Good morning, it's good to be with you again to Ards Evangelical to minister God's word. I've really been looking forward to the next four weeks, including today, together as we look at God's word. I do hope sincerely that you're not here to hear me, because you'll be sadly disappointed. I hope that you're here to hear from God, and hopefully through the exposition of God's word you will hear His voice - that's what I've been praying. I've been seeking God over what to bring to you these four weeks, and I feel led to start by turning to Mark's gospel chapter 11. What we're going to do in these four weeks, morning and evening, is to go through the last week of the life of our Lord Jesus. So that's what we're going to do, now I can't make any promises how far we're going to get - I hope we might get through the whole week. We've got eight sessions, I think I'm right in saying, and the Gospel will be throughout these studies - so there'll not be one particular message a Gospel message as such, but the Gospel will be here and there - how could it not be when we're looking at the last week of our Lord's life as He goes towards Calvary, the cross?
So we're turning to chapter 11 of Mark, and this morning I want us to consider verses 1 to 26 - but we're only going to read just now verses 1 to 10: "Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He", that is, the Lord Jesus, "sent two of His disciples; and 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. 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'. So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, 'What are you doing, loosing the colt?'. And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: 'Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Blessed is the kingdom of our father David That comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!'".
Let us pray together, and I would ask you please that you pray with me now, do pray with me now that the Lord may speak to you. Are you looking for the Lord to speak to you? You come here, perhaps, with needs, with burdens, with heartaches, with problems, besetting sins, shortcomings. You need the Lord to speak to you. Maybe you have come and your head is cluttered with all sorts of stuff, maybe even how you failed Him yesterday, or last evening, or this morning. All sorts of things can happen, you can have a row with the husband or the wife on the way out to church, and I know what it's like trying to get a clatter of children out as well! But let's just calm ourselves now, conscious that we are in the presence of God, the One whom we've been praising. Let's now supplicate Him, ask Him, to speak to us, and to manifest Himself in a very real way in our meeting this morning.
Father, Abba Father, Holy Father, we come in the name of Your Holy Child Jesus, and we ask now for Your help as we come to this portion of Scripture, and indeed this very sacred holy week, the last week of our Lord's life. Lord, we pray that this will not just be a Bible study, we pray that it will not just be a session of teaching where we will learn more than we knew before - but we ask in His name that this will be a time, and indeed this series of meetings will be an experience, of meeting the risen, glorified Lord; and that through the Holy Spirit He will come to us. Lord Jesus, that is Your promise to Your people: 'I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you'. So Lord, we pray that as we look at the last week of Your blessed life, that we would not look at this as history, but we would encounter You as real, and that You may minister the truths of those last days of Your life into our lives that we may be changed. For this we know we need the Holy Spirit, and so we ask now for the breath of Your Spirit to be upon us, and to minister not just to us but in us - for the glory of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Now we all know that a man or a woman's last words are very important. There are whole books on that, I have one in my library about the last words of famous men and women. As the last words of anyone are important, so are the final acts, the things that they did before they died. Now of how much more importance must be the last words and the final acts of the Son of Man and the Son of God? Now that's Mark's emphasis from chapter 11 right to chapter 16. If you're familiar with Mark's gospel, you will know that Mark's gospel is the gospel of the Suffering Servant, and it's the gospel of the cross - now that's not to say that the other gospels don't mention the cross, or emphasise it, but Mark in particular gives what we would have to say is a disproportionate amount of his gospel to the last week in the life of our Lord Jesus as He goes to Calvary. So we see clearly that this is his emphasis.
Now the words and the actions of our Lord Jesus Christ - and this is very important - all His last words and final acts were with the perfect knowledge of what was going to happen during this week. That's what makes this week, the last week of His life, different than the last words or final acts of any other human being that has ever lived - because He knew what was going to happen. Indeed, not only had He premeditated the events, but these events were prophesied in the Old Testament, and more than that: they were preordained by God, they had to happen, and they had to happen in the exact manner and order that they did happen as we will see these weeks. That's profound, because I'm left in awe of that: what a Servant! This gospel is about the Servant of the Lord, the One who has come - chapter 10 tells us that He did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many. He has come from heaven, to the babe in the manger, to the man ministering among men, and He's going to the cross - and with utter, complete, absorbing determination, He makes his way to the fulfilment of the determination of God's will.
