Mark 11:12–25comment (0)
October 1, 2009
By Michael Wilson
Related Scripture: Mark 11:12–25
Bible Studies for Life
Director, Resource Center for Pastoral Excellence, Samford University
The Warrior Hero
My father served in the Merchant Marine Corps in the Pacific during the closing months of World War II. Last year, he and other veterans from his community participated in an honor flight visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington. The trip had a profound effect on my father. Viewing the memorial brought to mind hometown friends he knew who served in the war when he did. Some of them didn’t come home. They lost their lives on distant battlefields, courageously fulfilling a noble mission to end a horrible evil in the world. We rightly think of all veterans as heroes, especially the rapidly decreasing remnant of World War II vets. These men and women demonstrated remarkable courage in the face of life and death challenges. Acting without regard for personal safety, many sacrificed their lives to save others. Thankfully our world continues to have heroes.
The four lessons in this month’s unit invite us to consider discipleship as a lifelong adventure requiring similar heroic faith and action. The example of Jesus shows us how we can live to change the world for the better.
Fight Fruitlessness (12–14, 20–21)
Unlike Matthew’s and John’s accounts, Mark placed Jesus’ act of clearing the temple after He cursed the fruitless fig tree while en route to Jerusalem. The next day, as He and the disciples returned to the temple, they found the tree had withered and died. Why did Mark shape his account in this manner? The Gospel writers recorded that Jesus called the temple a “house of prayer” in contrast to a “den of robbers.” Mark, however, offered more insight by quoting Isaiah 56:7 more completely than the other writers: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” This gives us a clue to how Mark understood the cleansing of the temple. The barren fig tree was the symbol of an unfruitful Judaism whose time was past. No longer would a corrupt, “den of robbers” Jewish religious practice be acceptable. Jesus’ actions declared a better way: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16).
Fight Worldly Distractions (15–19)
Mark clearly identified Jesus as the messiah-king spoken of by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 9:9), who would enter Jerusalem riding an unbroken colt. Animals that had not been ridden or used for burdensome tasks were often reserved for special sacred uses in the time of Jesus. Word of Jesus’ imminent arrival preceded Him, and a number of onlookers gathered. The onlookers placed their garments on the path in front of Jesus and waved branches — both actions commonly done as expressions of honor. The early church understood Jesus’ “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem as yet another signal event identifying Him as Messiah, the One long anticipated who would initiate the kingdom of God.
The word “hosanna,” shouted as Jesus entered the city, literally means “save us!” The temple courtyard had become a cacophony of sights and sounds that were distractions to right worship and appropriate religious practice. Jesus’ courageous and much-needed temple cleansing was truly a response to hosanna. He sought to save people from ritual that had lost meaning and religious activity that had become fruitless.
Fight With Power Through Faith (22–25)
Ancient pagan religions had temples for worship of their gods. People gathered in them to pray because it was thought prayers offered in temples in the presence of deities would surely be heard. This thinking about temple worship was present among the Jewish people. The Jewish temple with its mysterious, inaccessible holy of holies represented the very presence of the living God. The dead, fruitless fig tree used by Jesus symbolized what had become a dead, fruitless religious practice — Jewish temple worship. No wonder the disciples were fearful of the meaning behind the dead fig tree. If the temple was no longer the unique place where God’s presence was certain, then how could the faithful know with confidence their prayers reached Him? Jesus represented a new way, the way of Immanuel, God with us. Faith rather than ritual was the way to experience God’s presence. It still is.