The temple cleansed

Mark 11:15-19

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 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.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.

What a day! Entering the city hungry, whip in hand Jesus is a determined figure. What he had seen the previous evening had not impressed and Jesus has a plan of action. “He began to drive out those who sold and bought in the temple”. This was an all day assault on the established practices of the merchants and traders who came daily to manage the business of religion.

Some would leave quietly with little resistance, but there would be those who put up a fight, “and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” If they had the temerity to set up shop against his will, Jesus soon made it obvious that for today at least, it would not be business as usual.

“And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” Even the mere act of carrying something within the temple grounds was out of order. Jesus must have been fearsome to behold! The temple grounds were not an insignificant plot of land and Jesus must have gone around time and again, moving people and animals along and herding them all out of the temple grounds.

” 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.”” This was a master class in temple cleansing! There must have come a time when the people were prepared to listen and Jesus was happy to make explanation for doing what he did. It says the crowd was astonished at his teaching. Some would have rejoiced, many would have been confused, but most would have been annoyed at the inconvenience and delay his insistence upon the holiness of the temple would have caused them. Like many today, a little religion is seen to be good. But let’s not get carried away… it mustn’t interfere with our normal life, it can’t take up too much time in our day – lets just get our duty done and get on with life and all we have to do today.

Now, as then, we rush on by the holy, we miss God in the busyness and preoccupation of our lives. Jesus cleansing the temple makes us pause and linger in his presence, makes us clean up our act and focus on what is our true and proper response to God.

In the distance, however ,there is a menacing sound of low thunder. “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him”. Anytime the hypocrisy and deception of religion is exposed and violated by the truth and purity of devotion to the one true God, there are those who quietly and treacherously plot the destruction of the one who dares to expose their schemes. Jesus is no exception and his comeuppance will be swift and sure.

The King takes care of business

Mark 11:11-13

And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

When Jesus comes to Jerusalem, he enters as the Messiah, the coming King. What he finds there is not at all to his satisfaction. What he see in the temple must cause him deep distress. The subsequent cleansing of the temple appears in all the Gospels – John says that Jesus made a whip of cords. This was a considered act. So what does Jesus see late in the day that causes him to turn away and return to Bethany? Think of a market closing for the day, the litter and detritus of the day, the filth and excrement of the animals, little knots of men counting their money, the now empty bird cages. Is it any wonder that he leaves disappointed, angry even? The next morning he returns, early because it says he was hungry. So no breakfast then… the last time it was said that Jesus was hungry was after the forty day fast, prior to the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Quite possibly Jesus had fasted all night and in the morning, he was anticipating a confrontation that day. So when he came to the fig tree he sees it apparently flourishing out of season. His expectation is that he will be able to find some fruit. When he does not he curses the tree. This, seemingly, is out of character for Jesus. This incident has caused biblical scholars and commentators through the years to come up with all kinds of explanations as to why Jesus does this. Some say it is a picture of the coming judgement on Israel, others that there was an expectation of fruit as some figs did bear in this season. Others that Jesus was angry and capricious in his judgement.

However, it seems the me that Marks account is all about the kingdom and the King, and when the King comes by you had better be ready to show forth your good works! The King has an expectation that his kingdom will produce fruit in season and out of season. In fact, the tree is a picture of how he finds Israel, and the temple worship. A lot of outward activity but no fruit. Instead of true worship and prayer in Israel and in the temple, he finds a corrupt withered heart. The outward signs are still there of devotion to God, but the reality is that the heart is rotten to the core.

The Kingdom Declared

Mark 11:1-11

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “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!”
And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Jesus now makes his triumphal entry to Jerusalem. This is the time when the public get to choose if they will accept or reject him and his kingdom. Initially things look good and there is a wide acceptance. It will only be later in the week that the public will reject him. Already the Scribes and Pharisees are looking for opportunities to have him killed, but Jesus’ wide popularity, because of the healings and good works, for now shield him from the ire that is to come.