Yesterday morning I preached from Mark 11:12-25.  In this text, Jesus entered the temple and overturned the money changers’ tables and drove out all of the animals.  This text dedicated to the cleansing of the temple is focused on the confrontation of false worship.  What can we learn from this confrontation between Jesus and the religious establishment of His day?  What does this event have to do with the church in our present day?

The Symbolism of the Fig Tree

As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, he noticed a fig tree on the side of the road.  He was hungry, and desired to eat some of the figs from the tree.  Although it was April (Passover) and the harvest season for figs wouldn’t be for another couple of months, it was common for people to eat the immature figs from the tree in the early budding stages if they were hungry.  Jesus saw this fig tree with all of its leaves in full bloom and as He drew close to look for figs, He found none.  The fig tree was full of leaves but had no fruit.

Jesus cursed the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14).  The text then says that all of the disciples heard Jesus’ curse.  The interesting thing about this miracle is that it’s the first negative miracle in all of Jesus’ ministry.  His miracles consisted of healing the diseased, cleansing a leper, restoring sight to the blind, raising the dead, calming a raging storm, rebuking the wind, and feeding a hungry multitude of people with a small lad’s lunch.  This miracle was the opposite.  He didn’t take a withered fig tree and restore it to health.  Instead, He took a fig tree that seemed to be healthy and pronounced a curse upon it causing it to wither.

In the Scriptures, the fig tree is a representation of Israel.  We see this from texts such as Psalm 105:33, Jeremiah 8:13, Hosea 9:10, Micah 7:1-6, and Luke 13:6-9.  Therefore, as Jesus was preparing to enter the temple to clean house, He would use this fig tree as a means of illustration as they departed from the city that evening.

Beware of False Worship

Having already visited the temple upon His arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus knew what to expect as He made His way back into the temple early in this new week – the final week prior to His crucifixion.  With over 2.5 million people roaming the streets and filling the temple, the smells, sounds, and activity of people were devoted to the preparation of Passover.  Money was being exchanged for those who had traveled in from outside of Jerusalem.  In some cases, according to historians, these money changers would charge 25% in order to exchange currency.  The same attitude was prevalent among the shepherds who herded sheep and other animals into the city and setup their market in the temple in order to make a profit off of the visitors.

Jesus was disturbed by the entire sight.  They had turned the house of God into something other than what it was designed for.  Jesus entered the temple and started turning over the money changers’ tables.  As coins hit the floor and the loud banging sounds continued to reverberate across the temple, He then started running the animals out of the temple.  As people scrambled to see what was taking place, Jesus then spoke up with authority and started teaching the people from Isaiah 56:7.  It should be emphasized that Jesus’ ministry was devoted to teaching and preaching.  Jesus said, “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” (Mark 11:17).  This entire scene caused a great stir among the religious leaders – and they were seeking a way to destroy Jesus because they feared Him.

The Necessities of Pure Worship

As Jesus and His disciples made their way back to Bethany, Peter pointed out the fig tree that Jesus had cursed on their way into the city that day.  It was now withered and dried up.  Jesus then took that opportunity to point out three specific necessities of pure worship.

  1.  The Necessity of Pure Faith (20-23)
  2. The Necessity of Genuine Prayer (24)
  3. The Necessity of an Authentic Community (25)

It was clear that Israel had the temple in all of its splendor along with all of the religious promises, the law, and the prophets, but they lacked a genuine faith.  Their temple had an appearance that pointed to God, but what was inside was filth, animal waste, the noise of an open market, and everything other than genuine prayer.  As Jesus examined the city of Jerusalem, He could see people filling the city for worship, but they were angry with one another, arguing over money exchange rates, animal prices, and other problems that filled their streets.  Jesus did not see an authentic community of God’s people who exemplify their love for God and one another.

The danger of false worship not only plagued the temple worship, but it’s likewise a weakness of the church in our day.  Religious hypocrisy may be one of the most popular excuses that unbelievers use for staying away from the church.  At times, this excuse is merely an excuse.  Unfortunately, there are times when this excuse actually holds water.  We must guard ourselves from false worship and from turning the church building into something other than what God has designed it to be.  For if the people (who are the actual church) are engaged in carnal worship, it’s merely an outward expression of what’s actually in the hearts of the people.

Today, the church has been woefully guilty of carnal worship practices.  This is evident in a shallow pulpit, an entertainment approach to music, and a children’s ministry that’s merely focused on having fun without any biblical foundation.  Ask many people why they joined their church and they will likely talk about some pragmatic event or ministry, but it’s likely not connected to sound theology.  The majority of the time people claim to have joined a church based on music style.  The health of a church is directly connected to the health of the pulpit.  We must have solid orthopraxy that matches solid orthodoxy in all ministries of the church.

The need of the hour is for pure worship among the church of Jesus Christ so that the world that surrounds her will see the brightness of God’s glory and the love of God put on display among an authentic community of Christ followers.