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God's plans are bigger than we think

Back to all sermons Savior and Lord

Date: April 15, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Savior and Lord

Scripture: Mark 11:1–11:33

This morning, we are in the fourteenth week of a sermon series I am calling “Savior and Lord,” looking at what it means to relate to Jesus as both Savior – the one who died for our sins to give us eternal life – and Lord – the one who we follow and emulate. We are working our way through Mark’s gospel in this series. Mark was Peter’s traveling companion, and the Gospel of Mark is mainly Peter’s eyewitness testimony of Jesus (Peter was first known as Simon before Jesus changed his name).The first half of Mark’s gospel is focused on addressing the question, “Who is Jesus?” and it culminates in Peter’s confession “You are the Christ” in Mark 8:29. The second half of the gospel addresses the question, “What did He come to do?” Last week we saw that Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many. This morning we begin to see Jesus entering Jerusalem as he begins to act out that purpose. Let’s begin reading in Mark 11.

 

Mark 11:1-33 - As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples,  2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'"  4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it,  5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?"  6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.  7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.  8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.  9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"  10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!"  11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. 

 

In Mark 11, after a couple years of avoiding crowds and telling people not to tell others that He is the Messiah, Jesus is finally going public as the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed King sent by God to rescue His people. After trying to bring the good news to the people of Israel while trying not to get himself killed, Jesus is now opening himself up to confrontation with the religious leaders of Israel. How do I know this a public declaration of who He is? It’s a fulfillment of prophecy:

 

Zechariah 9:9 - Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

 

Genesis 49:10-11 - The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.  11 He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes

 

He rides in to Jerusalem as a fulfillment of the prophecies, and the people shout Hosanna, which means “Salvation has come!” or “Save us!” And they say “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”  This gives away their expectations of what the Messiah would be like. They believe the Messiah will come and cleanse and restore the temple. They believe the Messiah will establish a kingdom in the power and glory of King David. They believe that he will overthrow Roman oppression and restore the glory to Israel. It’s truly an exciting time.

 

But it’s not going to go as they expect. This first evening, Jesus comes to the temple, inspects it, and leaves for the evening. Kind of anticlimactic. But he is in the process of fulfilling another prophecy, Malachi 3:1-2:

 

Malachi 3:1-2 - "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.  2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap.

 

There is a clue in that passage about what Jesus has come to do. The messenger – John the Baptist – has come and has prepared the way. And now the Lord has come to his temple. But he has not come to cleanse and restore, but to bring judgment. Let’s keep reading:

 

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  13 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.  14 Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.  15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area 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.'"  18 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.  19 When evening came, they went out of the city.  20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"  22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered.  23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." 26   27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him.  28 "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"  29 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  30 John's baptism-- was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"  31 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'  32 But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)  33 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

 

There are three things in particular that this passage reveals about what Jesus the Messiah has come to do:

 

  • He has not come to cleanse and restore the temple system but to pronounce judgment on it.

 

This section begins with what seems to be a very curious and odd move on Jesus’ part. He sees a fig tree that is out of season, and curses it. What is that all about? But in the context, you see that the two sections about the fig tree bracket Jesus’ interaction in the temple, and you see how the cursing of the fig tree is meant to symbolize what Jesus is doing to the temple as he acts out a pronouncement of judgment on it. This is something that was typical of prophets, acting out the judgment of God.

 

Let me set the scene for you. When Jesus enters the temple, he finds the moneychangers, along with those who sell doves for the sacrifice, and people carrying merchandise through the temple courts. It was loud and noisy, with money and animals everywhere. The tables were set up to receive the annual half-shekel tax that was required of every Jewish male and that funded the daily sacrifices in the temple for the atonement of sin. People were exchanging their money and buying animals and wine and salt for the sacrifice. The scene was like a County Fair and Stock Exchange in one.

 

Now, you may remember another time, in John 2, where Jesus drives the moneychangers out of the temple with a whip of cords, saying “how dare you turn my father’s house into a market!” This occasion is a little different. He’s not just cleansing the temple. And he doesn’t just throw out the people selling, but both the buyers and sellers. So it’s about more than just dishonest business practices. Jesus, by his actions, is pronouncing judgment on the whole temple system, prophesying its coming destruction. As he will say very soon:

 

Mark 13:1-2 - As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"  2 "Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

 

So the cursing of the fig tree is symbolic of what he is doing with the temple. The tree appeared to have life, but in reality was bearing no fruit. There are some commentators who argue that in the spring, the branches bore little nodules which were abundant and very good to eat. If it had no nodules, something was wrong; it was diseased or dying inside. It’s growth without fruit, activity without fruit. And in this way, it was a metaphor for Israel and the temple, which displayed great activity and lots of busyness but was spiritually empty, bearing no fruit.

