Third Act. Passion of Jesus 14.1-15.47
cene 1. Questions, Questions, Questions! Mark 11.1-12.44
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When they came near Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you. As soon as you go into it, you will find a colt tied up that no one has ever sat on. Untie it, and bring it along.If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?,’ say, ‘The Lord needs it,’ and he will send it back here at once.”
So they went and found the colt outside in the street tied up next to a doorway. While they were untying it,some men standing there asked them, “What are you doing untying that colt?” The disciples told them what Jesus had said, and the men let them go.
They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their coats upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread their coats on the road, while others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed him were shouting,
How blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!
How blessed is the coming kingdom
of our forefather David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple and looked around at everything. Since it was already late, he went out with the twelve to Bethany.
The next day, as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus became hungry.Seeing in the distance a fig tree covered with leaves, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing except leaves because it wasn’t the season for figs.So he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Now his disciples were listening to this.
When they came to Jerusalem, he went into the temple and began to throw out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and the chairs of those who sold doves.He wouldn’t even let anyone carry a vessel through the temple.
Then he began to teach them, saying, “It is written, is it not, ‘My house is to be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have turned it into a hideout for bandits!” When the high priests and elders heard this, they began to look for a way to kill him. For they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came, Jesus and his disciples would leave the city.
While they were walking along early in the morning, they saw the fig tree dried up to its roots. Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has dried up!” Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God! Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ if he doesn’t doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. That is why I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
“Whenever you stand up to pray, forgive whatever you have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.But if you do not forgive, your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.”
Then again they went into Jerusalem. While Jesus was walking in the temple, the high priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and then I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.Was John’s authority to baptize from heaven or from humans? Answer me.”
They began discussing this among themselves. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From humans…’?” For they were afraid of the crowd, because everyone really thought John was a prophet.So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.” Then Jesus told them, “Then I won’t tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”
Then Jesus began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went abroad. At the right time he sent a servant to the farmers to collect from them a share of the produce from the vineyard. But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him back empty-handed. Again, the man sent another servant to them. They beat the servant over the head and treated him shamefully. Then the man sent another, and that one they killed. So it was with many other servants. Some of these they beat, and others they killed.He still had one more person to send, a son whom he loved. Finally, he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those farmers said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!’ So they grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
“Now what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmers and give the vineyard to others.Haven’t you ever read this Scripture:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?”
They were trying to arrest him but were afraid of the crowd. Realizing that he had spoken this parable against them, they left him alone and went away.
Then they sent some Pharisees and some Herodians to him, intending to trap him in what he said. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere. You don’t favor any individual, for you pay no attention to external appearance. Rather, you teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or should we not?”
But Jesus recognized their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” So they brought one. Then he asked them, “Whose face and name is this?”
They said to him, “Caesar’s.”
So Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
And they were utterly amazed at him.
Then some Sadducees, who claim there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him,“ Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no child, he should marry the widow and have children for his brother. There were seven brothers. The first one married and died without having children. Then the second married her and died without having children, and so did the third. None of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died, too.In the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since the seven had married her?”
Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you mistaken because you don’t know the Scriptures or God’s power? For when people rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven. As for the dead being raised, haven’t you read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”
Then one of the scribes came near and heard them arguing with one another. He saw how well Jesus answered them, so he asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of them all?”
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Then the scribe said to him, “Well said, Teacher! You have told the truth that ‘God is one, and there is no other besides him.’ To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
When Jesus saw how wisely the man answered, he told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one dared to ask him another question.
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ Then how can he be his son?” And the large crowd kept listening to him with delight.
As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes! They like to walk around in long robes, to be greeted in the market places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers to cover it up. They will receive greater condemnation!”
As Jesus sat facing the offering box, he watched how the crowd was dropping their money into it. Many rich people were dropping in large amounts.Then a destitute widow came and dropped in two small copper coins, worth about a cent.
He called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this destitute widow has dropped in more than all of those who are contributing to the offering box. For all of them contributed out of their surplus, but she, in her poverty, has dropped in everything she had to live on.”
Often when I am teaching in a classroom setting, I interact with the students on the spot about questions they may have about what I am saying. I have, on occasion, used a Sunday morning to do the same thing by setting up the teaching time with an overview of 1 Corinthians with a focus on the questions that the Corinthian congregants had an opportunity to ask Paul via letter about things they did not comprehend. Then I open up the mike for any question from any one attending about any subject in the Bible. This approach usually puts those pastoring ill at ease because they are not in control of what is being said by the congregants. But, such was the pattern of the first century church and as we will see in this section, Jesus was apparently questioned and Mark shares some of those questions and how Jesus answered.
Observing the Storyline
Jesus had returned to Jerusalem for the climactic end to this drama. He entered Jerusalem as the Messiah and is attacked by the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Herodians (Mark 11.1-12.34). Mark shows Jesus to be the Christ (Mark 12.35-40) and closes telling the story of the widow’s offering (Mark 12.41-44).
