Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Festival of Dedication

Around the world, people gathered together over the last many days to celebrate the birth of Jesus - a day when God came to be with man in a very real and tangible way. John 1.14 says that God came and dwelt among us. Immanuel – God with us.

But it was not the first time God was with man. Several times in the Old Testament, God shows Himself to man – like with Abraham or Moses, among others. But for the Israelites and later the Jews, there was one place which symbolized God’s presence – the temple!

Now, I know most everyone expects to read about Jesus birth on a church blog posted around Christmas. Well, sorry, but I am going to talk about dedication instead. I am going to provide a brief history lesson from 160 years before Jesus was born, and then talk about how His life brought that idea to completion. Of course, He had to be born to live, but as important as the birth was, it was only covered in two gospels. His death and resurrection were covered in all four, so the premium should be placed there.

But first, our history lesson. And for that we must talk about Hanukkah (Dedication). In my research this week, I have been reading headlines about how Jews used Hanukkah as an excuse to murder Jesus. I have read that Hanukkah is an anti-Christian holiday. Let me assure you it is not anti-Christian, though we should consider it pre-Christian. But we teach a lot of things which are pre-Christian such as the stories of Noah, Moses, and Daniel, etc. And Hanukkah is mentioned in the Bible (as the Feast of Dedication, John 10.22), though it is not a prescribed festival like Sukkot or Pesach (Passover). It is true that few Protestant bibles contain the story of Hanukkah’s origin; however, the Catholic Bible does.

So, what is the story of Hanukkah? Well, if we back up about 300 years before Jesus was born, we find Alexander the Great conquering the world. The Greeks controlled much of the world, and the Jews began to adopt many of the Greek customs (later referred to as Hellenized Jews or Hellenists, also in the Bible). Then about 167 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes, the king, brutally slaughtered about 40,000 Jews and made slaves many others. He also outlawed Jewish festivals and rituals such as circumcision, and burned scrolls of Scripture. But he is, probably, best known for desecrating the temple by sacrificing a pig on the holy altar of the temple. Now, we must note that a pig was an unclean animal to the Jew and had no place in their culture. And the altar of the temple was a very sacred place where sacrifices were made to God. So Antiochus’ actions were horrific to the Jews.

Therefore, a revolt took place. Many Jewish leaders, led by Judas Maccabeus, rebelled and took control of the temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. The following is taken from 1 Maccabees 4.36-51, words that Jesus certainly would have known and read – perhaps often.

(36) At that time Judas and his brothers said, “Look, our enemies have been crushed. Let’s go up to cleanse and rededicate the sanctuary.” (37) All the army gathered together and went up to Mount Zion. (38) They found the sanctuary deserted, the altar treated with disrespect, and the gates burned. In the courts, bushes had sprung up like in an open field or on one of the mountains. They saw that the priests’ chambers were in ruins as well. (39) So they tore their clothes and mourned with great sorrow. They sprinkled their heads with ashes (40) and fell facedown on the ground. When the trumpets sounded a signal, they cried out to heaven. (41) Then Judas chose some soldiers to fight against those stationed in the elevated fortress until he completed cleansing the sanctuary. (42) He selected priests who were blameless and devoted to the Law. (43) They cleansed the sanctuary and took the polluted stones to a ritually unclean place. (44) They discussed what to do about the altar for entirely burned offerings, since it had been polluted. (45) They decided it was best to tear it down so that it wouldn’t be a lasting shameful reminder to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar. (46) They stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple mount until a prophet should arise who could say what to do with them. (47) They then took unfinished stones, in keeping with the Law, and built a new altar like the former one. (48) They also restored the sanctuary and the temple interior, and dedicated the courtyards. (49) They fashioned new holy equipment and brought the lampstand, the incense altar, and the table into the temple. (50) Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, which illuminated the temple. (51) They placed bread on the table and hung curtains. Finally, they completed all the work that they had started.

And, verse 59:
(59) Then Judas, with his brothers and all the assembly of Israel, laid down a law that every year at that season the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and happiness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of Kislev.

And thus we have Hanukkah. The word itself means “dedication” or “consecration.” By the way, it was later thought (this particular thought comes from around 600 AD) that the reason for the eight days of celebration was because most every jar of oil had been corrupted except one. That jar contained enough oil to burn for one day – but it burned for eight days. And thus the reason for the 8-day celebration (it took eight days to procure more oil).

The celebration was because they could rightfully worship God again! It is called the
  • Festival of Dedication – because that is what Maccabeus led the Jews to do.
  • Festival of Light – because of the burning oil producing light for 8 days.

So, why is this the focus of a post around Christmas?

Because you likely know the story of the baby. And you may know the story of the man. But when Jesus revealed Himself to others, the people’s reactions can speak to us today. And in John 10.22-39, we have an occasion, during the Feast of Dedication, where Jesus identity is considered. Notice, in verse 23, Jesus is walking through the temple during this festival! How appropriate – the festival was about the re-dedication of the temple – and again, Jesus would have known that. We can be certain of that because of these two verses being in God’s Word (if it was unimportant, it would have been left out).

So, let me now set the scene for John 10 as we prepare to look at three important questions. In John 10.24, the Jews ask if Jesus is the Christ. Let’s go back a couple of chapters to see how this moment has developed. What we must realize is that the people are wanting another hero – a hero to free them and to give them hope. A hero like Judas Maccabeus.

In John 7, at a previous feast – the Feast of Tabernacles, the people begin to believe Jesus is the Christ, and the leaders want Him arrested (v. 32). However, some thought He was a prophet (v40), and others thought He was Messiah (v41).

In John 8, Jesus challenged the leaders. He asks if they are really Abraham’s descendants (v. 39) and suggests that their father was really the devil (v. 44).

