Sunday, October 31, 2010

Authority! – Mark 11:27-33

Authority! – Mark 11:27-33
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 31, 2010 AM

From the time we are born, until the time we leave this earth, some of us will go kicking and screaming. The reason is we have a problem with authority. We think either we are in control or that we should be in control, when in fact neither is true. Perhaps this is why some of us need to be smacked right away on our bottoms when we are born! There are those who will spend their entire lives trying to be in authority. I have met college professors who thought that simply because they had earned a PhD they were to be respected and thought of as an authority. Sadly, these professors were usually the most detrimental in their teaching and garnered the least amount of respect.

The question concerning authority, who has it and who does not have it, has been around since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided they were in control. And here is the truth of the matter: We decide who or what is going to be the spiritual authority in our lives. We chose and no one else decides for us. Questioning God’s authority is nothing new, as I stated earlier, even Jesus faced those who questioned his authority to do some of the things he did. Let’s look this morning at the issue of authority and discover what it means for our lives in Christ.

READ: Mark 11:27-33

Rebellion has its roots in questioning authority. In fact, we need to understand that…

I. Those in sin always question authority! (27-28)

1. “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) These religious rulers were more concerned for the continued wealth that was garnered from the payments the temple and its minions received from the buying and selling of sacrificial animals, than the spiritual health of the nation. They had grown rich from the exchange of money into the temple coinage. Jesus had the audacity to confront them publicly. He had exposed their hypocrisy and thereby embarrassed them in front of the dutiful dimwitted crowds that had gotten used to doing things their way. People who have become compliant spiritual sheep will always allow ungodliness to corrupt the things of God. These teachers of the law knew that nowhere in the laws that God had given Moses were they supposed to buy and sell in the temple. Nowhere did God say they could grow rich by adding taxes or fees for the exchange. These ungodly policies during Jesus’ day were inventions of sinful men who were more interested in worldly gain than keeping the temple a place devoted to the worship of God. Like spoiled children who are confronted, these flawed phonies got mad instead of repenting. “Who died and made you boss?” is their basic complaint. Those in sin always question authority.

EXAMPLE: Personal security comes from intrinsically knowing who is in control and why. Ask any child. They immediately want to know who is in charge. When children are confused about the authority in their lives, they begin to act out of insecurity. Whether it is a nation, a business or a family there has to be someone who is in charge. This is why God made husbands the head of the household, why children are to obey their parents, why pastors are to be subject to the church under Christ, and why Christians are to be servants of the Lord. When we question the authority God has placed on our lives, we show our insecurity. In fact, we show our rebellion and rebellion comes from spiritual insecurity. Spiritual strength, peace, and comfort come from giving God control of our lives. Sin comes when we try to wrest from God his rightful place of authority. Those in sin always question authority!

Confidence comes from knowing how little or how much authority you have. In fact, we need to remember that…

II. Those who are in authority know it! (29-30)

1. “Jesus replied, ‘I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism--was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’” (Mark 11:29-30) And people dispute that Jesus was never sarcastic. Jesus knew exactly by whose authority he did the things he did – his own! God had given it to him. His counter argument is a quintessential rabbinic argument. He answers by demanding they answer him instead! At first, his question to them sounds like he is trying to throw them off target and get them angry with John instead of himself. This is not the case. Jesus’ question concerning John’s baptizing in the region of the Jordan River goes to the heart of the issue. John called people to repentance. He desired that the Jews prepare themselves for the coming Messiah. John had received his ministry and mission from God. The implication of Jesus’ question is that if John’s ministry came from God, then so does his. How these ungodly examples of faith falter in answering Jesus, further exposes what they truly believed about him. Jesus knew exactly where his authority came from. Mark wrote that, “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) Jesus was completely confident in his answer because he knew where his authority came from. Those who are in authority know it!

