are bought with a price. What are we doing with this temple to glorify God? In the next few verses we will see that Jesus comes back the next morning in judgment against the temple. He accuses them that they have made what should have been a house of prayer a house of merchandise, a place of thieves and robbers. They had made the temple into a commercial enterprise. I can’t help but wonder if we are not guilty of the same, of making what should be for holy use, to be used in profane and unholy things. Are we so busy serving mammon that we do not serve the Lord?
But before we look at that incident later the next day, we see that first thing in the morning there is a symbolic illustration of the situation Jesus found in the temple the night before. This is really like a living parable, it is an earthly illustration of a spiritual principle. And we see that unfold as they are walking back to Jerusalem, Jesus is hungry and He sees a fig tree in the distance in full bloom. I am told that fig trees produce figs as soon as they produce leaves. And so seeing the leaves, it was to be expected that it would have figs that were ripened and ready to eat. But when Jesus went to the tree, it had no figs. And so Jesus does something that seems shocking, at least on the surface. He curses the fig tree, saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples took note of what He said.
We will look at this again later, but suffice it for now to note that Israel is pictured in the fig tree. They are the fig tree which the land owner planted and checked for three years to see if it had produced fruit, and finding none, cursed the tree and cut it down, according to the parable of the fig tree found in Luke 13:6-9.
So leaving there, Jesus goes back into Jerusalem and enters straight away into the temple. This time He doesn’t come quietly or secretly. This time Jesus comes with a vengeance. This, by the way, is the second time that Jesus comes to the temple and cleanses it. The first time was at the beginning of His ministry and the gospels tell us that He made a whip and used it to drive out the money changers and the merchants. This time, no whip is mentioned, but I would like to think that He once again picked up a ox whip or something and began to lay it about on the tables and the backs of the brokers.
And I think that those two visits to the temple are an illustration of Christ’s first and second coming. The first time He came was in His incarnation, to initiate His kingdom by making a way for man to be reconciled to God. The second time He comes is in the consummation of His Kingdom, to take possession of His church, to gather the fruit and to bring judgment upon the tares. And even in the first coming, Jesus caused division between the gospel and religion. He said He came not to bring peace but a sword, to cause division between a man and his family.
So this incident as Christ cleans out the temple is correlated to the incident when Christ cursed the fig tree. The temple is full of activity, it is conducting a lively business, but there is no spiritual fruit there. It’s a picture of the church at large far too often today; full of activity, programs, people running here and there, but no real spiritual fruit. Fruit being the evidence of Christ in the lives of His people. Fruit being not just lip service, but a life lived in obedience to the seed which is the word of God.
Now what was going on in the temple was a commercial enterprise that was organized and approved by the priests and Sanhedrin. It was a scam really, in which the priests would examine the animal you brought in to have sacrificed, and tell you that it had some imperfection which rendered it unfit, and so you were forced to buy a pre approved animal from one of their vendors. That one would of course be priced at an exorbitant amount, but you had really no choice if you wanted to offer an acceptable sacrifice. The priests of course were getting a kick back from the vendors. And the same thing happened with the temple tax. The tax was required to be paid in Jewish coin. So again for a fee, they had people there who would exchange your Roman coins for Jewish coins so you could pay the temple tax. And so Jesus turns over the tables of the merchants and drives them out of the temple and doesn’t allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.
Mark understates what this must have done to the proceedings of the temple that day. It was the Passover week. Thousands of pilgrims are coming to the temple to offer sacrifices. It was like turning off the power in the mall the week before Christmas. No one could do business. And so as a result of His actions the wrath of the priests and the Sanhedrin would reach a fever pitch, resulting in their plot to murder Jesus.
And unfortunately, that is one of the repercussions of preaching the truth of the gospel today. People are content in the activity of religion however corrupt it may have become – however far from the truth it may be. But if you call out that activity as hypocrisy, the kick back is that they hate you and try to destroy you. No repentance, no contrition, just a resentment that their commerce or corruption or hypocrisy has been uncovered. But nevertheless, I take my cue from Jesus Himself. He didn’t mince words. He didn’t try to coddle them. He called it what it was and He told them to get out. vs.17, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” They were robbing God in His own house.
Now at the possibility of raising the ire of some, let me make this application on a subject that if you are honest you have to admit I don’t often speak of, if at all. But if you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, is there an application that you possibly rob God as well? Malachi 3:8-11 says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts.