Then, in John 9, Jesus healed a blind man and said those who were truly blind were leading the city (v. 39).

John 10 begins with Jesus talking about the good shepherd (leader) who lays down His life for the sheep. In doing so, in the mind of the people, at least, Jesus assumes the role of hero at the same time of year that Judas Maccabeus had been a hero many years before.

And thus, the question – are you the Christ? Jesus answer is that He and the Father are one – which, to many in the crowd is a blasphemous statement. They picked up stones to hurl as Jesus. Consider the possibility that some of those stones could have been from the broken altar torn down when the temple was being rededicated. That is an amazing thought!

So, during the Festival of Dedication (that is, Hanukkah), the people ask Jesus if He is Messiah. He says in verse 25 that He has already answered that question and now takes it to another level. He refers to God as Father, which means Jesus is God’s Son. But not only that, Jesus says, “I am the Father are one” (John 10.30), stating that He is God, and the proof is not in His words, but in His actions.

Jesus has taken a very important question and made it more important than they could have imagined.

Was Jesus Messiah? –> Was Jesus God’s Son? –> Was Jesus God?

And it is important to realize that Jesus forced this issue not just at any time. Rather, He did it when the people were focused on a time of dedication!

At every festival, Jesus revealed Himself to the be the fullness of the festival. At Hanukkah, Jesus revealed Himself to be the truly consecrated One. Judas Maccabeus had consecrated the temple, but Jesus was greater than the temple and Himself was the consecrated (or Holy One) of God.

At Hanukkah, Jesus showed Himself as God’s true light. He had earlier declared that He was the light of the world. At His birth a light had shown brightly (the glory of God – the shekinah glory) to announce His birth. A light, in the form of a star, shown over the house where He lived to guide the magi.

But the people didn’t like His answer. And they especially did not like His challenge – could they accept that He was truly God? Many could not, and so they prepared to stone Him.

What is important for us to understand is that the questions Jesus posed nearly 2000 years ago apply to us today. This day might not represent a dedication of the temple, but Christmas is a festival of celebration – celebrating the birth of the man who not only created us, but died for us as well.

  • Do you believe the baby that was born in a manger was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God?
  • Do you believe that the child was not just the son of Joseph and Mary, but truly the Son of God?
  • Do you believe that the man we call Jesus was actually God in the flesh?

Most people do not truly realize who Jesus was and is. At this time of year, many will celebrate Jesus as a baby, but they want to leave Him in the manger. It is “safe” to talk of Jesus as a baby, but not as Savior or Lord? Yet, that is the most un-safe thing we can do! To only look at Jesus as a baby is to miss the truth of who He is? We can’t truly celebrate the birth unless we account for His life and death as well.

Why don’t most Jews celebrate the birth of Jesus? Because they don’t acknowledge the significance of His death! Or resurrection!

But the question on this day, is not whether the Jews celebrate and not what I celebrate, but what do you celebrate? And why?

So why should a person celebrate Christmas? Ultimately, it comes down to this: God chose to live with us for a while so what we could choose to live with Him eternally.

The choice is up to you.

What do you choose?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Follow Me"...and Be Fruitful

In my preparations this week, I read an interesting statement. The essence of the statement was that we worship what we fear. It is an interesting statement, and one worth pondering. At first, you might think the statement is ludicrous. Why would we worship something which we fear? But think about it for a minute. Many people do a lot of things that come back to one particular reason – the fear of missing out. Why do you watch tv? Maybe for entertainment, but maybe so you can discuss with others what has happened. Why do you go to an event? Again, maybe to support someone, but some go just to say they were there – and didn’t miss out.

So should this idea apply to God? Sure, Paul wrote in Philippians 2.12 that we are to work out our salvation. How? With fear and trembling! Why? Because one every tongue will bow and every knee will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (the words immediately before the “Therefore.”)

But we can only fear what we believe to either be most important or, at the least, to have authority. Jesus came to teach that He had authority. From our study thus far in Mark, we can see that Jesus showed His authority over demons, over sickness, and over nature. And many marveled at this. But the religious leaders remained skeptical. As I have said before, they should have had some skepticism because they were to lead the people, and if we all followed every newcomer we would be in a mess. But Jesus continually proved Himself and met every challenge they threw at Him (we will see much more about these challenges beginning the week of Jan 1), yet they did not respond favorably.


They feared losing their power, their prestige, and their prosperity. In other words, to return to the original thought, the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests worshipped what they had become, rather than worshipping God. And because of that, they had turned the holy place where people were to worship God into a profit center for them to capitalize. The temple was – to the Jew – the very symbol of God’s presence, yet corruption would lead to its destruction within a matter of decades.

So, today, we look at the authority of Jesus as revealed through His curse against a fig tree, His critique of the temple, and the mention of the casting of a mountain.

The Curse of a Tree (Mark 11.12-14; 20-21)

We begin with the story of the fig tree. This is a story that makes many Christians uncomfortable primarily because although it is a miracle, it is a destructive miracle. But this story is not just a miracle, it is an action parable. That is, Jesus did not tell a parable here, He performed one. But before we can understand the parable, we must understand the nature of a fig tree, and the importance of these trees to the Jews of Jesus day. Rick has researched this information and will share it now.

See Rick’s research about figs and fig trees here.

A large fig tree

So, you likely now know far more about a fig tree than you probably wanted to know. (And this picture here – did you know fig trees could be so big? I sure didn’t!) But the fact is the Bible says a lot about figs, and often in the context of Israel being destroyed. I have included a few references for you to review on your own, should you choose to do so (Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16–17; Joel 1:6–7; Micah 7:1. The fig tree is an object of judgment in Isaiah 34:4 and Hosea 2:12.)

