Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021

Palm Sunday
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Kirk Schneemann
First Alliance Church
March 28, 2021
Mark 11:1-11

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Palm Sunday reminds us Jesus is LORD even in the midst of disillusionment.

Welcome to Holy Week! This is the time of year when we remember the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just a reminder, our Good Friday Service at 6 PM with our friends at The Tabernacle will be a time to remember Jesus’ death for us on the cross. It’s not a happy service, but while it was horrible for Christ, it was good for us. Hallelujah!

Palm Sunday was significant for several reasons which we'll explore today in the eleventh chapter of the book of Mark.

Jesus and his friends travel from Jericho to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. That might not sound significant, but the dozen-mile-or-so journey involved a long, hard climb from the lowest city on earth—over 800 feet below sea level—to nearly 3000 feet above sea level.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ” (Mark 11:1-3)

This has always fascinated me. Jesus tells them to steal a donkey! Actually, he only intended to borrow it, but notice he never tells them to ask permission to untie this colt. He anticipates objections, though.

A colt never ridden means this is something of a wild animal. It’s young so not necessarily dangerous, but it’s not used to riders, obviously. Jesus knows this. Maybe he knows the owner. Perhaps he had already rented it…or he simply had divine knowledge from the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious he doesn’t plan on keeping it, but it’s for a special purpose.

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
(Mark 11:4-6)

If the story ended there, I think it’d be pretty cool! Jesus gives them a command. They obey. He tells them what might happen and it does…exactly “as Jesus had told them.” Mission accomplished! Jesus is amazing!

What’s also amazing is his selection of a donkey instead of the warhorse typically used by royalty. God’s Kingdom is different than earthly kingdoms.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.
(Mark 11:7)

Jesus is now the colt’s first rider. It submits, showing Jesus’ authority over creation. The cloaks or coats or robes may have been a makeshift saddle, perhaps making the ride easier for both the animal and its passenger. What happens next is quite a scene.

Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.
(Mark 11:8)

We call today Palm Sunday because we envision palm branches which are plentiful in the Middle East, but other plants such as corn may have been used to create a path for Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem. This was their version of the red carpet Hollywood stars use on special occasions! Only royalty received such treatment.

Jesus’ arrival was a big deal! He was known for his teaching and miracles. The envy of the religious leaders surely made him even more famous and controversial. The Jews had been waiting centuries for the Messiah, and rumors were swirling that he was the One. Just as Moses delivered their ancestors out of Egypt, it was their hope that Jesus would save them from the oppression of the Roman government. Their King was coming!
King Jesus is the Messiah!

Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,


“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
(Mark 11:9-10)

This is their song. This is their chant. This is their hope. “Save us, now!” or “Please save!” is the meaning of “hosanna,” a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew phrase. They were crying out for liberation. They praised King Jesus with eager expectation. They were desperate, quoting Psalm 118:

LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success! (Psalm 118:25)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:26)

In Hebrew and Aramaic, this is how you say, “Welcome!” These people were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the saving of the people of Israel from slavery. They were excited, singing Hallel psalms used in festive processions and at the Passover meal. Their prayers were being fulfilled.

I sometimes wonder why we aren’t more passionate about Jesus. Sure, he’s not physically here, but he’s our audience when we sing. He’s the one we claim to follow. He’s the object of our worship. On Palm Sunday, the city was elected when Jesus entered. Could the same be said of us each time we gather? Should it?

Maybe we’ve become too comfortable with God. The longer you know Him, the more you take Him for granted, perhaps? This is not unique with God. I’ve met couples who’ve been married for years and they barely tolerate each other. What happened to the spark that caused them to marry in the first place? Where did the love go?

I used to think the voices shouting “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday were the same ones yelling, “Crucify him” five days later. I’m not sure. Maybe. I’m quite sure they quickly became disappointed, though. Why did he ride a lowly donkey instead of a majestic horse? Was he going to overthrow the government? Would the ancient prophecies of the Messiah ruling and reigning forever be realized now? How did they feel when the object of their hope was being nailed to a cross?