Here we have the beginning of that last week. The occasion is the Passover season, we call this 'The Triumphal Entry', and it happened at the Passover season. If you don't know anything about that, the Passover season was a religious festival, a feast for the Jews. Thousands of devout Jews from all over the world would come to the holy city of Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, which was a commemoration of how God, through Moses, delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage through the Red Sea and all that. Jerusalem, every Passover, would be filled with religious zeal and nationalistic fervour as Jews from all over the world would come on this pilgrimage. Now this feast was an absolute nightmare, a headache, for the Roman occupying power, because you can imagine that they're trying to keep a grip on anyone who would rise up in insurrection, and all of a sudden a whole load of Jews come from all over the world to celebrate their identity nationally and religiously! There was a great fear among the Romans that this would spill over into some kind of insurrection - these Jews who were always looking for their Messiah and their Deliverer to come, that they would find somebody and put their hopes in him, and before you know it they would have a lot of trouble on their hands.
So we're at Passover, incidentally the day is Sunday, the first day of the week. In verse 1 we read that Jesus has 'drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany', and we believe that on His journey He would pass through Bethany and then Bethphage. At Bethphage He would be 2 miles from Jerusalem, 2600 feet above sea level - so in other words, the Lord Jesus would be at Bethphage looking down with a breathtaking view of the holy city. He is contemplating now His entrance into that place in fulfilment of God's will. So we read that He sends two disciples into Jerusalem to get a colt, for He's about to ride into Jerusalem as their promised King, as their Messiah, as the Christ.
Now before we study this, the Triumphal Entry, I want you to note - and I think it is very instructive, personally, for you - some interesting principles, I think, here, and lessons from how the Lord directs His people. They are given in His instruction to these two disciples to go and get the colt. If you look at verse 2, look at it: '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''. Now the Lord Jesus is speaking emphatically here: 'This is what's going to happen: go into the village opposite you, and you will enter and you will find a colt, loose it and bring it to me'. He's speaking with absolute knowledge, omniscience you might say, of this event - He knows what is going to happen. Now I know there's great mystery in God becoming flesh, and what things the Lord Jesus willingly laid aside in use, though He was God in flesh. There is a whole debate there, and a whole discussion we're not going to have this morning - but all I know is this: this Christ is not the Christ of modernism, it is not the Christ of liberalism, this is the Christ of history and the Christ of heaven - the Christ who has the very powers of God at His disposal to know things. Now maybe you're here this morning and you are seeking wisdom from God, you ought to be if you're a Christian. Maybe you're seeking a way ahead from God, maybe you have a dilemma or a decision to make and you don't know how to go about it. Now listen carefully to what I'm saying, here's a lesson: you can trust the knowledge of your Lord Jesus Christ. He knows the way you ought to go. He knows the way to take, and you can trust Him. Now can I ask you: do you trust Him? Do you go to Him when you need counsel, and when you need knowledge?
I've been meditating over Christmas on that wonderful verse in Isaiah: He's Wonderful, Counsellor. Do you need counsel? Do you need guidance? Do you need direction? Well, He has perfect knowledge of your situation, He knows it inside out and He can give you what you need if you will come to Him. So often we don't, we go to all sorts of counsellors, we lift the phone to ring family, we maybe go to godly men or women that we esteem - and there's nothing wrong with getting help - but sometimes those are our first bases, and not God, not Jesus.
Here's something else: we must have faith in His promise. Verse 3, Jesus says: 'If anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord has need of it,' and immediately he will send it here'. Now this seems incredible to me, because sometimes we read these stories and we are so familiar with them that we don't enter into the reality of what this must have been like. You know, to put it into modern day parlance, over in Loughries there, the Lord tells you: 'Go over to number 24, knock the door, and tell them that the Lord has told you that He needs your BMW'. Imagine if the Lord told you to do that! And the Lord says: 'Now, immediately he's going to hand over the keys of the BMW' - they'd probably be no use in the ice and snow anyway, sorry if you have a BMW! Maybe they would give it over gladly, I don't know! But do you understand what I'm saying? These people would have thought: 'These are thieves, I mean, who thought up that line, 'The Lord told me that He needs your colt'? These are thieves!'. But you see, the two disciples had to trust the promise - do you understand? They had to believe that the Lord knew everything, and it was from that faith that He had complete knowledge of the situation that they could place their trust in the promise.