So, why did Jesus destroy this tree? As Mark said, it wasn’t even the time for figs. Did Jesus know that? Certainly He did, which make this story seem completely unfair. But we need to look at two words – one now, and another below. The one now is “heard” in verse 14. Jesus made sure the disciples heard what He said to the tree. If this was about Jesus destroying a tree, He could have done it quietly. But Jesus wanted to make sure the disciples heard what He said, which means He has a lesson for them to learn. We will come back to this shortly.

The Critique of the Temple (Mark 11.15-19)
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple…” This is the second time in five verses that this sequence has occurred. In verse 11, Jesus went to the temple after entering Jerusalem the first time. It was likely rather late as He and the parading group had come from Jericho (most likely). So Jesus surveyed the activity and then went back to Bethany for the night where He certainly would have prayed about the situation. The Bible is not explicit that He prayed at this point, but it definitely was His pattern, and especially before big decisions. Furthermore, in another passage about the authority of Jesus, John 5.19 says He only did what He saw His Father do, which means that Jesus “saw” these next actions to be from the Father.

What were the actions? To disrupt the situation in the temple. Once again, before we can understand Jesus actions, we must consider the temple and what it represented to the Jews. Reggie will provide this information for us now.

Reggie provides some details of the temple here.

So, here we have Jesus causing a stir in the temple. But not just anywhere – this was in the Court of the Gentiles (which happens to be where everything takes place until Mark 12.41). The temple was to be a place of worship – through prayer and sacrifice – and yet the ability to sacrifice was challenged by the marketplace which had been established in the temple. Evidence shows that the market had been on the Mount of Olives previously, and some suggest that this may have actually been the first year that the marketplace had moved to the temple complex. Regardless of the timing, the reasoning was simple. If the money changed hands within the temple, the Sanhedrin (consisting of the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priest) could get a cut of the money. Again, we worship what we fear, and THESE PEOPLE DID NOT FEAR GOD EVEN IN THE VERY PLACE HE WAS TO BE WORSHIPPED!

So, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah 7 and Isaiah 56. And like we saw in verse 14 about the fig tree, Mark mentions that the religious leaders “heard” what Jesus said. And thus they intensified their plot to destroy Him.

Again, this was the area for the Gentiles, but they were unable to pray because it was their space that had been occupied by the merchants. Jesus came to ensure a place for all nations – that is, all people – to worship God. The Jews thought Messiah would come to purge the Gentiles from the temple, but Jesus made sure they had a place in the temple!

So, to this point, we have Jesus seemingly cursing an innocent fig tree and going a little crazy in the temple complex. So we must ask why? Before I answer that question, let me ask you one.

Have you ever driven by a building and seen a lot of cars in the parking lot and wondered what was happening? Perhaps you have driven by a school and seen cars and wondered what event was taking place? Or consider a church. And, in particular, consider a church at a time other than Sunday morning. If the parking lot was filled, what would you think? Maybe a wedding, or a funeral was taking place. Or maybe some special event. But whatever you think, it is hard to know just passing by. You have to get up close to know for sure.

So, why did Jesus curse the tree?

Because of the second word I promised. Rather than a word, it is truly a phrase found in verse 13 – “from a distance.” It was “from a distance” that Jesus saw leaves on the tree. To the Jew that meant that something – even the pre-fig – should be there. But upon inspection what appeared to be the truth was not true at all.

And such was the case with the temple. From a distance, what appeared to be a bevy of activity centering around the worship of God was instead a way for people to make a profit at the expense of God’s people. And the people leading the charge were the religious leaders! Thus, Jesus curse upon the tree was an action to show what would soon happen to the temple. In fact, in Mark 13, Jesus details this destruction which would happen 40 years later in 70 AD.

The Casting of a Mountain (Mark 11.22-26)

The last verses of this section represent a teaching of Jesus that may be congruent to the passage we have reviewed, or may be added, at least partially, from elsewhere. I have mentioned before that Mark does not record a great deal of Jesus’ teachings. And thus, Mark may place part of Jesus words where they fit theologically rather than chronologically. This may be part of the verses here, and most likely is true of verse 26 (which immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6).

But the verses do seem to fit chronologically as well, especially in consideration of what He is revealing about the temple. We cannot fathom the importance of the temple. We can talk about it, study it, and try to comprehend, but we equate the temple with the church (consider the word “altar” for instance).

But to the Jew, the temple represented the very presence of God. So to see the temple in the distance, or to be there in the moment, one might, at least, consider being in the presence of God. This is why it was so devastating to the Jews to know Solomon’s temple (which had stood nearly 400 years) was destroyed by the Babylonians. It is why Jeremiah 29.11-13 was so important to the devout Jew. It is why constructing a new temple was so important when the exiles returned even if they got sidetracked. But again the temple was desecrated in the 2nd Century BC, and now Jesus was saying the great temple would be destroyed. If that is true, what was a Jew to do?

Verse 22 gives us the answer: “Have faith in God.” The faith of the Jew was not to be in the temple, or in the sacrificial system. It never was to be. And when those aspects of life were removed, the faithful person could know that God was still present. In fact, that is what Jesus purpose was: not to cleanse the temple – as if, to make it good again. Rather, Jesus came to show that the temple must be destroyed so that God’s presence was available to man everywhere, not just in Jerusalem, and certainly not just to the Jews.

Thus, I believe the mountain Jesus to which Jesus is referring is the Temple Mount. Some suggest it is the Mount of Olives, and Zechariah 14.4 could be an indication of that. Some suggest Jesus referred to the palace of Herod which was built upon a mountain that had been moved! But while those may have partial truths, the mountain Jesus was referring was likely the very mountain on which He was standing (“this” mountain). Not only was the mountain a physical mountain (although not extraordinarily tall as we might consider some mountains), but it represented the misguided faith of the Jew which was the very thing Jesus was challenging throughout this passage.

