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The king has come (Mark 11:1-26)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Symbolic acts

Sometimes people do things to make a point or a statement. Sometimes actions speak louder than words and the action can be symbolic or representative of something that they want to draw your attention to.

Cathy Freeman at the Sydney Olympics

In the 2000 Olympics Cathy Freeman won the 400 metre women’s event in 49.11 seconds. It was a great moment as Australians watched on as Cathy, in her head-to-toe body suit crossed the finish line far ahead of her nearest competitor. Some have said “that it was the greatest night of track and field in the history of the sport”[1]. There was a record attendance for athletics on the night in the stadium of 112, 574 who watch as Freeman delivered gold for Australia.

On the night Freeman made the decision to do her victory lap around the stadium with both the Australian and the Aboriginal flag wrapped around her shoulders. Although she had been warned that to carry the Aboriginal flag would have been in breach of the rules of the International Olympic committee, she made the decision to do it anyway. By taking the action that she did she was making a statement about who she was as an Australian and an indigenous woman. For her carry the aboriginal flag was a proud moment and “represented pride in her people and the struggles and hardship of ancestors.” It was a symbolic act that had for her and others great significance.

The Lord Jesus and Jerusalem

In the reading today from the gospel of Mark we witness Jesus intentionally taking several actions with great symbolic significance. On the way into Jerusalem, he made the choice to enter the city riding on a colt. The next day, on the way to the temple he cursed a fig tree which a day later had completely withered and died. Lastly when he entered the Temple, he cleared it out and halted what was going on there.

Three symbolic acts

Today we want to look at each of these three actions taken by Jesus to understand what he was saying by them and what might be the significance for us reading about them today.

1. Riding into Jerusalem

The first symbolic action taken by Jesus was the way that he would enter Jerusalem. He entered Jerusalem riding in on a colt. Matthew, in his gospel gives a little more detail telling us that the colt was the colt of a donkey.

This was not the usual way for pilgrims to make the final leg of journey up to Jerusalem for Passover even though the journey from Jericho was a long uphill climb up and over the mount of Olives and down and across the Kidron valley to Jerusalem.[2] It was also not the usual practice of the Lord to go about riding on donkeys. Indeed, this is the only occasion in the gospels that we ever hear a donkey being mentioned or that Jesus ever got on one.

His choice that day to ride in on colt had nothing to do with fatigue or injury but he was making a statement for those who were on the road with him and those who would greet him as he came into Jerusalem. He was intentionally fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah.

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [3]

The Lord wasn’t tired, he was making a statement about who he was, and he was doing for all to see. He was saying that he is this righteous and victorious king, the lowly or humble king who would come to Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey. In chapter 9 of Zechariah this king was the one that would bring salvation to the people of Jerusalem and would bring peace to our world and whose rule would extend to the ends of the earth. In taking this deliberate act the Lord was saying that he was the king that God’s people had been waiting for, the one who would bring salvation to them and peace to our world.

The red-carpet treatment

When a visiting dignitary or state leader visits often the locals will roll out the red carpet for them. The last visit that Queen Elizabeth made in 2011 she visited Melbourne and they rolled out the red carpet for her so she could cross Federation Square in Melbourne CBD as thousands of people surrounded her[4]. Red carpet is traditionally the way that we have welcomed and received heads of state. Sadly, it is rolled out for just about anyone these days.

Whether or not the pilgrims travelling with Jesus completely understood the symbolism of Jesus riding on a donkey they treated him like he was royalty. They rolled out the red carpet for him. When the two disciples came back with the donkey, they threw their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on and then many of the pilgrims threw their cloaks on the road while other spread branches.

This red-carpet treatment was not something that people would normally do for just anyone in the ancient world. It was usually reserved for kings returning home after a great victory. While some are inclined to play down the reaction of the crowd, they clearly responded to Jesus receiving him as the king that God had sent to deliver his people even though they had no idea of what that would mean for him.

