Today, Jesus does something blatantly Messianic, possibly in an attempt to provoke the Jewish leadership finally into action: he borrows a young donkey, along with its mother, and rides it into Jerusalem. To do this in such a way was an expression of royalty and a fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9. The Jews could not have missed this one! Mark’s gospel chooses not to quote this and other Old Testament verses – keeping it simple for his Roman / gentile readers. He also focusses on the donkey’s colt that Jesus rode, not mentioning its mother at all – unlike Matthew who wanted to ‘flesh out’ the Zechariah prophecy with both animals.
The route Jesus chose was from the village of Bethphage, near the top of the Mount of Olives. At that height, it looks westwards down on the City of Jerusalem and is one of the most beautiful and iconic views in the entire world. Get ready, Jerusalem, your King is coming! Until now, Jesus had always ticked the ‘no publicity’ box and had warned his disciples and those he ministered to that they should keep quiet about him; now, he encouraged them to turn up the volume and to shout from the rooftops! They sang Psalm 118, one of the Hallel Psalms. In our lives today, why not recapture the heavenly glory and passion embedded in the Book of Psalms to accompany the rhythms, milestones, and events in our daily walk with Him!
At the end of his procession of triumph, Jesus had a quick glance around the temple courts on his arrival but realised that it was getting too late to do anything further that day, so he retired back to Bethany with his disciples. He had a plan for that temple! The next day he awoke and made haste back to the city. A strange event then occurred: he spotted a fig tree, out of season, as yet bearing no figs (nothing special there, then). However, he was hungry and, since the fig tree provided him with nothing, he chose to curse it – the only time that I can recall him cursing anything.
Jesus’ plan for the temple courts included ‘cleansing’ them of all traders and their merchandise. They had turned the only place that was designated for the Gentiles to worship at, into an open-air market where the precise animals that were identified as suitable for sacrifice, and the precise money that was acceptable as an offering, were on sale. “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7). Here is an interesting First Century artefact from the temple: Inscription in Greek at Temple Balustrade . The anger Jesus showed was probably representative of the anger of his Heavenly Father too. I believe that we today need to learn from this incident: that God requires us to create spaces for the unsaved, unchurched, and unwanted people in our communities to approach nearer to the presence of God and his people – without first having to make any commitment, but with an invitation and opportunity to draw closer, to pray, to taste, and to see that the Lord is indeed good. A space to “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10).
The next morning the fig tree was dead. Peter was shocked. What was the message? I think that it was a parable against the Jewish people and their leaders: they had not provided ‘fruit’ for their God when he needed it. They had benefited for millennia from his presence, his word, his kindness, and his provision, but they had effectively rejected him. God will not tolerate us providing him with ‘fruit’ only when it suits us, instead of at a time that suits Him. We, his church, must therefore be ready if we are not to suffer the same fate as that fig tree! (Revelation 2:5).
In fact, Jesus said, any of you can do miracles if you only believe. He means true faith, not just wishful thinking. Faith is itself a gift from God, not a product of ‘mind over matter’. Faith begins in the heart and rises to the mind, eventually manifesting itself in the will. If we have consistently prayed for something and it clearly hasn’t happened – and now cannot happen – then we did not truly pray in faith. One prayer that we can always pray in faith is: “Increase my faith”! And if we pray in accordance with God’s will, we do receive our answer. In fact, having faith in our hearts for a certain thing, is evidence that we are about to pray in the will of God. Mark, alone amongst the gospel writers, adds the rider that, whilst praying, if you hold anything against anyone, you should forgive them – in order for your Heavenly Father to forgive your own sins!