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04.17.11 True Worship, Mark 11:1-52, Sermon Summary

by on April 19, 2011

Summary Points

  • Jesus death in Jerusalem is merely the culmination of his life of faithfulness
  • We are called to the same kind of life
  • What that life looks like, AKA, the fruit of true worship

Jesus ends his earthly life with an extravagant act of worship. History calls it the “Passion” of Christ (from the Latin “to suffer”). As extravagant as it is, it’s merely the culmination of a life of worship. And this is what Jesus calls us to—a life of worship.

Scholars have long observed that the Gospels are “Passion narratives with extended introductions.” Indeed, Holy Week is what Mark has been leading us to, and it is also what Jesus leads us to—if we are willing to follow. He calls us to live lives of true worship. What is the nature of true worship?

At the beginning of Holy Week, Jesus provides two active parables to help us understand the nature of true worship. The first, on Sunday, is his entry into Jerusalem. The second, on Monday, is the “cleansing” of the Temple.

The Temple scene is framed in Mark by the cursing and withering of the fig tree. Mark provides this cue to use the two stories to interpret each other. Jesus looks for fruit on a fig tree out of season, finds none, and curses it. Then he enters the Temple and disrupts the activities there. The following morning they find the fig tree withered to its roots. The interpretation? The Temple isn’t bearing fruit, and thus comes under judgment and risk of withering away. 

The Temple should be a place of true worship. One should be able to offer prayer and sacrifice there. One should find there a new beginning, be able to rededicate oneself, experience transformation, depart reborn. But instead, what Jesus found on his first trip to the Temple was an institution collaborating with Rome. It wasn’t bearing fruit. What is fruitfulness?

The answer comes from the lesson of the fig tree. After finding the tree withered, Jesus teaches his disciples to have faith, pray, and forgive: faith in the power of God to accomplish amazing, even redemptive acts; prayer as the expression of that faith; and forgiveness because anyone who has such faith, prays such prayers, and behaves accordingly, will suffer persecution.

If there is any doubt about this, disciples have only to remember the one they follow. Jesus had this faith, prayed and acted according to it, and was executed by the religious and political authorities who were threatened by such faithfulness.

Likewise, people of faith and prayer live like Jesus:

In sum, disciples of Jesus will bear the fruit of true worship as Jesus did, because like him, they look for and enact the Kingdom of God. Jesus enacted the Kingdom his whole life, culminating in his death in Jerusalem. He made this explicit for his followers by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the first active parable that starts Holy Week.

Zechariah 9:9-10 depicts the coming of a “king of peace” riding on a donkey. This is a kingdom of peace different than the Pax Romana. The “peace of Rome,” as with all political systems not the Kingdom of God, ensures peace through many kinds of intimidation, but especially the display of power. Jesus, the “Prince of Peace,” shows us another peace—the peace that can only come through true worship. He had faith, he prayed, he acted accordingly, and he died because of this true worship. And he calls us to do the same.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • In what ways does the temple of your own life need cleansing? If Jesus were to seek the fruit of worship in your life, what would he find? See John 15:1-8.
  • Do you have faith? Do you have the kind of faith that leads to prayer? Does the way you live reflect your prayerful faith in the Kingdom of God, even to the point of drawing criticism, even persecution? Do you believe Jesus is calling you to this kind of faith?
  • Is there anyone you need to forgive, not because they’ve offended you personally, but because they’ve persecuted you because of your faithfulness to God’s Kingdom?
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