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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Mark 11

 

 

Verses 1-33

Chapter 11

THE COMING OF THE KING (Mark 11:1-6)

11:1-6 When they were coming near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and to Bethany, Jesus despatched two of his disciples, and said to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and as soon as you come into it, you will find tethered there a colt, on which no man has ever yet sat. Loose it and bring it to me. And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' say, 'The Lord needs it,' and immediately he will send it." And they went away and they found the colt tethered, outside a door, on the open street, and they loosed it. And some of those who were standing by said to them, "What are you doing loosing this colt?" They said to them what Jesus had told them to say, and they let them go.

We have come to the last stage of the journey. There had been the time of withdrawal around Caesarea Philippi in the far north. There had been the time in Galilee. There had been the stay in the hill-country of Judaea and in the regions beyond Jordan. There had been the road through Jericho. Now comes Jerusalem.

We have to note something without which the story is almost unintelligible. When we read the first three gospels we get the idea that this was actually Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem. They are concerned to tell the story of Jesus' work in Galilee. We must remember that the gospels are very short. Into their short compass is crammed the work of three years, and the writers were bound to select the things in which they were interested and of which they had special knowledge. And when we read the fourth gospel we find Jesus frequently in Jerusalem. (John 2:13, John 5:1, John 7:10.) We find in fact that he regularly went up to Jerusalem for the great feasts.

There is no real contradiction here. The first three gospels are specially interested in the Galilaean ministry, and the fourth in the Judaean. In fact, moreover, even the first three have indications that Jesus was not infrequently in Jerusalem. There is his close friendship with Martha and Mary and Lazarus at Bethany, a friendship which speaks of many visits. There is the fact that Joseph of Arimathaea was his secret friend. And above all there is Jesus' saying in Matthew 23:37 that often he would have gathered together the people of Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings but they were unwilling. Jesus could not have said that unless there had previously been more than one appeal which had met with a cold response.

This explains the incident of the colt. Jesus did not leave things until the last moment. He knew what he was going to do and long ago he had made arrangements with a friend. When he sent forward his disciples, he sent them with a pass-word that had been pre-arranged--"The Lord needs it now." This was not a sudden, reckless decision of Jesus. It was something to which all his life had been budding up.

Bethphage and Bethany were villages near Jerusalem. Very probably Bethphage means house of figs and Bethany means house of dates. They must have been very close because we know from the Jewish law that Bethphage was one of the circle of villages which marked the limit of a Sabbath day's journey, that is, less than a mile, while Bethany was one of the recognized lodging--places for pilgrims to the Passover when Jerusalem was full.

The prophets of Israel had always had a very distinctive method of getting their message across. When words failed to move people they did something dramatic, as if to say, "If you will not hear, you must be compelled to see." (compare specially 1 Kings 11:30-32.) These dramatic actions were what we might call acted warnings or dramatic sermons. That method was what Jesus was employing here. His action was a deliberate dramatic claim to be Messiah.

But we must be careful to note just what he was doing. There was a saying of the prophet Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9), "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, and riding on an ass and upon a colt the foal of an ass." The whole impact is that the King was coming in peace. In Palestine the ass was not a despised beast, but a noble one. When a king went to war he rode on a horse, when he came in peace he rode on an ass.

G. K. Chesterton has a poem in which he makes the modem donkey speak:

"When fishes flew ind forests walk'd

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born.

"With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil's walking parody

Of all four-footed things.

"The tatter'd outlaw of the earth

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me, I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

"Fools! For I also had my hour,

One far fierce hour and sweet;

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet."

It is a wonderful poem. Nowadays the ass is a beast of amused contempt, but in the time of Jesus it was the beast of kings. But we must note what kind of a king Jesus was claiming to be. He came meek and lowly. He came in peace and for peace. They greeted him as the Son of David, but they did not understand.

It was just at this time that the Hebrew poems, The Psalms of Solomon, were written. They represent the kind of Son of David whom people expected. Here is their description of him:

"Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of

David,

At the time, in the which thou seest, O God, that he may

reign over Israel, thy servant.

