Starting while I was in China, I've been listening regularly to the podcasts of teachings from "a jesus church," a church located in downtown Portland. They are teaching through the Gospel of Mark verse by verse, skipping nothing. It's been absolutely phenomenal, consistently the best teachings I've listened to. Go check them out here!
Today, I finally got to be in the church, together with my brothers and sisters, learning and worshiping. And together we dove right into Mark 11: 12-25.
"The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 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.’”
The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
For those of you who just skipped the passage, read it. I'm on to you.
I've read this passage dozens of times, and never really thought much more of it than the general kindergarten Sunday school teacher would say. Tonight, so many things were pointed out to me that continue to amaze me. You could just go listen to the podcast, but if not, here are some of my main take-aways:
Part 1 - Fig Tree Cursed
We learned that before the season for figs, there are generally supposed to be little pre-fig buds that you can actually eat, called something in Aramaic that I can't even transcribe. When Jesus sees the tree that looks so healthy, covered in leaves, but actually has no fruit, He announces the judgement on it. Jesus' parallel is so important: it doesn't matter what kind of good face you can put on, or how well you can follow all the rules. What matters is that Jesus' life inside you changes you, and causes you to produce fruit in your life. But if there is nothing in our lives that demonstrates our faith and trust are in Jesus, we should seriously consider that maybe our faith and trust are not in Jesus, and there are consequences.
Part 2 - Jesus in the Temple
If you've never heard the story of Jesus getting angry, here it is. The Temple, a place that was supposed to be a center for all people of all nations to worship God, had been turned gradually into a market. People came to buy sacrifices, but the prices were exorbitant. Additionally, the people weren't allowed to use their own currency, but had to exchange it, and the exchange rate was also unreasonably high. The scripture tells us that Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. As I learned tonight, doves were primarily used as sacrifices for women and for lepers, who were considered to be the least important, the outcasts of society. So when Jesus actively knocked over the tables of those cheating money from the women and lepers, He was making a statement supporting those who were considered the lowly and unwanted. I love Jesus.
And finally, the passage seems to point out that the buying and selling was going on in the Temple courts, the first of which was made solely for the Gentiles, or non-Jewish people. By creating a Gentile's court, and then occupying it with an oppressive market system, the Temple leaders were not only discriminating against other nations, but were eliminating a serene place of worship for these people as well. So we can understand why Jesus quotes Isaiah 56:7 when He tells the people in the Temple, "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.’ (Jer. 7:11)"
After this, the leaders of the Temple were so angry that they wanted to kill Jesus. As the teacher at church pointed out, there is no mild reaction to Jesus. When you encounter who He truly is, you must either do everything you can to get rid of Him, disprove Him, or kill Him, or you must acknowledge that He is the Messiah, He is the Savior, and He is God. There's no middle ground. And I couldn't help but notice that the option of killing Jesus didn't work out so well for the Temple leaders. They did manage to kill Him, but He was back in just a few days. I guess that only leaves one option open.
Part 3 - Fig Tree Withered
Just 24 hours later, Peter (always one to speak as soon as he thinks - or before) exclaims that the tree Jesus had cursed was completely withered, "from the roots." Now, Mark could have written this chapter with two parts: The Chronicle of the Fig Tree, and Jesus' Temple Run. But instead, Mark had indeed sandwiched the story of Jesus in the Temple between a two-part tale of the fig tree. Why? Because Mark was trying to communicate the point Jesus was clearly making. The fig tree was not producing fruit, not fulfilling its purpose, and it was destroyed. Neither was the Temple producing fruit that is pleasing to God, which was its full purpose! Jesus made a subtle but intentional parallel between the two, which was fulfilled just a few decades later when the Temple itself was destroyed in A.D. 70. Clearly, fulfilling the purpose we were made for and bearing fruit from that was extremely important in Jesus' message, which is why He spoke to His disciples about that next.
Part 4 - Right Relationship with God
While I always thought Jesus' random little inspirational talk was sort of strangely placed after Peter's comment about the fig tree, I see now that Jesus had spent the past day setting up the opportunity to tell His disciples what a right relationship with God really looks like. He emphasized faith, prayer, and forgiveness. And I think if Jesus decided those were the three points He wanted to make here during this last week before His death, we should take them seriously as well.
Every day, I'm learning just how much there is to learn. Jesus' every move and ever word hold meaning I will eagerly keep learning my entire life. There is no one else I would rather follow, no one else to whom I would rather give over my entire life. Jesus said to "Come, follow Me." Are you following?