21–27 January 2018.
In Jesus’s day, many Jews looked forward to a messiah who would come to free Israel from the Roman Empire. They dreamt of a kingly messiah who would ride into Jerusalem as a new ruler, someone who would defeat the Roman enemy and chase the foreign soldiers out of Israel forever. No wonder then that the people praised Jesus so much when he arrived in Jerusalem – they thought he had come to be this powerful, military messiah.
But instead of marching to the Roman camp, Jesus enters into Jerusalem and goes to the temple. The Israelites wanted to see the messiah’s anger directed at foreigners, but God the Son comes and directs his anger at the temple instead, the very place where people were claiming to worship God. That’s because instead of bringing people closer to God, the temple had become a burden to the people and an obstacle to their relationship with God. As Jesus says in v. 17, the temple isn’t a house of prayer, it’s a den of thieves.
In a few chapters’ time, Jesus will die on the cross and the veil in the temple will be destroyed. A few years after that, the Romans will come and finally destroy the entire temple forever. None of this is accidental. Instead Mark teaches us that this is God’s plan.
Mark does this by connecting the story of the temple with Jesus’s cursing of a fig tree. On his way to the temple, Jesus sees a fig tree that (like the temple) has become completely useless. Notice that Jesus doesn’t command his disciples to care for the fig tree, to fertilise it, or to help it bear fruit. There is no hope of renewal here, only cursing and destruction. In the same way, there is no revival or renewal for the temple, no new plan to make it fruitful; there is only cursing and destruction. The old way is totally finished and over. In its place God brings us instead new hope, new life, and a new way in Christ.
Sadly today, two thousand years later, some Jews still travel to visit the last few ruins of the temple in Jerusalem to weep and pray there, unable to let go of the past and unable to turn their eyes to the bright future where God is leading them.
But this is a problem we all have. It’s so difficult for all of us the let go of the past, or to let go of our old ways. Even when our old ways are harmful to us, even when God wants to curse them, destroy them and help us move on with our lives, we still cling to those old ways unwilling to let go. But in this new year, let’s finally let go of the past, let go of the past troubles and hurts and problems in our lives, allow God to sweep them all away, and instead be brave enough to walk into the bright and wonderful future that God has prepared for each of us.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis