Damariscotta Baptist Church
Monday, July 16, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

Sermon - 05/17/15 - Figs, Money Changers and Authority

“Figs, Money Changers & Authority”

Mark 11:12-33

 

Okay, how eclectic can the Bible get in one chapter? What do fig trees, money changers and authority have in common? As I first read today’s Scripture the common theme that kept coming through to me was “anger”.

Doesn’t it seem on the surface that Jesus has an anger management problem? Let’s take a look, it’s the day after Jesus had been in his Hosanna parade, and he and his disciples and followers are leaving Bethany, on their way into Jerusalem, during the week of Passover. As he is walking he sees a fig tree, in leaf, and goes up to it to see if it had in fruit. The tree does not, because it wasn’t the time of year for it to have fruit, but it looks like Jesus gets mad at the tree because he curses the fruit tree all the same. 

 

They get to Jerusalem and when Jesus enters the temple area it looks like he has gotten mad again because he begins driving out those who were buying and selling. Not only that, he starts turning over the table of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. He then quotes from Jeremiah 7:11.

Of course this doesn’t settle well with the chief priests and the teachers of the law. Their anger gets the best of them and they begin looking for a way to kill Jesus.

But Jesus and his disciples leave unharmed when evening arrives.

 

The next morning, on their way to Jerusalem, again they pass the fig tree, Jesus had talked to the day before. Peter remembered what Jesus had said and behold, Peter points out that the tree Jesus had cursed had withered up and died.

 

Then Jesus reminds them to have faith in God.

 

 

On the surface, it indeed looks like Jesus has a bit of anger, or at the very least frustration and takes it out on the fig tree and those in the temple. But in reality the stories are placed next to each other to emphasis a point.

 

The point Mark is trying to get across to us is our faithfulness.

 

Mark chose to place the fig tree episodes before and after the incident in the Temple. Many scholars believe that Mark wanted to use them as a metaphor for what he saw as the barrenness of the priests and the withering of their teaching and authority due to their lack of true faith.

 

The fig tree is minor in comparison to what occurred in the temple. And to appreciate exactly what Jesus was protesting I would like to share some of the details of what life was like in the Temple at the time of Jesus.

 

The Temple of Jerusalem was the most important institution of Israel, in Jesus’ time. Not only was it the most magnificent, colossal edifice of Jerusalem, it was the where the priests, sanhedrites, levites, Pharisees and scribes, the religious authorities, subsisted and used their religious positions for their own advantage.

 

Even the Roman empire recognized its importance for after a series of vigorous negotiations, the Roman governors worked out a deal with the Jewish leaders and succeeded in being able to have a daily sacrifice to be offered for the emperor, and the Israelites were excused from having to worship the sovereign of Rome.

 

To get a picture of the Temple’s importance to Jerusalem you need to realize the edifice took up one fifth of the total area of the city and was situated in such a way that it overlooked the entire city.

 

I will attempt to describe its parts.

 

The Temple wasn’t just a Temple building, but included four open roofed central courts, which were enclosed by enormous walls. The Temple building, otherwise known as the sanctuary, was a chapel like structure which was said to hold the presence of God and was located near the center of the enormous edifice. The structure and divisions of the building represented the discriminatory system of society. There were three distinct patios that were designated for different people and they proceeded like this.

 

As you entered through the protective walls the first patio was as far as the pagans could enter. This is where the money changers and animal sellers would have been. Women were allowed a little closer in the next section, but not as close as the men. The men’s section was closer to the center and the priest section was beside the sanctuary. The only one allowed in the sanctuary or Holy of Holies where the presence of God resided was the Chief Priest. And he could only enter once a year, during Passover, to present the yearly sacrifice for the nation of Israel

 

It was in the pagan section, which was located furthest from the sanctuary, where Jesus demonstrated his disdain for what was happening in the temple. It was where the market for animals to be sacrificed, such as bulls, cows, sheep, goats, and pigeons was located, as well as the place for the money changers.

 

The money changers, whose tables were overturned by Jesus, changed foreign money, Greek and Roman, for money that was accepted by the sanctuary. You see, Roman and Greek money had the image of the emperor on them and this was seen as blasphemous by the Jews. All Israelites were obliged to pay various annual tributes. It cost one days wage in order to change the money over, and the cost of one dove would have cost 45 days wages.

During the week of Passover, money flow was tremendous and the money changers in the Temple would also chose to act like professional bankers.

