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Triumph and Tragedy: Worship and Rejection
Scripture: Mark 11:1-33; 12:1-12
Track 14 of 19 in the Encountering a Changing World series
Running time: 31 minutes, 25 seconds.
People tend to choose one or the other: either worship Him or reject Him.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, April 6, 2003
"Triumph & Tragedy: Worship and Rejection"
(Mark 11: 1-33; 12:1-12)
G. Charles Sackett

Well, here's what I wanted to do, at least, this is what I expected to do. I wanted to look at this triumphant entry passage and concentrate on the Hosanna's and how the people were so excited about Jesus coming and then draw your attention to the fact that those Hosanna's, in about a week's time, turned, so it was no longer Hosanna but now CRUCIFY HIM! It was kinda the idea of inviting you to think about the contrast between worshiping Jesus and rejecting Jesus.

It's actually this text in Mark, Chapter 11, is the Palm Sunday text, which I understand is yet a week away. I don't want to confuse you on the calendar, but in the way we laid out our preaching plan, I figured we could handle having the passion week, a week early a bit, at least as far as this text is concerned. I thought this would be a good opportunity in looking at this Palm Sunday kind of text to invite you to be thinking ahead about going to our Maundy Thursday service, just before Easter. Coming and celebrating with us around the Lord's Table. Come back again Friday night. Help us, in some way, celebrate Good Friday. I'm always intrigued by celebrating the death of Jesus. Somehow that seems a bit of a paradox. And to invite you to pick up some study material for Saturday and kind of have that silent Saturday experience again that we did last week and then come back on Easter. I thought today would be a great day to look at the distinction between worshiping and rejecting and simply call you to a decision. That's what I expected to do. And I read the text, frankly, Chapter 11, the first 11 verses. Ah let's read it together.

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it you'll find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden; untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell them, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'" They went, found a colt outside in the street tied at a doorway; as they untied it. Some people standing there asked, "What are you doing untying that colt?" They answered as Jesus told them to; and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over him; he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the ground, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!"

Jesus entered Jerusalem, and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went to Bethany with the twelve.

And I thought, well, here's a good opportunity to take a look at how this text is such a clear representation of the triumphal entry as anticipated in the Old Testament.

Zechariah Chapter 9, Verse 9, is the explicit text to which this refers. It is the anticipation that Jesus will come riding on the back of an un-ridden colt. It looks like the fulfillment of that particular prophesy about the Messiah. The Hosanna's are certainly in order. Lord save us. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

It even has interesting connections to Genesis Chapter 49 when the father is passing out the blessing to his various sons. As he runs down through his children, he comes to Judah. And about Judah he says, you are a lion's cub oh Judah. Like a lion you crouch down. The scepter, he says, in Verse 10, will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet until he comes to whom it belongs; and the obedience of his nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch.

And there are those who see in this triumphal entry experience that particular anticipation of a son of Judah who would be the lion of the tribe of Judah coming in on this donkey. Well, that's, that's what I wanted to do and I wanted to contract those Hosanna's for you with what occurs over here, for example, in Verse 18 of Chapter 11 in Mark.

And the chief priests and teachers of the law heard this and they began to look for a way to kill him; or I can come over here to Chapter 12, Verse 12: And then they looked for a way to arrest him, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them; See that's what I was really expecting to do, the Hosanna's and the Crucify Him! Worship Him or Reject Him! The problem was, I read the text and it didn't give me the kinds of nice, neat answers that I was looking for and I struggled with it during the week and I messed around with it and I just kept coming back to this text wanting to know what in the world is he talking about. Well, it's not just so much this part, it's the part that follows. From Verse 12 on where you have the condemning of the fig tree, followed by the cleansing of the temple, followed by the recognition that the fig tree is now dead, followed by the parable of the vineyard. And I looked at that, and frankly I had a great deal more question than I had answer. Well, look at it with me if you will. Let's look at Verse 12. The next day (now this is after He's come in, triumphal entry, He's looked around the temple, and now He's gone back out into the city, He's coming back.) they're leaving Bethany and Jesus 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. That is a really troubling sentence when you read that one and then the next one. And so he said, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

Does that not cause a question for you? He walks up to a tree during a season of the year when there's not supposed to be any fruit on it, and he condemns the tree for not having any fruit. Well, if you're looking for an answer, I don't have one. That's why I'm not doing what I said I was gonna do with this text. But look what happens in Verse 15. On (by the way this is typical of Mark to interrupt the story with another story, and then come back and finish the story. So he tells you about the fig tree and then he says this.) On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and 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 he would not allow any one carrying merchandise through the temple courts. 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." The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and they began looking for a way to kill him; for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching. When evening came they went out of the city.