Now let me hasten to say that I don’t say this, but God says it. I would rather not say it. I would rather the Lord deal with those who are disobedient in this, and not even mention it. But for your sakes I mention it, because I think that to be disobedient in this is to bring upon yourself a curse, even as God said, “You are cursed with a curse.” If you want to have that curse removed, then render to God to things that are God’s, and then God said He will pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Now let’s move on before someone throws stones.
Well, vs 18 says, “The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.” That’s the effect of sound biblical preaching, some get mad and some are afraid and some are astonished. But preaching should have some cleansing effect. Preaching that makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy isn’t the preaching of the gospel, I’m afraid. As Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”
So in vs19, Jesus and His disciples leave the city that night again as was their custom. I think they are sleeping out on the Mount of Olives each night. That’s how Judas is able to betray Him to the high priests. He knows that is where Jesus and the disciples spend the night.
The next morning, Tuesday, as they come back to Jerusalem, Peter sees the fig tree, and it has withered from the roots up. This is a symbolic reference to the prophecy Jesus made concerning Israel in Matt. 3:10 “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.” I think that there is surprise among the disciples that the apparently healthy tree they saw the day before had so quickly withered. And that suddenness is a picture of how quickly Israel would wither as well, as in less than 40 years later the temple would be destroyed and the Jews dispersed. In one day the tree withered, and in one generation Israel would be destroyed.
And Jesus answered Peter, “Have faith in God.” Now doesn’t that seem like a strange way to answer him? Isn’t this a strange transition to start talking about how to move mountains? A lot of people take these next verses out of context, as some sort of formula whereby we can do miracles or get whatever we want. But Jesus is not telling us how to curse fig trees or work miracles, but how not to be cursed like the fig tree. The nation of Israel was cursed because it did not seek the kingdom of God through faith but through dead works. They substituted ritual and ceremony for faith in Christ, and so they had become cursed. They had an outward form of religion, but inwardly they were dead.
“Have faith in God,” means that faith is the way to life in Christ. This is the way to have life that is fruitful. To trust that the Lord knows what is best for us, to believe what he says, to obey what he commands, to do what He asks. Faith in Him makes us a fruitful person, or a fruitful church, as the case may be.
Then Jesus went on to say something even more puzzling: “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.” Once again, this is not a formula for miracle working. But the mountain Jesus speaks of is the Mount of Olives. The sea is the Dead Sea. They are standing there looking at this mountain and contemplating throwing it into the Dead Sea? That is impossible. The mountain is a figure of the impossible.
But Jesus is not giving us a formula here for throwing mountains into the sea. He is telling us that to have faith in God at times is difficult to do. He knows that. There are mountains which oppose our faith and make it difficult for us. There are obstacles to faith. There are impossibles in our Christian life. But in chapter 9:23 we read Jesus said, “All things are possible to him who believes.” And in chapter 10 vs 27 Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
But remember what we said at the beginning. This is the spiritual kingdom of God that Jesus is establishing. These impossible things are things which are spiritual. The mountain, though literal and physical, is but a figure of the obstacles to the spiritual. Faith is the means by which we overcome the world and we are saved spiritually. Faith is the means by which we receive eternal life, even the abundant life in Christ.
And then he goes on to tell us how in vs24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
What Jesus is saying is, that repentance is necessary for faith. ”The great hindrance to having faith in God is sin, and that’s illustrated by the sin which refuses to forgive. Sin is like a mountain which hinders your faith. Your prayers are hindered. David prayed, “if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me.” Before we can have the proper expression of our faith which is effective prayer, we must repent of the sin in our lives.
Maybe that means we need to forgive someone who has injured us, even as Christ has forgiven us for injury against God. Maybe unforgiveness is the sin that is hindering your fruitfulness. Jesus, when He taught us to pray said pray this way, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In conclusion then, faith is the means of gaining spiritual life. Faith is expressed in prayer. As the temple of God, we are to be a house of prayer. Faith by the way, is not a fervent belief that whatever we ask for God will give us. But faith is a fervent belief in what God has promised He is faithful to perform. Then finally, if we are to have effective prayer, it must be prayer from clean hands and a clean heart. We must not harbor sin if we would have effective prayer. May God help us, then, to forgive one another. That is the fruit of faith, that we love one another, even as Christ loved the church and gave up His life for her.