Words of praise

Their words of praise confirm this.

Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!

We are told that those who went ahead of Jesus and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna” and “Hosanna, in the Highest”. Hosanna which originally was a cry or a prayer for salvation but had also come to be used as an expression of praise and was shouted by the pilgrims as they entered Jerusalem.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

While the words “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” was a customary greeting or blessing that was said by pilgrims, Luke’s gospel makes it clear that they were speaking of the king that they believed to be sitting on the donkey. Luke indicates that on this day at least some of the crowd were saying blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord (see Luke 19:23).

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!

What they were looking forward to and were hoping for is mentioned in verse 10. It was the coming of the kingdom of their father David.

This kingdom was the everlasting kingdom that the Lord had promised David. The Lord had told David that he would raise up a descendant (an offspring) of his who would build a house for the Lord’s name and whose throne and kingdom the Lord would establish forever (see 2 Samuel 7:11-16). The pilgrims that day high hopes that Jesus was this son of David (see Matthew 21:9) who had come to sit on father’s throne and whose kingdom and rule would be established forever. What none of them were prepared for is how all this would take place and what that would mean for them.

The king had come to Jerusalem

What Mark wants us to see is what those pilgrims recognised that day which was that the king had come to Jerusalem. Jesus is the king that God had promised his people. He is the son of David who would build a house for name of the Lord so that sin can be dealt with, we can be forgiven, and an everlasting kingdom established. He is the one that we need to receive as our king. He is the one who has carried all our hope with him into Jerusalem and who we are to acknowledge, like Bartimaeus, as the son of David the one we need to cry out to for mercy and the one we to follow.

The Lord Jesus is by making the statement is saying that he more than just a prophet with words from God. He is more than just a teacher with wisdom on how we should live. He is our Lord and king. He is calling us to welcome him as our king putting all our hopes in him and spreading our cloaks before him. We are to give him the red-carpet treatment holding nothing back in our lives but laying out everything that we have before him to use for his glory and honour.

2. The cursing of the fig tree

The second symbolic action of Jesus in this passage is the cursing of the fig tree that withered and died. Peter said, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (11:21) In the story the fate of this fig tree is intertwined with the story of Jesus’ dealings with the temple.

On arriving in Jerusalem Jesus immediately went up to the temple and gave it the once over.

Mark 11:11

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

The first thing that the king did when he came to Jerusalem was to inspect the house of his Father’s house. He went to the temple courts and looked around at everything. This wasn’t a site seeing tour but a snap inspection by the king to check out what the Lord’s servants had been doing with his Father’s house.

Outwardly the temple was impressive. Herod’s temple had built the Temple on a grand scale and 46 years into the build it had gained a reputation as one of those places that was magnificent to behold[5]. Later one of the disciples will remark to Jesus just how impressive the buildings were drawing Jesus attention to the massive stones and the magnificent buildings (see Mark 13:1[6]). But while the outward appearance of the buildings might have seemed impressive what was going on inside them wasn’t. Far from being impressed by what he saw the Lord Jesus was appalled and he used both his hunger and a leafy fig tree to make a point about what was going on inside the temple.

On the way to the temple the next day the Lord Jesus went up to the fig tree and inspected it to see if it had any fruit amongst all its leafy green foliage. But when he reached it, and inspected it closely, he found that it had nothing but leaves. It had no fruit. Now whether Jesus ought to have expected to have found fruit at this time of year is not the point. We are told that it wasn’t the seasons for figs. While some argue that the term for figs used here is the term for ripe figs not immature ones which usually budded before the leaves[7], we don’t need this explanation to understand the point of this symbolic act.

The Lord Jesus inspects the tree that has all the appearance of life and fruitfulness but instead of finding fruit the tree is nothing but leaves. Finding no fruit, the Lord pronounced his judgement on the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again”. The day the disciples saw that the tree withered from the roots. It had come to its end.