EXAMPLE: Christians are not to be weak willies. When Jesus related that the “meek shall inherit the earth,” he didn’t mean the butterflies and baby deer, nor did he mean those who acquiesced their God-given authority in him. Christians are to be bold about their faith, strong in what they believe, and never take a backseat to heresy or ungodliness! Can you imagine Jesus going to the temple, banging a tambourine, and then crying out, “People! People, let’s come to a consensus here, shall we? You give a little and I will give a little and we can meet one another in the middle, okay?” Perhaps if Jesus had dialogued with the Sanhedrin or Pilate, then they could have all got together and sang, “Kumbaya!” There is no way Jesus would nor could have done such a thing. He did what he did because he knew who he was! Sadly, too many folks who call themselves “Christian” have no idea what it means, nor who Jesus is! Paul would remind us, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10) Christians have the “fullness of Christ” in every way. Paul would relate that our salvation “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age… eager to do what is good… Encourage and rebuke with all authority.” (Titus 2:11-15) Why? Because those who are in authority know it!

The problem the world faces is one of authority. In fact, folks have forgotten that…

III. God has the authority! (31-33)

1. “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, “From men”...’ (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.) So they answered Jesus, ‘We don't know.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’” (Mark 11:31-33) I love Jesus’ answer here! These scheming little miscreants knew they were wrong! They knew their questioning of Jesus was baseless and thereby totally ungodly. They had only wanted to justify their own immoral behavior and perhaps trap Jesus so they could find a way to discredit or kill him. Sadly, unbeknown to them, they had really told the truth: They didn’t know where John’s baptism was from! How could they? They were completely unrepentant and thought they were justified in blinking the people of their money through ill-gotten means. Spiritual ignorance is no excuse! And justified spiritual ignorance is worse! They should have known the answer, they should have never asked the question, and they should have known who Jesus was and recognized him as the Messiah! Jesus would later remind his followers “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) Earlier in Jesus’ ministry when they had asked him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24) Jesus would bluntly reply, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:25-30) Those who follow Jesus know God has the authority for their lives. Jesus is God and he knew that God has the authority!

EXAMPLE: There in a nutshell is the problem many have in accepting Jesus as their Savior and Lord – they have to give up their perceived “authority.” They actually think they control their lives! Nothing could be further from the truth! When I was in the Naval Reserves undergoing training to abandon ship during a fire drill, one guy constantly trashed around in the water. Consequently, he sank. The drill instructors would yell at him to relax, but to no avail. Finally, they threw him a life preserver. He then had to choose to put it on, relax, and allow it to float him safely in the water. The same applies to our lives in Christ. We have to choose to accept Jesus as our authority, put him on, and daily float or rather walk in him. We either sink or swim concerning Jesus’ authority in our lives. During the last Passover Jesus celebrated with his followers, he washed their feet. Peter objected. Jesus bluntly tells Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8) It was a question of authority. Ask yourself, “Who has authority in my life?” We would do well to remember that God has the authority and not us.

We learned several important truths concerning authority today: 1) those in sin always question authority, 2) those who are in authority know it, and 3) God has the authority! How do you view God’s authority this morning?
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Have Faith in God - Mark 11:22-26

Have Faith in God - Mark 11:22-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 24, 2010 AM

We find that what many people believe about their spirituality is often influenced in unorthodox ways. Sadly, in the movie “Hereafter”, we find one such view concerning life, death, and the afterlife. It centers on three people touched by death: a reluctant physic who supposedly communicates with dead people, a woman who has a near death experience with a tsunami, and a London schoolboy who loses his twin brother in a freak accident. People often wonder what happens to them after they die it is one of life’s ultimate questions. People also long to communicate in some way with deceased loved ones. While mourning is different for each person, and thinking we can communicate with the dead can help some folks cope with loss, these misconceptions often allow folks to consider anything as valid. It has also created a lot of false teaching concerning faith. Christians have allowed the world to define faith for them. So much so in fact, that there is a sense that anything goes when it comes to defining faith. Christianity needs to take back defining what true faith means.