With the proper faith, a faith in God, the prayers would be answered. Please note that these prayers are a collective prayer. That is, the word “you” here is not singular, it is plural. Thus, a united prayer, for the purposes of God (remember prayer is an act of faith and Jesus prefaces this entire teaching that our faith is in God), will be effective, though effective is measured against God’s will, not ours (as with the example of Jesus in the Garden).


What we must remember about this passage is that Jesus did not act in some random way – cursing a tree and cleansing the temple. In order to understand both acts, we must realize that each act is dependent upon the other. From afar, both the tree and the temple look to be healthy, but fig tree is not bearing fruit, and neither is the temple. Thus, the action parable of the fig tree is an example of what will happen to the temple – it is not fruitful and will, thus, be destroyed to its very roots – all in due time.

And both of these stories and the teaching which follows reveals that Jesus has authority. He is acting on the authority given by His Father, but this authority is not recognized by the leaders, and as we will see in two weeks, they ask where Jesus gets His authority (because it is certainly not from them!).


The JOURNEY letter for today is: JJesus.

The letter is J this week because we must accept His authority. Even if Jesus killed the fig tree for no reason, He created the tree in the first place right? Now, as I have said a few times during this message, He did not destroy the tree without a reason, nor without purpose, but still, He is God. Yet, because He is God, even His act of overturning tables and causing a stir in the temple was not an act of someone who didn’t care. In fact, it was because Jesus did care – not about the temple, but about the people. The people who were being harmed and the people who were doing the harm. Jesus got their attention – even if briefly – and some could have chosen to repent. But the question is, did they?

OPPORTUNITY: We have an opportunity to choose as well.

  • Do we need to repent because although we have looked good, we are not following Jesus and submitting to His authority? Would Jesus find fruit if He inspected our trees or would He overturn our tables because we do not worship as we should?
  • Is our faith in God or in the symbols of God? Do we worship the cross, the manger, or the idea of “going to heaven” like the people did the temple? Or do we worship God?

  • Learn what you worship. Remember we worship what we fear? What is your biggest concern? That just may be what you worship.
  • Live with a faith in God, not in stuff – even if it is stuff He has given you.
  • Love others enough to confront them with the truth of God’s love before God destroys them.
  • Lead others by being vulnerable enough to share where you have been unfaithful and unfruitful.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"The Temple", A Closer Look, by Reggie Koop

An illustration of the temple during Jesus’ time.

The area of the completed grounds was 34 acres. The northern wall was 351 yards long, and the southern wall was 309 yards. The eastern wall was 518 yards long and the western wall (today’s wailing wall) was 536 yards long.

The first temple was build by King Solomon and was completed in approximately 957 B.C., but was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 586 B.C.

Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed the Jews to rebuild the temple in 538 B.C., but it was not complete until 515 B.C. It was much more modest in size because the Jewish population, and Jerusalem, had been greatly decimated.

Then, in 20 B.C., Herod the Great began to rebuild the temple (during his 17th or 18th year of his reign. Herod rebuilt the temple complex over and around the existing building. The main thing Herod did was double the size of the outer courts. It took 46 years to build and was completed in 26 A.D.

A constructed model of the temple mount as looking from the east.

The southern entrance was the most frequently used by commoners.  The temple was surround by a series of courts.  Immediately surrounding the temple was the Court of the Priests (smoke can be seen rising from the altar of sacrifice in the Court of the Priests).  The Court of the Women was a large square court to the east and front of the temple. The large court surrounding the temple and its immediate courts was known as the Court of the Gentiles.  A balustrade separated the Court of the Gentiles from the temple and its surrounding courts. Anyone could enter the court of the Gentiles, but only Jews could pass beyond the balustrade. It was in the Court of the Gentiles that money-changers and animals were sold.  Thus, this was the place of the Savior’s cleansing of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:41-48; John 2:13-17). The red-roofed area (the Royal Stoa) was where the Sanhedrin met.

Next, was the Court of the Priests. It was here where the sacrifices to God were prepared and offered. Moving further inward was the holy place which contained a seven-branched candlestick, a golden altar (to burn incense) and a table on which the showbread was placed.

The final room was the Holy of Holies. This area was separate by a veil. This was not an “ordinary veil.” It was 60 foot tall and 30 foot wide with a thickness of about four inches (a handbreadth). It was embroidered with fine linen and was blue, purple, and scarlet. It was through this curtain that only one priest could enter only one time per year (the Day of Atonment). Within the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant.

"The Fig Tree", A Closer Look, by Rick Sons

Mark 11:12-14

A Bit About Figs
A fig tree is a Ficus – a genus of about 850 species of woody trees. The fig is a member of the mulberry family. They are unique in that they have an opening, called the “ostiole” or “eye” which is not connected to the tree. The ostiole helps the fruit’s development by increasing its communication with the environment. Figs range dramatically in color and subtly in texture depending upon the variety. The majority of figs are dried, either by exposure to sunlight or through an artificial process, creating a sweet and nutritious dried fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the year. Figs are a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps control blood pressure.

The Season for Figs
Fig trees are cultivated for their edible fruit, with buttress roots that can reach 200 feet. Fig trees grow well in areas that provide eight hours of daily sun and moderate winters. Once a fig tree reaches maturity, it can be expected to produce fruit once to twice per year and can continue to fruit for decades. Young figs do not fruit their first year, and can take a long time to bear. Fig trees produce two crops every year, but only one of them may be edible. The first crop, called the breba crop, occurs relatively early in the year on the previous year’s growth. These fruits are frequently small, acidic, and inferior in texture, but may be useful for preservation. The second crop occurs later in the year on the current year’s growth and these figs should be edible. The exact timing of the main crop depends on your climate and conditions. For example, growers in cooler coastal areas usually harvest their figs during October and November. For warmer and inland climates, the usual harvest time is between June and September.