Well, that was an unusual thing for Jesus to do. Go in and kick everybody out of the court of the Gentiles, overturn the money tables, kick out those who were buying and selling. Now you notice he doesn't just kick out those who were selling. He kicks out those who were buying and selling and then he makes this quotation about this being a house of prayer for all nations and he calls it a den of robbers.

Verse 20: As they went along he saw the fig tree withered from the roots. We're back to that story! Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered." "Have faith in God", Jesus answered. "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. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

They arrived again in Jerusalem and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests and the teachers of the law and the elders came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things, who gave you this authority?" "I will ask you a question, Jesus said; 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." 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 was really a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

And I come away from this text with more questions than I have answers. It is typical of Mark to simply place a story in a story, and when he does that, he usually uses those stories to help us understand what they mean. One helps us interpret the other and vice-versa.

So here we have this cleansing of the temple experience. The question is, Is he upset because they are buying and selling? Well, there have been those that thought that was the big issue. That you should not use the temple grounds as a place to hold a market and yet the trouble was, there wasn't any alternative. Because these Jewish people were coming from such an incredible distance, they couldn't bring with them an offering, because by the time the offering got there, it would have been contaminated along the way, and the only offering you could bring to the Lord had to be a perfect, unblemished offering. And so those people journeying into the city, for either the feast of tabernacles or for the Passover, would come and there would be merchants there to sell them unblemished animals in order for them to have something to offer to the Lord. And, frankly, the law itself, said that there was a certain temple tax that had to be paid and if you happen to live in another country and made your way to Jerusalem, which every Jewish male was asked to do, then you would bring your foreign currency and just like when you go through the Vienna/Austria airport, there's a place there to change your money into Euros. Somebody had to change it into temple money. Well, maybe there was some corruption going on there. That's been one of the speculations, but Jesus doesn't address that. He doesn't say the problem is you're cheating these people. He never says that. Well, maybe the problem isn't that they were buying and selling. Maybe it was because they were doing it in the court of the Gentiles themselves. And so, what was happening was that the gentiles were being pushed out of the only space that they had. Well, okay, I supposed that's a possibility. The only problem is, did you ever read any place in the New Testament where a Jew ever cared what happened to a Gentile? They didn't care if they had a chance to worship or not. They didn't want anything to do with them. So. . . . I don't know, besides the little market place where this was happening wouldn't have taken up the entire court of the Gentiles. Maybe, that's part of it, that's not uncalled for. Maybe it was just the circus atmosphere, you suppose? Just because it was no longer the temple, the place for worship, it was kind of this - - - I - - am I at least creating for you some questions? Because what I'm really trying to do is help you wrestle with some of the questions that I had to wrestle with. I don't think it's fair for me to be the only one that has to wrestle with these questions. Ya know, you come to church, you put in a quarter and the talking head gives you the answer - sort of thing. I think I'd have to work for this a little bit.

So I looked at this text again, and I found myself wondering, what does he mean when he calls this a den of robbers? It's actually a quotation from Jeremiah, Chapter 7. I thought about the imagery of a den of robbers. You know if Jesus had a problem with this being a place where people were being robbed, I don't think he'd call it a den of robbers. A den of robbers is where the robbers go to escape, not where they go to do the robbing. The den is where they go to get safety after they've robbed people. Then they go back to their den in order to hide. So if this is a den of robbers, this is where the robbers go for safety. Ah, that was unusual.

Well, anyway, Chapter 7 of Jeremiah. Here's the text out of which this quotation comes. He says, This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Stand at the gate of the Lord's house, and there proclaim this message, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord almighty, the God of Israel says, Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'

"If you really change your ways and your actions, and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and you do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever."