Life is filled with
disappointments. Following Jesus doesn’t mean everything becomes easy. In fact, sometimes it creates new challenges. A few years ago, New York magazine published an article on the science of disappointment which stated rather obviously “the feeling of being let down is actually one of life’s toughest emotional experiences.” But more than just emotional, it is physiological, linked to dopamine levels in the brain. Jonathan Merritt explains how it works in his fascinating piece on Palm Sunday and the Gift of Disillusionment:
Hereʼs how it works: Your brain generates expectations about the future. Often these expectations are based on what you want. Something you perceive as good has happened in the past, so you begin to expect it will happen in the future. Before it even happens, your dopamine levels begin to rise in the rush of anticipation. Then, when that good thing actually occurs, you get a double shot of dopamine.
Do you know what happens when the good thing doesn’t happen? The dopamine levels crash. We don’t get what we wanted and we experience the displeasure of being wrong.
We’ve all been disappointed with life. We’ve all had people fail us. Sometimes they don’t even know they failed us…we just had expectations.
When I do premarital counseling, I tell couples I believe the secret to a great marriage is…realistic expectations. I know, you’re supposed to say Jesus, but we all know of couples who are happily married without Jesus…and miserable couples who claim to follow Jesus.
If you expect my sermon to last under an hour and I decide to preach for two hours, even if it’s a good message, you’ll probably be disappointed because you expected to eat lunch before 2 PM!
If you expect your basketball team to win the championship—which is always a high expectation—and they don’t, you’re disappointed.
Let’s face it, we like to be in control. We like to have things our way. We like people to do what we want them to do…and we’re quick to acknowledge when they fail to do so.
Hang with me for just a moment. Steven Covey in his classic
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote, “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen…responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response.
Have you ever heard someone say, “They make me so angry!”? They are letting their emotional life be governed by something outside their control. We can choose our response to situations. We can be response-able. Let me try to connect the dots.
I’ve often said
God created us in His image…and we often return the favor! We are tempted to think the purpose of God is to make us happy…and when He fails us, we may question, doubt, or abandon Him completely.
Disappointment with God is normal. We are disappointed when we have expectations that are unfulfilled.

If you’ve ever asked Pastor Donald how he’s doing, you’ve probably heard him say, “Better than I deserve.” What does he deserve? What do you deserve?

God is God…and you’re not. It’s perfectly acceptable to honest with God about your feelings, your doubts, your fears, and your hopes…but trust in God means…we trust Him. We follow Him. We seek His will, His plan, His understanding.

I’ve mentioned before how our District Superintendent, Thomas George, encouraged me to change my prayers from, “Why, God? to, “What are you up to, LORD?”

When we’re disappointed with God, instead of demanding our way like a child who can’t take every toy home from the store, we need to draw near to God and seek first His Kingdom. It’s a lot better than anything you or I could create! Just wait!

Another common emotion is disillusionment. We often view it in the same negative light as disappointment, but consider these words from Jonathan Merritt,
“Disillusionment occurs when God shatters our fantasies, tears down our idols, and dismantles our cardboard cutouts. It occurs when we discover that God does not conform to our expectations but rather exists as a mystery beyond those expectations.” – Jonathan Merritt, Learning to Speak God from Scratch
Disillusionment destroys the illusion that it’s all about us, that we’re in control, that we can put God in a box, that He was created in our image for our glory. Disillusionment helps us trade our will for His. It allows God to be who He is, not who we wish He was, making our expectations an idol.
On the first Palm Sunday, the crowd was excited to see Jesus, but they were surely disappointed…disillusioned…perhaps even angry to the point of yelling, “Crucify Him!”
In our current cancel culture, that’s essentially what people are yelling today. If you don’t conform to the latest trend, they’ll cancel you. Unfriend you. Boycott you. In some cases threaten to kill you. The people who preach tolerance seem to only tolerate those who agree with them. This past week people were calling for a basketball team to be kicked out of the NCAA tournament because the school believes in traditional marriage.

It’s easy for me to point fingers, but I don’t always behave well when I don’t get what I want…from God, my wife, my friends, …you!

It would be easy to dismiss this historic event as another nice story Mark tells us about Jesus, but there may be more going on than just a parade. It really comes down to a simple question Jesus once asked his friend Peter. “Who do you say that I am?”

Who do you say Jesus is? The crowds said he was the Messiah who would deliver them from Roman oppression. They were half-right. He is the Messiah, but his first visit to our planet involved a different mission. Rather than freeing us from Rome, he came to free us from the law of sin and death. He came to reconcile us to our heavenly Father. He came to offer eternal life, not merely make us comfortable for eighty years or so.