The disciples, just as we are, were products of their culture. There was a lot of misconception in Jesus’ day concerning faith. A lot of superstitions had crept into Hebraic thought and the religious of Jesus’ day were satisfied with keeping evil at bay by displaying their good works. Faith became more of custom for some and in so doing it became mundane and a requirement of life instead of what it should have been. Faith in God was replaced with ritual. Then Jesus came along and shook everything up concerning faith. Here in this passage of Mark we find Jesus teaching his disciples what it meant to have faith in God. Let’s look at what he told them…

READ: Mark 11:22-26

Far too often Christians live a weak shallow faith. They meekly come to God pleading that he might -- if it be his will -- hear their prayer. And then we are disappointed when our halfhearted mutterings are not brought to fruition. What is the problem? I believe it is a faith issue and evidently so did Jesus. We discover that…

I. Faith in God is mountain moving! (Vv. 22-23)

1. Motivation packaged in a person’s faith in Christ can do anything! Paul said it best when he reiterated this Scriptural truth by telling the Philippians “I can do everything through him (Jesus) who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) When Israel began to put more faith in human reasoning, education, or financial gain – they lost their ability to see the miracles that faith can produce and achieve. We may be guilty of doing the same. There are many who want to claim verse 23 without first realizing the important role that verse 22 plays. Jesus succinctly states, “Have faith in God.” You can live a good life, you can say you are a Christian, but until you “Have faith in God,” you are just bluffing. When Jesus proclaimed this truth, he meant having faith in Who God is what God could and can do, and his eternal purpose. This is why prophetically the fig tree and thereby Israel itself had withered. It is the faith that completely heals a person. A woman had been bleeding for 12 years and she fearfully reaches out to touch Jesus’ hem when he passes by her. He turns, finds her, and tells her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:34) Her faith moved the mountain of doubt and fear in her life. This is why Jesus tells the disciples, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Fears, pain, addiction, and sins can be moved and drowned in the sea with faith. “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27) Faith in God is mountain moving!

EXAMPLE: The little church had suffered from poor stewardship, inconsistent prayer, and faulty doctrine. They hardly knew what they believed or why. The new pastor was inexperienced but spent time in prayer believing that God desired to do more with the church than anyone could imagine. He encouraged his small flock to pray in faith, knowing that God desired to do a miracle. Early one morning he was woke up by a phone call from a larger church from down South. They desired to come to the Northwest and do a ministry and missions trip. Did his small church need any remodeling? As the pastor began to realize this call was real, he shared they needed the church painted. “No,” was the reply. “We are not interested in just painting a building, we want to come and remodel, we will send two men your way by the end of this week, can you pick them up from the airport?” Later in the week, as the pastor and the two men walked around the church, they began to discuss with him that their church would come, bring a complete building team, buy all the materials needed for the remodel, bring an outreach team and a worship team. They would do Backyard Bible Clubs, go door-to-door, work on the building and do a revival in the evenings. The tiny church received all new lighting in every room, two new bathrooms, new walls for their preschool, and reached new people for Christ. Within a month, they received a grant for new children and preschool furniture, new fellowship tables, chairs, and they painted the outside and inside of their building. Do you think mountains were moved?

It is time for “mountain moving faith” to be displayed in Christian churches again! But if you think, it is found through motivational 20-minute sermons, Holy Ghost aerobics, or three easy steps you are continually going to be disappointed. Looking for another spiritual high or an easy fix is not the answer. Faith that moves mountains is found through deliberate intimate prayer. Faith in God is always begins with prayer. Jesus teaches us that…

II. Faith in God is based in prayer! (V. 24)

1. One comes to Christ in prayer and one continues in Christ in prayer! A praying faith is not found in a repetitious mantra or in losing oneself through self-induced introspection. A Christian’s faith is found in a person not a concept. There are not three easy steps to faith through prayer. Prayer is not wishful thinking, persistent pleading, or repetitive spiritual resuscitation. Rather, prayer is the intentional conversation the servant has with his Lord. It is the deliberate trust one has in the power of God through his Son to accomplish what is humanly impossible. In an intimate faith walk the Christian is supposed to develop with his Master, you intrinsically believe that “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” How is this possible? It begins with your complete trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord. Paul would write, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) Paul had come to realize for himself that “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:10) It is the complete trust of the individual willing to come to God in prayer knowing that whatever they ask for will be done. They know it because they have already had an intimate relationship with Jesus. With your mouth, you show your trust through prayer. This is why Jesus told his disciples, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7) Faith in God is based in prayer!