It was a symbolic act on Jesus part that is intertwined with the story of the temple. Just the day before Jesus had inspected the temple to find out what was going on there. We are told that he looked around at everything. This was the place where people should have been drawing near to God in repentance and finding forgiveness. But although the temple might have looked impressive on the outside with its huge stones and magnificent building and with its many sacrifices, it wasn’t bearing the fruit of repentance.

Like the fig tree it had lots of outward foliage that might have looked good from a distance, however up close it wasn’t bearing the fruit of righteousness. Their religion was a shame. They appeared to be serving the Lord, but they were really ignoring the Lord and what he wanted and were just getting on with what they wanted to do but doing it in his name.

3. Clearing the temple

The last symbolic act was the clearing out the temple. The Lord Jesus had already done his inspection of the Temple the day before and after he cursed the fig tree he went back up to the temple and started clearing it out and halting what was going on there.

Mark 11:15-17

15 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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 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.’”

What Jesus did in driving out those buying and selling and turning over the tables of the money changers[8] was to say that this was all coming to an end. It was another sign. I don’t think he had any thought that things would change just because of what he did that day, but what he knew was that by going to the cross the whole need for what went on in the temple would come to an end.

“Faith in Jesus will become the way to God, not the sacrifices of animals in the temple.”[9] By his one and only sacrifice of himself, Jesus would do away with the need for the sacrifices and the Temple in Jerusalem would pass its use by date. He would build his father’s house, but it would be a spiritual house or temple in which he would be its foundation. By coming to him in faith believers would find themselves built into this temple (into him) like living stones (see 1 Peter 2:5)[10].

The time of the temple was coming to an end. On the cross he would breathe his last and the curtain of the temple would be ripped in two from top to bottom signally the end. This was also the point of the fig tree. Having condemned it because of its lack of fruitfulness the next morning on the way up to the temple they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. It was completely dead. It hadn’t borne fruit and the time that it had been given was now up. It had come to its end. The Lord was saying the same thing about the temple[11].

The warning is there for all of us to produce the sort of fruit that is in keeping with repentance. What the religious leaders ought to have done is to repent and receive the Lord Jesus as their King and follow him and not play around having all the appearance of knowing God, but really be following their own sinful desires. They were all leaves but no fruit. From a distance they and what they were doing might have looked OK but when you got close all the leaves were only hiding the fact that there was no fruit.

Sadly, sometimes all the religious activity in our lives can hide the fact that we don’t really know the Lord and the truth is that time runs out for fruitless trees. Last year I pulled out an orange tree that had been sitting in our back yard for probably about five or so years. It had never bore any fruit and eventually it just died. And the time came for it to be pulled out. Don’t keep putting off repenting and following Jesus and leaving it until it is too late.

The fruit of following Jesus

The Lord Jesus tells the disciples what we are to be like in verses 22 to 25. Peter points out the fig tree and the way that Jesus answers him it is as if he says, “Don’t worry about the fig tree, worry about the sort of fruit that you ought to be producing.

Faith in God

Jesus firstly said that are to be people who. “Have faith in God”. We are to trust him and what he said and what he has promised us. The Lord reassures us that we can trust him to answer our prayers doing more than we ask or imagine.

The Lord points this out by saying to the disciples if anyone to say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that why they say will happen, it will be done for them.” The context here is having faith in God (v22) and believing that God answer our prayers (v24). The Lord is not just talking about the power of believing something enough then you’ll get it. But he was talking about trusting our heavenly father can overcome any obstacle that stands in the way of his plans and purposes for us as his people.

I take it Jesus was speaking using the language of hyperbole to make his point. Since they were probably standing on the Mount of Olives and could possibly see the Dead Sea from where they were, Jesus was probably referring to the mountain that they were standing on to make his point about the efficacy of faith in God. He refers to this mountain and not any mountain.

