Summary: The death march of Jesus to Jerusalem in his final days reveals many disturbing things. You and I are in this parade as well. He led captives...
Present Mark 10-13 dramatically, by memory if possible.
The Teacher’s Death March
As Jesus nears and enters Jerusalem the conflict thickens and the tensions strain. Jesus is going to his death. We know that, he keeps teaching his disciples that, and in fact, that is his chief purpose in coming to earth.
Mark walks us through it all. Jesus’ resolve is uncomfortable, unpredictable and almost unthinkable. His emotions are seen here perhaps more clearly than ever in Mark’s gospel. Jesus answers the Pharisees’ question about divorce with strict clarity. Are they interested in the plight of the divorced? I don’t think so. Even the disciples are taken back by Jesus’ answer though, and question him too. Jesus cuts no slack for them either. God’s plans are not up for debate! Jesus is nearing the finish line, walking the path and performing the plan perfectly, this is no time to discuss situation and compromise.
The disciples are still learning, always learning, never quite up to par on Jesus’ intentions. Jesus is busy with very important things. Sooo… the disciples try to shoo away a bunch of mamas and their little kids who are trying their best to see Jesus. Jesus jumps in, stops everything and welcomes the children into his arms and tells the disciples to get things straight about who is and who is not fit for the kingdom. Jesus is here for those who want him and need him and know it! Children? Especially children! I can just imagine these disciples scratching their heads, can’t you?
Next… now look who’s coming to Jesus. What about the rich, powerful and important? I mean the ones with the clean slates who have it together and know how to use it, the Sunday school CEOs? What do they need to know from Jesus? How do the affluent fit in? Jesus, don’t disappoint us now. We need these in church to pay expenses and fund salaries for our staff. But no, there you go. You have to raise the bar so high that to jump it we have to be naked! We can’t take anything along! Is that what you really want, Jesus? Think about who we are losing here.
As the rich man walks away Jesus’ haunting observation follows him: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples are thinking: Lord, surely you can’t mean that! Isn’t there any hope? Jesus responds: "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God."
Peter: What about us? Do you want us? Look at what we’ve given up for you, Jesus!
Jesus promises: the rewards will far surpass the sacrifice. Is this true of Jesus too? Will the God who planned the cross bring about a greater glory than the pain of his sacrifice?
Jesus is turning everything on its head. The children are welcomed, the rich are told to become poor. Powerful men are powerless. Giving up all brings the greatest gifts of all. The march to Jesus’ death is our path to life. The way up is down. The way of wealth and success in the world is the way of eternal destruction and eternal loss. What kind of King rules in this upside down kingdom? The one that went to the cross.
On to Jerusalem we go. We are near the city. Jesus will be killed in less than a week. And watch him! He’s going right in there where the battle is the fiercest and he will single handedly take on those monstrous religious tenets. He makes camp in Bethany at night, but every day he will return. Every day he will teach, right there in the temple courts, facing opposition that turns from false friendliness to dark and deadly plotting against him. As every day passes the passions will rise another notch. The conflict will heighten and the tensions will become unbearable. In the evening he will go back to Bethany. It’s a good walk. Maybe 3-4 miles. It is a time to debrief about the day on the way back to Simon the Leper’s house.
Between Bethany and Jerusalem grew at least one fig tree. It is spring. It has leaves, but not even a bud of fruit on it. Jesus makes his way into the city to face another difficult day. Today he will cleanse that temple of all those money changers and marketeers. On his way to Jerusalem that morning he’s hungry when he sees the fig tree. Let’s see what we will find on this fig tree. Hmmmm. Nothing. Not one thing. Just leaves. Then Jesus said something that the disciples heard and were so impressed with that it made it into both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospel. Jesus cursed the fig tree. That’s right! Even though it wasn’t the season for figs, Jesus said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Mark then tells us that they went on into town. There at the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus’ zeal for God’s honor began to burn as he witnessed unholiness in that holy place. His hunger for righteousness stirs his speech with worse words than those to the fig tree. How dare they turn his father’s house, this house of prayer for all, into a den of thieves! Jesus explodes! This place, like the fig tree will face the consequence of the curse of God’s wrath. Both are fruitless and useless. Jesus pronounces the doom of destruction on Jerusalem. His words always come to pass, as do all of God’s words. Jesus teaches a lesson on prayer over the withered fig tree and a lesson on readiness over the destruction of Jerusalem.