EXAMPLE: You hear people say, “Prayer changes things.” But is it prayer or God that changes things? I believe it is God. We forget that prayer is not our source of power, but rather God is. When we have faith in God, we can say to a mountain “be uprooted” and it will. The problem is that too many Christians have forgotten where their true source of power is. He was known at the time as a “stoner,” the contemptuous tag given to those who lived in a constant haze of marijuana and drugs. He lived each waking moment for his next toke. Then one afternoon while sitting waiting for the county bus he found someone had left a small Bible. A marker had been placed in the third chapter of the gospel of John. Having nothing better to read or do until his bus came, he began to read. Unaware that his bus had stopped waited for him, but left when he did not move to get on. His heart was broken by the words he read: “I tell you the truth; no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) He sat there, looked around, bowed his head and prayed. He had not prayed since he was a little child, but now the words flowed freely as his tears. He gave his life to Christ. From that moment on, he was changed. A “stoner” came to the stone the builders rejected. He never looked back and now serves the Lord. Later, he learned that several of his friends had been in prayer for him at the very moment he had bowed his head in prayer. He would openly confess to you that faith in God is based in prayer!

Faith that is based on works is no faith at all. In fact, it will result in the individual always wondering if they have done enough good things. God does not work that way. We have read it and heard it from the first pages of Scripture to the last pages: the truth that God is love. If God is love then we also know that in his love he forgives. His forgiveness was and is expressed in Jesus. Faith finds its expression in forgiveness. This is why…

III. Faith in God is found in forgiveness! (Vv. 25-26)

1. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness are the three foundational truths of Christian faith! Contrast these to a world where the focus has shifted to Islamic fanaticism, hatred, and anger. More than ever, Christians need to turn the world’s attention back to the basic precept of Christ: forgiveness. No other major world religion has this as one of its core principles. The practice of prayer is simply reduced to the mutterings of the insecure unless your prayers are sincere. Prayer can only be sincere as it is filtered through the heart that is given over to Jesus Christ. The “heart” being what makes up the entire person. Forgiveness goes hand in hand with prayer, but the catalyst is found in faith. When a person dares come before the throne of grace to ask the King of Glory to hear his intense whispers, he had better be right. Many a prayer never gets passed the roof unless you have a forgiving heart toward others. This is why Jesus tells his followers that “when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” How can the Lord of Heaven forgive you when you ask if you are unwilling to forgive others? Brokenness is where a person first meets the Lord and it is in brokenness where we discover the power of prayer. Forgiveness comes from brokenness. Verse 26 is not found in most manuscripts, especially the earliest ones. In fact, it was probably placed there by those who originally did the KJV. However, it does reinforce Jesus’ words. “Divine forgiveness toward a believer and a believer’s forgiveness toward others are inseparably linked because a bond has been established between the divine Forgiver and the forgiven believer.” We would do well to remember that when the Lord returns, we may be asked, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) This is why Paul reminds believers to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) Faith in God is found in forgiveness!

EXAMPLE: She was mad because she felt others within the church judged her because of the poor choices she had continually made in her life. The deacons were frustrated because they felt like the pastor was too old and not doing his job. The pastor was torn about whether he should stay or leave thinking that the congregation could do better. The youth had lost sight of reaching their peers for Christ. The church was in complete disarray. No one had walked the isle to receive Christ or join the church in years. Then a young couple came, looking to be used of God. The very day they arrived one of the church’s own, while in the midst of going through a sticky divorce, was brutally shot to death that afternoon by her Christian husband. The new couple found themselves in the midst of a crisis, but began to pray with and encourage the hurting congregation. Shocked into realizing that they had not taken the time to forgive one another, many began to do so that evening. Prayer groups were formed. People wept for their loss and forgave one another. A spirit of brokenness was evident. Within weeks several young people gave themselves to Christ, the church began to grow, and the church strongly supported the pastor. A church of a few dozen grew to over 75 within several months. They discovered that faith in God is found in forgiveness!

