Here’s the outline/text of the sermon I preached last night on Mark 11:1-11, 15-19. It served more as a guide than as a script, but it’s full enough that I think it’s worth posting here.
The Book of Mark is about what? The Kingdom.
The Kingdom…. But what kind of kingdom? We are told of the Messiah, but what kind of Messiah is this?
The Messiah is the promised bringer of the promised Kingdom.
But so often instead we’re so intent about finding the Messiah that we want, we miss the Messiah that we need. And coming to terms with the Messiah we need is about more than reading the right books, having the right religious statements. It’s even more than about reading our Bible or doing good works. Because the Pharisees did that, did that better than any one of us.
And the disciples did that too, indeed they spent day and night with Jesus, and you know what, up to now, up to our passage, they missed understanding the Messiah they needed because they were so intent on getting the Messiah they wanted, a Messiah who would make them important and put them in places of honor, and help make Israel important again in the world.
They wanted a restoration of the kingdom like David had enacted, and they thought that the Messiah was going to do exactly that. As the earliest followers of Jesus they thought they were in a good place for all the rewards that come with having networked right and early with the key guy.
They had an answer about the kind of Kingdom they wanted and they had an answer about the kind of Messiah who would bring that Kingdom. We have the same answers. We have a kingdom in mind and we have a Messiah in mind. What kind of kingdom? What kind of Messiah?
The whole book is about answering these questions, so we could survey the whole book, but let’s look at the last 2 chapters — 9 and 10 — before we get into our passage.
We have the transfiguration (9:2-13), what does this say about the Kingdom? It’s real and it is cosmic.
We have the demon possessed boy (9:14-29) (note how this ends in v.29, and keep that verse in mind). Jesus frees this boy from the possession, taking away the barriers that have blocked him from experiencing true freedom.
On the other hand, those who make it more difficult for others to get it, to find freedom, are judged. Be ruthless about what is required, right? Get rid of that which gets in the way and get rid of those who get in the way. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out, right? Give someone water to drink and you’re giving Christ water. If someone gives you water, helping you on your way, they are giving it to Jesus, because as we progress in this real Kingdom, we are progressing right along with the Messiah who makes it possible.
In Mark 9:30-35, Jesus talks about his death and resurrection, but the disciples don’t get it. They miss the point, they miss this whole core message of their Lord, and then spend the rest of the trip talking about who was the greatest.
What does Jesus say in response? He sits them down and says the least are the greatest. What?! He picks up a child, whose name we aren’t given, leaving him nameless to us. This nameless child becomes the model of the mission of the Messiah.
Chapter 9 ends with a more conceptual teaching as the disciples sort out what this kingdom is all about. They want to control the power, but Jesus says whoever is following the Kingdom is part of it, equal to the rest. There’s no power play in the Kingdom, after all. Those who get it, are part of it.
And get rid of anything that gets in the way of getting it, and living it out. If the salt is filled with dirt, it’s worthless. Don’t let it get ruined. Get your way into the Kingdom, and let go of anything that causes barriers to you or others.
But, again, what kind of Kingdom is this? What kind of Messiah is initiating this Kingdom? How do we recognize it? What should we look for?
Chapter Ten carries us forward in answering these key questions. Verses 10:1-12 is about divorce and marriage. The emphasis here is on maintaining the bond of unity, not forsaking the old for someone new, not trying to trade up for some supposed better model. Be faithful, that’s part of the Kingdom, we learn. And be faithful to each other, because in a marriage it’s not about one person carrying the burden while the other gets to do whatever he or she wants. Remember what Jesus said about causing someone to trip? Don’t trip your partner by pushing them down or away.
Verses 13-16 are about children again. The least among them, they’re excluded. Jesus says to include these least, because that is what the kingdom is like. It belongs to the least of these, to children and to people whose humility and inclusion is like children. It belongs to the powerless, the excluded. Yeah, that’s a strange Kingdom. But that’s the Kingdom that Jesus tells us about.
That’s not the Kingdom the rich young ruler wanted or expected. We read about his story in the next verses. Jesus told him what was necessary. This young man didn’t want that Kingdom or this Messiah, so he walked away. He wanted the Kingdom he wanted according to his own definitions. Jesus said, “go and sell what you have.” The young man just went.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Which is another way of asking “Who do you say that I am?”
With the beginning of chapter 11, Jesus is still asking this question, but more importantly he is also giving us answers. What do you want me to do for you? The people want a triumphant king.
Who do you say that I am? The Messiah, they say, a religious and political leader.
A bit on Triumphant Entries, Caesar, Alexander, Titus
Jesus showed that he is the Messiah, then he shows what kind of Messiah he is, what kind of Kingdom is declaring.
Some details worth noting.
Followers were not random people. These were people who already believed.
