Holy Monday | Part 1

As we enter the Easter week it will profit us immensely to examine what the Scriptures have to say about Jesus’ ministry during this week. How did he occupy his time?

    In Mark 11:11 we are told that after Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday he went up to the temple. Since it was already late he left the city for Bethany (where his good friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived). In vrs 12 of our text we are clearly told what occupied Jesus’ time on that first Holy Monday. He returned to the temple and proceeded to cleanse it.
  2. READ MARK 11:12-25
    This passage of Scripture is a classic example of a literary technique that is common to Mark’s gospel. Commentators call it a Markan Sandwich? A sandwich has two slices of bread and then there is a filling which is what makes the sandwich really interesting. A Markan sandwich is when Mark starts with one story, then switches to another before returning to the first story again. A good example is Mark 5:21-43. In 5:21-23 we start to read about Jairus’s daughter. Then the focus shifts to the healing of a sick woman in vrs 24-34, before we return to Jairus’ daughter again in vrs 35-43. In our text today the two pieces of bread are the cursing of the fig tree in vrs 12-14 and vrs 20, 21. The filling of the sandwich is the cleaning of the temple in vrs 15-19.

a) The Cursing of the Fig Tree (vrs 12-14; 20-21).
We are told that Jesus was hungry and saw a fig tree in leaf. He went to see if it had any fruit but was disappointed. He said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” The next day according to vrs 20 the disciples direct Jesus to the withered tree; Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Many people are uncomfortable with this whole episode. They say that it could never possibly have happened because it depicts Jesus behaving like a spoiled brat. You have seen kids in shops at the cashiers. The child asks for a chocolate and mom when mom refuses throws a tantrum. “Jesus would not display such petulance would he?” They miss the whole point. Even though it was not the season for figs this tree had leaves and therefore promised fruit but there was none to be had. In the scriptures the fig tree is a symbol for Israel (Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1). In vrs 11 Jesus had gone up to the temple and looked around. Now he is inspecting a tree. Clearly, he is looking for something from the nation of Israel. He was looking for the fruit of righteousness and worship. Would he find that which he desired? The answer is found in the sandwich filling in vrs 15-19.

b) The Cleaning of the Temple (vrs 15-19).
In vrs 15, 16 the courts that are being refereed to is the Court of the Gentiles. The Passover was just a few days away and the population of Jerusalem could quadruple. The Jewish historian, Josephus says that in the year AD 65, 255 600 sheep were offered. Make no mistake there were lots of leaves on the fig tree of Israel’s spiritual life. But on closer inspection there was no fruit of any lasting value. This becomes clear in vrs 15, 16. On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area 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, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. The temple courts should have been used for spiritual purposes; “a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:6-8) had degenerated into “a den of robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11). During the coronavirus lockdown period many firms are being investigated for price gouging (raising prices of goods to unreasonable amounts). The same thing was happening in the temple of Jesus’ day. Priests were cashing in on Passover worshippers. Why were there doves and animals in the temple courts? It was highly unlikely that people travelling long distances would bring a lamb or pair of doves with them all the way to Jerusalem. Of course there were loads of sacrificial animals on sale within the temple precincts at a grossly inflated price. The worshippers were being fleeced. Why were there money changers in the temple courts? According to Exodus 30 every male worshipper had to pay a half shekel in temple tax. Of course the temple authorities refused to allow foreign money. Coins from Rome, Greece, Egypt and Phoenicia were not acceptable because the head of a king on the back was considered to be an idolatrous image. Foreign money had to be exchanged for local money and for this a hefty fee was charged. Usually these markets were set up on the Mount of Olives but the High Priest, Caiaphas had recently authorized the use of the Court of Gentiles as an alternative. The priests were benefiting financially. In Matthew 21:15 the Pharisees were indignant that children shouted; “Hosanna to the Son of David” in the temple area. This was considered to be blasphemous. But they were unconcerned that God’s House had become a dishonest business house. The place which God had intended Gentiles to come to and pray in quietness had been transformed into a zoo and stock exchange rolled into one. Make no mistake. The religious tree of Israel at the time of Jesus had much foliage but no fruit – just like the fig tree. By bracketing this temple encounter with the cursing of the fig tree Mark is making a simple statement. Just as the fig tree withered as a result of his judgment so too would the temple because of the empty religiosity that occurred there. Forty years after Jesus cursed the fig tree, God’s judgment fell on the city and its temple so that not one stone would be left on top of another. If Jesus Christ passed through our homes today he may well see lots of green leaves which promised much fruit. On closer inspection will he find the spiritual fruit he longs for? The same Lord that looked for fruit from Israel in Mark 11 desires to see individual believers and churches bear fruit for his glory. We end with a humorously thought provoking poem by Arthur Guterman (1871-1943) called, Our New Religion.

First dentistry was painless.
Then bicycles were chainless,
Carriages were horseless,
And many laws enforceless.

Next cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless,
And coffee caffeineless.

Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy was hatless,
The proper diet fatless.

New motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religion — godless.