On Sunday, May 15, it was my privilege to preach Mark 11, “No Fruit on the Fig Tree or in the Temple,” at Kenwood Baptist Church.
Jesus is remarkably humble in this so-called triumphal entry. He enters the temple, which essentially belongs to him, and he finds no fruit there. That is, the temple custodians do not receive him as they should. He curses a barren fig tree, which is a symbolic denunciation of the barren temple. Then he assures his disciples that the temple mount will be removed, that his kingdom will come, and that they now have authority to administer blessings formerly had through the ministry of the temple. When the custodians of the temple demand to know what gives him the right to say such things, he hints that his authority is from heaven while exposing that they will not believe him if he answers their question.
Jesus is the true king of Israel and his humility is as stunning as his exercise of authority is absolute.
As exciting as this passage is for those who are rooting for Jesus, look at how humble it shows Jesus to be. He’s the Messiah, the King of kings, the scion of David, the author and perfecter of faith, the champion of life, and he’s been walking around with his disciples and doesn’t even have his own mount.
No technology. No transportation. This is mere humanity—he has for his mode of transportation his own two feet; he has for his ability to spread his message his own voice; he has for the promotion and circulation of what he says and done word of mouth. Jesus isn’t getting anywhere if he doesn’t walk, and his message isn’t spreading unless other people talk about it.
I have to think that this was a deliberate strategy. Part of God’s plan for Christ to come in the fullness of time, it seems, was that he would come at what we now see to be a humble time in terms of transportation and communication. No internet, to say nothing of publishing houses or even newspapers.
This means that as he has gathered his following and done his work, Jesus is the definition of authenticity. There are no smoke and mirrors tricks. There is no falsely generated sense of enthusiasm or excitement. There is no editor deciding to put Jesus on the front page, or to lead the nightly news with his story. Jesus is the real thing.
Everything that Jesus accomplished that leads up to this moment of triumphal entry, from healings to teachings to a reputation to a following, all of it was accomplished by his own voice and his own two hands on his own two feet.
No tricks, no gimmicks, no fanned flame of publicity. And, I would observe, no scandals, no gaffes, no slurs, no missteps.
Worship Jesus. He does what no one else can. He walks firmly where everyone else trips. He is worthy of your trust, your thanks, your praise.
It’s as though Jesus chose a time when no “promotional advantages” would be available. Then he chose to be born in an out of the way place, in a minor country, to a disenfranchised heir to a de-throned royal line.
And when he enters the capital city in triumph, he comes not on a war-horse but on a borrowed donkey. He has no army to accompany him only a crowd of disciples who don’t really understand him, gathered ne-er do-wells and healed beggars.
This is a decisive moment in Mark’s gospel. The King has come with healing in his hands, and the rabble has received him but the rulers have not. When he entered the temple, every religious leader in Jerusalem should have wept for joy, crowded around, begged him to come to dinner, to take the place of honor and authority, to lead the coming Passover celebration.
They have not received him, but he is Lord. He will not cower before their glowering refusal to receive him and drift off into obscurity. He will stand and speak thunderous condemnation and finish his course, drink the cup, undergo the baptism.
Look at how craven and pitiful the opposition to Jesus is. They do not believe John or Jesus was from God, but they are afraid to say so.
Why don’t they believe? Their unbelief has more to do with their sinful, immoral, rebellious hearts than it has to do with any lack of evidence. Jesus has demonstrated his faithfulness and power, and he has been authenticated by mighty works. They should believe but they do not because they are rebels.
The humble king who has been revealed in all his power and authority and ability and worth has come, only to be rejected. But their rejection does not mean he is not king, nor does it mean that they have the ability to resist him or to keep from him what belongs to him.
So he curses the temple and symbolically shows what this means with the fig tree. He tells his disciples that the temple mount will cease to play the role it has played in God’s plan, that their prayers for his kingdom to come will be answered, and that they now have authority to forgive sins.
In controversy, he shows the moral cowardice and despicable rebellion of his pitiful opponents, implicitly declaring that his authority is from heaven while revealing their scheming, pathetic mutiny against the world’s true captain.
I think the whole of Mark 11 is to be read and interpreted together, as I seek to explain here.