Now can I say something to you: if you really want to go on with God, and go deeper in the things of the Christian life, sometimes the Lord will ask you to do things that are very strange. Often those strange things that He asks you to do will be misunderstood by others, and they might even think that you're doing something wrong - but all that shouldn't matter, and this is where I try to get to in the things I do for God, even though others may not just agree with it, if it is God I must obey Him. I have only one to please, I have only one to obey, and that is God. It's alright saying those things, but if you were in their situation what would you do? We have to believe God's promise: faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God - and so Christ spoke with all knowledge, and they exercised their faith in the promise... but something else was needed, and this is what's missing in what I've been saying already. It takes courage! It does, doesn't it? James says that faith without works is dead, in other words: faith needs to be animated. You've got to step out on faith, if it's a sure foundation it's worth acting on. They had to have the courage and the boldness to go down and to actually untie this colt without asking for it, without asking for it - is that not theft? Well, we'll not go into that, I don't think it's theft, they let them take it - but it could have been construed as that, couldn't it? But they had boldness to do it and to believe that if anybody said anything to them about it, that if they said 'The Lord has need of it', that they would get it. Can I add something to that? If you look at verse 6: 'They spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded' - they did not deviate from the message that Jesus gave them. They didn't engage in Chinese whispers and add their own little spin on it, and try to couch the blow for these people losing their colt. No, they just said it like the Lord told them, and because they spoke the word of God and stood courageously on the foundation of the word of God, what Jesus said would happen did happen.
Can I say something to you? Often when we are obeying God, the devil will fill our heads with all sorts of reasons why we ought not to obey Him, and all sorts of doubts concerning God's word. We suppose this is going to happen, and we assume the other is going to happen, and very rarely does any of it ever happen! Here's why: because when we stand upon God's word, He always honours His word. He has set His word, the Bible says, above His name - in other words, He has staked His reputation on His word. Do you trust it?
When I was studying this, my mind immediately went to Paul the apostle in the shipwreck in Acts 27. If you want to turn to it you can - if you want to turn to it you can! I can hear the pages you know! - Acts 27, I want you to see this, these are not fairy stories, this is reality. Imagine you're in a shipwreck, imagine you're in a shipwreck or a plane is about to go down. He's on his way to Rome and there is a great storm, and everybody is in fear of their lives and start throwing cargo off the side of the boat to lighten the load. Paul says in verse 22 of Acts 27: 'And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship'. So the ship is going to go down, but everybody is going to survive. Here's the basis on which Paul could say this to these mariners: 'For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, 'Do not be afraid'. Take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me'. Now that's faith! That's the faith that we're talking about: God has told me, I believe it - and so he was willing to courageously say to these men, who knew more about boats probably than he did, 'Don't worry, we're all going to be saved, but the boat'. I mean, what would you think if somebody said: 'Now don't worry, the plane is going down and it's going to be wrecked, but we're all going to survive'? 'The boat is going to sink but we're all going to be alright', this is before there were lifeboats, lifejackets! But God told him, and he believed - he said: 'I believe God that it will be even as He has told me'
Now if you're wanting guidance from God - and I know I'm digressing a wee bit this morning, we'll get back into the text in two seconds - but if you want guidance from God, we all want guidance, we treat God like a Sat Nav: 'What turn? Is it right at the lights or left? Straight through the roundabout this decision?'. If you want guidance from God you have got to believe Him, have faith in God, and we'll see He says that later on. You can see it in this ass, this donkey, this colt. It's amazing, the Lord Jesus jumps on it, it has never been ridden before, it's an unbroken beast, but it surrenders to the will of its Creator. That's the key of guidance: the surrendered will. Maybe this beast is more surrendered to God's will than you are, imagine that! An untamed, untrained animal! You see there are many people say: 'This is the key, this is the secret, this is the answer to the Christian life and how to be victorious'. There are many facets to how to really live a successful, victorious Christian experience - but I'll tell you: none of them bypass the will. One of the great secrets of living the Christian life is the surrender of the will.
So that leads us to verse 8, this great commotion, what was it? Well, the Lord Jesus is on a donkey. We find this astounding, but the donkey was the equivalent of a Daimler in these Old and New Testament days - it was a royal vehicle, a royal animal. There is a sign here that gives us the information that this is a royal coronation that we're reading about. If you go into the Old Testament you find that Solomon was on David's donkey when he was crowned King. Now this is the only time that the Lord Jesus permitted a public demonstration of His honour, that's astounding. He healed people and He said: 'Shh, Shh, don't tell anybody. Away you go, do whatever offerings you have to with the priest, but don't tell anybody' - and then everybody went away and blabbed everything. But that's the way the Lord worked, He didn't work for crowds, the common people came and heard Him gladly because He was healing and He was teaching and doing wonderful things - but He didn't seek fame. But this is a time where He does go out of His way, and He allows a public demonstration of His honour. The reason why is to fulfil prophecy, Zechariah 9 and verse 9, over 500 years before this event - Zechariah the prophet said: 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey'. What He was wanting to do was, He was wanting not only to fulfil prophecy but to jog the Jew's memory of that prophecy, for them to realise, the penny to drop: 'This is our King! This is our Messiah that we have waited for!'.
