When Your Priorities Are Challenged

Explore the Bible Series

February 7, 2010


Background Passage: Mark 11:1-12:44

Lesson Passage: Mark 12:13-17, 28-34




This lesson introduces the last week of the earthly ministry of Jesus, what our liturgical friends call Holy Week.  Two very important events occurred early in the week: the Triumphant Entry and the cleansing of the Temple.  Jesus’ remarkable entry into Jerusalem reflects the Lord’s royal authority, and the cleaning of the Temple serves a powerful demonstration of that authority.


The Lord’s actions provoked a heightened opposition by an array of enemies: the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the scribes. Under normal circumstances these groups distrusted and disliked one another, but their common opposition to Jesus drew them into an unholy alliance.  Sin and hate made for strange bedfellows. Their determination to stop the Jesus movement grew more and more determined and focused, and this determination would eventually lead to the cross.


Even in the midst of all this opposition, we do find some encouragement.  In particular, I find encouragement from the stories of the questioning scribe (12:28-34) and the generous widow (12:41-44). I am struck by the openness and holy curiosity of the scribe,  and the modest openhandedness of this poor widow woman. 



Lesson Outline:


I.                   The Triumphal Entry (11:1-11)

A.    The journey to Jerusalem (vv. 11-7): Jericho has one of lowest elevations of any city in the world, about 800 feet below sea level, and Jerusalem sits about 3000 feet above sea level; so, the journey described here, while not long (about twelve miles), was difficult. As Jesus drew near to Bethphage and Bethany (small villages to the east of Jerusalem), he sent two disciples to fetch a colt (Matthew and John identify the animal as a young donkey).  Zechariah 9:9 predicted that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, and clearly the Gospel writers intended to associate these actions of Jesus with the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.  The disciples spread their other garments on the colt to act as a makeshift saddle for the Lord.

B.     The response of the crowds (vv. 8-11): Jerusalem teemed with Passover observers, and the throng met Jesus, greeting him as the Messianic King.  “Hosanna” is a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word meaning “save us, O Lord” and reflects the anticipation expressed in Psalm 118:25. It seems strange that these same crowds called for Jesus crucifixion just a few days later, perhaps frustrated with the Lord’s refusal to establish an earthly kingdom and overthrow Roman domination of the region.


II.                The Cleansing of the Temple (11:12-33): As Mark had done before, he sandwiched an important story into a larger narrative, in this case, the cursing of the fig tree.

A.    The cursing of the fig tree (vv. 12-14 and 20-26): On the day after Palm Sunday, Jesus and his disciples walked from Bethany to Jerusalem (about two miles), and, as they travelled, Jesus saw a fig tree laden with leaves but no fruit.  The Lord declared that the tree would never again bear fruit.  He cursed the tree just before cleansing the Temple. The fig tree acts as an action parable of Jesus’ prediction concerning the Temple.  As the tree was cursed because it did not bear fruit, so the Temple would be cursed as well.  The first several chapters of Jeremiah deal with the issue of the destruction of the Temple, and Jesus acted in fulfillment of this Old Testament prediction.  On Tuesday morning, Peter noticed that the fig tree had withered from the roots, and Jesus used this opportunity to teach the disciples about trusting God.  The ancient Jews tended to trust in the Temple itself, but Jesus directed Peter’s attention to the Lord himself.  The efficacy of prayer does not rest in buildings or institutions; rather, it rests in the believer’s faith in God.

B.     The cleansing of the Temple (vv. 15-19): All three Synoptic Gospels fix the time of this event in the last week of Jesus’ life (John gives a somewhat variant account).  For many years I believed this cleansing related to the commercialization of Temple observance, but I now see the episode in a somewhat different way.  This was, I think, Jesus’ rejection of the entire Temple system, his condemnation of a corrupt and inadequate manner of worshipping God.  Moreover, the cross would take away the very reason for the existence of the Temple and its ceremonialism.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection the Temple observances became archaic. Whatever the ultimate reason for Jesus actions, the people marveled at the Lord’s words, and the religious leaders, of course, renewed their efforts to execute Jesus.

C.     Questioning by the chief priests and scribes (vv. 27-33): The religious leaders, clearly irritated at Jesus’ actions, questioned the Lord about his authority for these actions (cleansing the money changers from the Temple courts).  I find it intriguing that Jesus answered his critics with a question concerning the baptism if John.  There came a point when Jesus refused to answer the questions of his enemies.  They were not seeking information; nor did they intend to conform their lives to Jesus’ teaching; instead, they asked questions to catch Jesus at his words and bring an indictment against him.


III.             Continued Conflict with the Authorities (12:1-44)

A.    The Parable of the Tenants (12:1-12): The narrative continues with a poignant parable aimed at unmasking the chief priests and scribes.  Jesus told a story about a vineyard owner who leased his property to some tenants.  In time, the land owner sent servants to check on his property, but the wicked tenants mistreated the messengers and disregarded the authority of the vineyard owner.  Finally, the landlord sent his son to hold the tenants accountable, but the evil men killed the man’s son and heir of the vineyard. The Lord cited Psalm 118:22-23 in condemnation of the religious leaders, and they, of course, realized that he aimed the barb of the parable at them.  Their murderous anger boiled, but they did nothing because they feared the people.

B.     Conflict over paying taxes to the Romans (vv. 13-17): The chief priests, having failed in their attempt to entrap Jesus, conspired with some Pharisees and Herodians to take up the challenge.  The Pharisees asked Jesus, in an attempt to snare him at his words, about paying taxes to Caesar.  Of course, the Jews chafed under the tax burden imposed on them, and it appears that Jesus could not answer this question without bringing some unwanted consequence.  Notice the smarmy flattery they used to entice Jesus into the sinister conversation.  Readers, beware of flatterers! They often have honey on their lips but venom on their tongues.  Jesus eluded their devices by a masterful argument about the image on Roman coins.  Give to Caesar what bears his image, and yield to God what bears his image.

C.     Conflict over the resurrection (vv. 18-27):  This story becomes something of a tag-team match.  After the Pharisees failed to ensnare Jesus, the Sadducees tried again, this time with an absurd question about the nature of the resurrection. (seven brothers marrying one woman).  Jesus told the inquirers that they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God, and he refuted their basic assumption (they did not believe in resurrection) by citing a passage form the Pentateuch (Exodus 3:6). These men denied the authority of any part of the Old Testament except for the Pentateuch, but Jesus challenged their ideas from the very Scriptures they recognized as authoritative.

D.    A question about the great commandment (vv. 28-34): At this point the tone of the story takes a turn.  A scribe approached Jesus and asked, it seems, a serious, genuine question, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus, sensing the sincerity of the man, answered the question straightforwardly.  The Savior cited the Shema, and told the man to love God with all the heart soul, mind, and strength. The second commandment follows from the first, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  The scribe understood, at that point, the inadequacy of the Temple sacrificial system, and Jesus commended the man’s insight, an insight that drew him very near the Kingdom of God.

E.     Warnings about the teachings of the scribes (vv. 35-40): Apparently, Jesus made these remarks in the presence of the scribes.  He rebuked the scribes for their greed, ambition, pride, hypocrisy, and cruelty.

F.      The contrast of the humble, generous widow (vv. 41-44): Mark included this story to contrast with the sins of the scribes.  This meek, humble widow gave all she had to the work of the Lord.