You might be wondering how anyone might be able to determine what day was which in this walk through the last week of Jesus on earth as a man. The Gospel of Mark actually provides us a day by day account of the last 5 days with “on the next day” phrases. If we assume the first of these day (Mark 10:46ff) being Sunday, then knowing Monday (Mark 11:12), Tuesday (Mark 11:19,20), Wednesday (Mark 14:1), and Thursday (Mark 14:17). Using Mark as an timeline and outline, we are now on Tuesday.
Tuesday of Jesus’ last week was a thoroughly busy day. It began with Jesus and His apostles and some disciples walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. On the way those following Jesus noticed that the fig tree that He had cursed the day before was completely withered, which gave Jesus the opportunity to do some on the road teaching about the power of prayer (as we referred to yesterday).
Arriving at Temple, Jesus appears to have been confronted quickly by the chief priests about the authority with which He was “doing these things”. We don’t have a clear antecedent to what “these things” might be; they could be His miraculous healings, His raising Lazarus from the dead, His teachings, or perhaps even His cleansing of the Temple of the money changers and livestock merchants. Of these four possibilities, it would seem that the teachings and the cleansing of the Temple are the most likely antecedents; the authority for the miracles would seem to be obviously God. This, however, highlights once again the the blindness of Jesus’ critics, who couldn’t seem to make the connection between the miracles and their logical conclusions about who Jesus was and the authority that His teachings carried.
Jesus’ response to them was a counter-challenge. Generously paraphrased it amounts to “I’ll answer your question only if you answer Mine: Who gave John the Baptist his authority to preach and baptize?” The chief priests instantly found themselves in a no-win situation; any answer they gave would make them look bad. If they said that John got his authority from God, then Jesus would ask them why they didn’t believe John’s testimony about Himself. If, on the other hand, they said that John didn’t have any authority from God, they would become very unpopular, since the people believed that John was a legitimate prophet from God. So, the chief priests gave the only safe (but embarrassing) answer, “We don’t know.” So, Jesus refused to answer their question, too, and supplied us with a deft strategy for dealing with malicious critics.
But Jesus didn’t drop their challenge entirely. He went on in His teaching to tell a scalding parable about the wicked vine-growers (alternatively known as the parable of the landowner). In this parable Jesus depicts a landowner who lets us property out to vine-growers expecting a portion of the harvest as payment. When the vine-growers fail to pay the land owner sends servant after servant to collect payment, only to have those servants abused and killed. The landowner finally decides to send his son to collect, thinking that they would respect his son, but the wicked vine-growers, seeing an opportunity to kill the heir and take the land for themselves, kill the landowners son, too. Then Jesus asks the obvious question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do?” The obvious answer: He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. Then Jesus quotes the Psalm (118:23) that prophesies, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone.” This prophecy against these wicked chief priests could not have been clearer, and it made them even more determined to find a way to stop Jesus.
Mark (11:13) tells us that it was these same chief priests and who sent other religious leaders to come challenge Jesus in the Temple courts, so the next few hours of Jesus at the Temple is filled with clearly hostile questions intended to stump Him or make Him look bad in the people’s eyes.
It started with some Herodians. They began by trying to flatter Jesus, hailing Him as one who was truthful and deferred to no one, but then gave Him a problem they thought would make Him guilty of treason in the eyes of the Romans or a collaborator in the eyes of the people — “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Jesus’ response was beautifully simple, (paraphrased, of course) look at the denarius in your own purse and tell me whose likeness and inscription is on it. Then, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
Sadducees joined the effort to bring Jesus down in the eyes of the people with what they considered an unanswerable question about the resurrection. What if, they proposed, a man married a woman and then died before they had children — and then her brother marries her (under the Levirate law) but also dies before they have children — and then she marries the next brother, etc. down to the last of 7 brothers and then the woman dies. If there really is a resurrection, whose wife will she be? Jesus, agains, skillfully diagnoses their errors and answers them brilliantly. Their error: they didn’t understand either the Scriptures or the power of God. The answer: there will be no marriage in the resurrection and, yes, there will be a resurrection, testified to by a verse right out of Exodus (3:6), “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” — the stress being placed on the present tense verb “am” (as opposed to the past tense, “was”). Jesus concluded, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.”