And gird him with strength that he may shatter unrighteous rulers,

And that he may purge Jerusalem from nations that trample

her down to destruction.

Wisely, righteously he shall thrust out sinners from the

inheritance,

He shall destroy the pride of sinners as a potter's vessel.

With a rod of iron he shall break in pieces all their substance.

He shall destroy the godless nations with the word of his

mouth.

At his rebuke nations shall flee before him,

And he shall reprove sinners for the thoughts of their

hearts.

"All nations shall be in fear before him,

For he will smite the earth with the word of his mouth forever."

(Wis 17:21-25, 39.)

That was the kind of poem on which the people nourished their hearts. They were looking for a king who would shatter and smash and break. Jesus knew it--and he came meek and lowly, riding upon an ass.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day, he claimed to be king, but he claimed to be King of peace. His action was a contradiction of all that men hoped for and expected.

HE THAT COMETH (Mark 11:7-10)

11:7-10 They brought the colt to Jesus, and they put their garments on it, and mounted him on it. Many of them spread their garments on the road. Others cut branches from the fields and spread them on the road. And those who were going before and those who were following kept shouting, "Save now! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Send thy salvation from the heights of heaven!"

The colt they brought had never been ridden upon. That was fitting, for a beast to be used for a sacred purpose must never have been used for any other purpose. It was so with the red heifer whose ashes cleansed from pollution (Numbers 19:2, Deuteronomy 21:3).

The whole picture is of a populace who misunderstood. It shows us a crowd of people thinking of kingship in the terms of conquest in which they had thought of it for so long. It is oddly reminiscent of how Simon Maccabaeus entered Jerusalem a hundred and fifty years before, after he had blasted Israel's enemies in battle. "And he entered into it the three and twentieth day of the seventh month, in the hundred, seventy and first year, with thanksgiving and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and viols, and hymns and songs, because there was destroyed a great enemy out of Israel." (1 Maccabees 13:51.) It was a conqueror's welcome they sought to give to Jesus, but they never dreamed of the kind of conqueror he wished to be.

The very shouts which the crowd raised to Jesus showed how their thoughts were running. When they spread their garments on the ground before him, they did exactly what the crowd did when that man of blood Jehu was anointed king. (2 Kings 9:13.) They shouted, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" That is a quotation from Psalms 118:26, and should really read a little differently, "Blessed in the name of the Lord is he who comes!"

There are three things to note about that shout.

(i) It was the regular greeting with which pilgrims were addressed when they reached the Temple on the occasion of the great feasts.

(ii) "He who comes" was another name for the Messiah. When the Jews spoke about the Messiah, they talked of him as the One who is Coming.

(iii) But it is the whole origin of the Psalm from which the words come that makes them supremely suggestive. In 167 B.C. there had arisen an extraordinary king in Syria called Antiocheius. He had conceived it his duty to be a missionary of Hellenism and to introduce Greek ways of life, Greek thought and Greek religion wherever he could, even, if necessary, by force. He tried to do so in Palestine.

For a time he conquered Palestine. To possess a copy of the law or to circumcise a child were crimes punishable by death. He desecrated the Temple courts. He actually instituted the worship of Zeus where Jehovah had been worshipped. With deliberate insult he offered swine's flesh on the great altar of the burnt-offering. He made the chambers round the Temple courts into brothels. He did everything he could to wipe out the Jewish faith.

It was then that Judas Maccabaeus arose, and after an amazing career of conquest, in 163 B.C. he drove Antiocheius out and re-purified and re-consecrated the temple, an event which the Feast of the Dedication, or the Feast of Hanukah, still commemorates. And in all probability Psalms 118:1-29 was written to commemorate that great day of purification and the battle which Judas Maccabaeus won. It is a conqueror's psalm.

Again and again we see the same thing happening in this incident. Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah, but in such a way as to try to show that the popular ideas of the Messiah were misguided. But the people did not see it. Their welcome was one which befitted, not the King of love, but the conqueror who would shatter the enemies of Israel.