Figs in the Bible
Figs were first mentioned in Genesis 3:7. The fig tree is mentioned (Deuteronomy 8:8) as one of the valuable products of Israel. It was a sign of peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10). Figs were used medicinally (2 Kings 20:7), and for eating – they were pressed together and formed into “cakes” (1 Samuel 30:12; Jeremiah 24:2).

The daily diet of the ordinary ancient Israelite was mainly one of bread, cooked grains, and legumes. Bread was eaten with every meal. Vegetables played a smaller, but significant role in the diet. The Israelites drank goat and sheep’s milk (and butter and cheese) when it was available in the Spring and Summer. Figs and grapes were the fruits most commonly eaten while dates, pomegranates, and other fruits and nuts were eaten more occasionally. Wine was the most popular beverage and sometimes other fermented beverages were produced. Olives were used primarily for their oil. Meat, usually goat and mutton, was eaten rarely and was reserved for special occasions such as celebrations, festival meals, or sacrificial feasts. Game birds, eggs, and fish were also eaten, depending on availability.

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
Cursing the fig tree is one of the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. It is included in the gospels of Mark and Matthew, but not in Luke or John. This story is told in two parts. First, in late March or early April, just after the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and before the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus curses a fig tree for being barren. Second, presumably the next day, the tree has withered which prompts Jesus to speak of the power of prayer.

When Jesus saw that there were no figs on the tree, He cursed it. According to Mark 11:13, it wasn’t the season for figs; Jesus would know this. Why would He curse the tree for not bearing fruit when it wasn’t even fig season?

“The time of the fig is not yet,” says Mark, for it was just before Passover, about six weeks before the fully-formed fig appears. The fact that Mark adds these words shows that he knew what he was talking about. When the fig leaves appear towards the end of March, they are accompanied by a crop of small knobs, called taqsh, a sort of fore-runner of the real figs. These taqsh are eaten by peasants and others when hungry. They drop off before the real fig is formed. But if the leaves appear unaccompanied by taqsh, there will be no figs that year.

When Jesus saw the fig tree from a distance, it appeared to be in good health, possibly having many leaves catching the sun’s light. But when Jesus examined the tree, He found no fruit.

How many of us have only the appearance of bearing fruit? We have the outward leaves drawing attention to us and our deeds. But when Christ examines us as He did the tree, will He find fruit?

Fruit can only come through the Holy Spirit. If you have no fruit, you do not have the Holy Spirit. If you have the Holy Spirit, then you will have fruit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Celebrate

How do you feel when something you know to be true turns out not to be as you thought it was? In December we might consider this question in light of a fat man in a red suit or flying four-legged animals (intentionally veiled for the young). But what about as it relates to the birth of Christ?

Much of our birth theology stems from the songs.
  • How many wise men? We Three Kings” provides an apparent answer.
  • Did Jesus cry as a baby? Not according to “Away in a Manger.”
  • Music in the manger? Sure, and Jesus smiled when He heard “The Little Drummer Boy” playing.
“Mary nodded.” Can you imagine a mother nodding at the request of someone to play drums before a newborn baby?

Anyway, you get the point. I have mentioned before that while it may be possible that Jesus was born in what we call December (though not likely), the date of the 25th was chosen due to a celebration of a pagan God in the 4th Century. The fact is that we are not given the date, and thus it (the date) must not have been important to God. In fact, it could not have been important to the early church or it certainly would have been recorded somewhere. What is important is that God came to earth – Immanuel.

And what should be important is for us to seek the truth even if it refuted everything we have been taught. That happened to me this week. Not about the birth, but about Jesus entry into Jerusalem. I have read the Bible multiple times. I have read these passages countless times, and yet I missed something – and because of that means I have taught one particular part in error for many years. Before I correct that, let us look at Mark 11.1-11. Then we will expand our viewpoint by reviewing the parallel passages in Matthew 21 and Luke 19.

A Quick Overview:
If you remember, last week Jesus was in Jericho where he healed the blind man named Bartimaeus. From there Jesus set out on his final journey to Jerusalem. Mark 11.1 provides the names of four places. Some will wonder why all four would be mentioned, until you realize the proximity. We are not talking much more than two-mile radius.

Jesus tells a couple of his disciples to go to a village and get a donkey on which He will ride into Jerusalem. I believe that this event shows that Jesus made plans on a previous visit to Jerusalem. It is quite possible that God provided the necessary insight on that day for all people involved, but I lean towards the idea that Jesus made the arrangements earlier.

The disciples did what they were asked, and were questioned about removing the donkey. Upon hearing the response however, the disciples were able to take the donkey back to Jesus. They threw their cloaks on it, while others threw their cloaks on the road as Jesus road this donkey.

As we have heard before, people waved tree branches and shouted Hosanna. Mark indicates that the shouts contained two Blessings. The first – to the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The second involved the coming kingdom of David.

Let me pause here and talk about these praises for a moment and then bring the accounts of Matthew and Luke into the message as well.

All who come in the Name of the Lord are blessed

This statement is true even when we do not understand fully, or are even completely confused.

Psalms 113-118 are called the Hallel songs. These psalms are one unit that are read as a part of certain Jewish festivals, including Passover. Hallel is the first part of the word Hallelujah, so hallel-(u)-jah is basically, Praise Yahweh or Praise God, not as a command, but as an expression.