Who do you say Jesus is? C.S. Lewis said your options are liar, lunatic, or Lord. You can’t dismiss him. He has influenced our planet more than any other person. His claims are radical. His followers legendary. His message transformational. His death epic. His resurrection…well, we’ll talk about that next Sunday!

The last verse of our passage says,

Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve. (Mark 11:11)

He made his appearance, saw what was going on in the temple courts (which we talked about two weeks ago), and moved out of the city into Bethany for the night, a village less than two miles to the east of Jerusalem. Days later, he would be arrested and crucified on the day we call Good Friday.

Who do you say Jesus is? I say he is the Messiah, the King of kings!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Authority, 21 March 2021

Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 11:27-33

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth…and he has given it to us for God’s glory.

When one of our children was little, they were given a time-out for poor behavior. Not long after, my wife discovered they had gotten up with plans to return to playtime. Heather said, “Who told you to get up from your time-out?” They replied, “God!”

While I doubt God really did that, it’s a perfect introduction to today’s topic: authority.

When I think back to my own childhood, I can remember asking, “Who gave you permission?” to do something. Maybe you’ve said, “Who put you in charge?” or even, “Who made you God?”

As we’ve been looking at the life and teachings of Jesus—our example, the one we follow, the whole purpose of First Alliance Church—we’re blessed to be able to eavesdrop on some of his conversations. As we saw last week, they’re not always cordial! When he finds the sacred temple in Jerusalem turned into something of a shopping mall, he expresses his anger—without sinning—in words and deeds. Although he addressed inappropriate behavior, he was especially confronting the wicked hearts of the religious leaders who—consequently—wanted to have him killed. The crucifixion on Good Friday was no accident. It was all part of God’s plan to seek and save humanity.

Before we look at today’s text in Mark chapter eleven, I want to declare

Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived. He studied and knew the Jewish Bible, amazed the religious teachers when he was only twelve years old (Luke 2:47), and the first chapter of this gospel or “good news” of Mark told us

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (Mark 1:22)

Ouch…for the teachers of the law!
Jesus possessed authority. Not only were his words filled with truth and wisdom, they came with authority.
If you have truth but no authority, you’re like a little boy trying to direct traffic at a busy intersection. Good luck!

If you have authority with no truth, you’re likely to be corrupt and act unjustly.

Truth and authority, however, is a powerful combination that can lead to transformation.

We need authority in our world. Without it, we’d have chaos. Imagine if drivers were allowed to drive as fast and reckless as they desired without any threat from police (or speed cameras!). How could we have March Madness without a little authority from the refs in the striped shirts? What would happen in the home or school if children did as they pleased? Imagine a workplace with no boss to enforce the employee handbook. It would be anarchy before long.

There’s a popular saying in our culture from Rich Remender which says, “There is no authority but yourself.” How long can civilization survive with that mantra?

We’re told in the book of Romans,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)

God is the ultimate authority. Jesus is God. Therefore, Jesus has the ultimate authority. This word, authority, in the original Greek is exousia (ex-oo-see-ah). It means jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength, …authority.

Let’s look at our text for today in Mark chapter eleven.

They arrived again in Jerusalem, and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:27-28)

They’re challenging Jesus. We learned last week they were afraid of Jesus because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. They wanted to do anything possible to discredit him…including killing him. In modern terms, they were probably saying, “Who do you think you are, God or something?”

One of Jesus’ favorite tools was to respond to a question with a question.

Jesus replied,
“I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Mark 11:29)

One question. That’s reasonable, right?

John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”
(Mark 11:30)

Zinger! If you don’t understand the question, don’t worry. Mark explains.

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin’ …” (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) (Mark 11:31-32)

Jesus set them up. Remember, he’s the smartest man who ever lived! More than an intellectual argument, he was really concerned about their hearts. He knew they were up to no good.

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
(Mark 11:33a)

At least they were honest!

Jesus said,
“Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” (Mark 11:33b)

Jesus sounds a little snarky, doesn’t he? That’s not very nice, Jesus. But perhaps it was necessary to get their attention…or get them even more riled up to kill him!