In Mark 11:9-10 there is the word Hosanna. The word is consistently misunderstood. It is quoted and used as if it meant Praise; but it is a simple transliteration of the Hebrew for Save now! it occurs in exactly the same form in 2 Samuel 14:4 and 2 Kings 6:26, where it is used by people seeking for help and protection at the hands of the king. When the people shouted Hosanna it was not a cry of praise to Jesus, which it often sounds like when we quote it. It was a cry to God to break in and save his people now that the Messiah had come.

No incident so shows the sheer courage of Jesus as this does. In the circumstances one might have expected him to enter Jerusalem secretly and to keep hidden from the authorities who were out to destroy him. Instead he entered in such a way that the attention of every eye was focussed upon him. One of the most dangerous things a man can do is to go to people and tell them that all their accepted ideas are wrong. Any man who tries to tear up by the roots a people's nationalistic dreams is in for trouble. But that is what Jesus deliberately was doing. Here we see Jesus making the last appeal of love and making it with a courage that is heroic.

THE QUIET BEFORE THE STORM (Mark 11:11)

11:11 And he came into Jerusalem into the Temple. After he had looked round everything, when it was now late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

This simple verse shows us two things about Jesus which were typical of him.

(i) It shows us Jesus deliberately summing up his task. The whole atmosphere of the last days was one of deliberation. Jesus was not recklessly plunging into unknown dangers. He was doing everything with his eyes wide open. When he looked round everything, he was like a commander summing up the strength of the opposition and his own resources preparatory to the decisive battle.

(ii) It shows us where Jesus got his strength. He went back to the peace of Bethany. Before he joined battle with men he sought the presence of God. It was only because each day he faced God that he could face men with such courage.

This brief passage also shows us something about the Twelve. They were still with him. By this time it must have been quite plain to them that Jesus was committing suicide, as it seemed to them. Sometimes we criticize them for their lack of loyalty in the last days, but it says something for them, that, little as they understood what was happening, they still stood by him.

THE FRUITLESS FIG-TREE (Mark 11:12-14; Mark 11:20-21)

11:12-14,20-21 When, on the next day, they were coming out from Bethany, Jesus was hungry. From a distance he saw a fig-tree in leaf, and he went to it to see if he would find anything on it. When he came to it he found nothing except leaves, for it was not yet the season of figs. He said to it, "Let no one eat fruit from you for ever." And the disciples heard him say it.... When they were going along the road early in the morning, they saw the fig-tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered what Jesus had said the day before and said, "Teacher! Look! The fig-tree which you cursed has withered away!"

Although the story of the fig-tree is in Mark's gospel divided into two we take it as one. The first part of the story happened on the morning of one day, and the second part on the morning of the next day, and, chronologically, the cleansing of the Temple came in between. But, when we are trying to see the meaning of the story, we are better to take it as one.

There can be no doubt that this, without exception, is the most difficult story in the gospel narrative. To take it as literal history presents difficulties which are well-nigh insuperable.

(i) The story does not ring true. To be frank, the whole incident does not seem worthy of Jesus. There seems a certain petulance in it. it is just the kind of story that is told of other wonder-workers but never of Jesus. Further, we have this basic difficulty. Jesus had always refused to use his miraculous powers for his own sake. He would not turn the stones into bread to satisfy his own hunger. He would not use his miraculous powers to escape from his enemies. He never used his power for his own sake. And yet here he uses his power to blast a tree which had disappointed him when he was hungry.

(ii) Worse, the whole action was unreasonable. This was the Passover Season, that is, the middle of April. The fig-tree in a sheltered spot may bear leaves as early as March, but never did a fig-tree bear figs until late May or June. Mark says that it was not the season for figs. Why blast the tree for failing to do what it was not possible for it to do? It was both unreasonable and unjust. Some commentators, to save the situation, say that what Jesus was looking for was green figs, half-ripe figs in their early stages, but such unripe fruit was unpleasant and was never eaten.

The whole story does not seem to fit Jesus at all. What are we to say about it?