 

To help put the amount of money changing hands, in perspective, it is helpful to understand what the money was purchasing. You see, God was being worshipped in the Temple in the form of prayers, songs and burnt offerings. These burnt offerings were given as a symbol of submission and a way of seeking forgiveness. Every day of the year there were animal sacrifices given in the Temple, even more during the week of Passover. One historian stated there were more than 250,000 lambs sacrificed during the week of Passover.

 

Therefore you can begin to see, how the worship that was occurring in the Temple represented the most significant source of income in Jerusalem.

 

The family of the High Priest of the day was put in charge of the economics of the Temple, and the Sanhedrin, the highest religious-political-juridical body of Israel was presided over by the high priest. The political, religious and economic aspects of worship were so closely linked in the Temple of Jerusalem they could not be separated.

 

There is no institution or building of our time that is comparable. We have nothing that compares to what was happening in this Temple.

 

This Temple which was known as one of the great wonders of the ancient world, was destroyed by the Romans in the first century to suppress a Jewish nationalist uprising. Today, only a piece of an outside wall exists, known as the “wall of lamentations” which measures about 7 meters long. Jews still continue to pray beside this wall.

The Arabs have also built an open, level space where the Temple was believed to have existed.

 

They have erected a mosque around a huge rock, known as Mount Moriah, where it is believed Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac and where sacrifices of animals in the Temple took place.

 

Hopefully this description of the Temple and what was happening within its walls, and why gives you a better understanding of the daring actions Jesus demonstrated within the last week of his human presence on earth. We read the harshest words that come out of Jesus’ mouth containing severe criticism against the priests who were using the name of God in their business pursuits and had reduced the worship of God to idolatry of money.

 

 

You see, it wasn’t the selling of sacrifices that was the problem. Sacrifices had been a part of the Jewish faith since Abraham. The problem was the fact that the religious leaders were deceiving the ignorant with laws they had created themselves, in order to benefit themselves. This distorted the image of God and gave fame and privilege to the men who were supposed to be leaders. What Jesus was angry with was how people had made religion a product of laws and norms to be followed, rather than a relationship with the Creator. The spiritual growth of the people of Israel was being thwarted, and this made Jesus angry.

 

So just like the fig tree, with the expectation of fruit, was the same expectation Jesus had for the Temple. It was supposed to be a place where people came to meet God, encounter Him and grew in their relationship with God and each other. But humans had created so many trappings that the relationship with God was overtaken with the need to prosper and make money.

 

Jesus brings the disciples back to the basics.

 

“Have faith in God” and don’t let anything get in the way. If you have a problem with anyone, resolve the problem with forgiveness, just as the Father has forgiven you.

 

The passage ends with the next day, the chief priests trying to trip Jesus up by questioning His authority. Remember, Jesus has made a mockery of them the day before, so they think they have come up with a plan to discredit Him. The plan backfires, of course,  and it actually makes the priests look incompetent and allows Jesus to imply to the people that His authority is from God without having to actually say so.

 

The fig tree, the money changers and those supposedly in authority all turned out to be fruitless.

As Jesus begins his last week on earth he is confronted with this fruitlessness and demonstrates frustration. Yet in the midst he directs his disciples to “Have faith in God.”

 

Jesus doesn’t direct them to the church, or the Temple as it was called in His day. The church was full of hypocrites. The very activities occurring in the Temple were demoralizing the Jewish people, not freeing them from their sin. The spiritual strength of the Jewish nation was becoming commercialized.

 

Not much has changed today. What goes around, comes around. We may not be as messy and have done away with blood sacrifices, but when it comes to putting rules and expectations of behavior before acceptance of each other, there is still room for improvement.

 

 

Jesus tried to guard his disciples from allowing greed and self-preservation to take over. Instead, Jesus urged his disciples to pray, and whatever they asked for in prayer, they were to have faith that God had their best interest at heart. Jesus taught the best way to ensure that greed and self-interest was not taking over was to make sure that if they were holding anything against anyone, that that should be taken care of first. Then the Father in heaven would forgive them.

 

So what do you think? What are you doing to guard yourself against any of the attitudes that may sap your spiritual strength? One of the attitudes Jesus addressed was having a grudge, or holding something against someone.

 

It’s my prayer that we remain fruitful. That we aren’t like the fig tree or those leaders in the Jewish temple, but that we are like Jesus. That we are zealous for the truth and allow the truth to set us free.

 

So as we pray, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

 

Let’s pray.