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Who Do You Say I Am?
The Gospel of Mark
The Triumphal Entry

This morning, we arrive in Mark chapter 11.  This morning, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem.

Mark 11:1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives…

In my last sermon, Jesus was leaving Jericho on his way to Jerusalem.  He had just healed Bartimaeus.  The blind man who saw who Jesus was, “the Son of David, who comes in mercy”.  At the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus travels the 20, or so, miles from Jericho to Jerusalem. 

The beginning of the end is at hand. 

Jericho to Jerusalem involves a long, hard climb. Jericho is the lowest city on earth.  Jericho is over 800 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is nearly 3,000 feet above sea level.  Jesus climbs the 4,000 feet up from Jericho to Jerusalem. The road goes through hot, dry desert all the way to the top of the Mount of Olives, at which point, quite suddenly, you have, at the same time, the first real vegetation and the first, glorious sight of Jerusalem.              

When Jesus arrives at the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, it is Passover time.  Passover is the biggest holiday of the Jewish year.  Thousands of pilgrims would have been accompanying Jesus as he hiked the 20, or so, miles.  It was a time of singing, and dancing, and feasting.  It was their 4th of July, and Christmas with a bit of Easter, all rolled together.  It was a time of hope.  It was a time for freedom.  It was time for a Messiah! The long climb up from the depths of Jericho to the top of Mount of Olives was a climb for a new kingdom.  Everyone on the 20, or so, mile hike was spooled up when they got to the top of the Mount of Olives and saw the Holy City! 

But, Jesus knew… it was the beginning of the end. 

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Mark 11:1-6 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. 

We have here a bit of a time warp continuum paradox.  Listen to Zechariah 9.

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Did Jesus fulfill Zechariah 9:9 because he knew he was supposed to.  Or, was Zechariah 9:9 written because Zechariah knew Jesus was going to.  Or was it both.  I will let you scientists ponder that one.  It is not problem for theologians. 

Jesus knew what he was doing. 

--Jesus knew he was announcing that he was king. 

--Jesus knew he was proclaiming that he was the “Son of David”!  Just like Bartimaeus had said.

--Jesus knew he was revealing that he was in fact the Messiah!

--Jesus knew he was bringing the beginning of the end…

So, the disciples follow his instructions. They go rustle up a donkey; a colt; a never been ridden on foal, just like Zechariah 9:9 had expected.

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Mark 11:7-11 And the disciples 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.

You don’t spread cloaks on the road, especially on a dusty road; especially on an animal clopped road; especially on a no-street-sweepers-around road; for just anyone. You wouldn’t lay down your traveling cloak for a friend, or your wife, or some celebrity. As a Jew, in the time of Christ, you would only lay your cloak on the nasty road for one person… the Messiah! 

--Everyone there knew Jesus was doing Zechariah 9:9.

--Everyone there knew Jesus was proclaiming that he was the “Son of David”!

--Everyone there knew Jesus was bringing the beginning of the end.  The crowds thought it was the beginning of the end for the Romans.  But, they were wrong.

‘Hosanna’ is a Hebrew word which mixes praise to God with a prayer that God will save his people, that God will save his people, right now.  Hosanna is praise and prayer request mixed together.  Their cheerful chant is from Psalm 118.   This is cool.  This was one of the songs they had been singing and dancing to on the way from Jericho to Jerusalem.  It is a Psalm of ascent which is itself all about going up to Jerusalem for God’s deliverance.  Listen…

Psalm 118:25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house (temple) of the LORD.

As the parade accompanied Jesus up the hill into Jerusalem, they spread their cloaks in prayer to God, for freedom!  The crowd was expecting Jesus to be the coming King! 

Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Goes to the temple.  Jesus experiences the temple with all the emotions, as he looks around at everything. Then, because Jerusalem is packed with pilgrims, he returns the 5 miles back to Bethany to spend the night. 

What happens the next morning is a sign that the beginning of the end is near.

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Mark 11:12-14 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, Jesus 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.

This is strange.  Jesus knows it is not the season for figs.  It is too early in the Spring for the figs to be ready to eat.  But this tree does not have even any baby figs on the tree.  So, Jesus curses the tree.  This seems a bit petulant.  But, I think there is something deeper going on here.  This is an object lesson.  This is the point of Mark chapter 11.  Jerusalem is like this fig tree.  It is doomed. 

Mark make us a fig tree sandwich.  What?  Mark uses sandwiches, or if you prefer, bookends, to highlight a point in the middle.  We are coming to get more fig tree in a minute.  But listen to the middle of the sandwich. 