If we are to take this as the story of something which actually happened, we must take it as an enacted parable. We must in fact take it as one of those prophetic, symbolic, dramatic actions. If we take it that way, it may be interpreted as the condemnation of two things.

(i) It is the condemnation of promise without fulfillment. The leaves on the tree might be taken as the promise of fruit, but there was no fruit there. It is the condemnation especially of the people of Israel. All their history was a preparation for the coming of God's Chosen One. The whole promise of their national record was that when the Chosen One came they would be eager to receive him. But when he did come, that promise was tragically unfulfilled.

Charles Lamb tells of a certain man called Samuel le Grice. In his life there were three stages. When he was young, people said of him, "He will do something." As he grew older and did nothing, they said of him, "He could do something if he tried." Towards the end they said of him, "He might have done something if he had tried." His life was the tale of a promise that was never fulfilled. If this incident is an enacted parable it is the condemnation of unfulfilled promise.

(ii) It is the condemnation of profession without practice. It might be taken that the tree with its leaves professed to offer something and did not. The whole cry of the New Testament is that a man can be known only by the fruits of his life. "You will know them by their fruits." (Matthew 7:16.) "Bear fruits that befit repentance." (Luke 3:8.) It is not the man who piously says, "Lord, Lord," who will enter into the Kingdom but the man who does God's will. (Matthew 7:21.) Unless a man's religion makes him a better and more useful man, makes his home happier, makes life better and easier for those with whom he is brought into contact, it is not religion at all. No man can claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and remain entirely unlike the Master whom he professes to love.

If this incident is to be taken literally and is an enacted parable, that must be the meaning. But, relevant as these lessons may be, it seems difficult to extract them from the incident, because it was quite unreasonable to expect the fig-tree to bear figs when the time for figs was still six weeks away.

What then are we to say? Luke does not relate this incident at all, but he has the parable of the fruitless fig-tree (Luke 13:6-9). Now that parable ends indecisively. The master of the vineyard wished to root up the tree. The gardener pled for another chance. The last chance was given; and it was agreed that if the tree bore fruit it should be spared, and if not it should be destroyed. May it not be that this incident is a kind of continuation of that parable? The people of Israel had had their chance. They had failed to bear fruit. And now was the time for their destruction. It has been suggested--and it is quite possible--that on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem there was a lonely blasted fig-tree. It may well be that Jesus said to his disciples, "You remember the parable I told you about the fruitless fig-tree? Israel is still fruitless and will be blasted as that tree." It may well be that that lonely tree became associated in men's minds with a saying of Jesus about the fate of fruitlessness, and so the story arose.

Let the reader take it as he will. To us there seem insuperable difficulties in taking it literally. It seems to us to be in some way connected with the parable of the fruitless tree. But in any event the whole lesson of the incident is that uselessness invites disaster.

THE WRATH OF JESUS (Mark 11:15-19)

11:15-19 They came into Jerusalem, and when Jesus had come into the sacred precincts, he began to cast out those who sold and bought in the sacred place, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and he would not allow that anyone should carry their gear through the sacred precincts. The burden of his teaching and speaking was, "Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a brigands' cave?" The chief priests and the experts in the law heard him, and they sought a way to destroy him, for they were afraid of him, for the whole crowd was astonished at his teaching.

And when evening came he went out of the city.

We will visualize this far better if we have in our mind's eye a picture of the lay-out of the Temple precincts. There are two closely connected words used in the New Testament. The first is hieron (Greek #2411), which means the sacred place. This included the whole temple area. The temple area covered the top of Mount Zion and was about thirty acres in extent. It was surrounded by great walls which varied on each side, 1,300 to 1,000 feet in length. There was a wide outer space called the Court of the Gentiles. Into it anyone, Jew or Gentile, might come. At the inner edge of the Court of the Gentiles was a low wall with tablets set into it which said that if a Gentile passed that point the penalty was death. The next court was called the Court of the Women. It was so called because unless women had come actually to offer sacrifice they might not proceed farther. Next was the Court of the Israelites. In it the congregation gathered on great occasions, and from it the offerings were handed by the worshippers to the priests. The inmost court was the Court of the Priests.

