From: Su Min
Subject: Holy Week
Having decided to review Holy Week events, God sends me a messenger angel in the form of Dr Chuck Lowe, lecturer at Singapore Bible College, who is delivering our Holy Week sermon series at Wesley Methodist Church, to endorse my decision. Dr Lowe used the text Mark 11:8-21, and taught on the cleansing of the temple, which is the next passage that I was planning to share with you. I puzzled at the fig tree, and Dr Lowe provided the answer. Coincident? No.. I believe it is part of The Perfect Plan. Praise God for messenger angels! I will share with you my expanded insight to this text..
We are brought back to the exultant crowds who cry outThe common people poured out their adulations as King Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Holy City. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city stirred (Matt 21:10). Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple (Mark 11:11). Did he receive an even greater reception from the temple priests? No, from the rest of the verse it seems an anticlimax. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany. Who did he see there? I believe he saw no one. It must have been an empty courtyard. Empty of people, that is. But I am led to believe that Jesus saw stacks of paraphernalia associated with business and trade. Tables for money changers, benches for those selling sacrificial doves, sheep and cattle (John 3:14). Perhaps empty cages were there, or even the actual animals themselves, awaiting the hustle and bustle of a temple sale the next day. I believe it pained our Lord to see His Father's House so desecrated.
Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
(Matt 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38, John 12:13, Ps 118:25-26).
Then the fig tree. I am grateful to Dr Lowe for pointing out the link between the fig tree and the temple. As a stand alone incident the fig tree was hard for me to understand. But linked to the temple, I can see the spiritual truth. First, some geography and botany. Indigenous to Asia minor and East Mediterranean the fig tree (Ficus carica) grew up to 11 metre height. The new leaves would sprout in late March/ early April, and be fully leafed some time later, when its fruit were ripe. In Mark 11:13 we are told the tree was "in leaf". The local people of that time would expect any fig tree that was in leaf to bear ripe figs. Jesus was hungry (Matt 21:18, Mark 11:12). Upon seeing the fig tree in leaf, thus decaring itself to be in fruit, Jesus goes up to it but find nothing on it but leaves (Matt 21:19, Mark 11:13) Jesus has already said near the end of the Sermon on the Mount "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matt 7:19)." Then he was talking about metaphorical fruit from metaphorical trees. Now, as he is about to clean up the temple, he addresses a real tree that really has no fruit, although by its full leafing it claims to be in fruit. Finding no fruit, the falsely self advertising tree is told "No one will eat from you again (Mark 11:14)".
- The temple at Jerusalem was built in a sequential pyramidal fashion. It was surrounded by an outer wide Court of the Gentiles, to which all and sundry could come and worship. As the gentiles may have come from afar (Judea, Samaria, Syria, Galilee & the Decapalos), many would want to purchase on the spot animals for their obligatory ritual sacrifices. The temple priests must have marketed out choice vendor spots for a consideration and a cut. Purses filled with foreign currency, the need for money changer was obvious. More opportunity for rental and commission. The Court of the Gentiles was the only part of the Temple at Jerusalem to which non-Jews were admitted.
- The Sacred Enclosure was 3 feet above the court of the Gentiles. Gentiles were forbidden, under the penalty of death, to enter the Sacred Enclosure.
- Within the sacred enclosure was the Court of the Women, to which Jewish women could come, but no further.
- The Court Of Israel was 10 feet higher, to which Jewish men could enter.
- The Court of the Priests was 3 feet higher, reserved for priests only.
- The House of God was 8 feet above the Court of the Priests with an outer Holy Place to which the priests came to perform regular duties, and the inner Most Holy or Holy of Holies, separated by the Veil from the Holy Place. The Holy of Holies was to be accessed only once a year, on the day of atonement, and only by the high priest. It is to this backdrop that Jesus saw the way the Gentiles were being manipulated and ripped off.
Surely the temple with its sanctimonious high priests, full of ritual and ceremony, declare that they serve the people with spiritual food, and deign to provide a platform for prayer and worship. Like that fig tree, they are in leaf. But when Jesus enters the temple he finds it turned into a market place, with money lenders and animal vendors doing a roaring trade and upsetting the worshipful tranquillity of the temple. Jesus drives out the buyers and sellers, disrupts the stalls and stops the transactions (Mark 11:15-16). The Chief Priests bearing a large part of the responsibility for this transgression. "Look, this is getting us nowhere", said the Pharisees (John 12:19). Having been castigated by Jesus, the chief priests and the teachers of the law began to look for a way to kill Jesus. Not only has Jesus pointed out their sins, but the crowds all are amazed at His teaching (Mark 11:18), he did wonderful miracles healing the blind and lame (Matt 21:14): all the people hung on his words (Luke 19:48).
When evening came they left the city. The next morning they saw the fig tree withered from its roots.
Jesus, Rabbi, Teacher, Master, Saviour, calls you and I today. You and I who have declared that we are fruitful by taking on His name. By calling ourselves "Christian" we have put forth our leaves. Even "Catholic" implies a union with the Universal Church. Protestant, Reformist, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, RC, whatever the variant, we are each part of the body of Jesus Christ.
When the Lord comes to examine me for my fruit, what will he find? Will there be succulent fruit to nourish and refresh the Master, or will the branches be bare? We need look no further than Gal 5:22 to discover that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. When Jesus comes closer, when he looks beneath the outer covering of the leaves, will he find fruit? Will he, finding no fruit, turn and say to me "No one will eat from you again"? Will I be subjected to this judgement and the next day find myself withered to the roots? And you, my child?.. Do you bear fruit?
Do you know that you yourselves are God's temple (1 Cor 3:16)? When Jesus comes to the Holy City and enters the temple, what will he find? As he comes into my outer courtyard will he find me preoccupied with business transactions? Will he find that I have blurred the distinction between his business and my business. Will he find that I have put aside his business of saving souls and replaced it with my business of saving money? Will he find that I have reserved the right of religious worship to the elite upper social class that I fraternise with, avoiding tax collectors and prostitutes? Do the down and out, the drug addicts, ex-prisoners, HIV positive, homosexuals ever get a kind thought (no need to say kind word or kind deed) from me? Have I excluded them from the inner sanctum of the temple? Jesus comes to upset the apple cart. In righteous anger he stops all this nonsense. God's house is a place for prayer and worship.
Jesus comes to clean up our act. Repent, he says, for the kingdom of God is at hand. If you proclaim your fruitfulness by bearing His Name, do honour to His Name by bearing fruit. If you profess to be His temple, make the environment suitable for prayer and worship. Cast out crass commercialism and outright ursary. Seek his way and search his word. Sanctify yourself. Be Holy, for He is holy. As we go through this Holy Week, let not His sacrifice go in vain, but yield to him one soul, yours, to life eternal.
Let us pray.
Father in Heaven.
We thank you for the Ministers of Your Word who have toiled in their theological training to become full time workers in the field, pastoring to their flock.
We thank you for their pulpit ministry, that as they speak Sunday after Sunday, they bring afresh your spiritual truths to convict your people.
Today we thank you for the lesson on the cleansing of the temple and the fig tree.
Help us bear ripe fruit, Almighty God.
Help us keep our temple clean, and open to all peoples.
In the name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.
For any comments or enquiries please write to Dr. Lim Su Min
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