Jesus possessed authority in heaven and on earth.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:16-18)   

Followers of King Jesus are under his authority.

This might be the primary difference between the world and Christians. The world will always act like the world. They’ll do what they want…or what they can get away with.

Followers of Jesus submit…to God’s authority. Paul wrote,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

You don’t have to like everything in the Bible, but by definition, followers obey. We are told to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. In other words, we die to ourselves, our agendas, our sin and seek first God’s Kingdom, His will, His ways.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)   

We are under the authority of King Jesus who then said,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   

We call this the Great Commission because they are the instructions Jesus gave to his followers before leaving earth, ascending into heaven. It’s our mandate, our purpose, our mission.

John records these powerful words from Jesus:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:15-21)

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
(John 14:22)

Jesus replied,
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. (John 14:23-24)

In this passage, Jesus declares his authority comes from the Father. He also repeatedly states love equals obedience.

If you love me, keep my commands.
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.

Do you love Jesus? Do you really love Jesus? If so, we need to obey his commands. While the two greatest are general—love God and love your neighbor as yourself—the Great Commission brings some clarity, some specificity.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)   

This is the assignment. Jesus has the authority—all authority—and this is what he does with it. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations.

What does that mean? Ultimately, it means
we are to become followers of Jesus who help others become followers of Jesus. We are to live like Jesus, become like Jesus, and guide others to Jesus.

There are two parts to this idea of discipleship. First, we are to live like Jesus. It begins with surrender. There are no shortcuts. It’s a daily rhythm of dying to yourself and seeking first God’s Kingdom. This is especially hard in our culture where we’re bombarded by messages from social media, billboards, and nearly omnipresent advertising about how it’s all about us. But it’s not! The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It’s not about our desires, our rights, our pleasure. I’m not saying self care is wrong, but self-worship is!

Satanism is a real thing. Its essence is not the worship of satan as some believe, but the worship of self. Here’s a quote from a website about Satanism:

“…instead of relying on some moral code meant for those who belong to religion, the Satanist is free to choose who they will love or who deserves their punishment. This places the satanist at the center of their own world, their own universe with the self being the most important aspect of all.” (

Our culture is obsessed with self worship. It’s as old as satan himself, the prideful one who began his tempting spree with Eve and Adam in the Garden. He told Eve,

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5)

It’s the top two commandments again: no other gods, no idols (Exodus 20). Who’s the leader of your life? Who’s in charge? What drives your decisions? What inspires your words, your budget, your social media activity, your calendar? Most people do what they want to do with little regard for others and less regard for God. That’s why any talk of restraint, self-control, obedience, submission, or discipline is met with horror and disdain. We all want to be gods! We all want it our way! Tragically, I don’t think people inside the church are often all that different from the world. We just follow what everyone else is doing to “keep up with the Joneses” and fit in.

But that’s not the way of Jesus. That’s not discipleship. That’s not what it means to live under God’s authority. I know this sounds harsh. I know sounds radical. It is! While it may make you feel uncomfortable, I will make you a promise:
you will ultimately not regret following Jesus.

Jesus is the smartest human ever. You’re not. Sorry!
Jesus is the wisest human ever. Not even Solomon can claim that.
Jesus is the most powerful human ever. He has all authority. Our president doesn’t.

is God. He didn’t try to self-actualize or evolve into a god. He is God. Capital G!

And he is good. His ways are good. His life is good. His teachings are good. His love is good. He is the only one worth following in this world.

In our current culture, authenticity is the new authority. The constant message is let your emotions dictate your actions. Do what feels right. Get what you want. It’s all about you. Be true to yourself. You do you. Speak your truth. Tragically, we often do what we think others want, what will get the most likes on social media, what is trending. Popularity won’t last! Following your momentary emotions and desires will not lead you to lasting happiness.

Your authentic self is who you were
created to become. You were made by God, for God, and for God’s glory. God was not made by you for your glory!

We all need an external guide in order to experience human flourishing. We need something to build our lives upon. We need the rock of Jesus Christ, the one true authority who loves us, proved it, the way, the truth, and the life who will lead us into all truth, all peace, all joy. We need Jesus!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

House Cleaning, 14 March 2021

House Cleaning
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 11:12-26

Series Big Idea:
Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus wasn’t always “nice,” but he never sinned.