 

Jesus does not cleanse and restore the tree, but curses it. In the same way, he is pronouncing judgment on the whole temple system. The whole system of sacrifices and priests and temple taxes has proven fruitless. It will be done away with, and Jesus will replace it. This is revolutionary.

 

One of the places in the New Testament that deals with this is Hebrews:

 

Hebrews 10:1-4 - The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-- not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins,  4 because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

 

Hebrews 10:11-14 - Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.  13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,  14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

 

Jesus did not come to cleanse and restore the temple system but to do away with it.

 

  • Jesus did not come to restore glory to Israel, but to reveal His glory to the world

 

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.'"

 

From the very beginning, Abraham and Israel were chosen and blessed by God so that they could be a blessing to the world. Genesis 12:2-3  "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

 

And this verse – “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” calls to mind Isaiah 56:1-8, which continues the theme of God’s desire that the world would know Him and be saved.

 

Isaiah 56:1-8 - This is what the LORD says: "Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.  2 Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil."  3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely exclude me from his people." And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree."  4 For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant--  5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.  6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant--  7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."  8 The Sovereign LORD declares-- he who gathers the exiles of Israel: "I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered."

 

Jesus has not come to cast out the foreigners and restore the glory to Israel. The temple was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations, and he will fulfill that promise. He has come to embrace the foreigner, the outcast, the eunuch, to gather them to Himself. The temple, with its boundaries between Jew and Gentile, will be destroyed, and a new people will be formed that includes both Jew and Gentile.

 

Galatians 3:26-29 - You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,  27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

 

  • He has not come to save Israel from Roman oppression, but to save the world from sin and death

 

They believed the Messiah would rescue them from Roman oppression. But instead of rescuing them, he would die at their hands. Why? Because the salvation they needed even more was a salvation from sin and death. Again: It was meant to be a house of prayer for all nations, but they have made it a den of robbers. What does this mean? It is a place that sinners and rebels have gone to hide out, believing that they are forgiven because of the sacrifices they give.

 

Jeremiah 7:1-15 - This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:  2 "Stand at the gate of the LORD's house and there proclaim this message: "'Hear the word of the LORD, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the LORD.  3 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.  4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"  5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,  7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.  8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.  9 "'Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,  10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"-- safe to do all these detestable things?  11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.  12 "'Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.  13 While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.  14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers.  15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim.'

 

It has become a den of robbers – a hiding place for criminals and oppressors. Don’t trust in the temple of the Lord. The whole system has become corrupt. Repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. They think they can rob widows’ houses and then perform sacrifices, and they will be fine? They are wrong. They need to be saved from their sin. Being a child of Abraham will not save them.

 

John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

What does this mean for us today?

 

  • God’s plans are often much larger than our narrow vision

 

It is frightening that those who knew the Bible best completely not only missed the Messiah when He came but wanted to kill Him. We have our narrow visions, our concerns, our expectations of what God should be like and do. But like Jesus when he came, God is often up to something much bigger.

 

As Elisabeth Elliot put it:  “God is God. Because he is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what he is up to.”



 

  • Our faith is not tied to a building or spiritual leader but to Jesus

 

We don’t need to depend upon a building, a priest or pastor, or sacrificial system. We have been given His Holy Spirit, and we can come to Him directly.

 

Matthew 18:20 - For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

 

Jesus tells them that they can go directly to God in prayer:

 

22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered.  23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

 

This mountain – he is referring to Mt. Zion. The mountain will be destroyed. The temple will no longer be the focal point of God’s presence. The holy place is wherever disciples preach Jesus’ gospel and wherever his people gather

 

  • We are not made right with God by religious rituals, but by repenting and believing in Jesus

 

The religious leaders challenge his authority. By what authority can he pronounce this judgment?

 

26   27 They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him.  28 "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"  29 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  30 John's baptism-- was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"  31 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'  32 But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)  33 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know." Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

 

He asks them a question in return. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that bypassed the temple. It was free, with no sacrifice other than a repentant heart. No money exchanged hands. No priests were needed. In the same way, Jesus is the author of a new covenant, that does not depend upon the temple or religious rituals.

 

Hebrews 8:7-13 - For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.  8 But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.  9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.  10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."  13 By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

 

Hebrews 9:11-15 - When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.  13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!  15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance-- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

 

This is the new covenant. Religion is not connected to a place or rituals or priests or sacrifice. It is through faith in Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection for our sins.

 

This is why, when He died, the veil of the curtain is split, and a Gentile confesses that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

Mark 15:37-39 - With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

 

Jesus, the Messiah, has brought salvation to the world to all who repent of their sins and put their trust in Him. Trust in Him today!