For a moment, this moment, He was acknowledged as their King. He was affirming His Kingship before them as the Son of David. They cried, verse 9, look at it: 'Hosanna!', that simply means 'Save, we pray' - they were acknowledging Him as some kind of Saviour and Deliverer. 'Save, we pray!', and then they said in verse 9, the second part, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' - quoting Psalm 118, which is a reference, prophetically, to the promised Messiah. So they're now recognising Him as the promised Christ! Now, all this sounds wonderful, doesn't it? As you read the other gospels you get such a clear picture of the wonderful, vibrant, explosive praise - and I'm not saying it wasn't genuine - these people were rejoicing and welcoming Jesus as the Servant King.
But there's a problem, and the problem is found on Monday - for as we move to verse 12, we see in verse 11 that after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus goes to the temple and looks around, and then goes to Bethany again with the twelve. Then in verse 12 we read this: 'Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. 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. In response Jesus said to it, 'Let no one eat fruit from you ever again'. And His disciples heard it'. So, on Monday, Jesus comes out of Bethany and curses the fig tree - now, what's all that about? Sometimes we read these portions - and I'm actually welcoming the opportunity to do big chunks of God's word, especially these gospels week after week, because you get a real train of thought of how the writer is linking all these things. He is linking the cursing of the fig tree with the Triumphal Entry. Here's how: the fig tree in Scripture is a figure of Israel, the nation, the people before God. Just as Jesus came to this fig tree and looked for figs, fruit, Jesus had come to His own people, Israel, and looked for fruit from them and found none.
Now, I used to wonder about this story, because it says that Jesus came when it was out of season and was looking for figs. I thought: 'Why would He curse the tree when it was out of season?', but what it's speaking of is the regular bumper crop of figs. You see figs would come on a fig tree at other times in the year, and there would usually be leaves when that happened. But if there was no early fruit - and it's early here, it's not the bumper crop, it's not the season yet - if there was no early fruit on the fig tree, that was a sign that there would be no bumper crop. Jesus saw leaves on this tree, but there was no fruit - it says, look at this, it's a chilling statement: 'He found nothing but leaves'. In other words, this tree was taking up space, but it was fruitless.
Now please note: I believe that this incident is our Lord's interpretation of the Triumphal Entry. I believe He's saying: 'There's a big fuss and hullabaloo about me coming in, and it's to fulfil prophecy, and there are people there that are genuine in their praise, and they're welcoming me - but it's not going to be very long until 'Hosannas' are replaced with 'Crucify''. I think, maybe, verses 9 and 10 where they cry: 'Hosanna! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' - many of them, patriotic Jews among them who were fed up with the iron heel of Rome upon them, they were crying out: 'Lord, save us! Hosanna! From the Romans! Set up Your earthly kingdom now in order to defeat our enemies'. I just wonder, I can't be dogmatic on this, but I wonder did our Lord ride on that colt of an ass with a heavy heart? You see, these people wanted a Christ of their own making. They wanted a warrior deliverer to put the Romans out, to set up an earthly kingdom, to make them all well and wealthy. You know, I have to say to you that I think that this is an indictment and an ailment of the 21st-century church in the West. We want a Christ of our own making. We come to our churches, and we do our 'Christian things', and we mould Christ according to our expectations, and according to our desires and our lifestyles - rather than moulding our lifestyles, our expectations, and our desires according to Christ and who He really is and His claims upon our lives. We have made a God in our own image, a God and a Christ that suits us, rather than surrendering to the way He really is.
We read in verse 14 He cursed this fig tree - this was remarkable. As far as I can see, apart from when the Lord Jesus sent the demons into the pigs and they ran headlong into the sea, this is the only time the Lord Jesus curses something; or, indeed, rather than blesses, He destroys rather than restoring. Could He have healed the tree? Of course He could have! So why did He not heal it? Because this is a picture of Israel, and soon - if you know the order of these events, and this doesn't come in in Mark, but it comes in in the other gospels - soon He's going to look over the whole city of Jerusalem again, and He's going to weep buckets. He going to say: 'Oh, you that killed the prophets and stoned those who God sent unto you, often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, but ye would not!'. He had to curse the fig tree because they would not - they would not what? They would not receive Him, they would not accept Him.