The other important word is naos (Greek #3485), which means the Temple proper, and it was in the Court of the Priests that the Temple stood. The whole area, including all the different Courts, was the sacred precincts (hieron, Greek #2411)). The special building within the Court of the Priests was the Temple (naos, Greek #3485).

This incident took place in the Court of the Gentiles. Bit by bit the Court of the Gentiles had become almost entirely secularised. It had been meant to be a place of prayer and preparation, but there was in the time of Jesus a commercialised atmosphere of buying and selling which made prayer and meditation impossible. What made it worse was that the business which went on there was sheer exploitation of the pilgrims.

Every Jew had to pay a temple tax of one half shekel a year. That was a sum of 6p. It does not seem much but it has to be evaluated against the fact that the standard day's wage for a working man was 3p. That tax had to be paid in one particular kind of coinage. For ordinary purposes Greek, Roman, Syrian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Tyrian coinages were an equally valid. But this tax had to be paid in shekels of the sanctuary. It was paid at the Passover time. Jews came from an over the world to the Passover and with all kinds of currencies. When they went to have their money changed they had to pay a fee of lp., and should their coin exceed the tax, they had to pay another lp. before they got their change. Most pilgrims had to pay this extra 2p. before they could pay their tax. We must remember that that was half a day's wage, which for most men was a great deal of money.

As for the sellers of doves--doves entered largely into the sacrificial system (Leviticus 12:8, Leviticus 14:22, Leviticus 15:14). A sacrificial victim had to be without blemish. Doves could be bought cheaply enough outside, but the temple inspectors would be sure to find something wrong with them, and worshippers were advised to buy them at the temple stalls. Outside doves cost as little as 3p a pair, inside they cost as much as 75p. Again it was sheer imposition, and what made matters worse was that this business of buying and selling belonged to the family of Annas who had been High Priest.

The Jews themselves were well aware of this abuse. The Talmud tells us that Rabbi Simon ben Gamaliel, on hearing that a pair of doves inside the temple cost a gold piece, insisted that the price be reduced to a silver piece. It was the fact that poor, humble pilgrims were being swindled which moved Jesus to wrath. Lagrange, the great scholar, who knew the East so well, tells us that precisely the same situation still obtains in Mecca. The pilgrim, seeking the divine presence, finds himself in the middle of a noisy uproar, where the one aim of the sellers is to exact as high a price as possible and where the pilgrims argue and defend themselves with equal fierceness.

Jesus used a vivid metaphor to describe the temple court. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was notorious for its robbers. It was a narrow winding road, passing between rocky defiles. Amidst the rocks were caves where the brigands lay in wait, and Jesus said, "There are worse brigands in the temple courts than ever there are in the caves of the Jericho road."

Mark 11:16 has the odd statement that Jesus would not allow anyone to carry his gear through the temple court. In point of fact the temple court provided a short cut from the eastern part of the city to the Mount of Olives. The Mishnah itself lays down, "A man may not enter into the temple mount with his staff or his sandal or his wallet, or with the dust upon his feet, nor may he make of it a short by-path." Jesus was reminding the Jews of their own laws. In his time the Jews thought so little of the sanctity of the outer court of the temple that they used it as a thoroughfare on their business errands. It was to their own laws that Jesus directed their attention, and it was their own prophets that he quoted to them. (Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.)

What moved Jesus to such wrath?

(i) He was angry at the exploitation of the pilgrims. The Temple authorities were treating them not as worshippers, not even as human beings, but as things to be exploited for their own ends. Man's exploitation of man always provokes the wrath of God, and doubly so when it is made under the cloak of religion.

(ii) He was angry at the desecration of God's holy place. Men had lost the sense of the presence of God in the house of God. By commercialising the sacred they were violating it.

(iii) Is it possible that Jesus had an even deeper anger? He quoted Isaiah 56:7, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." Yet in that very same house there was a wall beyond which to pass was for the Gentile death. It may well be that Jesus was moved to anger by the exclusiveness of Jewish worship and that he wished to remind them that God loved, not the Jews, but the world.

