The Demanding Jesus (Mark 11.1–33)

Several years ago, Phillip Yancey published a book entitled, The Jesus I Never Knew. Yancey cut through the fog of mistaken interpretations that so often floats around Jesus and reintroduced his readers to the Gospels’ portrait of him. In the Gospels, Jesus is simultaneously more gracious and more demanding than we are. We see the demanding Jesus on display in Mark 11.1–33.

The first event Mark 11 narrates is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (verses 1–11). Jesus tells his disciples to find a colt for him to ride into Jerusalem. If someone asks them why they are taking the colt, Jesus tells the disciples to respond, “The Lord needs it.” The Lord! Not some guy. Jesus here presents himself to the disciples, to the owner of the colt, and to the crowd, as a noble—indeed, kingly—figure. As he enters Jerusalem, vast throngs shout, “Hosanna!” which means, “Save us!” They also said, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” When you think of Jesus, do you think of a king?

The second event is Jesus’ purification of the temple (verses 12–19). Jesus enters the temple mount (where the Dome of the Rock is today) and drives out the moneychangers and merchants. These businessmen served a valuable purpose for pilgrims who traveled great distances to worship in Jerusalem. They changed foreign currency into temple currency, which allowed the pilgrims to purchase the sacrifices they would offer at the altar. Jesus had two problems with the money changers and merchants: (1) they were dishonest, giving unfair exchange rates; and (2) they had set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles, which was the only place in the temple mount where non-Jews could worship. Jesus thundered, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.’ But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” When you think of Jesus, do you think of him as righteously indignant at consumeristic religion?

The third event is Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree (verses 12–14, 20­–26). Figs were not in season at this time of year. Why then did Jesus curse the tree for its failure to produce fruit? As a parable for us. Jesus teaches two things in this event: (1) that we ought always to produce spiritual fruit in our lives, for there is no such thing as an out-of-season Christian. And (2) that spiritual power comes through faithful prayer, so that we ought always to be praying. When you think of Jesus, do you think of him as a person who demands continual excellence from his followers?

The final event is Jesus dispute with the religious leaders (verses 27–33). They question Jesus’ authority to do what he has done. It’s a dumb question, really; if they have not learned from the miracles who Jesus is, they are not going to learn now. When you think of Jesus, do you think of him as someone with the authority to tell you how to live your life?

King. Purifier. Demander of excellence. Authority. Truly this is the Jesus we never knew.

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