Grab your Bible, and let’s go deeper into Mark 11.
Read again Mark 11:1-11.
As Jesus enters the city, He is essentially saying, “I am a King, but I am not a King that fits into the world’s categories.”
There is something we see in the Scriptures that takes this to another level for us. A famous sermon given by the famous 17th-century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, called “The Excellency of Christ,” highlights Revelation 5:5-6, where John is told, “Behold, the Lion of Judah,” but what he sees is a “slain lamb.”
Edwards takes us into this passage with, “The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice:
the lamb excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellencies of both [Lion and Lamb] wonderfully meet in him.”
Jesus fulfills this combination of diverse excellencies that should be utterly incompatible. Jesus is both a victorious Lion and a sacrificial Lamb; infinite highness and infinite accessibility; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and yet infinite humility; infinite majesty and infinite meekness.
He wears the crown of gold and the crown of thorns. He truly is the two-crowned King!
We’ll come back to this.
Mark 11:12-14 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.
At first glance, this sounds bad. One could even say Jesus seems to come off as kind of a jerk in how He interacts with the tree. The tree did nothing wrong. It wasn’t fruit season yet. Right? What is this then, if it’s not Jesus having a tantrum, like a baby who is hungry and can’t get something to eat? Surely there is more to this interaction. We have to see how Jesus is teaching His audience and us.
Jesus is not getting in the face of the fig tree; He is getting in the face of you and me. More specifically, He is confronting the religiosity of the people and declaring His impending judgment on them.
From a distance, the fig tree looks as if it has fruit (I’ll explain in a moment), just as Israel had divine favor with God and a devotion to religious practices. But, as you get close to the tree, you can see it has no fruit, just as Israel was spiritually bare.
Let me explain.
Why would Jesus approach the fig tree looking for food if He knew it was not fig season as Mark clarifies? It’s because a fig tree produces two kinds of fruit in different seasons. As the leaves come in, it grows little edible nubs. If it doesn’t, that tree is diseased. Jesus sees the leaves and approaches to eat the nubs but finds none on it.
See, Jesus is revealing the tree’s deception. When we see this happen just before He enters the temple, He is giving us a parable of religiosity at work. Just like the Judiazers in that day, we, too, can look as if we have it all together by our outer appearance and self-righteous deeds. But in the end, the disease of sin is still at work, and no real, spiritual fruit is produced out of us.
In this, Jesus is showing us the failure of religion, of works-based salvation. We cannot rid ourselves of sin by our own works. We cannot produce spiritual fruit without Jesus working within and through us.
Make this personal for you. Many “Christians” are really just religious worker bees. Are you just really busy with religious activity?
This is the Mary-and-Martha comparison. Are you so busy trying to earn a chance to enjoy Jesus that you are missing the fact that He is sitting in your living room longing to spend time with you?
He is trying to tell you that He has done the work for you, and the only kind of service, or work, that glorifies God, and is truly enjoyable, is the kind that happens out of the overflow of Christ in you.
Every other religion says, “You are saved, or connected to God, because of your moral striving.” If this is true, then this picture of coexisting “power and weakness” will never be a reality, because religion says, “Only results and power win. Weakness fails.”
See the failure of religion:
If you are living up to standards, you will be overly cocky and confident.
When you see others struggling, you will be judgmental and rude as you say, “Suck it up.”
And when you are failing to meet the standard, you will be sad and depressed.
How is this good news?
But, what if you are radically loved because of what Jesus has done in spite of your flaws? What if your relationship to God is dependent not on your record but Jesus’ record? Not on your life but His life? This is exactly what He came to do for us!
Read with me:
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.
Verse 15 says, “… He entered the temple …”. When you look at a map of the Temple, the area you first walk into is like an outer ring called “The Court of the Gentiles” aka “The Court of the Nations.”
This is the only place the Gentiles could go. It was also the only place the venders could set up. It was a huge market with sellers of all the things people needed for the Passover and other activities—things like wine, oil, salt, and approved sacrificial animals. One Passover week would see the sale of 255,000 lambs.
Also, there were three kinds of money that circulated in this time:
Imperial money, Roman; provincial money, Greek; and local money, Jewish.
The “Money Changers” would then exchange, for a fee, the other money for the required coinage for the annual half-shekel temple tax.
Today, this might look like our modern Wall Street trading floor or the merchant areas, just on the other side of the Mexican border, in Tijuana.
Jesus gets all Randy “Macho Man” Savage on the crowd and starts flipping tables and kicking people out. But quickly, He uses the moment to teach. In verse 17, He says this is to be “a house of prayer for all the nations.”
Now what’s funny is, to the people watching this, this statement was more outrageous than His flipping tables. Because the belief was the Messiah would show up and purge the foreigners so the Jews could be free from them and their rule. But here is Jesus advocating for the Gentiles saying it is to be their house of prayer, too.
For Jesus to want foreigners to participate in the temple in prayer is shocking for the people, because they know the history of the Temple. It is not shocking to us, because we don’t fully grasp how serious the temple practices were.
Jesus puts on display humility as He enters on the back of a donkey. Then He puts on display His authority and power, as He turns tables in the temple.
Both of these are radical sights—the supposed Messiah riding in on a donkey; the supposed Messiah saying His Holy Temple is for people in all nations and not just Jews.
He is pressing His audience, and He is pressing us as we study this. He is saying, “Crown me. Or kill me!”
I ask you today, is Jesus your sacrificial King or is He a religious slave driver? One leads to new life and setting down your deadly doing and idolatry. The other leads to weighty rules and spiteful judgment that never gives life but instead withers like the fig tree.
For some, this will be good news, and in Christ they will be saved. For others, they will reject it and attempt to make their own salvation but will perish.
Hear me today: If you go to Him like a lamb, He will defend you like a Lion, and the gates of hell will not overcome you. Your former lack of satisfaction will finally be quenched in the glory and love of God almighty.
Jesus is the sacrificial Lamb who defeated death like a mighty Lion. He is our great two-crowned King!