Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Nov 2, Mk 11, Jn 12

Today's readings are Mk 11, Jn 12. Tomorrow's are Mt 22, Mk 12. 

Mk 11 gives us a few details on the Triumphal Entry that are not in the other gospels. The disciples are sent to get a donkey for Jesus to ride on (Mk 11:1-6). There is the curious exchange between the disciples and the people standing near the donkey. Is something supernatural happening or was the borrowing of the donkey prearranged? Do the people standing near the donkey know of Jesus and approve? Has Jesus made these arrangements beforehand? The text doesn't say. We should be careful not to make assumptions about how and why some things occur they way they are depicted.  However, we should be thankful that God provides in any way He chooses whether it be by miraculous knowledge or by wise and prudent preparations for the future. In this case, we know this for certain, God provides a symbolic ride on which His Son will enter Jerusalem. Jesus arriving on a donkey would denote that He comes in peace.

In Mk 11:12-14, Jesus curses a fig tree. Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is repeatedly compared to a fig tree. This particular tree is described as "in leaf". In other words, it is very close to producing fruit but not yet ready. It looks good but is not yet productive. What is intended here is a condemnation of Israel, who looks good and is close to producing spiritual fruit but will soon reject Jesus Christ. Their rejection will make it impossible to produce the fruit they are designed to produce, the truth of God and His plan for redemption.

Immediately after cursing the fig tree, Jesus cleanses the temple (Mk 11:15-18). Note the progression between the fig tree and the temple cleansing. Israel has two primary spiritual problems. She is producing no fruit of  any eternal value and she is spiritually unclean. In the parable of the fig tree and in the temple cleansing we see judgment falling on Israel. She is not producing the fruit she was designed to produce and the temple is not being used they way it was designed to be used. 

The next day, the fig tree is withered and incapable of producing fruit. Israel is close but will not bear the fruit it should. The prophetic judgment is sealed based on Israel's decision to turn away from Jesus. 

Jesus does not appear to address Peter's acknowledgement of the withered tree but instead begins to teach (Mk 11:22-25). His teaching is about faith and prayer, perhaps addressing the withered fig tree, after all, and what can be learned from it. 

The core of the teaching is that the difficulties of life (mountains) can be removed through prayer and faith. This is not a secret formula for success or a way to get our prayers answered regardless of what they may be. Neither is it a method similar to, "If I can just work up enough faith, I'll get what I pray for!" The teaching in this passage is an encouragement to pray more frequently and intimately, entering into a deeper relationship with God by spending more focused time with Him. 

However, this teaching does not stand alone. It must become part of and harmonize with the overall narrative of the Bible. One of the things Scripture has shown us is that God reveals Himself in and through His word. So we see a relationship between prayer, the word and knowing God. The deeper we go into both, the better we know God. As we are diligent to do this, our prayers become more than telling our wants and needs to God. They begin to line up with His character and nature. When they do, we find that those God-centered prayers are answered and blessed more frequently than praying apart form the word or reading the word apart from praying. 

This fits in with Mark's narrative in that Israel was failing to be God-centered in its prayer and practice of godly living. Her prayers and practice had become increasingly self-centered. God will not bless them. Indeed, Jesus curses both their prayers and their practices. The path to answered prayers and rewarded practice is in knowing God, His Son and His word so intimately that they form and inhabit our prayers to such an extent that we pray His will and His word more than we pray our will and our desires. 

Hearing all this, a challenge rises up from the three most influential sectors of Jewish culture: the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. These groups comprise the Sanhedrin.

 As the cross looms near, Jn 12 relates Mary's anointing of Jesus for burial. With mounting opposition to Jesus, Mary, Martha and Lazarus exhibit devotion to Him that puts all they own and even their lives at risk. Meanwhile, Judas is more concerned with himself and his own welfare. Taken in context with the story of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple, Judas is, in a way, what represents everything that is wrong with Israel while Mary and her devotion represents all that is right with the faithful followers of Jesus.  The remarks Jesus makes about the poor are not an indictment on poor people. They are an encouragement to keep priorities aligned properly. 

We find the reason for the excitement of the crowd during the triumphal entry in Jn 12:18. Jesus had raised Lazarus. The crowd ran after Him because of what He was doing, not who He was. Their hope that He would do something similar for them is revealed in their chants of "Hosanna!" which translate into "Save us, now!" It will soon become clear that they are not crying out for eternal salvation. But for deliverance from the Romans. They're not looking for eternal security, but to be delivered from their worldly circumstances. Their desire for their troubles to be removed is interfering with what they
need most desperately. 

Jesus seems to ignore a group of Greeks that want to see Him (Jn 12:21-22). Instead, He launches into a teaching about the coming crucifixion (Jn 12:23-50). Belief in Him will assure eternal life. Rejecting Him will bring eternal condemnation. The crowd rejects this truth in spite of the signs He's done. This is proof that they are looking for what He can do for them rather than who He is. They don't want a spiritual savior who will deliver them from their sins. They want a political, material savior who will bring power and prosperity. 

Perhaps addressing the Greeks who are apparently still standing nearby, Jesus says He has come to save the world (Jn 12:44-50). Whoever believes in Him, even these Greeks, believes in God the Father and will be saved. This is a clear statement that He is not there just for the Jews, but for all who believe in Him. His mission is not to bring political victory, but salvation.

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