We read of the people praising God and shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We attribute the statement to be made toward Jesus, but that isn’t entirely necessary. Psalm 118 is called the Egyptian Hallel because of the deliverance from Egypt and Jesus was certainly about to deliver God’s people. But in a very real sense, anyone who came to Jerusalem for these celebrations was to be considered blessed. But like many aspects of the Bible, what is true in small part is ultimately found true in its entirety through Jesus. Incidentally, Luke’s passage does translate as King who comes, which given the objection of the Pharisees may be the actual wording. Nonetheless, the original intent of Psalm 118, meant any and all who come in the Lord’s name.

The second part proclaims the coming kingdom of our father David. This is not the message of Jesus. His message was about the Father’s Kingdom, but the Father He spoke of was God, not David. This crowd thought Jesus was the promised Son of David who would conquer Jerusalem and re-establish David’s throne. And He will, but the time had (has) not yet come.

What is interesting is that even as the people hailed David, they shouted Hosanna in the highest. Hosanna is a compound of two words (Hoshiya Na) which means “Salvation now” or “Save us now.” The people wanted a salvation from the Roman oppression, but the salvation Jesus offered could only come from the One who is in the highest which must then refer to God, not David.

I think this confusion is similar to what our Christmas celebration has become. Last week, I tried to help a young mother consider possible answers to her question of how do to celebrate Christmas with a young child when all the child sees and hears is Santa Claus. And as I mentioned above, the Church sings songs about the birth which may or may not be true, but do not have a biblical basis to them. This is a challenge for us all, but we must let the Bible be our guide. As we do, we will find that we, too, are blessed when we come in the name of our Lord.

Jesus Came as King in the Name of the Lord
Again, the praise toward Jesus was justified, but it was not necessarily given with a proper understanding. And to the people in, and around, Jerusalem it was, likely, not understood at all. Let me explain.

First, Jesus riding on a donkey was a part of prophecy. Zechariah 9.9 states, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

If the people would have realized Jesus was fulfilling this prophecy on that day, the celebration would have been far more intense. It was customary for kings to parade into town after a victory. The fact that the donkey had never been ridden is important because a king should not share a horse according to Jewish tradition. (An unbroken beast of burden was regarded as sacred (see Num 19:2; Deut 21:3), which made it appropriate for a king, since according to the Mishnah (m. Sanh. 2:5) no one else may ride a king’s horse.(1)

Furthermore, the fact that garments were thrown on the road is a reminder of King Jehu (2 Kings 9.13). The people threw their garments on the steps so Jehu would not have to walk on the steps themselves. So, we do have an indication that this moment was special and the crowd with Jesus thought of Him as the future King, but that thought likely ended with them – that is, the crowd with Jesus.

Why do I say that the thought ended with the crowd with Jesus? Well, the first answer comes from the Bible while the other is a logical assumption. This idea is where my correction is in order, and where we must bring in the writings of Matthew and Luke.

The Triumphal Entry?
First, the biblical progression:

  • They begin at the Mount of Olives. (Matt. 21.1; Mark 11.1; Luke 19.28)
  • The disciples bring the donkey to Jesus. (Matthew 21.7, Mark 11.7; Luke 19.35)
  • The disciples (same two) put their cloaks on donkey. (Matthew 21.7; Mark 11.7, Luke 19.35)
  • The others put their cloaks on the road. (Matthew 21.8 – crowd; Mark 11.8 – many; Luke 19.36 – they)
  • Blessed chants are said/sung. (Matthew 21.9 – he; Mark 11.9 – he; Luke 19.38 – King)

Now, look at this picture. This picture resembles what most of us have always been taught about Jesus entering Jerusalem. Certainly, His own followers were there, but others lines the road and celebrated His arrival – according to the picture. But is that what truly happened? Look what the Bible says happened next:

  • Jesus entered the city, “Who is this?” – Matthew 21.10
  • Jesus entered Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple – Mark 11.11 (no mention of the crowd)
  • And when he drew near and saw the city – Luke 19.41

Each of these gospels mention everything happening before Jesus reached the city. Luke doesn’t even have Jesus reaching the city until another event happens first (and Luke’s account is almost certainly the most chronologically correct). In Matthew, the people don’t know what all of the fuss is about. In Mark, it appears that the entry is anything but triumphal. Jesus goes to the temple, looks around, and leaves (more on this next week).

This understanding be a new understanding to you – I know if was for me. But it is the words of the Bible with no alteration. Again, I do not know how I have missed this, but I did. And that is part of the problem. The other part of the problem is that because of my misunderstanding this, I have said, including in this pulpit, that the very crowd who cried Hosanna on Sunday was the same crowd that shouted, “Crucify Him!” later in the week. That may not be true at all.

That’s the biblical account. Let me briefly turn to the logical account. I also had not considered this aspect before reading it within a couple of commentaries this week. I mentioned earlier that while some may have considered Jesus the king who would conquer, it was not a widespread belief as He entered Jerusalem. Why can we infer this? If the Romans knew of someone who was coming to Jerusalem to challenge their authority, that person would have been arrested as soon as they arrived in Jerusalem, if not earlier.

Looking towards Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Just above the wall, notice the speck in the middle and two to the right - those are
humans. A Roman soldier may not have been able to see much looking back the other
direction, but would have been able to see a group of people coming, and soon
enough would have heard the chants and/or singing.

And the Roman guards could have seen and heard the crowd coming on that day. If they had cared, that is, if the crowd were really stirred up about a King coming, the Romans would have taken action earlier.

The Eastern (Golden) Gate where Jesus entered. And where He will enter again.

The Eastern Gate as looking from Gethsamane.