Colt – a gesture of his claim to the throne of Israel. Horses tended to be foreign and exotic. The donkey meant he wouldn’t walk, he would ride. Not as a foreign power copying foreign trends, but as a Jewish King with Jewish habits. The colt, some think, ensures that it had not been ridden before, so Jesus isn’t stepping into anyone’s shoes or following anyone’s pattern. He’s a new King, making his way into the city fresh. Want some confirmation of this? Zechariah 9:9
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Clothes being laid before him and on the donkey – 2 kings 9:13
They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”
Branches – 2 Maccabees 10:1-8
Judas Maccabeus and his followers, under the leadership of the Lord, recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. They tore down the altars which foreigners had set up in the marketplace and destroyed the other places of worship that had been built. They purified the Temple and built a new altar. Then, with new fire started by striking flint, they offered sacrifice for the first time in two years, burned incense, lighted the lamps, and set out the sacred loaves.
After they had done all this, they lay face down on the ground and prayed that the Lord would never again let such disasters strike them. They begged him to be merciful when he punished them for future sins and not hand them over any more to barbaric, pagan Gentiles. They rededicated the Temple on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev, the same day of the same month on which the Temple had been desecrated by the Gentiles.6 The happy celebration lasted eight days, like the Festival of Shelters, and the people remembered how only a short time before, they had spent the Festival of Shelters wandering like wild animals in the mountains and living in caves.But now, carrying green palm branches and sticks decorated with ivy, they paraded around, singing grateful praises to him who had brought about the purification of his own Temple.
Hosanna: means “God save us”
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD
through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The LORD has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 LORD, save us!
LORD, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
God save us from what? God save us for what? These are key questions.
This wasn’t an expression of humility by Jesus. This was him saying that he had the answers and authority. Jesus embracing, setting this up, being surrounded by his followers was a significantly bold statement of who he was. Jesus is declaring himself to be King, to be Messiah. Not a Roman King. Not a Greek King. A Jewish King following very clear Jewish prophecies about who he was as King.
Jesus then went to the Temple, because at the end of a triumphant entry one gets a triumphant welcome at the place of triumphant power. But it was late, Jesus looked around at the Temple, and the Temple was not ready for him. The Temple was not ready to embrace the kind of Messiah he was nor the kind of Kingdom he was bringing. The Temple, up to the time of Jesus the most visible symbol of God and his reign on earth was expressing a different kind of authority. And apparently he did not like what he saw. So he left, but he came back the next day.
And when he came back the next day, we learn what this Messiah of this Kingdom, thought of the Kingdom as it was being expressed in the Temple.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts 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, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Jesus has two aspects in his ministry that we see. He confronts established powers and he includes the excluded, liberating the latter from being oppressed and liberating the former from oppressing.
That’s the kind of Messiah he is. This present passage is a case of him confronting the powers, saying that the established power structures in the Temple are getting in the way of the purpose that God intends.
Note that while we may think of this in terms of being against consumerism, buying and selling, it really isn’t that. The buying and sacrificing of animals is in the Law, in the OT. (Lev 5:7; 12:6-8) People were to bring a lamb or sheep, the poor could bring a dove or pigeon. So if Jesus didn’t come to overturn the Law but fulfill it, what’s this about?
The actions of Jesus go deeper than this, and are attacking the power structures that gain and maintain their power through the use and misuse of religious power, choosing who is in and who is out, who succeeds and who fails. It is a prophetic protest against a broader kind of corruption, one that is declaring its own particular kind of Kingdom, and thus declaring a particular kind of salvation, one that enables Temple leaders to be powerful and wealthy. It’s not the Temple salesmen Jesus is after, it is the Temple power structure, and thus the religious aristocracy. He’s undermining the power of the religious leaders by both attacking a core area of their concern and by focusing the Temple on an area they do not control, that of prayer.
Remember the passage from Maccabees, about their cleaning the Temple from impurities and idolatry. Remember that when we think of what Jesus did. He’s saying to the Temple, you’re getting it wrong and I’m going to clean you out.
He quotes Scripture while doing so. Let me read those phrases in their context.
These [the outsiders] 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.”
And Jeremiah 7:8-11
But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
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? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.
The Kingdom is not about transaction, it is about freedom. But, the starting point of freedom does not begin with us getting what we want and doing whatever we want. The starting point of freedom begins with us being freed, first of all, from ourselves, from our attempts to dominate, to compete, to compartmentalize our spiritual and social lives in a nicely wrapped transaction approach to life.
We too often make transaction the substance of our identity: do this, get that. We want a Messiah that fits into this model. Life makes sense to us when he does.
Jesus pushes back against that. Gouge out the eye, cut off the hand, turn over the tables.
