- A talk about the events of Palm Sunday and the following two days
- based on Mark 11:1-25, Zechariah 9:9-11 & Jermiah 7:1-11.
In life, what is happening beneath the surface is just as important as the things that are more obvious -- often much more important. Palm Sunday marks the anniversary of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem a week before he was crucified. And if we’re going to really understand the events which took place in Jerusalem from Palm Sunday to Easter Tuesday, just over 1970 years ago, we really do need to look below the surface.
- We actually have an eyewitness account in Mark's Gospel. We know from very early source, Papias (Bishop of Hierapolis, modern Pamukkale, Turkey), that Mark was Peter's “interpreter” or secretary. Peter was right at Jesus’ elbow, right through these events.
- Read Mark 11:1 & 7-11.
- Let's imagine we are there. What do we see? Crowds shouting and waving palm branches and in the midst of them Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
He walks up these steps (they're still there 2000 years later), through a gateway called the Hulda Gate, and into the Temple.
He looks around, doesn't say very much, then leaves the city and walks 2 miles across that valley and up the Mount of Olives to Bethany, where he and his closest followers are staying with friends.
On Monday morning, he retraces his footsteps and as he does so sees a fig tree with plenty of leaves but no fruit. He curses it.
- Read Mark 11:12-14.
He then goes into the Temple and throws out the money changers, and then goes back to Bethany.
Read Mark 11:15-19.
On Tuesday morning, on the way back into Jerusalem the disciples notice that the fig tree has withered, and Jesus talks about prayer.
Read Mark 11:20-25.
- So what's going on? Let's look at it in three separate sections:
- Section 1: Jesus arrives in Jerusalem (Sunday)
- I think this is the bit that we “get” most easily. The crowds are very excited. They wonder if Jesus is going to lead a rebellion and get rid of the Romans. What they don't seem to pick up on is why Jesus is riding a donkey. This is a sign of peace. Military leaders ride warhorses, not donkeys.
- But more than that: we need to look further beneath the surface. Jesus is directly referring them to a prophecy 500 years earlier by Zechariah.
- Read Zechariah 9:9.
- That’s the bit we know, because it’s quoted in some of the other gospels… but don't stop there. We need to look at verses 10-11 also – that’s part of the same prophecy.
- Read Zechariah 9:10-11.
This prophesied Messiah will have a world-wide rule. It took 2000 years from Jesus’ time for that part of the prophecy to be fulfilled - but there are over 2 billion Christians today, right around the globe. 100 years ago we couldn't have imagined that. Even when I was young, there seemed to be only a handful of persecuted Christians in China for example. Now though over 155 million of them at a conservative estimate – and the number is growing by over 7 million each year. Always remember that what God promises in the Bible absolutely will happen, but sometimes his timescales are different from ours.
- Section 2: Jesus clears the Temple (Monday)
- Let’s move on to Monday: Now what on earth is going on here? It's the only time we ever see him being violent. John's Gospel says he made a whip out of cords. If you got hit by a whip, it would hurt, wouldn’t it? That can make us feel pretty uncomfortable. We thought Jesus was gentle and loving, wasn't he? The key point is that, just like the previous day, Jesus is acting out a parable. Look at what he quotes:
- Read Mark 11:17 & Jeremiah 7:11.
- Why is he quoting the prophet Jeremiah? Partly because Jesus is saying that they've debased the worship of God with commercialism -- and that's the message for us that we’re quite familiar with: we've got to worship in spirit and truth, and not simply go through the motions.
- But actually, that's only the tip of the iceberg. We need to see beneath the surface. Look at the full prophecy Jesus is quoting –there is actually a whole lot more to it.
- Read Jeremiah 7:2 – 11.
- God doesn’t stand back from his Creation any more today than he did 2000 years ago. We should expect to see him at work in all sorts of ways, including people being healed, prophecies and so on. But we must not think that this is all the Holy Spirit does, or even that it is the most important part of what he does. For every occasion that Jesus sends his followers out to heal people, drive out demons etc, there are 10 more when he commands them to do good, to treat people justly, to be loving in all our relationships, to forgive people, love God and be loved by him. And how do we get the ability to do that, to become that sort of person?