Interpreting the Storyline
The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11.1-11)
Jesus’ moment of the invasion of Jerusalem had arrived. He sent two of his disciples to obtain a young donkey colt, on which no one had yet ridden. This was the Messianic fulfillment of Zechariah 9. Up to this moment, Jesus had taught and practiced the kingdom of God. Now, Jesus entered Jerusalem as its king. He greeted the crowds as they shouted Hosanna (meaning O save us now), and Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (meaning God’s representative who brings the kingdom of God). After entering Jerusalem, Jesus went into the Temple precincts, not its central sanctuary. He surveyed the premises to see how they were being used and found that they were not. He would return the next day to remedy the situation. Because it was near sunset and the gates of the city would close, he left and went to Bethany about two miles away for the evening with his disciples.
Cleansing the Temple (Mark 11.12-25)
Early Monday morning on his two mile walk back to Jerusalem, Jesus was hungry. From a distance, he saw a fig tree with full green foliage. He went to pick some of its fruit, but it had nothing but leaves. It was reasonable for Jesus to expect something edible on the tree, but he did not find it. His shocking destruction of the tree was a prophetic parable of God’s impending judgment on a people who had proved faithless and a temple that was the very symbol of their faithless religion. Just like the fig tree on that day, Israel was barren, promising relationship with God, but not producing it.
When Jesus arrived back in Jerusalem, he went straight to the Temple area to the large outer court of the Gentiles that surrounded the inner sacred courts of the temple itself. In the Court of the Gentiles, the High Priest had authorized an economic innovation, a marketplace, for the sale of the ritually pure items that were necessary for sacrifice in the temple.
The moneychangers provided the required Jewish coinage for the annual half-shekel temple tax that was required to be paid by all male Jews twenty years and older. A small surcharge was permitted for these transactions. The practice developed into extortion and fraud. In addition, it had become a shortcut for merchants moving their goods from one part of the city to another. Jesus was outraged by the blatant disregard for the temple area, that had been set apart for the Gentiles. Really, the writer of Ecclesiastes was right, there really is nothing new under then sun, then or even now.
Jesus began overturning the moneychangers’ tables and benches of those selling doves. His action captured the attention of those in the temple. He used his actions as a teaching tool to teach them about the real purpose for the temple. He appealed to First Testament authority of his action (reciting from the 56th chapter of Isaiah from the Septuagint translation, the Greek translation of the Hebrew First Testament.) Don’t let the detail of citing the Greek language to the Greeks in the Temple escape you. It appears that Jesus always wants to be understood.
On should pause here and reflect on the kind of language that is used by many Jesus followers when talking to others. There seems to be a “religious language” that is in vogue that has been passed along from generation to generation that is rarely understood by the “greeks” among us.
The Jews had made the Court of the Gentiles a den of robbers instead of a house of prayer. The protest represents Jesus’ anger that any form of payment or purchase was necessary before an individual could worship God. Of course, the religious political structure did not take this news well. They began seeking a way to assassinate him. His popularity with the people kept the Jewish leaders from carrying out their intended mission immediately. It really is fair to say that Jesus was not politically correct in his manner of speaking. On that Monday evening, he returned to Bethany.
Tuesday morning on their way back to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples passed the fig tree that Jesus had spoken to on the previous day. Peter addressed Jesus as a Rabbi and seemed surprised because the tree was totally destroyed. As was Jesus’ technique, he responded with teaching. Verse 22 should be translated: You have the faithfulness of God. You may note that I have translated the passage with the word of God instead of in God. This verse should be understood as an exhortation based on Habakkuk 2.4 where the writer tells his reader that the righteous ones will live because of the faithfulness of God. Paul built the books of Galatians (3.1ff.) and Romans (1.1ff) on this concept from Habakkuk. The footnote of the New International Version (NIV: 2011) offers an alternative translation of Habakkuk 2.4: but the righteous will live by his faithfulness. This means that the righteous man lives because of God’s faithfulness to the covenant.
The assurance that appears in verses 23-24 is grounded explicitly on God’s faithfulness and not on the ability of man to banish from his heart the sin of doubt. That is to say, the exercise of faith is not necessarily a contest in which we prove our faith by resisting doubt and therefore gain faith’s goal. The issue here is God’s faithfulness to respond to us, not our ability to control doubt.
This is the mistake made by many Jesus followers. In the Pentecostal movement and other Charismatic movements, it is still prevalent to teach such a meaning.
Verse 23 is an allusion to the coming of the Messiah who will set up his kingdom. Mark used Apocalyptic or symbolic language from Zechariah 14.4, 10. In short, this section of Zechariah is a prayer for God to set up his kingdom rule. It is like the prayer Jesus taught his disciples, which is recorded in Matthew Chapter Six. Again, this passage has to do with the lack of faith on the part of Israel in being a conduit for the kingdom.
