GOSPEL OF MARK – ROBBY GALLATY – Program 39
By: The John Ankerberg Show
|By: Pastor Robby Gallaty; ©2011|
|There are four things God despises. Learn what they are so you can avoid the judgment and rejection of the Lord.|
Turning Tables Killing Trees
The title of the message this morning is Turning Tables and Killing Trees. Friends, this morning we’re going to see a side of Jesus that we’re not used to seeing. Jesus has been pushed beyond the breaking point and when he arrives in Jerusalem into the temple, we see a side of Jesus that’s unlike the mild, calm and meek Messiah. No, this is the Messiah that’s been pushed over the limit. This morning, I want to show you four things that God despises so that you and I do not fall into them; because if we do, they can result in judgment and rejection from the Lord.
If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Mark 11:12. “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. [That’s the key word.] And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves [circle that], for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard it. And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city. As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.” That’s a key phrase.
“And Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.’”
The first action that God despises—write it down—are actions without integrity, actions without integrity. By sandwiching—notice that—the cleansing of the temple between the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus is giving us an insight to a truth that will only be understood if we study of the horticulture of fig trees. In order to really understand what Jesus is saying, we have to understand how fig trees grow. See, normally what happens is this—mid-August or mid-October, the trees are harvested. And then from October all the way until springtime, they don’t produce any figs. Then in about mid-April, mid-March, little buds begin to grow on the barren twigs or barren branches. They’re called knops. These little knops begin to grow. They’re very small. And then after the knops begin to grow, then the leaves begin to grow on the tree. Most people wouldn’t eat these knops but if you’re really hungry, as it says in the text Jesus was, you could go up and pluck the knops and eat the figs. Even though the figs would not be fully ripened, they could be eaten.
But the tree was misleading because what happens is this. It has all the signs of fruit but it had no fruit. See the way a fig tree grows is this—it grows figs first, leaves second. In this case, there were leaves but no fruit. So Jesus said I’ve gone to this tree, which is very promising of something, had all the appearance of something to have fruit, but it was misleading, if you will. The visual parable, as Jesus is saying, is a picture if Israel. The fig leaves gave promise of fruit but they were misleading just like the temple. Despite its religious commerce and activity that was going on, the temple was filled with hypocrisy.
Jesus had finished telling the disciples this in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7. Do you remember? Jesus was talking about, in 7:15, He’s talking about false prophets but he gives us an interesting insight. Listen to what verse 15 says: You will recognize the false prophets by their [what?] fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. [Verse 19.] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their [What?] fruits.”
Well, in this case, there was no fruit. First century preacher Golden Mouth, or Chrysostom, as he went by, as long as a person is living in a degenerate way, he says, “this person will not be able to generate good fruit. For he may indeed change to virtue but while continuing in wickedness, he will never bear good fruit.” Now it’s easy for you and I to go through the outward appearance of being religious. It’s easy for you and I to go through the motions. It’s easy for you and I to fall into the trap of actions without integrity. That’s what they were falling into. But Jesus goes in a little further. We’ve been flying at the 30,000 foot range, and Jesus says we’re going to go down, and I’m going to give you guys an instance of what happens with the fig tree. I’m going to give you a real world illustration of what just happened. The system of corruption in the temple is way worse than someone just going through the motions.
In fact, Jesus is about to enter the holiest place in Israel and he’s going to show us that these people were not only engaged in actions without integrity, they were engaged in activity without worship. Write the second one down—activity without worship. Let’s remember the events leading up to Jesus’ entrance into the temple here. When Jesus started his public ministry three years ago in John 2, he walks into the temple, takes a few cords, makes a whip and cleanses the temple in John 2. Do you remember the story? That’s the beginning of his ministry.
Is it any wonder that at the end of Jesus’ ministry, he comes back now, enters the temple again and, look at verse 11. It says he went to the temple, he looked around at everything. As it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. What is he doing? He’s looking to see if anything’s changed. But he walks away the same as he was before because the men and women in the temple are still doing business as usual. It’s still the same way it was the first time before he cleanses the temple. And Jesus stands there and gazed at the same activities. He looked for true worship, and all he saw—get this—was activity.