Are you here this morning and you haven't received and accepted Christ as your Saviour and Lord? You haven't recognised Him, you haven't bowed to Him, you haven't surrendered to Him - do you know what's going to happen? You're going to be cursed! You're going to be cursed, and you're going to send yourself to judgement, because you would not!
Do you see what this fig tree is all about? John the Baptist, when he came, he said: 'The axe is laid to the root of the tree', in other words he was going to start cutting this fig tree down - and now Jesus is coming, and He's saying to them with tears in his eyes: 'Your house is left unto you desolate, for you knew not the day of your visitation'. In A.D. 70 the Romans would come in and destroy the temple, and destroy all Jerusalem, and scatter the Jews right across the world. Israel were to be a vehicle for the glory of God, they were to bear fruit for God - you look in the Old Testament, that's the reason why God chose them: to declare God to the nations. Yet Jesus comes unto His own, and He finds the fig tree empty! They are taking up space, but they're fruitless!
Now let me challenge you: there's an awful lot of churches in Ulster just like that fig tree. There's an awful lot of so-called 'professing Christians' just like that fig tree. They are taking up space, they are professing something, but they are empty! They are praising God - we've all been doing it this morning - and yet their praise is shallow, there is no fruit in their life. Could I ask you this morning: is there fruit in your life? What's fruit? Well, if you go to Galatians 5 - we don't have time to look at it, but you look at it when you go home - you've got love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness; the fruit of the Spirit. That can only happen when you've been filled with the Holy Spirit, and most Christians have never been filled with the Holy Spirit because they've never surrendered their will, and never asked God to fill them with the Holy Spirit. If you're an unfilled Christian, you can't bear the fruit for God that you need to. But there's not just the fruit of Christ-like character, which is the most important thing, the most important fruit that people eat - and fruit is for eating by the way, people will feed on you if you're bearing that type of fruit, and you will help them - but there is the fruit of also bringing others to Jesus, and doing all sorts of things for the Lord Jesus Christ and for His glory.
Well, we must move on, for Jesus moves from that fig tree scene to the cleansing of the temple in verse 15. Is it any wonder He cleansed the temple when you see what's going on? Verse 15: 'So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, 'Is it not written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a 'den of thieves''. Now, this is the second time the Lord Jesus cleansed the temple. The first time was at the beginning of His ministry, you can read about that in John chapter 2. This is now the second time, and it's almost like at the start and finish He's marking His ministry with the fact that Israel has failed, Israel has been fruitless - outwardly fruitless, but now He's gone into the temple to say that they're also inwardly corrupt. This is not just a problem outside, it's a problem inside.
Now, what can we gather from this action of the Lord Jesus? Very simply - and I'm not going into too much depth in these studies. I can't because time won't permit us, but maybe the surface level meaning is what we need. Sometimes we delve into the minutiae and miss the whole weight of what God is saying: this tells us that Christ hates empty religion! He hates it! He hates hypocrisy! Do you know where hypocrisy comes from? The word comes from the Greek word for 'mask'. He hates people who wear masks and try to pretend to be what they're not deep down. He hates profession without possession! He hates us talking about things that we have no knowledge of, talking in ways that we have no experience of.
Now imagine, and I know it wouldn't happen here, but imagine some boy comes in here and starts turning over the chairs, and the coffee table is out and he kicks it over. He shouts at you all - some of you, if you were able to hold yourselves back, would be ringing 999 immediately, wouldn't you? This is strange, isn't it? I'm sure there were people saying: 'What kind of a way is this to behave in the house of God?'. This is a special place, the temple - it's more special than here, because we believe we are the temple of God, it's not a place - but they, in the Old Covenant, they believed the temple was the place where God dwelt. Right back to the Tabernacle, we find that 'Tabernacle' simply means 'the dwellingplace of the Shekinah glory of God'. The Shekinah glory was how God manifest Himself in light, and fire, and cloud. He did that visibly in the Tabernacle, and then they move from a transitory Tabernacle tent to a permanent, static Temple in Jerusalem. At the Solomon dedication of the Temple the glory of Shekinah came down, and God filled the house so that everybody couldn't minister any longer. So this is what the Jews understood: 'This is the place where God's presence and glory dwells, and He's coming, this upstart is coming in here and kicking tables over and causing a commotion!'.