- Because of the biggest miracle we can ever experience in ourselves or see in someone else: the Holy Spirit actually coming in to live in us and change us from the inside out. Just by asking Him to, by telling Him we want to change direction and stop doing evil, selfish things, He forgives us completely and changes our inner personality.
And that is what Jesus is saying when he clears the Temple. On the surface it looked really impressive. But Jesus was saying you’ve got it wrong – it’s what’s happening beneath the surface of your lives that’s important. “I want your lives to change. I want the opposite of that sad, awful list that Jeremiah gives. I want Honest relationships; Care for the vulnerable; Truthfulness; Self-control; Faithful marriages; God above all.”
People of all ages have so much potential, but so many have been hurt badly below the surface. A lot of people today have really frantic lifestyles: lots of excitement, just looking for happiness, looking for the next big thing, trying to anchor their lives on materialism. They survive: by living on the surface and trying never to look below at what’s really going on deep in their lives. Life as portrayed by the media has never been better. But beneath the apparent confidence of our society, so many are damaged and lost. When most people stop and think, they can be haunted by questions like:
- will there be enough money?
- do other people really like me?
- will I just end up as a victim?
- whole areas around self-image, sexual exploitation and addiction.
- major relationship issues, anger and distrust and betrayal.
- Jesus Christ has the solution, he can change us. That is such good news today. In fact, it’s the heart of the good news – People are desperate, though it takes a bit for them to admit it to themselves. That needs to be our key message: the biggest miracles are Jesus actually changing our personalities and giving us real love.
- Section 3: Fig Tree (Monday and Tuesday)
- Imagine that you are one of Jesus’ disciples. You see him go to the fig tree, find there isn’t any fruit, and curse it. What do you think? (Discuss with your neighbour & feedback; most will say they would be puzzled at best)
- But you can tell from what Mark writes that Peter guesses straight away that something was up, something was going on below the surface. He says it was not the season for figs. Actually, it was three months before figs were due to appear on the tree. Jesus clearly knew plenty about agriculture -- just look at lots of his parables. So he doesn’t really expect figs on the tree. He’s not having a fit of bad temper just because he’s wanting a snack & can’t get one! This is the third of his acted parables.
- He looks for fruit on the tree as they're crossing the Mount of Olives to the Temple on the Monday morning. So it's a direct commentary on what they're going to see in the temple. Plenty of religious show, but without lives being changed. They’re very good at singing worship songs, there’s great fellowship, they’re keen on studying the Bible and praying -- but their lives were not being changed.
- But there’s another level, which only becomes apparent on Tuesday morning when they go back to the fig tree and Jesus talks to them.
Re-read Mark 11:23-25.
Jesus says. “If anyone says to this mountain”. They’re standing on the Mount of Olives. And if we go back to the end of Zechariah's prophecy, it says that when the Lord comes for the final judgement, the Mount of Olives will be split in two. (Zechariah 14:3-4)
So Jesus is saying, Yes pray for me to judge the world, to judge worldliness, commercialisation, the work treadmill, war and the suffering it brings, the lies of atheism that deny people all hope, the abuse of the vulnerable (pornography, people trafficking and a whole range of emotional cruelty). Work with God to change them. Don't accept at all what our society is saying, the media image that tells you many of these things are okay. In fact, question every single thing that the media says these days.
- But don't do so in anger (Mark 11:25). Reach out in love, pray with love.
- This week -- ask the Holy Spirit to show you how your non-Christian friends and colleagues (and indeed your Christian friends) are being hurt below the surface. And pray for the chance to reach out to them, love them, do practical things for them. If God gives you the opportunity to speak his words to them, be sensitive to what He’s saying. (So often when we ask God to give us the opportunity, he does so very quickly -- it's really quite scary!) But the key thing is to love them and pray hard for them -to be his love for that person.
- Trust God to act for that person. It may be over a long period of time (remember how long it took for the prophecy of the world-wide church to come about!) or it may be very quick indeed (remember the fig tree withering in under 24 hours).
- Have you ever eaten fresh figs? They’re absolutely delicious – and really quite unlike anything else! Jesus is hungry for us to be just like that.