Each of the examples I gave this morning happened here or in churches, I have served. Jesus taught his disciples that day that 1) Faith in God is mountain moving! 2) Faith in God is based in prayer! And 3) Faith in God is found in forgiveness! Do you have faith in God?
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Of Figs and Phonies - Mark 11:11-21

Of Figs and Phonies - Mark 11:11-21
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 17, 2010 AM

George Barna does research for Christianity and faith practices in America. Recently he completed a study on the “Diversity of Faith in Various U.S. Cities.” It revealed nothing new, except there are some interesting discoveries. Of course, in the Portland, OR market, which includes Vancouver, WA, we discover that they had one of the lowest shares of self-identified Christians at 71% right behind San Francisco. In fact, 16% of this market identified itself as agnostic or atheist with 42% stating they had not attended any church service within the last six months! Notice that the figures do not add up to 100% and the reason is obvious: While many may consider themselves “spiritual” or even “Christian,” they are unwilling to specifically identify themselves. Are these folks hypocrites, phonies, or just plain ignorant of what faith means?

Interestingly, during Jesus’ day he faced similar problems concerning people’s faith. As he is headed toward the cross, we find Jesus entering the temple in Jerusalem, interacting with the religious leaders of the day, and cursing a fig tree. As we read this section, we might ask ourselves, “What in the world do all of these things have in common?” And yet each instance does indeed have a connection to the other. It will become clear as we take a closer look at “Of figs and phonies.”

READ: Mark 11:11-21

How much is there within religion that is manmade? This is a question that has frustrated and inspired the believer for centuries. Whenever this occurs, many have gone back to the focus of looking into the New Testament itself to rediscover the truth of foundational Christianity. The Reformation was an attempt to reform the church of the time to go back to its true religious roots, as was the Puritan movement. Here in Mark’s gospel we find Jesus confronting this very issue. It is…

I. The battle of the temple vs. the temporal!

1. The holy things of God should be kept wholly for his purpose! This section is “sandwiched” between Jesus’ dealings with the fig tree, which we will get back to in a moment. In fact, each episode helps to explain the other. Israel failed to produce righteousness, just as the fig tree failed to produce. And it is here within the temple courts we see displayed the results of their ungodly neglect. Jesus deliberately goes to the temple to look around. He wants to see for himself the fallen nature of his people’s faith. He leaves but returns the next day. As Jesus entered the temple area, he “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.” Just as Jesus was judging his fellow Jews that day, God would ultimately judge them for rejecting him and his message. In frustration and righteous indignation, Jesus clears the temple area where the non-Jews could come and discover God for themselves. So convoluted had Israel’s faith become that they no longer cared if the rest of the world honored or even came to faith in the one true God! It was Passover, one of the highest holy days of Judaism and many pilgrims, neophytes, and seekers from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to see this festival of the Hebrews. They no longer could find a pace to worship God! The moneychangers had taken all of the available space! So important is Jesus cleansing the temple area that it is recorded in all four gospels! Money from three sources circulated in Palestine in New Testament times: imperial money (Roman), provincial money (Greek), and local money (Jewish). Moneychangers provided the required Tyrian (Jewish) coinage for the annual half-shekel temple tax required of all male Jews 20 years of age and up. Of course, there would be a surcharge. Fraud was rampant and the Court of the Gentiles had become a thoroughfare for trade instead of a place to worship God. Just as in today’s church where Starbucks abound, bookstores ply their trade, and cheap circus theatrics are commonplace, Jesus’ temple had become “a den of robbers.” Notice that on hearing this, “The chief priests and the teachers of the law… began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” The secular had invaded the sanctuary! It was the battle of the temple vs. the temporal!