Jesus did come as King. He came as the Prince. And He entered this gate – the Eastern Gate. The Golden Gate. And Ezekiel 44, says that the gate is shut, and will be until the Prince is ready to enter it again!

We should have no doubts that Jesus entered Jerusalem. But as we have seen today, some of our prior understanding may have been a bit skewed. Jesus is Messiah, but to the people of that day, that meant something different than what Jesus intended – at that time. Some may have recognized the significance of Him riding a donkey as the humble King he was, but it is likely that Matthew, for instance, understood that fact afterwards and included the quote from Zechariah 9 to help his audience make the connection too. Mark doesn’t mention Zechariah 9 because his audience would not have cared.

But one consideration is important as we move forward with this study – Jesus has now entered Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciple are now in tight quarters. That is, everything we see from here on happens within a couple of miles, and most of it happens within a few thousand feet, if not less. Tight quarters and big crowds bring hostile actions. And so it will be.

The JOURNEY letter for today is: JOURNEY.

I decided on the whole word this week because Jesus journey “on the way” to Jerusalem is over. But for us, we have a long way to go. I am reminded of how well I think I know parts of the Bible, and yet I constantly get new insights and understandings as I continue my journey through life. This week was one such moment for me, and I am certain some of you may see this passage differently than you have in the past as well. By the way, this is why I often say, don’t just listen to, or read, what I say. Read God’s Word and hear from Him!

OPPORTUNITY:  As we prepare to celebrate the Christmas holiday, we have an opportunity to celebrate in truth. That doesn’t mean that we cannot enjoy some of the antics and characters that the world views as traditional at Christmas. But it must mean that we do not forget to put Jesus in the proper place as we celebrate the coming of God as man on whatever day He might have been born. As we do, we can let His light shine for all to see.


Learn to discern the truth of Christmas by distinguishing between the Bible and the songs we sing.
Live in celebration of the full truth of God coming as man to offer true Hosanna (salvation now).
Love others by helping them to see the need for Jesus to come as the greatest of all gifts.
Lead others to understand that Jesus may have come as a baby, but we truly celebrate because of the cross, not the cradle.

(1) Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 332). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Follow Me"...An Opportunity to Clearly See

Many scholars break the book of Mark into either two or three acts (as in a play). I see Mark in three acts, and in concluding Mark 10, we come to the end of Act 2. Act 1 ended as Jesus and the disciples arrived in Bethsaida in Mark 8 with the disciples not understanding much of anything. Act 2 began when Jesus healed the blind man in two stages. Next week, we begin the final act as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for what will be His final days before He is crucified.

Act 2 begins and ends with the healing of a blind man. In Mark 8.22, Jesus restores the sight of a man in Bethsaida in two stages. This is to depict that the disciples do not clearly see the purpose of Jesus coming. Now at the end of chapter 10, the disciples still do not see clearly, but a blind man has his sight restored instantly. He saw Jesus more clearly without eyes than the disciples did with eyes.

Mark has used a literary device commonly referred to as a Markan Sandwich. Mark does this a few times throughout this gospel, and this instance might be the most well-known. Basically, he introduces an idea, closes it with a very similar story, and fills in the rest with information that supports his purpose. The purpose of Mark 8.22-10.52 is discipleship and learning to see clearly in order that we can clearly see to follow Jesus.

Today, we will look a little more at the story of Bartimaeus and then compare how Jesus has tried to prepare His disciples for the last leg of their journey.

A Miracle with a Name

Bartimaeus was healed, was saved, and followed Jesus. This is significant! Why? Because we know his name. Of every healing in the Synoptic gospels, the only name we know is Bartimaeus. As Rick mentioned in his post, Matthew records that two men were healed (Luke only mentions one as well). Does this mean the Bible is wrong? Certainly not, but like most people who begin to follow Jesus, the other man likely did not continue when he realized that to follow Jesus required personal sacrifice. The reality is that in a major city like Jericho, it is likely that many beggars would have been lined up along any major road to have a chance to receive charity from others. So, the fact that only two sought Jesus’ help is the more difficult challenge for me to understand.

Imagine what happened in the moments and then the day following Bartimaeus healing. He must have had many questions, and Jerusalem was about a day’s walk. So, for the entire uphill journey, he is asking all about Jesus, what the disciples have experienced, etc. And then they get to Jerusalem. And then Jesus dies. Could you blame Bartimaeus if he had left? “Wait, I have only known this guy for a week. I didn’t sign up for this. I am out of here!”

But, let me remind you – we know his name! Why, probably because he did stick around. And very probably, he was known to the church of Rome specifically which is why Mark uses the name while Matthew and Luke do not.

So, with that in mind, what did Bartimaeus see when he and the others arrived in Jerusalem? Well, we will begin that last leg of the journey next week when we begin Act 3. But Jesus has provided the disciples a clue three different times. And each time, Jesus provided a little more information in order that they too, might see clearly. Of course, their response each time showed a lack of understanding (still partially blind), but again, that is a part of why Mark wrote Act 2 the way he did.

The three pronouncements of Jesus are found in Mark 8.31, 9.31, and 10.33-34. Let’s take a minute to examine them collectively. The following was constructed by Ben Witherington.

A Three Part Explanation

The only common points in the three passages are the words “Son of Man,” “kill,” and “after three days rise again.” The first time Jesus mentions this fate is in Mark 8.31 immediately after Peter confesses Jesus to be Messiah. As I mentioned when we were studying that passage, Jesus confirms their understanding (best seen in Matthew 16), but then immediately deflects their expectations by shifting the title to Son of Man.

In 8.31, we see that Jesus will suffer and be rejected and specifically who will reject Him and presumably the ones who will be the cause of Jesus’ suffering.

In 9.31, we find out that someone will betray Jesus.

