I certainly hope that everyone is doing well today. I pray that all of my readers (as I write, we are almost all under “stay at home” orders because of the COVID-19 pandemic) are staying healthy and maintaining strong faith in the God Who keeps us as the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8) and good humor despite the trials of staying at home, concern about finances, and the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow might bring.
We left off yesterday with Jesus leaving the Temple in the evening for Bethany. That evening is, according to the Jewish reckoning, Monday. He stayed at the home of Simon the leper (there’s bound to be a great story there that we may never know until we get to Heaven). Although the evening’s meal was at Simon the leper’s house, Martha (sister of Lazarus and Mary) was serving as hostess. Lazarus was there and also Mary. Although we do not know all the details, there are indications that Mary might have taken on the task of washing feet of the diners that evening; however, as she came to Jesus’ feet, she offered a most expensive present.
Over Jesus’ feet and head she broke and poured an alabaster vial of expensive perfume, pure nard (according to John 12:3). This caused no little kerfuffle among some of those present. John notes that it was Judas especially who was offended that such an extravagant “waste” had occurred; a vial of such perfume was worth as many as 11 months’ wages. Judas, John makes clear was not merely a budget hawk, but rather was offended that it had not been sold and put into the common purse over which he presided and out of which he often helped himself (otherwise known as theft or embezzlement).
Jesus rebuked the indignant stir among the disciples and defended Mary’s gift. Indeed it was extravagant, but Jesus accepted it as a burial anointment before His coming death and burial. He continued to defend Mary’s gift by reminding those who thought it would be better used to help the poor that they would always have the poor to help, but they would not always have Him —again alluding to His impending death. This gift of kindness, these “flowers” before His funeral, Jesus said, would be remembered about her everywhere that the Gospel was preached, and indeed it is found in three of the four Gospel accounts. This rebuke, however, seems to have had motivated Judas to perhaps seek revenge by speaking to the chief priests about betraying Jesus.
The next morning Jesus left Bethany and on the way passed a fig tree. He looked for figs, but there were none, because it was not the season for figs. The season for figs is generally from mid-June through August, yet it was early April. Nevertheless, Jesus pronounced a curse on the tree. Later that day, on their return to Bethany, the disciples noticed that the fig tree had withered. Jesus used the fig tree as an illustration of the power of faith-filled prayer, that we’ll talk about later in this post.
When Jesus arrives at the Temple, Mark tells us that he found that the money changers and other merchants had returned to turn the house of prayer into a marketplace once again. And again, Jesus drove them out. Some have suggested that since Matthew and Luke note that Jesus cleansed the Temple on Sunday, that Mark must’ve have been mistaken. Others grasp at this so called discrepancy and try to discredit the Scriptures as be man-made and full of factual errors. But the truth is that both could be true. John records yet another cleansing of the Temple in the early part of Jesus’ ministry. Could it not be that Jesus did this several times in the course of His ministry and that the Gospel writers are merely reporting different instances? In fact, it makes good sense that if Jesus was incensed at this marketplace atmosphere once, He would have been incensed many times. One wonders if every time the merchants saw Jesus walking through the Temple gates they started urgently finishing up whatever business they were conducting and began bagging coins as fast as they could. Incidentally, archaeology has discovered coins in the water drains of the Temple in Jerusalem from Jesus’ era. In my mind’s eye I can see the tables being overturned by the Lord, coins rolling everywhere, including toward the drains and dropping in for us to discover as token evidence of this very incident. One by product of this cleansing of the Temple was anger from the chief priests, who allowed merchants to “rent” space in the Temple. Merchants being driven away equalled no income for them. It was just one more reason they had to get rid of this pesky Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, on this Monday before His death, appears to have spent the rest of His day in the Temple. Because of raising Lazarus and the wonders He performed in healing the blind and lame who came to Him, Jesus naturally drew crowds and appropriate praise and celebration especially from the children who had come to the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” You’ll recall from yesterday that “Hosanna” was a word loaded with praise-for-God meanings. These spontaneous outbursts of praise provoked criticism, again, from the chief priests and scribes, who saw it as blasphemous. Jesus responded simply, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself’?” As if to say, “Are the kids recognizing something that you are ignoring? “ And of course, they were — signs, healing miracles, and even the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
What do these things mean to us?
First, Jesus’ teachings in connection with the fig tree is a powerful one. There are some who have a hard time getting past Jesus withering a tree, just because it didn’t have any fruit out of season. This wasn’t petty revenge, however, it was intended to teach the disciples and us something important. It was to teach us about the power of faith-filled prayer. It is way too easy to lose faith in prayer, when we don’t see immediately results or the results we were expecting; and that’s why there is as much teaching in the Bible about it as there is. There are a lot of reasons why prayers disappoint, but the one that Jesus wanted to point out here, not long before His death, is lack of faith. Praying in faith is not about how earnestly you pray, nor about how much oomph you might put into it. Rather, it is about what you are willing to do in conjunction with your prayer. Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark (11:24) were, “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” Paraphrased, Jesus is saying that after our petition in prayer we should then turn around and act like God is going to give it. I like to to use the illustration of Israel as they crossed the Jordan River. The priests were commanded to march forward toward the river, which was in flood stage, even though the waters were not held back until the soles of the priests’ feet touched the water. Too often we ask for things in prayer and then wait for God to do everything like a cosmic waiter — then feeling disillusioned because our faithless prayer wasn’t answered.
What about this possible third cleansing of the Temple? We must realize that trying to right bad situations won’t happen overnight. It takes persistence, perseverance, and consistency. Do don’t give up trying to encourage a non-Christian spouse, trying to correct a wayward child, trying to change injustice or error. Jesus’ efforts were many times ineffective — like cleansing the Temple, trying to correct the Pharisees, or getting the apostles to quit fighting over who would be the greatest — but He didn’t give up; and neither should we.
Lastly, it is almost inexplicable that they chief priests and scribes should be seeing the same miracles, seeing the same signs, hearing the same wonderful and true-to-the-Scriptures teachings and be seeking to put Him to death. And yet they were! The only explanation can be that they were so invested in the status quo of financial gain, prestigious position, certainty of their own righteousness, and their traditional teachings that they could not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Now we could cluck our tongue as such blindness or we could realize that we ourselves are not immune from this kind of blindness. Being faithful to God means staying humble, listening carefully, examining everything closely, and being fiercely loyal to God above all.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.