THE LAWS OF PRAYER (Mark 11:22-26)

11:22-26 Jesus answered, "Have faith in God. This is the truth I tell you--whoever will say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and be cast into the sea,' and who in his heart does not doubt, but believes that what he says is happening, it will be done for him. So then I tell you, believe that you have received everything for which you pray and ask, and it will be done for you. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive it, so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses."

We return now to sayings which Mark attaches to the story of the blasting of the fig-tree. We have noticed more than once how certain sayings of Jesus stuck in men's minds although the occasion on which he said them had been forgotten. It is so here. The saying about the faith which can remove mountains also occurs in Matthew 17:20 and in Luke 17:6, and in each of the gospels it occurs in a quite different context. The reason is that Jesus said it more than once and its real context had often been forgotten. The saying about the necessity of forgiving our fellow-men occurs in Matthew 6:12; Matthew 6:14 again in a quite different context. We must approach these sayings as not so much having to do with particular incidents, but as general rules which Jesus repeatedly laid down.

This passage gives us three rules for prayer.

(i) It must be the prayer of faith. The phrase about removing mountains was a quite common Jewish phrase. It was a regular, vivid phrase for removing difficulties. It was specially used of wise teachers. A good teacher who could remove the difficulties which the minds of his scholars encountered was called a mountain-remover. One who heard a famous Rabbi teach said that "he saw Resh Lachish as if he were plucking up mountains." So the phrase means that if we have real faith, prayer is a power which can solve any problem and make us able to deal with any difficulty. That sounds very simple, but it involves two things.

First, it involves that we should be willing to take our problems and our difficulties to God. That in itself is a very real test. Sometimes our problems are that we wish to obtain something we should not desire at all, that we wish to find a way to do something we should not even think of doing, that we wish to justify ourselves for doing something to which we should never lay our hands or apply our minds. One of the greatest tests of any problem is simply to say, "Can I take it to God and can I ask his help?"; Second, it involves that we should be ready to accept God's guidance when he gives it. It is the commonest thing in the world for a person to ask for advice when all he really wants is approval for some action that he is already determined to take. It is useless to go to God and to ask for his guidance unless we are willing to be obedient enough to accept it. But if we do take our problems to God and are humble enough and brave enough to accept his guidance, there does come the power which can conquer the difficulties of thought and of action.

(ii) It must be the prayer of expectation. It is the universal fact that anything tried in the spirit of confident expectation has a more than double chance of success. The patient who goes to a doctor and has no confidence in the prescribed remedies has far less chance of recovery than the patient who is confident that the doctor can cure him. When we pray, it must never be a mere formality. It must never be a ritual without hope.

James Burns quotes a scene from Leonard Merrick's book, Conrad in Quest of His Youth. "Do you think prayers are ever answered?" inquired Conrad. "In my life I have sent up many prayers, and always with the attempt to persuade myself that some former prayer had been fulfilled. But I knew. I knew in my heart none ever had been. Things that I wanted have come to me, but--I say it with all reverence--too late...." Mr. Irquetson's fine hand wandered across his brow. "Once," he began conversationally, "I was passing with a friend through Grosvenor Street. It was when in the spring the tenant's fancy lightly turns to coats of paint, and we came to a ladder leaning against a house that was being redecorated. In stepping to the outer side of it my friend lifted his hat to it. You may know the superstition. He was a 'Varsity man, a man of considerable attainments. I said, 'Is it possible you believe in that nonsense?' He said, 'N-no, I don't exactly believe in it, but I never throw away a chance'." On a sudden the vicar's inflexion changed, his utterance was solemn, stirring, devout, "I think, sir, that most people pray on my friend's principle--they don't believe in it, but they never throw away a chance."

There is much truth in that. For many people prayer is either a pious ritual or a forlorn hope. It should be a thing of burning expectation. Maybe our trouble is that what we want from God is our answer, and we do not recognize his answer when it comes.

