The week that changed the world
Picture it. The place — Jerusalem. The time — close to the turn of the millennium. The cultural and political climate is chaotic. The collapse of the world’s greatest social power is eminent. Corruption and greed are everywhere. Various religious sects are in a power struggle for supremacy and the ripple effects are shaking the very foundations of the population’s belief systems.
Into this scene comes a force such as the world has never known.
A single man riding on a donkey, destined to change the course of human history, enters the stage.
Scripture tells us when he came into town, the first place he went was the Temple; a place he had visited often and knew well. (Matthew 21:12-17)
Luke says at the age of twelve he spent several days there, listening to and asking questions of the teachers. (Luke 2:41-52) Even as a boy, Jesus felt the pull of God’s call on his life, telling his panic stricken mother, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I can only assume his visits to the temple were frequent during the silent years as he grew and matured to manhood; after all his family went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. The boy Jesus would have gone along, and presumably spent a great deal more time listening to the teachers, sitting at their feet and learning the fine points of the law.
We have other recorded trips to the temple in Jerusalem during the three years Jesus worked and taught throughout the region known to us today as the Holy Land. But on this night, the night of his Triumphal Entry, he went straight to the Temple, looked around at everything and then went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:11)
No one can presume to know the mind of Christ, but I think he must have experienced the nostalgia any man might feel when looking at a beloved place remembered from childhood, mixed with the anguish brought about by twenty years of deterioration and not-for-the-better change. I’ve felt it – probably you have too. What ‘they’ say is true. “You can’t go home again.” And so Jesus went straight to his Father’s house, looked around at everything, then took his closest friens and went out to Bethany – probably to the home of his dear friend Lazarus, where Mary and Martha would have prepared a meal and attended to their needs as was often the case when they were in the area.
On the following day (Monday by traditional calculations), as they were coming from Bethany he was hungry, and seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf he went to see if he could find anything on it. (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25) Now right here is where we begin to see a glimmer of what’s going on in his soul!
When he came to the tree he found “nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” And he cursed the fig tree! And his disciples heard it!
Think about it…his Father’s house, where he was taught as a boy, has gone from a place of worship and prayer, to a street market filled with money changers and livestock dealers. The city he loves is in chaos…think New Orleans at Mardi Gras… and his closest friends and brothers don’t have a clue why he’s really here. Everything around him is business as usual, and business as usual is taking everyone further away from God’s plan for their lives by the second. And, consider this—Jesus knows, KNOWS—in less than 72 hours he is going to carry the sins, sickness, disease, heartbreak, worry…everything…for each and everyone of them before God in order to set them free forever. He knows he must act as the one and only sacrificial Lamb acceptable to God for everyone crowding the streets, everyone selling livestock and changing money in the Temple courtyard, every Pharisee, every Sadducee, every Roman soldier, every man, woman and child he sees. And he sees thousands.
But there are more….millions and millions more. There’s you, and me, and all our friends and family members. There’s every human being on planet earth – then and NOW. Jesus knows he is going to be accused, mocked, spit on, beaten, crucified…all for them. These clueless people, who think they know and understand him…but truly do not get it. At all.
Writing this, I am slammed hard up against the fact that I probably don’t really get it either!
I’ve been a follower of Christ for the past thirty plus years. I’ve experienced miraculous things he has done. We have been healed, set free, guarded, protected, provided for and loved – every day of every year. I should get it!!!
I thought I got it!
But did I? Really?
I wonder if Jesus righteous anger was only over the condition of his Father’s house; only because of the robbers and thieves whose disrespect was totally apparent on that Monday morning so long ago. Or was some of his justifiable anger because he knew that two millennium later, we would still be taking his sacrifice for granted?
The sermon we heard on Palm Sunday told us Jesus fury when he entered the Temple courtyard that morning turned him into ‘a one-man riot’ because of their lukewarm attitude toward the things of God. The pastor said, “The un-Godly behavior of the people revealed a side of Jesus that few had ever seen.” He also said, “There are people in religious positions today who could make him just as angry.”
Am I one of those?
As I said — I’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ for the past thirty plus years. That’s much longer than some of your are old. But this Monday morning, I’ve seen something in the Scriptures I’ve never seen before. After Jesus tore, like a whirlwind, through the religious community selling their wares in the courtyard of the Church, demanding they acknowledge the true meaning of the purpose of the church…”It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have turned it into a den of robbers.’”…the blind and the lame, the weak and the sick, the broken and bruised (those with needs and issues in today’s vernacular) came to him there – in the church yard – and he healed them all. (Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48)
Now, for the first time, I’m thinking Jesus was about ‘business as usual’ on that last Monday morning of his human life on earth, too. And since we are told he is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) we can expect him to be furious about the excesses and stupidities in the religious community, just as many of us have been. But I think we can also expect him to clean out the church courtyard, send the pretenders running, and gather those with needs and issues, sickness and disease, the blind and the lame, the weak and broken to himself and heal them. All!
Here’s something else I noticed….Jesus didn’t ask the weak and broken in the crowd to “get it together’ before he healed them. He didn’t tell them they “should” do anything to make themselves worthy of his attention. He just gave them what they needed. That got their attention….then they followed him.
I’m thinking, in today’s church courtyards there are entirely too many “shoulds” – too many rules and regulations telling us what is going to be required before Jesus can do anything to help us out.
That’s not the way it works! Not with Jesus.
The real reason he ran the livestock dealers and money-changers out of the Temple courtyard was to clear the way for those in need to approach his Father unencumbered by the religious stupidity of the day.
Read the gospels with this idea in mind: Jesus was followed by huge crowds as he moved about in Judea and Palestine for almost three years. Nowhere do we see him saying, “You should do this, or do that, before I can help you out.” They were blind; they came to him and went away with their sight. They were deaf, came to him and went away hearing. They came to him hungry, and he fed them. They came to him broken in spirit, possessed by evil spirits; chronically ill…he healed them all! And he told them, “follow me.”
Now get this…Jesus knew where he was going! He knew that the great multitudes that followed him would be going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover just as he and his disciples would. He knew what they were going to see, and hear. He knew he was ordained to die a horrific death on a Roman cross. And he knew his followers were going to watch it happen. Still he said, “Follow me.” Because he knew…at the end of the week that was to change the world, they could follow him eternally!
So…on that Monday before Passover, it was ‘business as usual’.
IT still IS.