"But look, you trust in deceptive words that are worthless. You will steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Ba'al, follow other gods you have not known, and then you come and stand before me in this house, which bears my name, and say, 'We are safe!' - safe to do all these detestable things. Has this house, which bears my name become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching, declares the Lord. Go now to the place in Shiloh, where I first made a dwelling for my name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people of Israel. While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again and you didn't listen. I called you but you didn't answer, therefore what I did to Shiloh, I will do to the house that bears my name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave you and your fathers. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers and the people of E'phraim.

Do you hear the context out of which that den of robbers comes? That context is, that Israel had become a people who worshiped a place. They thought as long as they went to a temple, no matter what they did out there during their every day life, it really didn't matter as long as they regularly came to the temple. And the temple became the place where they were safe. And by coming to the temple, would somehow, just simply eliminate any responsibility that they had during the other six days of the week. He says, you've made it like a den of robbers. You've made it a place where there are immoral people, where thieves come and they hang out and they hide because they think by being in this place, they're safe! Hmmmmm - I wonder about that sense of false security?? I wonder about that life style?? I wonder about the radical call that he makes in their life not to have those kinds of characteristics.

Well, then I wondered about this other quotation from Isaiah. My house will be called the house of prayer for all nations. I thought, well, if looking at Jeremiah is helpful, maybe looking at Isaiah 56 could be helpful. Isaiah 56 is the place where that particular text comes. This is what the Lord says. Verse 1, "Maintain justice and do what is right, for salvation is close at hand, and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it and keeps his hand from doing any evil." Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, "The Lord will surely exclude me from his people", and let no eunuch complain, "I'm only a dry tree." For this is what the Lord says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant, to them I will give my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

"Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord, to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant - these I will bring to my hold mountain, and give them joy in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. The sovereign Lord declares, he who gathers exiles of Israel, I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered for all nations.

Israel was not to allow the temple to become a place that was a shrine to Israel only. And no one should ever sense that they were excluded simply because they weren't expected to be by the Jewish nation. In fact he says, I will open the door to anyone who has a radical change of heart, who wants to worship me.

I looked at those texts and I tried to place them in their context. You've got the cursing of a fig tree, followed by the cleansing of the temple, followed by the story of this withered fig tree one more time. The fact that Jesus says, or the text says about Jesus; it was not time for figs, should give you a clue that there's more to this story than meets the eye, because it would seem really strange for Jesus to say to a fig tree, out of season, You're in trouble! Huh - that just doesn't seem fair. But the fact that he calls attention to the fact that this is a fig tree out of season, should cause you to say, I wonder what he's trying to tell us?

This fig tree wasn't doing what fig trees were supposed to do. Fig trees are supposed to bear fruit and it didn't. And it was condemned and 24 hours later it was gone from the roots. That story happens to surround the cleansing of the temple where two very significant texts are quoted from the Old Testament reminding Israel, don't make this place a shrine. And Israel had effectively excluded everybody except just the elite, from their number. They had pushed out all of those who weren't quite perfect. They had pushed out the Gentiles. They had made the temple grounds, itself, a sacred place, as if by being there made them okay. Jesus says, the old order is gone. Israel was not fruitful. Israel did not do the job I sent them in to the world to do, and like this fig tree, they will be destroyed.

Look at the first part of Chapter 12 in Mark. This is a direct reference to multiple images of Israel in the Old Testament. Particularly, Isaiah Chapter 5.

He began to speak to them in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, he put a wall around it, he dug a pit for the wine press and he built a watch tower, and then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and he went away on a journey. At harvest time, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard, but they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them. They struck this man on the head, and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed; he sent many other, some of them they beat, others they killed. He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But the tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' And so they took him, and they killed him and they threw him out of the vineyard. What then, will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give their vineyard to others. Haven't you read this scripture:

'The stone the builders rejected has become the cap stone; the Lord has done this, it is marvelous in our eyes'?"

And then they looked for a way to arrest him, because they knew he had spoken the parable against them; and they were afraid of the crowd so they left him and went away.

Do you hear it? The vineyard - Israel? The tenants are the leadership of the nation. The prophets are the servants who come. And he sends a (he only has one of them) a SON, an ONLY SON, Whom He Loves. Remember back about four Chapters? Up on the Mount of Transfiguration - This is my SON, Whom I Love!