I don’t think that Jesus was encouraging believers to literally go around trying to remove mountains. The Lord often used hyperbole to make his point. For example, he said, “If your hand causes you to stumble cut it off” and if it is your eye the causes you to stumble then “pluck it” (Mark 9:42-47)[12]. Although there have probably been Christians who over the course of history have taken these words literally and chopped of hands or plucked out eyes, this wasn’t Jesus’ intent in saying these things. He was saying that we should take extreme action to avoid falling into sin. The Lord can use hyperbole and figurative language to make his point clearer and more forceful[13].

In the ancient world, mountains were often regarded as obstacles blocking the way that needed to be overcome. I think what the Lord was saying is that with our faith in God the obstacles that stand in the way of his plans and purpose can be dealt with and overcome. We are to pray believing that God will answer our prayers and he will do what we ask. Faith in God is evident in believing prayer. What is important in the kingdom of God is faith, trusting in our Father in heaven.

Mercy and forgiveness

The other important thing is mercy and forgiveness. We are to show mercy and forgive others for in Christ God has shown us mercy and forgiveness. If the roots of the tree are nourished by the mercy and forgiveness of God that we have received then the tree will be bearing this sort of fruit.

Matthew 11:25

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

This is the fruit that we should see in our lives. This is the sort of fruit than comes from knowing that we can boldly approach God having been forgiven on account of the mercy that is ours through Christ Jesus. We ought to be the sort of people who are rich in mercy and forgiveness and who have faith in God to overcome and answer our prayers. We can be busy ourselves doing lots of other things, but if we lack these then we might be leafy green but fruitless and just all leaves. We are trees without fruit.


[1] “How Cathy Freeman led the greatest night of athletics in history” by Roy Masters, Sydney Morning Herald, September 25, 2020.

[2] Jericho is the lowest city on earth located in the Jordan Valley it is 258 metres below sea level. Jerusalem is to the west and according to Wikipedia it is approximately 760 metres above sea level, so it is quite a walk. But it was one that most pilgrims normally walked.

[3] Unless otherwise indicated all quotations from the Bible are from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] This was the same as it had been for her very first visit to her Australia in 1954. We she stepped off her launch in Farm Cove it was straight on to the red carpet.

[5] At this time in history, the temple was still under construction. Herod had started his Temple rebuilding program around 19BC and while most of the main structure was finished within 10 years, the building work wasn’t finally complete with all the trimmings until AD 64 just before the Romans destroyed it in AD70.

[6] It was of massive proportions. Herod had levelled an area on the hilltop 450 metres long by 300 metres wide cutting away rock where he needed to and filling in large areas with rubble using massive stone blocks to keep everything in place. Some of the retaining walls stones are still visible today

[7] See Edwards,

[8] Money changers were needed to turn Roman coins that had the image of Caesar on them into coinage that was acceptable for use in the Temple. Animals and goods like oil and grain would have been needed for the sacrifice. Of course, these things could have been purchased on the way to the temple[8] and there was no need to make the outer court a busy noisy market filled with money changers and animals but there was no financial gain in that for the priest.

[9] David Garland, Mark, The NIV Application Commentary, page 440.

[10] In John’s gospel when asked by the Jews about his authority to clear the temple in the way that he had, he told them that he would destroy this temple and raise it again in three days. John tells us that they thought he was talking about the temple buildings which they told him had taken 46 years to build. But John tells us that he was talking about his own body (see John 2:13-21).

 

[11] Later one of his disciples in chapter 13, makes that remark about how magnificent the buildings were and how huge the stones it was founded on, the Lord tells them that not one stone will be left on another, everyone will be thrown down (13:2). While it would take until AD 70 for this to physically happen the Lord Jesus would end any need for it that day that he breathed his last on the cross.

 

[12] Other examples are Luke 14:26

[13] “Hyperbole is a rhetorical device for producing emphasis; it is figure of speech in which one say more than is meant, or states unconditionally what must in use be conditioned, for the purpose of strong effect.” Jesus’ Use of Hyperbole, The Biblical World Vol.19, No.1 (Jan., 1902) pp. 2-8.