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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… - Mark 11:15 (NIV)
A couple of weeks ago, I ran to the grocery. We were unsure whether we’d need to “self-quarantine” or “shelter in place” for an outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19), the effects of which are obviously still being felt everywhere. Kids got released from school for several weeks, so we needed milk, eggs, and bread. And, apparently, toilet tissue. Know what else got attention? Hand sanitizer. I saw a 4.5-ounce bottle for sale on Amazon for over $200. Talk about price-gouging! I won’t lie, it made me mad. So I made a note of the sellers of such items at ridiculous prices and won’t buy from them in the future either, once that sanitizer bottle goes back to selling for around three bucks.
I spent about two hours, working my way through cart-jammed aisles, getting our basic needs. Trust me, there was no social distancing happening in Kroger that day! And, praise the Lord, they still had a few rolls of Charmin left.
In the passage this week, we’ll look at exactly what sent Jesus into a moment of righteous indignation. When we’re dissecting such a scene in Scripture, it’s always wise to ask questions. Here’s the first one: Why were merchants there in the first place?
Turns out there was a big event happening in Jerusalem: Passover. One of the seven feasts celebrated by the children of Israel each year, and specifically, one of three pilgrimage feasts where every Jew was expected to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate. Those who traveled couldn’t all travel carrying their sacrifice animals with them, so they purchased them upon arrival. However, pigeons, doves, and lambs were being sold for more than four to five times their customary price. Additionally, foreign money being exchanged to Jerusalem currency was getting handled with exorbitant lending fees. God’s people were being cheated and taken advantage of (price-gouged) right in God’s house!
Here are questions we should all ask ourselves: Do I have any day-to-day behavior that would offend my Savior? Will you ask God today to reveal any ways in which your behavior doesn’t match your faith? Pray to Him for courage to align your words, deeds, and thoughts with His.Share Tweet
…and [he] would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. - Mark 11:16 (NIV)
Some people are known for amazing displays of temper. In my years working for a political organization, there were public figures at the state level that we all knew not to press too hard, or a public outburst would ensue. Some people are just wired for getting worked up.
It was the chair toss seen around the world. You know already, right? Five minutes into the first half of the 1985 Indiana-Purdue basketball game… five team fouls had been assessed on the Indiana team, but when the sixth one was called, that was more than Head Coach Bob Knight could take. Red-faced and yelling, he confronted the referee, who immediately teed him up. So what’d Bobby do? He picked up his own chair from the sidelines and flung it across the floor. That wasn’t quite satisfying, however, so Coach Knight continued a diatribe with game officials, earning two more technical fouls and ejection from the game. The Hoosiers went on to lose that one to the Boilermakers, 72-63.
It was shocking to watch a storied team coach lose control in such a way. Here’s the thing I learned later: Knight’s players were used to this kind of thing. One of his point guards later said he and another player counted 52 chairs thrown… during a single practice! So when the chair went flying in a game, Hoosier players barely batted an eye.
I have a feeling, however, that on the day Jesus went into the Temple and sent tables, coins, and pigeons a-flyin’, His disciples were wide-eyed and gape-mouthed. Their knowledge of Jesus included wise, measured responses even in tense situations. How about you? Is Jesus honored when the moment of anger happens to you?
And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’" - Mark 11:15-18 (NIV)
Take a deep breath. This might hurt a little. If we’re familiar with this story, we might be okay with the merchants being chased out of the Temple by Jesus crackin’ a whip. After all, they were clearly not like the good Jews attending Passover services. Outsiders, right? Um, not exactly. In reality, many were worshippers themselves. Insiders. Jewish brothers.
The selling of animals and exchanging of money historically occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, an area that could be accessed by anyone. It was outside the holy areas open only to Jews. However, it is also thought that on this occasion—this particular Passover—the bazaar-like atmosphere had grown into so large an enterprise that it extended into the holy area of the Temple. Oh, nuh-uh! No wonder He got so hot! They were selling birds and such in the Father’s sacred places. Big no-no.
Jesus used a very specific and well-known phrase to remind them of how bad this practice was: “a den of robbers.” This very wording is a reference to Jeremiah, when the children of Israel were worshipping and living in ways detestable to a holy God. You see, being in the presence of a holy God should ignite in each of us the flame of holiness. Jeremiah, in his day, reminded the people of this as they came to worship. Jesus knew by comparing them to a den of robbers, they would instantly recognize Jeremiah’s charge from long ago. Oh, I love it when Scripture connects! From Genesis to the maps, it’s all connected! (See Jeremiah 7:1-11)
Remember, God’s desire is to dwell among His people. He cannot live in a corrupt community. Maybe we should all memorize this today: But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NIV)
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)
Wow. That’s not something said lightly. They began looking for a way to kill Jesus. Had they already killed others who got in their way? Is that why Jesus called them a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7)? Whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27)? Was there actually a cabal of religious leaders who were so evil as to plot murder?
In each of the Gospels, Jesus consistently points out a system of entitlement, hypocrisy, and segregation, and a form of religion that denied the power of a righteous and holy God. And that made Jesus really angry. You see, Jesus felt these insiders kept people away from the heart of the Father, as opposed to drawing them closer.
Priests, Pharisees, teachers of the Law—they were the insiders with high levels of prestige and authority. Everywhere Jesus went, He called them out as hypocrites, named their sin-sickness of pride, and flatly exposed them for the liars they were. But murder?
Listen, there are times at Casa Hatton that I’m banned from watching the news… usually during big election seasons. I confess to being a political junkie. When I start yelling at the television, though, Greg will say it’s time to switch to sports. I may disagree vociferously with some political commentators or politicians. But murder? It never crosses my mind to want for their physical harm.
Friends, I pray we never become religious insiders who are more concerned with those already gathered in our midst than those lost and dying outside our beautiful church doors. May our hearts beat for the hopeless and broken who have yet to experience the peace and love of a Savior filled with grace and compassion. May we ache for the hearts of those living in bondage, missing the freedom freely given in the sacrifice that is only a week away from what’s happening in this passage of Scripture. The Cross changes everything.
The old message of war was this: Take no prisoners! For you and me, friend, it’s this: Leave none!
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)
My spiritual mentor, Miss Fannie, always said, “Context is king in understanding Scripture.” What comes before or after helps us have deeper clarity. Today’s passage immediately precedes the one we’ve studied all week.
Now, before you go thinking Jesus was just a little hangry and got mad at a tree, let’s dig a little deeper. It may help you to know that in Scripture, the fig tree is representative of the nation of Israel and is mentioned numerous times in that context. Now read that passage one more time, with that in mind.
The New Testament gives an abundance of attention to the concept of fruit, doesn’t it?
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8, NIV)
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. (Luke 6:43, NIV)
And the granddaddy of all the fruit passages:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV)
Fruit is outward evidence of inward health. Jesus went to the fig tree with the expectation of fruit. He found only leaves. The spiritual significance of that sentence makes me cry. Jesus came as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. Upon His arrival, He discovered her abject spiritual poverty. Nothing but a covering (leaves). They had religious rules, regulations, and ceremonies. Outwardly, they looked okay. But inside? Dead.
Friends, this occurred on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus’ final destination. The Savior already knew the people would turn on Him and seek His death. This is the moment His mission would be completed. He could’ve turned around and gone back to Glory. He didn’t. He marched on, resolute, into a city that in a week would give Him over to crucifixion. He found His people selling two-dollar doves for a hundred dollars.
Lord, give us real fruit through the power of Your Spirit.