The first century temple, if you were to walk in in Jesus’ day, was divided into four divisions. The first and largest division would have been the court of the Gentiles, which is where we could have gone. When you walk into the court of the Gentiles, you would see that two things happened in this court. Follow me. This first thing was that you bought and sold doves or sheep to offer as a sacrifice to the Lord on the festivals or the feast days. The second thing would do is, if you were a foreigner, you had to exchange money in order to have the right currency to pay the half shekel tax to the Sadducees. The Sadducees monitored everything that was going on in the Gentile court because it was for sacrifice, but—get this—it was also for personal gain. They wanted to make sure that they had an eye on the economy in the court of the Gentiles.
Image the bustling of the people. Imagine the animals squealing. You can almost hear them today. Imagine the money clanging and changing hands. That wasn’t the problem because on the outside, you could look at that and say Wow, there’s a lot of activity here. These people have truly come to worship the Lord. But behind the scenes, Jesus pulls back the veil of reality and says the whole thing is a scam. It’s activity but there’s no worship.
See, what happened is this. You would walk up if you were offering a sacrifice to the Lord. Let’s say you brought a sheep from home, your prized possession without spot or blemish. And you brought it to the priest and the priest was the deciding factor as to whether the sacrifice was offered or not. So you brought him your prized possession and all that’s all he had to do was say, I don’t think it’s going to make it. What? Why? I said I don’t think it’s going to make it. It’s not going to pass. However, over here you can purchase a sheep without spot, a lamb without spot or blemish for 10 times the price. So that’s what they did. You didn’t have a choice.
And if that wasn’t enough, the poor were never excluded as well. Leviticus 12 says the poor had to bring a dove and offer it up to the Lord. Well, they would do the same thing. Outside of the temple, you could purchase a dove for around four cents but if you got to the priest and the dove was unacceptable, the price was four dollars. Could you imagine it? On top of that, there was a temple tax of a half shekel. Foreigners would be traveling from all over the nation coming to Jerusalem to honor the Lord, the true God, but what happened is they didn’t have the right currency. So they would do an exchange rate but one historian said that the exchange rate was up to 25% higher than it should have been.
John MacArthur describes the economic system of corruption. Listen to what he says, “It was a system of perversion, prostitution, travesty, extortion, monopoly, just a horrendous operation of noise and traffic. It was anything but a house of prayer. Jesus went in and just ripped into all of it. He started driving out the people who were buying and selling, the people bringing in their animals and taking them out. He overturned the tables. He started kicking over the stools on which the money changers sat. He threw the tables, scattered their money everywhere. Debris—can you picture it—flying all over this massive courtyard in front of hundreds and thousands of people sitting by. He threw over the stools that the dove sellers were sitting on. Every crook, every exploiter to the poor, all of the rotten Sadducees and the priests that oversaw the operation fell under the attention and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Wow. The temple had been degenerated into a den of robbers. Now this is a direct quote from Jeremiah 7. We need to read this together. Go to Jeremiah 7. Watch this: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.’”
Basically what he’s saying is turn around and follow me and I will let you dwell in the house. What house is it? It’ll tell us: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel.”
He destroyed it. “And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. [I’m going to decimate it if you don’t turn.] And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.”
The sanctuary, supposedly sanctified by God, was a hideout for bandits and thieves. That’s what he’s saying. Look what Jeremiah is saying. He’s saying there were people who stole and murdered and worshipped other gods who came into the house of the Lord and acted as if they didn’t do anything. In essence, they lived like they wanted, came into the presence of the Lord and acted like they were okay. They had activity but there was no worship.
Many of you do the same thing. Many worship false idols today left and right, but the problem is they disguise themselves and you don’t see them for what they are. They’re not carved images on a shelf. They’re black boxes on top of your fireplace or in your entertainment center that you sit in front of for hours a day and submit to their authority. Pastor, I would never commit adultery on my wife or husband. But we look at sites when no one is around. We’re involved in emotional relationships or you’re involved emotional relationships with someone other than your spouse. Pastor, I would never murder physically. But you slander behind the scenes your co-workers or your friends or even your family. You harbor anger in your heart.