And those of us who are claiming this Messiah as our Messiah and this Kingdom as our Kingdom, sometimes experience Jesus as the Messiah who overturns the tables in our own life. Because the Temple, this Temple [point to self], is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit, in us, and we are not to be part of the transactional, power seeking, dominating Kingdom. This house [point to chest], this house [point around to others and repeat], is to be a house of prayer. Are we seeking power and dominance and influence? Do we operate with the assumption of transaction to get what we want? Or do we humble ourselves and listen and follow the Spirit?
Are we trying to assert a different Messiah of a different kind of Kingdom? Sometimes, like with the temple, we may even look very religious and good.
Or are we people of humility and people of prayer who will let go of anything that binds or confuses or prevents us from seeing Jesus as he reveals himself to be? Throwing out the spirits of the world, those false ways of trying to secure meaning or purpose or identity, like with the demon-possessed boy, are driving out through prayer. That’s why the Temple, [point to self] temple, has to be a house of prayer.
When I was at Wheaton, I got my tables overturned. It’s a much longer story, but basically comes down to the fact that life was really falling apart for me in most every way. I became pretty severely depressed my junior year and found light by discovering some deeper truths in Scripture, church history. I really started readding Wesley, fasting, praying, studying at a good college. I thought I was on my way, thinking I needed to sharpen my spiritual life? But the more I did the more went wrong. Why I asked, and I didn’t get it. Because even though I said I was for Christ and His Kingdom, in my heart, in my deepest self, what I wanted was answers to my frustrations, dating, money, success. I was, basically, trying to make a transaction with God. And I got my tables overturned. I had a crisis of faith for a long time because I thought I was doing everything right but everything kept getting worse and worse. Only now I realize that I had a crisis of faith because my faith wasn’t in the Messiah who was and is, but the Messiah who I thought I wanted.
Jesus overturned my tables so that I could realized the Messiah I needed, and become the person, finally, he created me to be. This didn’t just happen at Wheaton. This happened for most of the ten years after Wheaton. I was a mixed bag, doing and thinking a lot of right ways, but mixing in far too much transactional theology. Not intentionally, but it was there. I thought if I did the right things I would get the right things. But I did so much of what was right, but everything kept going wrong. I realize now that much of this was Jesus overturning my tables. I was mixed, because it wasn’t that I was malicious or deceptive. All along I would have said I want Christ to be all and all in me. But, underlying those statements were some wrong assumptions. I had a crisis of faith because my faith was in the wrong kind of Messiah.
This isn’t to say, not at all, that all our problems are caused by Jesus trying to put us right, of overturning the tables. That’s the brilliance of these various passages put together. Sometimes we are sick and need to be healed, sometimes we are being attacked by evil and need to be freed from that, sometimes we are thirsty and need a glass of water, sometimes we are among the excluded, like the little children, and need to be included. The Kingdom is about real freedom, and freedom for some, for so many, means being encouraged and empowered and renewed for this participation.
But others, and the disciples and the religious leaders and the Temple patterns are a model of this, are arguing who is the greatest, and maneuvering for positions of power or going through transactions to trade their wealth or influence for more power. These are the sorts of people who get their tables overturned. Not because the tables are themselves inherently wrong, but because they are in the way of understanding the truth of the Kingdom for what it is. Those people, so many of us, get our tables overturned precisely because we’re trying to do what we think are the right things, in all the right ways, to get noticed and get involved, but in doing so we’re pursuing—often unconsciously—the wrong Messiah and thus the wrong Kingdom.
Sometimes we are in need of both healing and getting our tables overturned.
We like to think of ourselves as the people along the street waving our branches at the Messiah, but so many of us, and I include myself in this, are also the people in the Temple, selling our wares, trying out our sacrifices.
And to us Jesus says, “Stop. I want you, not your performance. I want you, not your transactions. I want you to pray, to listen, to be transformed. I want you to see, see the Messiah for who he is and see the Kingdom for what it is.”
One way or another we will see the Kingdom for what it is, if we are blind in our eyes, Jesus will heal us.
If we are blind in our understanding, Jesus will teach us. If we are blind in our actions, Jesus will stop us and point us the right direction, the direction of real freedom.
If we are seeking the Kingdom, truly open to the Messiah for who he is, we might be healed from our suffering or we might get our tables overturned.
It’s the same work of the same Messiah for the same purpose, to lead us all, however and wherever we’re coming from, into the presence of the King, to be the kind of people who really get, who really live out, this reality of the Kingdom in ways that help others live it out. We are freed and in this freedom we can help others find freedom in Christ.
Who asks, “What do you want me to do for you? Who do you say that I am? We answer this in our actions, with our whole life. Jesus shows us his answer. Are we ready to let go and serve this kind of Messiah? In this kind of Kingdom?
Who do you say Jesus is? What do you want of him?
Be careful, because Jesus will answer you. Because he is the Messiah.
And he may lift you up or he may turn over your tables.
Either way, keep holding on because Christ and his Kingdom is the way of peace and hope and life.