V. Jerusalem and Jesus’s Passion & Closing Thoughts

(Mark 11-16)

 

Activity 1: When was the last time you were so hungry that you got so cranky ?

 

Chapter 11

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. 15 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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 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.’ ” 18 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. 19 When evening came, they went out of the city. 20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.

 

The fig tree story is one of those things that Jesus did that is hard to understand on a first reading. The first instinct would be to say, “Man, Jesus was really cranky!” Mark even writes that it was not even the season for the fig trees to bear fruit. There was no greenhouse back then, so what was Jesus thinking? Jesus was hungry, he sees a tree, walks up to it thinking that it has food, sees that it has none because it’s not the right season, then he curses the tree to its permanent death. This doesn’t sound like Jesus who is supposed to be patient and in control. But then Jesus was also a man, so did Jesus sin by doing this? The questions could go on forever…

A commentator, Craig A. Evans suggests a very believable scenario of what really happened in this odd passage. According to the commentator, Mark sandwiches a story of Jesus’s famous temple cleansing scene with two halves of the fig tree story. The sandwiching suggests that the fig tree story was theologically meant to go with the story in between (the story of temple cleansing). Evans believes that the Temple’s time was up and it was not bearing any fruit, though it had the appearance of a healthy ministry (many leaves). Jesus then cleanses the temple because it was found unclean and ineffective in producing the fruits of genuine God’s love in people who worshipped there.

As a side note:

The commentator couples this interpretation with the tearing of the veil in Mark 15:38 at the moment of Jesus’s death on the cross. The Temple’s primary reason for existence was to house physically the very presence of God among the people because only the Holy of Holies was a fit place for the God’s presence to dwell before Jesus’s time. Without it, what’s the Temple for?  Everything surrounding the Holy of Holies at the center of the Temple existed because God dwelled there. By tearing the veil in half, the primary purpose of the Temple was diminished and Jesus brings in a new era of God’s presence in the form of the Holy Spirit in every believer (Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 2 P.160-161). Of course, no one knows for sure if this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he cursed the fig tree, but this is a very convincing interpretation and likely motive for the cursing, isn’t it?

 

Activity 2: If you could only ask one thing, what is one thing that you really want from someone you really care about? Or if you are a parent, what is one thing that you really want from your children?

 

Paying Taxes to Caesar

12:13-17

13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.

The Greatest Commandment

12:28-34

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

 

The first two stories about taxes and marriage show us the old way of being God’s people—following a specific set of law which tells you whether you obeyed God or not which in turn tells you if you are on God’s side or the evil one’s side. Jesus teaches them by showing them the principle behind the laws rather than more specific laws.

To the person asking about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus shows that every person should discern for him/herself what belongs to God and what belongs to temporal rulers. In another word, stay pure and be set apart to receive God’s holiness, but do what is required to live in peace with others around you because our battle is not of flesh but of the spiritual nature as Paul wrote (Ephesians 6:12).

If anyone, teachers of the law (Bible scholars) and Pharisees (priests and ministers) believed that burnt offerings and sacrifices were the hallmarks of being a good Jew. So, for a teacher of the law to admit that loving God and neighbors come first is a huge and risky confession, especially in public. To the people who were so accustomed to following a specific set of laws concerning one’s living relationship with God, Jesus simply reminds them of the principle and the reason behind all the laws.

 

Activity 3: What if Jesus was Chinese? What kind of food would he have eaten at a supper table?

The Lord’s Supper

14:12-26

12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. 14 Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large upper room, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me–one who is eating with me.” 19 They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I?” 20 “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. 21 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” 23 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.” 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Catholic Christian believe that the bread and wine actually turn into the real body of Jesus Christ when they partake in Eucharist (Communion). Most Protestant Christians reject this practice because such claim is not explicitly supported by the text—at least the Protestants claim so. What if Jesus picked up the bread and wine just because they were on the table? In another words, what if for some reason Jesus picked up some other food/drink item, say figs, olives, water etc.? Could we say that the “point” of sharing bread and wine with others is to remember Jesus Christ’s body which was broken and blood that was shed for our sins? Let’s take a look at what happened to the early church’s practice of the Lord’s supper:

1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The Lord’s Supper

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

 

Here in the Corinthians passage, we see how early Christians misunderstood Jesus’s point surrounding the bread and the wine. Before we judge them too quick, let’s pause for a second. Paul is criticizing them for focusing on the food too much and forgetting to be mindful of others and the meaning of the food (bread and wine among other things) they share. But notice how their fellowship of having meal together was inseparable from what we call today “the Holy Communion.” It seems that they were one and the same. Do we ever get too full or get drunk during the communion in the middle of the service today? Never, because most Protestant churches have separated the communion from the fellowship of meal and simplified it to a tiny piece of bread and grape juice which we take (gravely) in the middle of a service. They are still holy and they are still good reminders for what Jesus did for us. Yet, we are also missing something when sharing a meal with other Christians no longer means remembering Jesus Christ’s body and blood and his sacrifice on the cross. Maybe the words that ministers say right before the communion could be said before every meal we partake with other Christians. What do you think?

After all, discipleship is more about sharing life together while remembering Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection than it is about instituting more rituals that have to be done in certain ways (see the comment on the Greatest Commandment)

 

Activity 4: Who are the ‘nobody’s of our society?

Chapter 15

The Death of Jesus

33 At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “”Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? “”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36 One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said. 37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

The Burial of Jesus

42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. 46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Chapter 16

The Resurrection

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 9 When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. 14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

 

The Roman centurion is the first recorded pagan to make the confession of Jesus’s true identity after his death on the cross. According to Mark, women standing afar from the cross were the last of the followers who were present at Jesus’s death after all abandoned him. Where were the twelve disciples? Mark does not say. Mary Magdalene whom Mark does not forget to add a reminder of (that she had seven demons before she met Jesus) was the first one to see the resurrected Jesus. When Jesus appears to the disciples in the middle of their meal, he rebukes them and commands them to do God’s work. Just as Jesus chose the twelve in their second-class life and made them great (see the first post in this series), Jesus once again chose the bottom dwellers of the society to rebuke the strong. As aspiring disciples of Jesus Christ, we are always humbled by those who look up to us in this world. The good news is that when we are that ‘nobody-s’ of this world, God will raise us up once again to be humble servants.

 

Departing thought:

To be a Jesus’s talmid (disciple, singular), is to follow in his footstep with other talmidim (disciples) who also follow Jesus. Great teachers or rabbi are rare, but they exist and we should consider every opportunity given to us (Bible study, intentional fellowship, discipleship groups, and other ministries) to model the intensity and devotion of Jesus’s disciples and able Bible teachers of our world. Even after being trained by Jesus himself, it was hard for the twelve to follow Jesus. Yet, the Holy Spirit who is the great “Comforter” (John 14:26 KJV) and “Advocate” (NIV) has been sent to us to help us along the way. The Arabic word ‘Talib’ means a student or a seeker (especially that of Islam)—the name unfortunately made famous by ‘Taliban’ for their misguided zeal for God. And we already looked at the intensity of experiential learning that the Hebrew word ‘Talmid’ suggests (see the first post on discipleship in Jesus’s time). This is the kind of battle and the kind of learning that Christians are charged with. We should be aware of the meaning of discipleship when we so easily attach the word ‘disciple’ to ourselves and use the word ‘discipleship’ to mean easy going fellowship of fun and entertainment with other Christians. It is time for us to understand the gravity as well as the power and joy that accompany the way of our Rabbi and Lord Jesus Christ. Are we ready to be a talmid of Jesus Christ?