EXAMPLE: Martin Luther was a brand new priest. He desired to go to Rome and see the Holy city himself. It was the dream of every Christian of his day. Instead of finding a godly and holy city, he found corruption and contempt for the holy things of God. It was the beginning of his spiritual education. Disillusioned Luther went home and began to preach against the vice and corruption he had witnessed and now saw daily in the church he had loved. What could Luther do against a corrupt and huge entity as the Catholic Church of his day? He began to write and his writing was read by others. Unknowingly Luther began a reformation that would sweep the world. Luther took his inspiration from his Master, Jesus, when he swept aside the moneychanger’s tables in the temple. Today there needs to be a new Luther, one who sees the battle of the temple vs. the temporal again and who is willing to call the church back to righteousness. The secular has indeed invaded the sanctuaries of America. Is it any wonder why people in the Northwest can have a greater relationship with a tree than with the living God when the Christian church is caught up in capturing every aspect of the world instead of calling folks out of it? Figs and phonies still exist in our time.

One of the things you learn quickly about growing fruit is that fruit trees require constant care; otherwise, they become straggly, unkept, and full of worms. They need to be pruned, fertilized, watered, and protected against pests. A person’s faith can grow the same way if it isn’t constantly taken care of. Just as it is true for the individual, it is true of an entire nation as well. We discover here in Mark’s gospel…

II. The contrast of figs and faith!

1. Fruit trees should bear fruit! We find Jesus involved in something quite ordinary. He was hungry. “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.” This is curious because you would think that Jesus would know there would be no figs on the tree. However, often there would be old fruit still hanging and perhaps he thought he would find even some of this. Yet, on this tree, there was nothing, not even old dried fruit! Evidently, this tree was completely worthless. Then Jesus does something his disciples would remember, he tells the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Why would Jesus do such a thing? There are those who think that Jesus saw this fig tree as a symbol of Israel. While professing to be fruitful, the Jewish nation was fruitless. In fact, it was in the middle of God’s judgment! Rome was there for a reason. We may deduce that by cursing the fig tree, Jesus was showing His rejection of his people and predicting that no fruit would ever come from them. In a few days, they would reject their true spiritual King and crucify Him! This ultimately led to their judgment. In 70 AD the Romans came, demolished the temple, overran the country of Israel, dispersed its people, and ended Israel as a nation (Luke 21:20). Later that day, “when evening came,” Jesus and his disciple are headed out of the city. They go by the same fig tree and find it, like Israel, “withered from the roots!” Peter is amazed and remembers what Jesus had done. He exclaims, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” Had Israel’s faith withered so much? In fact, it had. The political rulers were intent upon keeping their power, the religious leadership was interested in personal gain, and the people were being squeezed to death by taxes from both! Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This is why Jesus responded to the Pharisees, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” (Mark 7:6) They honored God with their mouths, but their actions betrayed their worldliness. I wonder what Jesus would do with many in our day who claim Christ with their lips but their hearts are far from him? Jesus bluntly taught his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2) Jesus did just that with the fig tree and ultimately with Israel. Here in Mark’s gospel we find the contrast of figs and faith!

EXAMPLE: I found it very curious that when the President was confronted about his lack of faith practice and his weak responses about what he believed, the following Sunday we found pictures of him walking arm-and-arm with his family to church a few blocks from the White House. This is nothing new, we saw President Clinton joining a church when he ran for Governor and pictures of him carrying a Bible as President. Some say that while Reagan talked a lot about his faith, he did not attend church very often. There is nothing worse than phoniness depicted in a person’s faith, especially when it is found in our leadership. How sad then when we as believers do not look at our own lives in Christ. Is our faith withered at is roots? Do we try and honor God with our lips, but our actions speak otherwise? Jesus told his disciples, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Then he went on to relate something quite interesting, he asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:43-46) It is a question that contrasts figs and faith. What would your answer be this morning? Israel spirituality had withered and was dying on the vine. It needed the pruning only Jesus, God’s son, could give. Are you going through a rough patch? Perhaps you are being pruned. Fruit trees can be restored just as a person’s withered faith can. God told Isaiah, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you. Sing for joy, O heavens, for the LORD has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the LORD has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel. This is what the LORD says, ‘Your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself… I will restore them…’ He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid.’” (Isaiah 44:22-24, 26, 28) God did that through Jesus and he will do it with you through him as well, if you come back to him today.