Ah, but you have to know all Jewish history. You have to know that in Ezekiel the Shekinah glory of God left the temple because of Israel's idolatry, and it never came back. Haggai the prophet promised that the glory of the latter house would be greater than that of the former, that meant that the new temple that would come after Solomon's Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, the new temple would be more glorious - but it wasn't. It paled into insignificance. When the old people who remembered Solomon's Temple looked at it being built, they wept! But it wasn't talking about the structure, do you know what it was talking about? The Christ of God! God's glory would come into this temple in flesh at this very moment - at His birth, of course, He was brought into the temple for dedication, but now He's coming in but He's coming in in judgement - and when He goes out, and this is what I want you to mark, when He goes out the glory goes out. There is no glory in this temple but Jesus, and when He exits, it exits. Are you with me?
So all these, you know, religious prudes who say: 'What kind of a way is this to behave in the house of God?', the problem was God wasn't in it. Was this not sacrilege? Well, there was nothing of God in it. Can I say something to you: we should not be precious, religiously precious, about things that God isn't in. Do you understand? You can apply that to doctrines which are only the teachings and commandments of men. We can apply it to tradition. We can apply it to a whole lot of things, but God wasn't in it - and that's why Jesus behaved this way. Can I tell you something: you might say, 'Ach, well, you can't apply that to the church' - can I not? Turn with me to Revelation chapter 3 - this is the church at Laodicea, and if you were to ask me what spirit the church has in the West, this is the spirit that I would say they have, the spirit of Laodicea. 'So then', verse 16, 'because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked'. Point proven! The Laodicean spirit in the church makes the Lord sick. If you're lukewarm, now the Lord loves you, but you make Him sick, you make Him nauseous if you're neither hot nor cold - in fact, He'd rather have you cold than lukewarm, that's a staggering statement! He'd rather have you for or against Him than sitting on the fence the way most Christians do, just ticking over.
Do you know what the problem in the temple was? Well, let me put it like this: Duncan Campbell was used in revival in the Hebrides in Scotland in the 1940s and into the 50s. Later on in his life, a Faith Mission man, he made this statement: 'Our problem is we have got everything but God'. We've got everything but God! We've got the hymns, and the programs, and the preachers, and the ideas, and the schedules, and the models, and the systems, and the doctrines - but if God is not in it, it's worthless! Is that not what this teaches? 'My house shall be a house of prayer'. Here's one to ask - this is getting hard now - if the Lord came into our places of worship, what would He change? What would He change? Don't think I'm talking about externals, He's not into externals, He's into internals. Have our churches become places of shallow praise - we know the songs because we've listened to them on CD all week - or are we really exalting the Lord? Are we prepared to praise? Were you prepared to come here this morning to praise, to worship, were you prepared? Did you bring something from your heart to God?
You see, the Jewish problem was: they were professing without possession; they were giving lip service, prayers, without the heart - but you know, it gets worse. Verse 17, they were actually making the temple a place for thieves to hide in, a den of thieves! Do you know what that means? The temple was being used to cover up sin! The church can be used to cover up sin! I read a book recently about child abuse in the evangelical church. Oh, we're all hammering the Roman Catholic Church about that, but you know it's going on everywhere. They might have a particular problem, but I'm telling you it's not only to the Roman Catholic Church that it's a problem! This church, now this is going back into a couple of decades ago, this evangelical church - with good motivation, they thought - covered it up! They covered it up, but it came out - even onto the front of the local papers it came out. Now listen: you can't cover up sin! Can I say a word, if you'll permit me, to your oversight here: a tendency in overseers is to close things down, to keep things quiet, to keep things in. Now, I understand there has to be confidentiality, of course there has to, and it's not right to go and blow everything all over the country - but I'll tell you this: there needs to be more transparency than ever in churches today. We cannot cover up sin.