(iii) It must be the prayer of charity. The prayer of a bitter man cannot penetrate the wall of his own bitterness. Why? If we are to speak with God there must be some bond between two people who have nothing in common. The principle of God is love, for he is love. If the ruling principle of a man's heart is bitterness, he has erected a barrier between himself and God. If ever the prayer of such a man is to be answered he must first ask God to cleanse his heart from the bitter spirit and put into it the spirit of love. Then he can speak to God and God can speak to him.

A CUNNING QUESTION AND A PIERCING ANSWER (Mark 11:27-33)

11:27-33 Once again they came to Jerusalem, and, when Jesus was walking in the Temple, the chief priests and the experts in the law and the elders came to him, and said to him, "By what kind of authority do you do these things? Or, who gave you authority to do these things?" Jesus said, "I will put one point to you, and, if you answer me, I will tell you by what kind of authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven? or was it from men? Answer me!" They discussed the matter among themselves. "If," they said, "we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why did you not believe in it?' But, are we to say, 'From men'?"--for they were afraid of the people, for all truly held that John was a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." So Jesus said to them, "Neither do I tell you by what kind of authority I do these things."

In the sacred precincts there were two famous cloisters, one on the east and one on the south side of the Court of the Gentiles. The one on the east was called Solomon's Porch. It was a magnificent arcade made by Corinthian columns 35 feet high. The one on the south was even more splendid. It was called the Royal Cloister. It was formed by four rows of white marble columns, each 6 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. There were 162 of them. It was common for Rabbis and teachers to stroll in these columns and to teach as they walked. Most of the great cities of ancient times had these cloisters. They gave shelter from the sun and the wind and the rain, and, in point of fact, it was in these places that most of the religious and philosophic teaching was done. One of the most famous schools of ancient thought was that of the Stoics. They received their name from the fact that Zeno, their founder, taught as he walked in the Stoa Poikile, the Painted Porch, in Athens. The word stoa (Greek #4745) means porch or arcade and the Stoics were the school of the porch. It was in these cloisters in the Temple that Jesus was walking and teaching.

To him there came a deputation of the chief priests and the experts in the law, that is the scribes, rabbis and elders. This was in reality a deputation from the Sanhedrin, of which these three groups formed the component parts. They asked a most natural question. For a private individual, all on his own, to clear the Court of the Gentiles of its accustomed and official traders was a staggering thing. So they asked Jesus, "By what kind of authority do you act like that?"

They hoped to put Jesus into a dilemma. If he said he was acting under his own authority they might well arrest him as a megalomaniac before he did any further damage. If he said that he was acting on the authority of God they might well arrest him on an obvious charge of blasphemy, on the grounds that God would never give any man authority to create a disturbance in the courts of his own house. Jesus saw quite clearly the dilemma in which they sought to involve him, and his reply put them into a dilemma which was still worse. He said that he would answer on condition that they would answer one question for him, "Was John the Baptist's work, in your opinion, human or divine?"

This impaled them on the horns of a dilemma. If they said it was divine, they knew that Jesus would ask why they had stood out against it. Worse than that--if they said it was divine, Jesus could reply that John had in fact pointed all men to him, and that therefore he was divinely attested and needed no further authority. If these members of the Sanhedrin agreed that John's work was divine, they would be compelled to accept Jesus as the Messiah. On the other hand, if they said that John's work was merely human, now that John had the added distinction of being a martyr, they knew quite well that the listening people would cause a riot. So they were compelled to say weakly that they did not know, and thereby Jesus escaped the need to give them any answer to their question.

The whole story is a vivid example of what happens to men who will not face the truth. They have to twist and wriggle and in the end get themselves into a position in which they are so helplessly involved that they have nothing to say. The man who faces the truth may have the humiliation of saying that he was wrong, or the peril of standing by it, but at least the future for him is strong and bright. The man who will not face the truth has nothing but the prospect of deeper and deeper involvement in a situation which renders him helpless and ineffective.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Mark 11:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/mark-11.html. 1956-1959.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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