We learned today that there are figs that do not produce just as there are spiritual phonies who do not as well. In Jesus’ actions of cursing a fig tree and cleansing the temple, we discover 1) the battle of the temple vs. the temporal, and 2) the contrast of figs and faith!
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The King Comes! - Mark 11:1-10

The King Comes! - Mark 11:1-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 3, 2010 AM

Is it Passover time again? It seems as if we had just celebrated it! Last year, it was marked by the same dusty dirty pilgrims on the same dusty dirty road. Nothing much usually happens here in Nob. Being a suburb of Jerusalem people usually pass us by and leave us alone. Sure, some of the priests live here when they are in attendance in the temple, but nothing more than that. But then there was that year Yeshua of Nazareth came. How could I have forgotten! Let me tell you it was quite a spectacle. But he could not have done it without my old donkey Judith. She had given birth to a small little foal we named… but of course, I am getting ahead of myself!

We were just standing around, gawking at the pilgrims, and telling stories about passed events and arguing about the taxes, when these men come up and begin to untie my new foal! I began to protest that they had no right to take my donkey, when I remembered a young man who had visited me just that morning. I had been half dreaming; preparing my meal for the day and humming to myself, when out of the early sunlight this young man enters my shop. He tells me he is a herald for the Most High God. Incredulous, I stammer and ask what he meant. He tells me that I need not fear but that God is going to use my donkey’s foal for his glory. He will be used to carry the Lion of Judah, the Prince of Peace, into the holy city of David. The Messiah would send his disciples. They would come and untie her. I was to ask them, “Why are you doing this?” and they would respond, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.” And here they were, untying him! I immediately ask the would-be thieves, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” I was concerned because he had never been ridden. And right on cue they respond just as the messenger had said they would. I let them take him. My friends were shocked, but I knew what God had asked me to do. Can you imagine, my little foal, being used to carry the Messiah? Wouldn’t that be something? But of course, that could not be because I heard he was betrayed by his own disciples, crucified by the Romans, and yet… there are those who say something else occurred. What was it? Oh yes, he supposedly rose from the dead to prove his Messiahship! Old wives tales, probably, don’t you think? Yeshua of Nazareth, a king? I do not think so… but one never knows.

After all, I have raised donkeys for years to carry my trade goods, but I have never sold one nor lent one out. Wait, there was that one time many years ago. I sold Judith’s old jack to a young couple. The wife was pregnant and they needed to go to Jerusalem so he could register for the census. I also lived in Nazareth at the time. I let them have him for a very fair price, I was younger and since he was so old, nearly blind, and they were so young as well, I practically gave him away. I wonder whatever happened to that old donkey. Hmmm… Yeshua was from Nazareth too… I wonder if Yeshua was the Messiah, some say he was the coming king… Now wouldn’t that be something!
Yeshua has asked us to do many things in the past, but this really has me uneasy. He actually wants us to go into the little town ahead and steal a donkey. Well, not really steal it because the owner will supposedly know we are coming. He has done this before with several of the other disciples. Sending them on ahead to get food, lodging or to make the necessary arraignments. He has never asked one of us to go and untie someone else’s donkey before. I mean that donkey is someone’s transportation, and donkeys are not cheap! We could be seen as thieves! Caught! Judged! And CRUCIFIED! My mother warned me there would be days like this if I decided to follow Yeshua. She said, “Thomas, you should always ask the tough questions and never ever believe anything as fact until you can touch it for yourself!” I wonder what the old gal would say about this particular predicament.