When you think of Jesus, what comes to mind? What does he look like? What kind of voice does he have? How would you describe his personality?

For two thousand years, peoples from various cultures and civilizations have depicted him a number of ways.

As a boy, I always envisioned Jesus as being nice. Would he kill a mosquito? Raise his voice? Get angry? Criticize someone? Of course not! He’s nice Jesus…or is he?

We are told in scripture that Jesus—our perfect example of what it means to be human—never sinned. This is more than a trivial point since only a perfect sacrifice could pay the price for our sins, our failures, our offenses.

Paul wrote,

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Peter, referencing Isaiah 53:9, said,

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22)

John affirms this truth:

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

Before we look at today’s text as we continue our study of the book of Mark, it’s essential for us to see Jesus as perfect, as committing no sin. Jesus and his disciples were in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. If you’re really observant, you may have noticed we skipped the beginning of Mark chapter eleven, the account of Palm Sunday which we’ll cover on Palm Sunday in two weeks.

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. (Mark 11:12)

This is a reasonable situation. We’ve all been hungry. Jesus knows hunger, too.

Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. (Mark 11:13)

Jesus, you don’t pick apples in March. You don’t pick pumpkins in December. You don’t pick figs in April when the fruit doesn’t arrive until May.

Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:14)

That’s not a “nice” thing to say to a tree! Is it the tree’s fault that Jesus wanted figs out of season? Remember, Jesus never sinned, yet this is a moment of conflict, perhaps of anger. This is not something Mr. Rogers would ever do!

But to truly understand the account, we need to back up. Why would Mark begin this text telling us about a fig tree? In the Old Testament, a fig tree was sometimes used as a symbol for the nation of Israel. This is essentially a parable. The tree looked alive, but it was barren. Israel and its religious leaders similarly looked good on the outside, yet they were corrupt, they lacked faith, and they produced no good fruit for God. Like modern Christians who have Bible knowledge but demonstrate no love toward others, they are spiritually barren.
Jesus confronts loveless religion…and he will pay a dear price for it.

We’ll come back to the fig tree in a moment.

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. (Mark 11:15-16)

This is definitely not a nice thing to do! He is full-blown furious…but why? Does he feel personally violated? Is he protecting his own selfish interests? Is he offended for his own sake?

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.’” (Mark 11:17)

Jesus’ concern is for his Father’s glory, his Father’s house. We were made by God, for God, and for God's glory. That's the bottom line of our mission statement and it's the bottom line of life as a follower of Jesus—God's glory. Jesus says in the book of John,

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)

He repeats the thought in the very next chapter.

For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

In the book of John, this phrase “who sent me” is spoken by Jesus 23 times! He was on a mission from God, literally, even as Jesus himself is God, one third of what we call the Trinity, one God in three Persons.

It’s one thing to be angry when someone offends us, but it’s something else entirely when we are looking out for the best interest of others. We
should be angry about sex trafficking. We should be angry about racism. We should be angry about injustice, murder, child abuse, domestic violence, and other evils that plague our world.

Jesus was not always nice. The temple which was constructed for the worship of God had become something of a shopping mall for people to sell overpriced animals for religious sacrifices. The Passover was big business for these merchants…and we all know what happens to people when they lose their jobs. It’s not a pretty picture.

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.’” (Mark 11:17)

Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. Instead of making room for non-Jews (who were not allowed in the central sanctuary) to pray and worship God, it became a market for greedy merchants. Religion became big business.

Once again, the response of the religious leaders is the opposite of the crowd.

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. (Mark 11:18)

The people love Jesus, while the insecure chief priests and teachers of the law are threatened by his popularity…so much so that they plot to kill him! That’s radical envy and jealousy!

Holy Week is right around the corner for us this year. We’ll gather here on Good Friday with The Tabernacle at 6 PM and remember the end result of these religious leaders and their quest to kill Jesus.

What have learned so far
? Jesus confronts loveless religion. He is willing to confront injustice. His agenda is not his will, but the will of the Father. He is not always nice, but always right…always righteous. After all, why would someone want to kill a person who is merely “nice?”

