Notes and readings (for the week commencing 5th March, 2012) are shown below, with a PDF version available here. The sermon topic this Sunday (11/03/2012) will be “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.

Day 1: Read Mark 11:1-11

We have reached Jerusalem at last. This is another major turning point in the gospel. The final six chapters cover just one crucial and significant week of Jesus’ life!

Pilgrims will have been arriving at Jerusalem for the Passover. Jesus sends two of his disciples to arrange for a colt for him to ride on. While supernatural knowledge of the presence of the colt could be implied, it may be that Jesus has arranged this beforehand with the owner.

Jesus is consciously fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9ff. He is the King who is coming to end war and bring peace. He is righteous and will bring salvation. And note that Jesus is acclaimed as he rides in to Jerusalem, but not by the people of Jerusalem. It was the people of Galilee who had been travelling with Jesus and seen many miracles and heard his teaching who were shouting “Hosanna” – save now.   (The people of Jerusalem will be rejecting him in a few short days, calling for his crucifixion and the release of Barabbas.) “By speaking these words (vv9-10) and spreading their branches and their cloaks on the road, these Galileans were identifying Jesus as the Son of David, the Messiah…. They identified him as ‘David’, coming to David’s city to receive David’s kingdom.” Paul Barnett, The Servant King p224. (See also Isaiah 9:7). You may recall that David was the major King of the Old Testament, and that God promised that his offspring would one day reign forever. (See 2 Samuel 7:4-17).

The Messiah then, has arrived in Jerusalem. The King has come. He knows the path which lies ahead.  He has come to be rejected and killed. Reflect today on Jesus’ obedience to the Father – for your sake!

Day 2: Read Mark 11:12-19

As the Pharisees and teachers of the law honoured God with their lips while their hearts were far from him (they have lips but not hearts for God), so this fig tree has leaves but no fruit – all promise, but no reality. This is an enacted parable. A parable in kind, not words. The fig tree represents Israel. The cursing is what they deserve and what they will (eventually) receive.

Although the temple and Jerusalem would lay in ruins by AD70, in Jesus’ mercy, he will (at this point) only clear out the temple, as a warning and wake up call. The temple had become a market place for a religion of convenience. Until AD 30, the sellers of animals and doves for temple sacrifice, and the men who change money from Gentile to Jewish coinage for ‘clean’ donations, had been located some distance from the temple, on the Mount of Olives. But Caiaphas, the present High Priest, had allowed market stalls to be set up in the court of Gentiles – the only place Gentiles could pray. “Jesus’ action expresses deep indignation at the flagrant violation of the divinely announced purpose for the Temple. Such disobedience brought about Jesus’ only violence.” (Read, Mark, Learn, Giles Rawlinson and Nigel Styles).  And so again (v18) the religious leaders look for a way to kill him.

The challenge for us today is to carefully reflect on any practice we follow which both panders to our desire for ‘religious’ convenience and at the same time is a stumbling block to non-believers drawing closer to God or understanding the gospel. Does the church (our church and/or the wider church) do things today which obscures the gospel? I will ask that question in the small groups next week.

Day 3: Read Mark 11:20-25

The fig tree Jesus cursed is found the next morning withered from the roots! “By sandwiching the clearing of the temple between the sign and fact of the destruction of the fig tree, Mark is saying to the readers, ‘Just as the fig tree is destroyed, so will be the temple’.” Paul Barnett, The Servant King p 227.

Peter seems to be surprised and draws Jesus’ attention to the now dead fig tree. Did the disciples understand the link between the temple and the fig tree? Did they now fear that the temple was doomed? Or was Peter merely surprised by the confronting sight of the fig tree? Was Peter more surprised at the power of Jesus’ words or at the fate of the fig tree? Either way, Jesus’ response is a call to ‘have faith in’ or ‘trust’ God. Killing fig trees or moving mountains is no trouble to God for whom nothing is impossible (recall 10:27).

Of course, this is not Jesus’ entire teaching on prayer. I don’t doubt for a moment that God can do anything. If I prayed and God willed it, he could move Mt Coolum in to the Pacific Ocean! Yet elsewhere we note that Jesus says the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name (i.e. in accord with his will), and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the Lord’s Prayer, teaches us to pray ‘your will be done’. So we pray trusting God can do anything. And we trust him to answer in ways that are best for us and his kingdom and his honour. Note the instruction that whenever we pray, we ought not to be holding anything against anyone but forgiving them. When you pray following reading these notes – trust God – have faith in him. Know he can do anything. Know he will always do what is best. And know that because he is a God of forgiveness, you too must forgive.

Day 4: Read Mark 11:27-33

Jesus returns to Jerusalem quite openly and he is challenged by a formal delegation. Remember they are actively looking for a way to kill him (v18). They want to know by what authority he had undertaken the clearing of the temple the previous day. Who does he think he is?

But of course, they are only interested in Jesus’ answer in so far as they want to trap him. On any possible answer, they will find a way to either arrest him or discredit him. If he says he is Israel’s King, they will get him on treason. If he says he is God, they will get him on blasphemy. If he says is the Messiah, they will ridicule and arrest him.

So Jesus lays a trap for them in return by asking them about the origin of John’s baptism. They are unwilling to commit themselves either to the possibility that John’s baptism was from God or from men. The first answer risks Jesus asking ‘why didn’t you believe him?’ and the second risks a riot from the crowd who were convinced he was a prophet.  The risk either way is great, so they decline to commit themselves and as a consequence, Jesus declines to commit himself. If they cannot face the truth about John, Jesus determines, they will not face the truth about him. This is the first of many traps of this final week where the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders gradually escalates.

We however are so blessed because we have been given grace to realise and acknowledge that Jesus did ‘these things’ because he has all the authority of God. And we have willingly put ourselves under that authority so that Jesus is Lord of all our lives. We must bow the knee each day to Jesus as the one who has all power and authority and live with him and for him as Lord of all.