Sermon Notes: Cleaning House

I don't always do this,  but the response to this week's sermon was such that I thought maybe I should share it.   Audio of the sermon can be found on the Gospel Light Sermon Audio page.

I will give you one caveat:   these are my notes that I used in preparing for the message.  However, I generally go off-notes when I preach.  So while the main parts of the message are below, the audio is better.

Today is Palm Sunday.  Hopefully most of us know what that means.  

The celebration today focuses on what is called Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem.    We all know the story, but this is a sermon, so we’re going to have to read it again.   I really like Matthew’s account of it in Chapter 21.   It’s straightforward, beautifully written, beautiful imagery.  

But today, we’re going to read from Mark.   Chapter 11.  

1 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage[a] and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; 2and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3 And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”
4 So they went their way, and found the[b] colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. 5 But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?” 
6 And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: 

      “ Hosanna! 

      ‘ Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’
10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David 
      That comes in the name of the Lord!
      Hosanna in the highest!” 
 11 And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

You can feel it, can’t you?   The anticipation leading up to Easter.  It’s almost here – it’s like the best time of the year.   It’s like Christmas with good weather.  The flowers are blooming,  birds are singing, life is in the air.   We have all kinds of things coming up this week.  It’s awesome.

Jesus enters Jerusalem.  The “triumphal” entry they call it.  Why?  Because he comes as a king, right?  That’s the idea.   He comes boldly, people cheering him, throwing palm branches down before him. calling out to him.    They treated him royally, right?  


State Visit. 

takes months of preparation
nothing but the best

In the US, we have a thing called the State Arrival Ceremony.    it takes place on the South Lawn of the White House whenever a visiting head of state comes.   The ceremony was actually started by President Kennedy in 1962 and the first one welcomed the president of Algeria.   It has evolved over the years but basically

  • Color guard of all five branches of the armed services holding all 50 state flags
  • The President and first lady come out and they play ruffles and flourshes and Hail to the Chief
  • The visiting dignitary arrives.   They play a fanfare, both national anthems.
  • 19 or 21 gun salute
  • review the color guard
  • fife and drum corps plays Yankee Doodle
  • Remarks
  • Reception

There is usually a state dinner with hundreds of guests, engraved invitations hand written by calligraphers, a special menu…. 

Not exactly riding into town on a donkey, is it?

By contrast, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” was like having the Queen of England over to your house and feeding her KFC off paper plates in your basement.  

Now, I want you to notice something.   Verse 11.   It says that Jesus went into the temple and looked around, and then left.   John doesn’t tell us that part. 

So what did he see? 

Whatever it was, it made an impression on him.   

The next day was very different.  When Jesus came back to Jerusalem,  there was no fanfare, no waving of palms, no crowds, no cheers.   But Jesus is a man on a mission, even more so than usual.  

The first thing we see of that Monday morning is Jesus and his disciples walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.   Jesus is hungry and sees a fig tree.  But when he gets there, he finds no fruit on it, and curses it and it subsequently withers and dies.  Now this is a very strange story.  Mark tells us that it wasn’t even the season for figs.   This can only lead us to one conclusion:  God hates figs. 

We’re actually going to get back to the fig tree later, because the fig tree helps explain what happens next, just as what happens next explains the fig tree.   Bear with me.

Jesus goes back into Jerusalem, and goes back into the temple.

What did he see?   Money changers.   Commerce.  Business.  

2 Then Jesus went into the temple of God[f] and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’[g] but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’[h]
14 Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with commerce, there’s nothing wrong with money changers – in fact they were necessary to the survival of the temple:

  • Offerings must be in temple coins.
  • Animals must be unblemished.

So why was Jesus so upset? 

Structure of the Temple.    
  • Holy of Holies - where God's real presence was
  • Holy Place - surrounded the Holy of Holies.  
  • Court of the Priests
  • Court of the Israelites - only Jewish men allowed
  • Court of the Women - all Jews allowed.  The "main" part of the temple, analogous to the sanctuary of a church. 
  • Court of the Gentiles - Open to everyone to come and seek God, pray, learn and be healed.

Court of the Gentiles

The court of the gentiles in Jesus’ time was like a bazaar or flea-market.    There were booths set up where people sold food, and souvenirs,  where they sold animals for sacrifices.  They sold tours of the temple complex.   And they had currency changers, who would change Roman money into temple coin for offerings. 

The problem was, the reason that the court of the gentiles existed was to have somewhere for the gentiles to be able to come and pray to God.   But all this commerce had pushed them out of the way – there was literally no room left for people to seek God. 

It wasn’t like we set up shop here in the sanctuary, or on the altar – it was like we set it up in the lobby, blocking the door.  

The Jews had room.   There was plenty of room in the inner courts.  No one was going in there.   But the Jews would shut themselves into the inside of the temple, and they used the outside – which was supposed to be for people to come and approach God – for their own convenience. 

They took the area that was designed to be a place of healing and grace for the sick and dying (spiritual and physical) and turned it into a convenience store for themselves.  Imagine having a medical emergency, and going to the ER, only to have them tell you they turned it into a health club – for healthy people only!    Where are you supposed to go and get well.  

That den of thieves quote?   That wasn’t by accident.     Jeremiah 7 says:

8 “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD. 

In Jeremiahs time they worshipped idols in the temple.  In Jesus’ time, the Jews would do what they wanted for six days, then shut themselves up in their temple on the Sabbath, and call themselves righteous.  They turned their back on the “wrong” people.   Jesus spent all his time with the “wrong” people.   Which is why he was so angry with the people of Jerusalem.  He wasn’t angry at them because of what they were doing as much as because of who they were pushing out to do it. 

Remember the fig tree?   Jesus cursed it for being fruitless, even though it wasn’t in season.  Doesn’t seem fair, really, does it?  

But let’s look closer.

2 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” 

When a fig tree begins to sprout in the spring, one of the first things that happen is that it grows leaves, usually in the end of March.  At the same time, though, it also grows these little buds that will fall off and be replaced by real figs in about six weeks.  They look like little green almonds.  They’re called taqsh.   And they are quite edible – peasants would eat them all the time. 

The fact that Jesus saw “nothing but leaves” means that there were no taqshs on the tree – and that it would not bear fruit that year.   So, even though it wasn’t the season,  Jesus knew it would be fruitless. 

The point is fruit.  Jesus’ call on our lives is to bear fruit – spiritual fruit.  But in order to do that, there has to be room for that fruit to grow.  We can’t get so wrapped up in doing what we do, that we leave no room for others  to approach the altar.   This is Palm Sunday.  Who did you invite today?   What room did you make in your lives for those to approach Jesus?   YOU ARE the Holy of Holies.   YOU ARE the temple. 

Are your gates open?

Is there room in your outer courts?

Or are you walled up inside your temple?


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