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Mark 11:15-16 And they came to Jerusalem. And Jesus 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. 

This is the middle of the fig tree sandwich.  This is the important part.

Jesus stops what is going on in the temple. Jesus throws over tables. Jesus scatters pigeons everywhere.  Jesus keeps everyone from trading stuff.  Jesus keeps everyone from even moving through the temple. Jesus shuts down the temple.  Jesus is not upset with the money-changers for being dishonest.  That is not the point. He keeps, not only the money-changers, but everyone from doing the temple. Jesus is making a bigger point than dishonesty… Jesus is symbolically saying this is the beginning of the end!

Mark 11:17 And Jesus 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."

Here is the point of the fig tree sandwich. The temple is supposed to be a place for prayer for the ethnos.  It is a place supposed to bless the nations.  The Jerusalem temple is the hope of the world.  But instead you have made it a den of robbers.  Think hideout.  Think hole-in-the-wall. Think a safe place for criminals.  All the crowds that have gathered there in the temple for Passover, even those who had just the day before shouted “Hosanna” were treating the temple as a refuge against the nations. 

Jesus is quoting from Jeremiah. 

Jeremiah 7:3-11 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'  For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place… Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah is upset that the people of his time were doing abhorrent things and then claiming the sanctuary of the temple.  It was like a gang of robbers going out and robbing a bank and then running to their hideout for safety. The temple is their secret hideout where no one can catch them.  Jeremiah was warning his people that the temple was not going to protect them.  It was to be destroyed!  It was destroyed.

The people of Jesus time were doing the same thing. They were trusting in the protection of the temple as they rebelled against Rome.  Jesus is saying that the temple is not going to be a safe hideout.  The turning over of the tables in the temple is symbolically foreshadowing the very destruction of the den of robbers.

It is the beginning of the end… for the temple.  What? 

The people were committed to a violent rebellion against Rome. This was exactly the wrong way to bring about the kingdom of God. The temple was a place of prayer for the Romans.  The people were counting on to the temple to be their protected hideout.  “God will never let his temple be destroyed.”  But it was all over but the crying for the temple. 

Jesus turned over the money-changers tables as a warning. The temple is going to be destroyed. It will not be their protection.  This was the beginning of the end, for the temple.

Now listen to the other half of the fig tree sandwich.  Jesus reemphasizes his point.

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Mark 11:20-22 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered." And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God.”

The next morning, as they pass the fig tree again, everyone is surprised.  The fig tree has shriveled up, overnight, all the way down to the roots…just like the magnificent temple will be destroyed. The fig tree is an object lesson for the temple… the fig tree sandwich.  

But it is more than that.  The fig tree is about where you, where we place our faith.  We are to have faith in God.  That is what Jesus tells Peter, “Have faith in God!”  We are not to place our faith only in God, not in any human built thing.

Watch what Jesus says next. 

Mark 11:23 “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”

The mountain in context here in Mark 11 must be the temple mountain.  The temple is built on top of the mountain.  Jesus is telling them/us the mountain of misplaced faith, can be cast in the sea.  Wow! That is suddenly meaningful.   

I have always had a hard time with this verse.  “If you have enough faith you can literally move mountains.”  That is not the point of this verse.  Have faith in God to remove the wrong kind of belief-system.  Faith in false mountains.  The people of Jesus time had faith in a temple, but not the God of that temple.  Their belief-system was in that the Messiah would deliver them from the Romans because of this gorgeous temple.  But then they crucified the Messiah.

The haunting question, for us, is what human created belief-systems do we place our faith?  Systems which are not of God?

Then, to give us a clue how to answer that question, Jesus tells us the kind of system in which we should place our faith. 

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Mark 11:24-25 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." 

We must have faith in a belief-system which solely relies upon the Father.  A belief-system which forgives those who trespass against us.  What?  What kind of kingdom can win, which forgives those who harm it? 

The system which will prevail; the system which is His kingdom; the system which is the Son of David who comes in mercy; the system which defeated the Roman empire and every other empire! The kingdom of heaven is the system which humbly forgives its enemies.  Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, humbly, on a donkey.
 

Jesus did come as the Messiah to create a new kingdom.  A kingdom whose power surpasses the power of every other kingdom on earth.  It has the power of forgiveness.  The power of sacrifice.  The power of the cross.  The power that solely trusts in the God!  

In Mark chapter 11, Jesus arrived at Jerusalem as the Son of David. It was the beginning of the end…

Tim Stidham

September 17, 2017

Los Alamos Church of Christ








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