In 10.33, we discover that this handing over is to the religious leaders. Someone who knows Jesus and is following Him with an intent to overthrow the powers, will instead work with religious authorities to overcome Jesus.

But we also learn:

In 8.31, we learn that Jesus will be killed.

In 9.31, we learn it is humans who will kill.

In 10.33, we get an unexpected bit of detail. It is the Gentiles who will kill Jesus, but only after the Jewish authorities take their turn against Him. Now, remember, and if  you forget this, you miss the whole point of this series – especially to date. Jesus is Messiah. In the people’s minds – remember the crowd with Him as He begins His ascent to Jerusalem from Jericho – Jesus is coming to do what the religious leaders have said He would do – overthrow the foreign government. So, of course, the Gentiles (that is, the Romans) would want this rebel-rouser destroyed. But why would the religious leaders who have been encouraging everyone to wait for the Messiah, hand Messiah over to the Gentiles to be killed?

We sit here in the 21st Century looking back on all of the events having already happened. Thus, it is easy for us to clearly see how all of this played out to our advantage. But, if we put ourselves in that moment, we might be able to clearly see why the disciples could not see clearly.

In 10.34, Jesus then provides more details about the suffering He first mentioned in 8.31. Mocking, spitting, and flogging would all be a prelude to death.

And He would die. But after three days, He would rise. The truth is that last statement is impossible to reconcile for those who heard it. The disciples must have thought that even Jesus must know it is impossible to bring back someone from the dead after such a long period. Sure, He raised Jairus’ daughter, but that was after many minutes. Some suggest the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 may have been dead, and Jesus healed him in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Elijah and Elisha had brought the dead back in the Old Testament. But again, after three days? No one could do that!

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. But Andy, what about Lazarus? You are correct, John 11.17 says that Lazarus was in the tomb four days. And the fact he was in the grave four days was intentional because John 11.6 reveals that Jesus stayed two days longer to ensure that Lazarus had died AT LEAST three days before. But the problem is that we are looking back on the story, not living in it.

John 10.40 says that Jesus went back across the Jordan to where John had been baptizing and remained there. This location lines up perfectly with Mark 10.1. So, now as we go back to our story today, Jesus is on His way through Jericho towards Jerusalem, where He will stop two miles away at Bethany four days after Lazarus has been placed in the tomb. Thus, Lazarus has just died, and the story of his being brought back from the dead has not yet happened. In the time-frame of Bartimaeus healing, it would happen within the next day or so. So the disciples had NO understanding of what Jesus might have meant to rise again after three days.

Returning back to the primary topic at hand, let us remember that Jesus painted a full picture of His destiny for His disciples over time. However, each time Jesus revealed His true destiny, the disciples’ thoughts were on personal gain. First, it was Peter rebuking Jesus for such foolish talk of dying. Then it was the disciples arguing over which of them was the greatest. And, from last week, after Jesus gave the most detailed explanation of what was to come, James and John began to jockey for position to sit at the right and left of Jesus.

Just like the blind man in Mark 8 gained his eyesight back in stages, so the disciples were to learn what true discipleship was in stages. But just like Bartimaeus chose to follow once he could see clearly, the disciples would have to choose as they began to clearly see.

I have covered a little bit of ground today without giving any real concrete points. So, let me give you a few principles we can take from the text before I give us our JOURNEY letter for today.

1. We do not need to know everything about Jesus in order to follow Him.

In fact, everything we have seen suggests that we can’t or won’t know, but like Bartimaeus, we might know just enough that when we sense Jesus is near, we can be ready to respond and follow.

2. Jesus will reveal to us bit by bit what we need.

Jesus gave the disciples a little bit of information at a time so they would be ready when the time was right. God promised to do the same thing for the ancient Israelites by allowing them to advance “little by little” in order that they would not be overwhelmed. Thus, God will do the same for us when needed.

3. Bartimaeus left everything behind because following Jesus is worth far more.

As a beggar, Bartimaeus may not have had much, but the contrast here between him and the rich young ruler is stark. However, Jesus did not ask anything of Bartimaeus except to come – which he did.

4. In the midst of the crowd, God knows the individual.

We saw this in Mark 5 with the woman with the issue of bleeding. Here we see that one (or two) men crying out amidst the crowd catch Jesus’ attention. And Jesus responds by standing still. How does a blind person navigate? By feel and by sound. Jesus stayed still so the man could follow His voice!


That’s why our JOURNEY letter for today is:  Y – You.

Jesus offers the same question to everyone. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.36,51)

As I figure it, the answers come in three basic forms, from three different attitudes, as shown in the last three encounters from Mark 10. If we are honest, most everyone can admit to have reflected each of these attitudes at some point in our lives.
  • I don’t need Jesus. I can take care of myself. (Rich young ruler – Mark 10.17-22)
  • If Jesus is offering, then I will see what I can get. (James & John – Mark 10.35-37)
  • I am so thankful that He could even care for me. I will follow Him anywhere. (Bartimaeus – Mark 10.46-52)

Which attitude reflects yours today?

OPPORTUNITY: How can we make people desperate for God? Like air in a room, we may not think about its importance, but just a little deprivation of oxygen will make us desperate to breathe. Are we the same way towards God? Shouldn’t we be, but even moreso?

For the Next Steps this week, I am going to ask you to think critically about how one of the principles above can be used to allow you to see more clearly what God is doing and how He wants to use you in the process.


Learn: Consider how Principle 1 can make you more desperate for God this week.
Live Consider how Principle 2 can help you to better trust God’s purpose for your life.
Love: Consider how Principle 3 can draw you closer to God this week. (See James 4.8.)
Lead: Consider how Principle 4 can help you make a difference for God in one person’s life this week.