Another came asking what the greatest command might be. This was a question of great concern to many a religious Jew, since there were so many laws that must be observed, let alone all the traditions. Would it be keeping Sabbath, would it be keeping kosher laws, would it be keeping the holy days? Could it even be whittled down to the 10 commandments? What was the one command that, if you kept it perfectly, you could rest assured that you would be saved? Jesus’ answer might have surprised many, essentially it was the well-known “Shema” of Deut. 6:4,5 — there is one God and you shall love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And then Jesus adds, for good measure, the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This answer was so profoundly correct, that even the scribe who seems to have asked the question as a trap, was impressed and said so. And this seems to have shut down the oppositional questions — for the moment.
But Jesus had a question for them to ponder from Psalm 110:1 which prophesied that the Messiah would be both a son of king David and One that king David called “Lord”. Fathers, especially a king, never called their sons “Lord” — unless their son was indeed of higher status, like God.
Jesus’ day also consisted of pointing out the hypocrisy of some of the religious leaders who prayed long prayers for show and then privately oppressed the poor. He also sat across from where Temple contributions were deposited and watched while rich men dropped in bags of silver or gold with an accompanying loud thump; and also as a poor widow dropped in a few small coins that probably couldn’t even be heard as they hit the bottom of the box. Jesus’ commentary on the value that God placed on such gifts has lived on in precious memory now for centuries. It illustrated what a great difference there is in giving disposable income and giving one’s rent and food money.
Toward the end of the day, Jesus and the apostles left the Temple on their way to the Mount of Olives, where they planned to spend the night. As they left, the apostles commented on the beauty of the Temple, but were shocked to hear Jesus predict that not one stone would be left on another. When they arrived at the Mt. of Olives, probably Gethsemane, the apostles asked Him to explain what He meant and when this end of the world (as they understood it) scenario would make place. Jesus then uses what is known as a double prophecy to predict what would happen in the near term (AD 70) and what would happen in the longer term (the end of time).
Now what can we learn? Actually, too much for one blog, so I’ll condense a few observations.
Jesus’ answer to the Herodians encourages us to be good citizens of the physical authorities (as much as that is possible, while being good citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom — always.
The criticism and warnings that Jesus provided to the Jewish leaders in the Temple needs to be heeded by modern religious leaders, too, this writer included. God holds leaders to a higher standard and they need to read Scripture carefully, objectively, thoroughly, and practically.
The scribe who came asking what the greatest commandment might be gives us insight and hope that not every skeptic’s heart is cast in concrete. It is way too easy to write people off completely if they ever express skepticism about Christianity or an inclination toward something worldly. Jesus’ and the apostles’ early converts included a lot Jewish priests (see the book of Acts), Pharisees (e.g., Nicodemas), and tax collectors and sinners.
Beyond the conversion of the scribe, the answer Jesus gave about loving God first and second loving others is, of course, worth pondering. Jesus’ priority guidance is to love God first and then to love our neighbor.
The hubris of the Sadducees, believing that they could trap Jesus with their proof-texted resurrection question should make all us take greater care in our Bible study. Correct Bible study needs to include to important things 1 pay attention to details, and 2) use the “sum” of Scripture and not just “some”. These are still the shortcomings of many a would-be theologian.
Lastly, the prophecy about the destruction of the Temple put side by side with the true end times is something that should be studied, not for trying to figure out exactly when the Lord will be returning (that will NEVER happen), but for the sake of fortifying ourselves in perseverance and hope against the great forces of worldliness that will persecute every disciple of Christ.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.
A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Monday
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.