But rather than praying 'This shall be a house of prayer', God's word says - do you know what they were doing? They were not praying, they were preying! They were preying on the people, they were using religion and God's word to make money - and that is going on today! Now you might think this is a negative message - I'm sorry, but I'm just preaching what's in this passage - just be thankful the Lord isn't coming in and turning tables over and all the rest, I'm being gentle on you! I'll just bare my heart - and maybe these are bugbears for me - but, do you see concerts, where you have to pay, you have to take a mortgage out to go and buy a ticket? For the life of me I cannot understand that, I cannot understand that! Bible conferences - now I'm not talking about meeting needed expenses, we've all got to - I mean if you come in and you're using heat, and you're eating five meals a day or whatever, and you're sleeping in somebody's bed, you have to pay for expenses. I know all that, and these people need to live and all the rest. But when you're paying to hear men preach the word of God we have lost our way somewhere! We really have! When men are producing books to make a living - the Lord never wrote a book, apart from the Bible, but He didn't sit down with a pen and write it of course. You know, I have a sneaking suspicion - and I thank God for the amount of Bibles we have, translations and Bible study books - but I reckon there are some people sitting in a room somewhere, probably in America, thinking: 'What about a Bible for ornithologists, or a Bible for cyclists?'. I was in a bookshop yesterday and I found the 100% waterproof Bible. Now if you've got it this morning, don't be offended, because I almost bought it myself because it was such a novelty - I said to the wife, 'You could read it in the bath, look, it's 100% waterproof!'. What do you need a 100% waterproof Bible for? They're producing these things - and tell me they're not producing it to make money, tell me that!
Now, thank God for the resources we have, but we've got a problem here in the West - you know what it is? We have more resources, and therefore more knowledge, than our ancestors ever had - yet we're bearing less fruit. We're taking up more room, like Israel, but we're less effective. Now, how can that be? Then there are folk, and I have to be careful here, and this is not just 'Hit this one, that one, and the other one', but this is from my heart - there are folk in ministry, and years ago the evangelical church would have hammered the established denominations for men who are 'good living for a living', and evangelicals are no different - and I confess to you that at times I may have been guilty of that myself. Their eye is more on their salary than their service.
Now we can't hide from these things - but if you think, 'Aye, he's right in that now, and he's right in that one, and those boys, those pastors, I always thought they were hungry for the wee brown envelope'. Malachi said to Judah: 'Can a man rob God?'. What he was getting at was: the people retorted back to Him, 'We have not robbed You, in what way have we robbed You?'. God says: 'In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation'. There is the curse coming in. God was pouring resources into them, but it wasn't coming out in fruit for God! What do you do with your money? Do you know the materialistic Western church has even invented doctrines to service lust for money? The prosperity gospel, you know, 'Give me $1 million, and God will give you $100 million' - but why doesn't he give away all his hundred million dollars to get more? It doesn't figure. They're lies, that's why, they are liars, false prophets a lot of them - not all of them, but a lot of them are.
Here's a thing that you need to waken up to, and I do as well: dead religion or false prophets, the Lord Jesus is sick of them! He is! Both the ones who have all the right doctrines but there is no life there, and the ones who are running around claiming life and all they are interested in is the fast buck. I'll tell you, you see when you start preaching the way I'm preaching, and behaving the way the Lord Jesus behaved, false prophets and false professors don't like it. Look at verses 18 and 19: 'The scribes and chief priests heard it and sought how they might destroy Him; for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city' - they sought to destroy Him. They didn't like it.
Now, is there an answer for this problem? Problem? What problem? Shallow praise, false profession, empty lives taking up space but really not producing anything for the Lord, lukewarmness - is there an answer? Is there any hope? Well, yes there is, verses 20 through to 26. Now if you persist in empty profession there is no answer, if you persist in a profession without power - having a name that you live, but you're dead - there's nothing can be done for you until you waken up to it, and say 'Look, there's something wrong here, there's something wrong here'. The 'something wrong' might be in verse 20, 'Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots'. They go by this scene again after the cleansing of the temple the next day, and they see that the tree has dried up from the roots. Now, if there's no fruit in your life it's more than likely the case that the problem is with root - there is something wrong with the roots deep down. You need to ask yourself are you truly saved? A lot of evangelicals in Ulster need to ask that question, because some of them just - you know, if you're born a Muslim over there in Iraq or Iran, you know, you're born an evangelical here and you just follow what you learn - I'm telling you, a lot of people do that in Ulster in Christian homes. All they have is a tradition and a way of life of their parents, and they have never been born-again! Have you been born-again? Maybe the lack of fruit in your life is because there is a lack of root, or maybe there is something wrong with the root? Maybe you're having problems just where you are? I don't know, God knows, maybe you know, maybe you don't know - but I'll tell you what the answer is.