Jesus’ Authority Questioned (Mark 11.27-12.12)
As controversy increased, the questioning of the authority of Jesus increased. The following stories center on the theme of conflict between Jesus and some of Jerusalem’s influential leaders. The religious authorities of the day questioned the credentials of Jesus to speak and act in the way he did. His response to their question placed them in a rather embarrassing position and they decided not to answer his question (11.27-33). His parable of the Vineyard exposed their rejection of the messenger who had come to proclaim the kingdom. Jesus told the story about the tenants killing the agents and then asked a rhetorical question that invited his audience to share in deciding what action the owner should take. The rejection of the owner’s son was in reality, a rejection of the owner. The leader’s rejection of John and now Jesus was in fact, a rejection of God. The leaders (the Sanhedrin) sought to arrest Jesus because they recognized that he had told the parable against them. But because of the crowds, they left Jesus alone. Smart move on their part.
The Tax Question (Mark 12.13-17)
The Sanhedrin continued their attack on Jesus by sending some of the Pharisees and Herodians, hoping to catch him off guard. They used carefully- crafted words designed to hide their true motives and keep Jesus from evading their question. Should we or shouldn’t we pay taxes to Caesar? With prophetic insight, Jesus detected their hypocrisy. He exposed them with a question of his own. Why not give back to Caesar what is his and give to God what is his, caught his inquisitors unaware. People are the coinage of God because they bear his image and they owe him what belongs to him, full obedience to his Rule.
Here’s an interesting thought to ponder. We hear a lot of rhetoric today about the idea that we are presently in God’s image. Is that really the case? Probably not! In the story of God, he did create humankind in his image, but humankind decided to rebel again the Creator and that image is broken, it is no longer God’s image. Two folks are sitting on a bus talking, one a Jesus follower the other one not a Jesus follower. The one who is not a Jesus follower is living as a broken vessel (image) while the one who is a Jesus follower is also in a broken vessel (image) but from time to time the vessel is not broken as God’s presence flows through the person to deliver a gracelet to another. Think about it!
The Question about the Resurrection (Mark 12.18-27)
The Sadducees follow the tax question with a question about marriage. One of their tenets of faith was that they denied the doctrine of Resurrection. Yet their question implies a situation in which Resurrection is assumed. Using the levirate marriage rule (Deut. 25.6-7), a man was duty-bound to protect the widow of his dead brother and produce children for his brother if he had died without any children. They propose a hypothetical widow with a line of seven husbands who all die. Whose wife will she be in the Resurrection? Jesus pulls no punches in his response. First, he accused them of playing a language game and misinterpreting Scripture. I think it is fair to say that we are all guilty of that from time to time. He used their own Scripture (the Pentateuch: Genesis – Deuteronomy) against them to demonstrate the doctrine of Resurrection. He told them how badly mistaken (Mark 12.27) they were for denying the Resurrection
The Question about the Greatest Commandment (Mark 12.28-34)
A teacher of the Law, possibly a Pharisee, came to Jesus to ask a question with no apparent hostile motive. “Which commandment is the most important?” was the query of the Law teacher. Jesus began with the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.4. God is one (meaning unique)! Love God totally. While heart, soul, mind, and strength are mentioned, they are not separate parts of a human. They are different ways of saying the completeness of man. Then, love your neighbor (fellowman/woman) in the same way you love yourself. We may recognize the pattern. Love of God first produces love for others. The reverse will not work. The teacher approved of Jesus’ response and had the kind of spiritual insight and openness to Jesus that brought him close to the rule of God in his life. This question ended the questions by others in Mark’s storyline.
Whose Son is the Christ? (Mark 12.35-40)
Jesus now has a question of his own for the Pharisees, which they were unable to answer. After this provocative question, Jesus warned the people to watch out for the Law teachers who were always looking for the praise of man and, then, described some of those characteristics. Because the first-century Law teachers received no pay for their services, they depended on the hospitality extended to them by devout Jews. Jesus suggested that they abused this privilege. Devouring widows houses was a vivid word picture for exploiting the generosity of people who had limited finances. They would pray long prayers to impress people and gain their confidence. Jesus condemned their flamboyant conduct, greed, and hypocrisy. We might take note and respond the same way to those in leadership roles in today’s ChurchWorld. Again, remember, there is nothing new under the sun.
The Offering of the Widow (Mark 12.41-44)
Jesus left the court of the Gentiles and entered the Court of Women. In this Court there were thirteen trumpet-shaped containers, which were used to receive offerings of the worshippers. He contrasts the offering of one poor widow with those who were wealthy. She had given the smallest Jewish coin in circulation. It was the equal of a day’s wage for a common laborer. Why did she give more? Others gave out of their extreme wealth at little cost to them, but the impoverished widow had given everything she had. Proportionally she had given the most. Giving to God is sacrificial. Remember, when it comes to giving, it is what it costs you to give to God that is important to him.
Living into the Story
- How do you respond to the flamboyant conduct of religious leaders (Mark 10.45)?
- Read Mark 13.1-37
Easy to Understand
Tom Wright. Mark for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone [Paperback]
Winn Griffin. Gracelets: Being Conduits of the Extravagant Acts of God’s Grace [Paperback]
Ben Witherington III. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.
William L. Lane. The Gospel according to Mark: The English Text With Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (The New International Commentary on the New Testament)