And if that’s not enough, what Jeremiah’s saying is then you come into the house of the Lord on Sunday and put on an act and act like everything is okay. How are you doing? I’m doing great. How are you? Everything is just fine. God and I are doing wonderful. Jesus said it’s all activity but no worship. He said it this way, Their lips are close to Me but their hearts are far from Me. Do you remember that? They say the right things. They know the right scriptures but their hearts are far from Me.
Archbishop William Temple’s definition of worship—I love it: worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.
That’s not what the chief priests and scribes were doing. Look at Mark 11:18: “And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him [Why?] because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.” Is it amazing that the religious leaders of Israel would resort to murder in order to preserve their power? That’s what they were doing. They said, we’ll do anything. Don’t take away our power.
Notice what happens. Verse 20; Peter comes back with the disciples and says, Look, Lord! The fig tree you cursed has withered. And what’s interesting is Mark puts this phrase in here – it has withered away to its roots. It shows the temple and the totality of destruction that is about to come on this place. In A.D. 70, the Romans would come in and wipe this place out. Jesus predicts it—Mark 13:2: Don’t miss this, guys. Do you see these buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another stone. It will all be thrown down. See, even though this passage is called the cleansing of the temple, it actually should be called the destruction of the temple. Jesus is not cleansing here. He is pronouncing destruction upon this place.
Friends, activity does not equal worship. Just because you’re going through the motions of serving the Lord, even here at Brainerd Baptist, does not equate to a true worshipful heart, that you’re a true servant of the Lord. I’ve seen some of the meanest and crankiest people in churches who were serving on committees, who were deacons, who sung in the choir, who were in the orchestra, who were volunteers in the church. Why is that, Robby? Because what happens is this: they let their position get in the way of their intimacy with the Lord. They wanted the title. They loved the power. And Jesus said don’t get caught up in that trap. Listen, even though this is a pronouncement on Israel, it’s an incredible reminder to us today as a church to examine our own lives to determine are we just looking good on the outside? Listen to me, friends. We can be shiny and leafy and green and have all the appearances that we’re producing fruit for the Lord but it doesn’t mean we are. God despises actions without integrity. He despises activity without worship.
Write the third one down right out of the text. He despises asking without faith, asking without faith. One of the truths of Jesus cleansing the temple is that the temple will no longer be a place of prayer and meditation because it will be destroyed. Jesus is saying now you pray to Me. You have faith in God. You don’t need to come here and pray. This place is going to be destroyed, so let me teach you how to pray.
Now, the key word there is God—have faith in God—it’s not faith. Faith is a good word, but the key word is God. Because we can get caught up in the idea in prayer—that if we have just enough faith, God will move. But that’s not the case. What he’s saying is we need to have faith in God, the object of our faith or, in essence what Jesus is saying is, trust God. What does that mean? See, in order for you to trust God or put faith in God we have to know who God is. We have to know the attributes of God. We need to know the qualities of God. We need to know the will of God. We need to know the person of Christ. As we know about God, we know more about the will of God.
When the disciples asked Jesus in Luke chapter 11, teach us to pray, what does He say? Pray like this, Father hallowed [what?] be Thy name. [What?] Your kingdom come. Your will be done. That’s how he starts the prayer. And it shows us that you and I should get in the habit of praying that way. God, whatever it takes to advance your kingdom, may it be so. God, whatever it takes to promote your name on the earth, let it happen for your namesake.
Go to 1 John 5:14. John was at this place with the disciples and Jesus when he heard these words from Jesus, I think was influenced by Jesus to write this. Verse 14, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will [What?] he hears us. [But he goes on.] And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” This is what he’s saying. If we ask anything according to his will, he will hear us and if we ask it according to his will, we will have received it. If it’s according to his plan and his purpose and his character, it is done.
Now Jesus gives a hyperbole to the disciples to explain it. Go back to Mark 11. Let me explain to you guys what I’m talking about. You can say to this mountain, be moved from here to there and thrown into the sea and it will be done for you. Now, some people have misinterpreted this entire section because they have missed the key word this. That’s the key word. Not any mountain but you can say to this mountain. If you went to Jerusalem, you’ll notice that there’s a peak shaped in the form of a volcano that dominates the landscape. In fact, it was built by Herod the Great. It’s called the Herodian Fortress. He built it as a way of refuge in time of war. Follow me. So what happens is when there was a war, he would retreat up to this high mountain and get into his fortress. It was like a citadel.