Verse 21: 'Peter, remembering, said to Him, 'Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away'. So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them'. Now there are many applications here and lessons that we don't have time to go into, but the context would teach us that what the Lord is saying here is: faith can remove obstacles that cause unfruitfulness. Believing prayer can remove those mountains that are causing unfruitfulness in your life. There is a principle here: a life of Spirit-filled, believing prayer - when you surrender yourself completely to the Lord, and you get filled with the Holy Spirit and continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and you pray persistently in faith - it will deliver you from death. It will! Dearth and deadness and fruitlessness! Do you have a life of Spirit-filled, believing prayer? Very few people have that life.
It's not easy. 'Does not doubt in his heart', verse 23 says - but here's something else, right, if you thought that was hard: is there an answer for this? Yes! But if you think believing faith is difficult, well there's a twofold answer, verse 24: 'Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them', and verse 25 then, 'And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses'. It's faith and forgiveness!
I'm going to tell you something - it might be an open secret, I don't know - but one of the greatest contributory factors to fruitlessness in the church and in the Christian life is unforgiveness. The writer to the Hebrews calls it 'the root of bitterness', he says in chapter 12 verse 15: 'looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled'. You see you don't sin unto yourself, you're not an island. If you have bitterness in your heart that rubs off on your family, and it rubs off on your church family too. Have you fruitlessness in your life? Is their bitterness? Is their bitterness against a believer? Is their bitterness against something that was done to you? Maybe you're legitimate in your hurt and your smarting because you were offended - but, my friend, do you understand, you need to get over that! For if you don't get over that, do you know what's going to happen? You're going to be the greater victim! You are! These people maybe who hurt you are running around scot-free enjoying themselves, don't have a conscience at all about it - but you have a curse on you, you have fruitlessness on you because of unforgiveness.
Is there an answer to this type of fruitlessness and deadness? Yes, there is: faith and forgiveness. The conditions of answered prayer, the conditions of fellowship - and if you want revival and renewal in your life, it's wonderful: take God's word. It's the New Age that teaches, by the way, that if you believe something it will come true - that's not what these verses say. Faith in the Christian sense is: 'We believe what is true'. We don't have faith in something to make it true, we have faith in something because it is true, God said it is true. You take God's word, claim it in your life. If you're not filled with the Holy Spirit, claim it! 'If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask'. Claim your right in Christ, come believingly in prayer - but if there is unforgiveness in your heart, do you know what's going to happen? This is talking about parental forgiveness, not being saved, it is talking about this: you will not know fellowship with God in forgiveness in your vertical relationship with Him, if your horizontal relationship with your brothers and sisters and with other people is not right.
Let us pray. We are coming to the Table, I think, soon - and what a place, if you need to have dealings with God, to have dealings with God. I am interested in some revivals that have happened in the past, and it's amazing the revivals that took place around the Lord's Table in varied denominations - because we are meant to examine ourselves. When you read where the Lord Jesus or Apostles speak on the Lord's Table, there's always instruction, and it's usually exhortation to their own heart. I'll tell you, do you know what Jesus said? If you've anything against your brother, leave your offering, go and make it right. We get it all wrong, you see - if you missed the table, 'Oh boy!'. You know, there's a thousand men and women in this country should be missing the Table this morning. He doesn't want you to miss the Table, He wants you to get right and come to the Table - that's the point. He doesn't want you to walk away if you have burdens here today, He wants you to deal with them, He wants you to bring them to Him and confess them, and ask in faith, believing, and forgive from your heart those who may have wronged you - and have that fellowship that you ought to have, that God is looking for in your life. But don't be taking up room and bearing no fruit!
Father, we thank You for what we have learned this morning from the Servant King's short-lived welcome into Jerusalem. But the Lord, with those piercing eyes that we see Him now having, eyes of fire, He could see into their hearts and He knew: 'They honour me with their lips, but for many of them their hearts are far from me'. Lord, let that not be said of us, but let us be a people who worship You in spirit and in truth, and give our lives to You. May we not just give praise in the sense of the fruit of our lips but, Lord, our whole hearts. 'My son, give me your heart', that's what You're saying to us today, 'My child, give me your heart, give me your all'. As we come around the Table, and remember what our Lord Jesus did as He journeyed towards Jerusalem, where He was going and what He was going to do for us - may that make the difference, may that compound this effect of the word of God today upon us, to know what this was all for: His determination, that we may be able to bear fruit through the new covenant. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered in Ards Evangelical Church, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the forty-ninth recording in his 'Studies In Mark' series, entitled "The Servant King's Short-Lived Welcome" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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