Listen to the words of N.T. Wright:

The purpose of the Temple was to be the place of sacrifice. Hour by hour worshippers came to the Temple, changed money into the official coinage, bought animals that were guaranteed perfect for sacrifice (if you brought an animal from some distance, there was a good chance it might be attacked on the way and so no longer be a perfect specimen, able to be sacrificed), and brought them to the priests who completed the killing and offering. The sacrificial system, and with it the reason for the Temple’s existence, depended on money-changing and animal purchase. By stopping the entire process, even just for a short but deeply symbolic moment, Jesus was saying, more powerfully than any words could express: the Temple is under God’s judgment. Its reason for existing is being taken away.

The Temple was the most epic of all places in the Jewish world. It was where God resided, in the Holy of Holies behind a curtain. It was sacred space, yet it had become contaminated by people lusting after money and power.

N.T. Wright adds,

The sacrificial system was therefore doubly redundant. It was part of the Temple system which had come to stand for the wrong things; it was part of the signpost system set up by God to draw the eye to the climactic achievement of Jesus himself on the cross.

But our story is not over.

When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:19)

Thus ends their day!

In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. (Mark 11:20)

The tree was not withered the day before. It was merely out of season for fruit.

Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:21)

Why did it wither? It’s a reminder of God’s judgment on Israel (Isaiah 34:4; Joel 1:7-12; Amos 4:9). It’s a picture of what happens when people lose their faith in God, putting it, instead, in money and power.

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. (Mark 11:22)

The object of our faith must never be money or power, religion or politics, people or possessions.
Our faith must be in God and God alone.

“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. (Mark 11:23)

We’ve been given power and authority as followers of Jesus. This does not mean God is a genie in a bottle who will grant us our every wish. It does not mean if we have enough faith we’ll be rich and happy. Rather, Jesus is stating the power of prayer when we seek first His Kingdom, not our own. When we set aside our agendas and pursue God’s will, we can be confident it will be done.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

Some faith healers and prosperity gospel preachers have taken this verse out of context. Jesus has just confronted the sin of religion…in a not-so-nice way. Like the prophets of old, he is announcing God’s judgment upon those who have lost their first love and corrupted the entire Jewish faith.

Prayer is powerful when we pray according to God’s will. Faith in Jesus is greater than any religious structure, nation, or temple. But we need more than faith. We need to forgive.

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25)

As Tony Evans notes, “Unrepentant sin blocks God’s power.” We all sin. It’s what we do with our sin that matters. Are we proud of our sins? Do we rationalize away our failures? Do we hold grudges against others?

There’s one additional verse found in some ancient manuscripts and absent in others. This is one of a small number of differences which are notable and yet insignificant to the message of the text. The New King James Version includes verse 26.

But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:26, NKJV)

So What?

I’ve been accused of being too nice. I know that sounds like one of those strengths disguised as a weakness, but there are times when we must confront others…in love. Love is not always nice. One thing I used to tell my kids when I disciplined them is, “I love you too much to let you get away with this behavior.” Their actions were harmful to themselves and/or others.

In a similar way, God disciplines us because He loves us. He cannot tolerate sin. He would bring judgment upon the Jews for their idolatry and abandonment of the true purpose of the Temple. As I said last month, it all goes back to the first two commandments in Exodus 20: no other gods and no idols. Yet it’s so easy to get distracted by our culture. We’ve seen in recent days so-called Christians embracing nationalism, misogyny, partisan politics, and sexism while covering up racism, abuse, and immorality.

This past week I heard two different authors talk about how Christians have used Jesus' anger in the Temple to justify their outlandish behavior on social media. May it never be! The scene may have been part of God's sovereign plan leading to the crucifixion. Remember, Jesus never sinned. His anger was righteous and selfless. He forgave the very people he confronted. He was not defending an ideology, political party, or politician, but rather the heart of God. We are to speak up for those who have no voice, but demanding our rights is not how we love our neighbor well…or how we love God well.

At the dawn of the Christian Church in Acts 2:42,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

That’s a picture of the Kingdom of God. It’s radical. It’s counter-cultural. It’s selfless and others-centered…God-centered. It welcomes everyone. It’s all about Jesus.

It’s Jesus we’re studying throughout this series. He wasn’t always nice, but he always loved well. He lived a perfect life and never sinned.

It’s Jesus we worship, both for who he is and for what he has done for us by being the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, offering forgiveness to anyone who repents and follows him.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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