But in order to really fortify Herodian, the structure or the mountain, he dug up another mountain nearby, he unearthed another hill and provided earth for protection. The disciples knew that. They knew that the great Herod the Great had moved a mountain. And Jesus says as powerful as Herod the Great is, you guys by the power of the Holy Spirit praying to the sovereign God can do even great things than that. You can cast the mountain into the sea.
Now, why do they have a problem with that? You would think they would were saying amen, Jesus! We got it. But they just missed it. Mark 9. Go back. They just blew it. Jesus has to remind them, because they forgot for some reason. Mark 9 begins with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. He comes down the mountain with three disciples. They’re caught in this crossfire between the scribes and the disciples. The scribes are attacking the disciples over a dispute over a young boy who had been possessed by a demon.
Look at verse 17. “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out [now here’s the key phrase] and they were not able.”
Jesus, I came to your disciples for help but they were not able to do anything for me. Why? Because they didn’t have faith in God to heal the boy. And so the father comes to Jesus. Look at what he says. “Jesus, can YOU do anything for me?” “‘Can I do anything for you?’ Is that a joke? What do you mean can I do anything? The question is never about me. The question’s back on you. Do you believe?” What does the man say, that great passage. “I believe,” but what? “Help my unbelief.”
Aren’t you appreciative of the honest of this man? I mean, how many of us would have said in front of the Lord Jesus, Jesus, I believe, but really I don’t believe much. We would have said, Jesus, yes sir, I believe. I’ve been at this church 50 years. What are you talking about I believe? The man said no.
See, at that point, all hypocrisy is gone. Jesus, I believe, but help my unbelief. Now, did the man have perfect faith? Did the man have totality in belief? Here’s the question: Was there some doubt? I believe there was. He even says it. So it shows us that with little faith, we can initiate the power of God but we have to have receiving belief. Jesus says if you believe according to God’s will and ask in faith and ask believing that you’ll receive it, you’ll have it. That’s the promise that He gives us. But the problem is thousands of people go on believing but never receiving. The person who really believes will receive according to all that God can give. God despises actions without integrity. God despises activity without worship. God despises asking without faith.
Finally, write this down, God despises approaching without forgiveness. The Old Testament says that God will not hear the prayers of those who harbor iniquity in their hearts. So when we pray, it’s important for you and I—what is the application point? Here it is—to examine our lives to determine if there is any lingering sin in our lives. If we’re holding something against someone, then before we approach the Lord we need to ask for God’s forgiveness. That word forgive means to do this—it means to get rid of, spring cleaning, it means to throw out. It means to heave away or to hurl away. It’s not talking about salvation forgiveness, being forgiven to come into the presence of the Lord. It’s talking about sanctification.
As we grow in the image of Christ, and nurture intimacy with the Lord, unforgiveness will distort our relationship with God. A great example of this is Matthew 18. You remember the story. This king or this ruler has this overwhelming debt that this man owes him. I mean, overwhelming. He can’t even pay the debt, hundreds of years of wages. The king goes to the man and says You’re forgiven of this debt. You’re exonerated of all the charges. You can go. The man immediately goes into the street, finds another man that owes him a small debt, strangles him and throws him in prison. The king hears about it, gets this man and says How dare you. I let you off with this enormous debt but yet you and go out and you hold someone accountable for a small debt. And the principle is this: he who has been forgiven an enormous debt from God—you and I—should be the ones first to forgive others immediately.
As we’ve seen this morning, God despises actions without integrity. He despises activity without worship. He despises asking without faith. He despises when we approach him without forgiveness. Basically what Jesus, I think, would say is false worship is detestable to God. It is rejected by God. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is not satisfied with your false worship and your shallow faith.
So what do we do? I think the walking point for us is this is that we need to examine our worship unto the Lord, and we to examine our lives and recognize the failing of Israel and the significance of the destruction of God’s temple. We need to ask ourselves this morning what’s the problem? See, the problem was not that they were just offering false sacrifices. The problem was not that they were just scamming the poor. The problem was not that there was corruption in the priesthood. Come in real close. The problem was that they were going through the mechanics of worship and they were far from God.
Friends, if our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, then we need to examine ourselves this morning. Let me ask you, are you far from God? Are you just going through the motions today?