And what did they do with the Son? They killed Him. You know what's coming don't you? - In the story, cause you've already read the rest of the book. In a matter of hours, they will have killed THE SON, also. What's the message of this text? Well, I think the message of this text gets clearer and clearer as we begin to look. Israel's leaders had failed to point Israel in the right direction and so Israel was going to lose its prime place before God. Jesus breaks into the scene. He condemns the old order by condemning the temple to its withering fruit and he announces this new, good news. Verse 22 through 26: Have faith in God. Here are the characteristics of what it means to be a part of the new order. You're not part of a new order because you go to a place, you're a part of the new order because you have faith. Watch this now! Look at Verse 23: I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, not to A mountain, to this mountain, be cast into the sea. Remember now, Mark's Gospel, everything has a context. Where did those demon-possessed pigs get sent when he wanted to destroy them? Into the sea.

If anyone says to this mountain, this temple ground, this temple mount, be cast into the sea for destruction, it will happen! This is not a blanket invitation just to move mountains. If this was a blanket invitation just to move mountains, I want you to know, half of Illinois would not be good farmland any more because I would have already moved the whole Grand Teton range. This is a characteristic of what it means to be a part of a new relationship with God that is characterized by people of faith who believe that God can do whatever God wants to do and needs to do. And he invites those people who understand that to have access to God, that's what prayer is. Prayer is direct access to God. No longer is there any intermediary, no longer is there a priesthood in Israel to stand between us and God. In fact, when Jesus dies, do you remember what happens in the temple grounds? In fact, inside the temple itself? There is this great Vail that is rent from top to bottom, indicating that access to God is now open. Faith and prayer (and what's the third characteristic of what . . . . . . . . . .order. Forgiveness! You can be forgiven and you forgive others. That's what characterizes this new order, faith, access to God and a spirit of forgiveness. And when Jesus teaches this teaching, when he tells them they're about to lose their privileged place, because they have depended upon a shrine, it's no wonder Hosanna turned to Crucify Him. You saw what happened. They knew the temple - they knew the parable was about them. So what's the point? Salvation is not a place where we go. Salvation is a person we know. This is not about a place. It's not about being in the right location at 4700 Broadway on Sunday morning. It's not about being in Jerusalem on Saturday. It's about a person whose name is Jesus, who came to be the one that God said would start a whole new order

You know that one of my favorite stories is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They've made their way to Mr. & Mrs. Tumnus (??) In the midst of conversation . . . .

"It's no good, Son of Adam," said Mr. Beaver, "no good your trying, of all people. But now that Aslan is on the move ---"

"Oh, yes! Tell us about Aslan!" said several voices at once; for once again that strange feeling — like the first signs of spring, like good news, had come over them.

"Who is Aslan?" asked Susan.

"Aslan?" said Mr. Beaver. "Why, don't you know? He's the King. He's the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father's time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He'll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus."

"She won't turn him into stone too?" said Edmund.

"Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!" answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh. "Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it'll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her. No, no. He'll put all to rights as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

You'll understand when you see him."

"But shall we see him?" asked Susan.

"Why, Daughter of Eve, that's what I brought you here for. I'm to lead you where you shall meet him," said Mr. Beaver.

"Is—is he a man?" asked Lucy.

"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion."

"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man.. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."

"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

No, He's not safe. And old orders are never safe in his realm. And finding safety and sanctity and security in an old way of doing things, that's not safe either. And thinking you can depend upon yourself and your own goodness, that's not safe. And is coming to Jesus safe? Well, if you mean safe, that he'll leave you the way you are, no, it's not safe. But he's good. And he only wants for you what down inside your soul, you really want for yourself. 'Cause, see, it's not about a place. It's about a person. It's not about coming to church. It's about knowing God through his Son, Jesus. That's what we're inviting you to, to know him, to walk in his presence, to recognize his voice in your life. We're not inviting you to safety. We're inviting you to submission to the one who is the King of the universe. The old order is gonna pass away, but you can have your place in the new order by trusting in HIM, putting your faith in HIM. If we can help you do that, that's what we're here for. We want to introduce you to the lion of the tribe of Judah, Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.