Okay, Thomas, you can do this. (Takes some deep breaths.) Remember, Yeshua himself has asked you to do this. He usually asks Peter, John, or James, the “insiders,” to do this kind of stuff, but why me and why now? Well of course, Bartholomew is with me. Bartholomew who never says, “Boo to a Babylonian!” has to go and volunteer us both! I know it is probably because I wondered out loud about all those children crawling all over Yeshua in that little town across the Jordan River that he picked me to go and do this for him! Stupid, stupid, Thomas! (Slaps his forehead.) Then there was the time when I was vocally incredulous about the rich young man Yeshua turned away. I just had to blurt out, “Who then can be saved?” ARGH! Thomas, you are so dumb! All your questions will eventually lead to your destruction! That’s why I am here now getting ready to steal another man’s donkey! I wonder if there is a special place in Yeshua’s kingdom for martyred thieves. I certainly hope so!

Oh, and it can’t be just any old donkey… like that old nag over there. It has to be one I find as I enter into the village. It has to be one tied in front of the owner’s house, standing right smack dab in his DOORWAY! It has to be one that has never been ridden! Why didn’t he just ask for one with exactly one hundred spots as the legend states the Messiah would ride into Jerusalem on? Noooo, Yeshua has to ask for a specific donkey’s foal, standing in a distinct doorway of a particular house, guarded by really big men… oh great… now what are we going to do?

Okay, Thomas, you can do this. It is for Yeshua. (Breathes deeply.) Just go over there and untie that little rope connected to the foal there… and run like crazy. No, that won’t work because they have already noticed me. Ummm, (gulps) excuse me sirs, but we need your donkey… (Great, they are just staring at me.) Why am I doing this? Well, the Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly. Oh? Really? It is okay with you if we to take the beast? You are certain it is okay? GREAT! Thanks! Come on Bartholomew!

See, Bartholomew, that wasn’t so hard after all! That’s probably why Yeshua picked us in the first place, because he knew he could depend on us right? Well, sure, you asked him… but I said we could go… now that, (points back at the little donkey) Bartholomew, is a foal fit for the coming king!
This is my first time in Jerusalem during the Passover. Papa says I can get some sweet bread or figs if I am good and do not wander off in the crowd. There are sure a lot of people going to Jerusalem today. It is one of the most wonderful times of the year. We celebrate God protecting his chosen people by having them place the blood of a lamb over their doorposts, while the Angel of Death killed all of the firstborn in Egypt, and passed over his people. What a miracle of God! Can you imagine the blood of a lamb saving people if they just trusted God’s promise?

I can hardly wait to see the Temple. They say you can see it for miles before you cross the valley as we journey on the road from Bethany. It is supposed to be white and gleams in the sunlight. The doors are overlaid with gold and the smoke from sacrifices and incense rises from its interior all during the day. What a wonderful thing to behold! I bet even the buildings in Rome or Herod’s palace in Caesarea are not as beautiful as the House of God in the holy city of Jerusalem!

Hey! Don’t shove! What do you mean get out of the way? For whom? Why should we get off the road right now? The king of Israel is coming! The Son of David… Yeshua of Nazareth? (Excitedly.) Papa! Did you hear that? Yeshua, the Rabbi whom everyone thinks is the Messiah is headed our way. They say he is going to Jerusalem to proclaim himself king! Well, I heard some of the people in the crowd say so that’s how I know. Can we stay and see him? Papa, what if he really is the coming king? Wouldn’t that be grand, papa, to see our Messiah who will rescue us from the Romans! Please papa, can we stay and see Yeshua? (Jumps up and down.) We can stay! Look, there, he is coming now!

Oh, papa, let’s go and get some branches with everyone else. (Places his hands on his hips.) No, I would not jump off the corner of the Temple if everyone else did, but I think we should join in the festivities. What could it hurt? Look, here he is! Why, he is riding on a small donkey. (Proudly.) Look how straight he sits, just as if he were a king. How can such a poor man be our king, papa? (In wonder.) Papa, why are you crying? Papa! That is your best cloak! You just threw it in the middle of the road so Yeshua’s donkey could walk on it… papa, is Yeshua truly our coming king? Oh papa, I truly hope so too! Look papa, the king comes! Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey! (Zechariah 9:9) Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The king comes!

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2010 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.