Updated: Oct 28
Don't let anything get in the way of the gospel.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Mark 11:15-25
This week's "living parable" of the failure of God's people by commodifying God's "access" proves how far His people have fallen from their relationship with Him. We are challenged to evaluate our lives and churches and be willing to take drastic action to reorient ourselves to God's purpose for us -- to sacrifice ourselves for the world to know the truth of the gospel.
We've Studied This Before
I'm on the road this week, and I'm just going to admit to being more tired than I thought I would be (I'm at a conference; my brain is tired). So, I'm going to lean into the fact that we have studied this event before.
That lesson jumped from what we're studying this week to the famous story about the "Widow's Mite". In that post, I focused on what the moneychangers were doing as well as how this event fit into the schedule of Holy Week.
This is a passage from early on John's Gospel about an event that is remarkably similar to what we're reading about this week. In fact, many scholars believe that John is describing the same event that Mark does. I don't. I believe that Jesus had multiple encounters with the moneychangers in the temple complex. (Is that hard to believe? Honestly, how long after Jesus left before the moneychangers came back, do you think?) However, the nature of the encounter would have been the same in each event. The John post goes into a lot of detail about Herod's Temple.
Please refer to those posts for more detailed information about the what, the where, and the why.
Where We Are in Mark: Can You Believe It's Holy Week?
Maybe this will be as jarring to you as it was to me. We're in Holy Week.
I have no excuse for that surprise; we are almost to the last month of the quarter, and there are still a lot of important things that happen in the Gospel, wouldn't you say? Part of my shock is due to the fact that we skip the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. That's my "neon sign" that we're about to study Holy Week.
We have studied the Triumphal Entry before.
In that post, I mention that all of these sequential events -- the Triumphal Entry, the driving out of the moneychangers, and the cursing of the fig tree -- are "living parables". The Triumphal Entry demonstrated that the Kingdom of God would come through humble sacrifice. The cleansing of the temple demonstrated that God's people were to tear down the barriers between all peoples and God. The withered fig tree demonstrated what would happen to God's people for their failure in the temple.
There is another connected "living parable" -- the events of the Upper Room. The evening Jesus spent with His disciples was filled with meaning-laden action, most importantly the footwashing and the Last Supper.
What unites all of these events is how they point to the mission of Jesus and, consequently, Jesus' followers. The fig tree is one last warning to God's people about the consequence of fruitlessness. The cleansing of the temple is one last declaration of priority.
Everything that happens in this week's passage includes the urgency of being the final week of Jesus' earthly ministry.
Anyway, coming back around, this event happens on the the Monday of Holy Week (that's the name many Christians give the week between the Triumphal Entry and Easter). Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey on Sunday (the "Triumphal Entry"), then goes back out to Bethany, where He stays with His friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus (see the other posts for a map). On Monday, Jesus comes back to Jerusalem. He curses the barren fig tree on the way (see the Mark post for what that's all about), then He clears out the predatory moneychangers and merchants from the Court of the Gentiles in the temple complex. The fact that the fig tree was already withered when they went back to Bethany that afternoon is the "living parable" of what would happen to Jerusalem for God's people's failure to bear fruit for Him in the world.
This Week's Big Idea: The Need for Drastic Action in Christianity
With apologies, but this is going to be my only new contribution to this week's study. And it's not really mine! It was inspired by something I heard in the conference. A big part of this conference was about preventing failures in church leadership before they happen. Three of the things they talked about were
being willing to embrace suffering (if it's for the gospel)
being willing to take drastic, unpopular action (if it's right)
not letting anything get in the way of the church's commitment to God
The people at the conference were thinking more in terms of the dangers of seeking celebrity/popularity, the desire to be on friendly terms with the culture, and the fear of losing your position.
But my goodness, what Jesus did in this week's passage is the perfect "living parable" of what the conference was exhorting church leaders to.
The larger (and more difficult) discussion would be the related big-picture questions:
Is your church tearing down barriers that might be keeping the people around you from hearing the good news about Jesus?
Has your church allowed secular cultural forces to set your agenda and drive what you think is acceptable for God's people?
Does your church have a single-minded focus on living out the joy and power of a life directly connected to God in the Holy Spirit? And do you make that message available to everyone you come in contact with?
I say that's a "difficult" discussion because it's probably something you need to have with church leadership, not just your small group Bible study.
But there are two additional levels of application.
Your Small Group Bible Study
What does your small group consider appropriate "fruit"? Assuming it's in line with what the Bible says, how fruitful are you being? What changes do you need to make to become more fruitful?
If every believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then this week's event would be the equivalent of Jesus coming into our public life and "cleansing" it. Think of your life in the world -- do people find being in your presence one of peace, of prayer, and of access to God? Or do they find you to be a person of "business" and manipulation?
I've made many of my applications of his passage to be about churches, but the truth is that they are equally applicable to individual Christians. You just have to be able to take a step back from yourself and view yourself "from the outside". I personally find it easier to evaluate my church than myself.
My biggest takeaway from this conference was the need for drastic action. What Jesus did in the temple complex is about as drastic as it gets! Don't shy away from drastic action.
But the conference also leaned into the need for patience and care. Just because an action is drastic doesn't mean it has to be sudden. Some drastic actions require careful planning.
If you see a need for drastic action, what careful steps do you need to take to get there? And what help/accountability will you need to ensure it gets done in a way that brings glory to God and people to Jesus?
Sorry for the stream-of-consciousness approach this week. Maybe one day in the future I will come back and clean this up.
Quick Ideas for Discussion
Here are some things I'm going to try to workshop for Sunday morning:
General discussion: what has been ruined by commercialization? (I'm thinking of things from youth sports to Christmas.)
Part 1: "Moneychangers in church" (Mark 11:15-17) -- how might we commercialize church today? (Based on the conference I just attended, I'm also thinking about this in terms of celebrity pastors.)
Part 2: "Whistleblowers in church" (Mark 11:18-19) -- (you would have to be very careful with this one) Jesus is the ultimate "whistleblower" calling out the corruption of the Jewish leaders. How do church members in America today get treated when they point out something potentially wrong in the church? What do we need to do to make sure our church does not treat people in that way?
Part 3: "Judgment is coming" (Mark 11:20-25) -- whether or not the Jewish leaders liked it, God was going to judge them for their sin. In what way does this give us hope? Concern?
Closing Thoughts: Believe and It Will Be Yours
The final verses of this week's passage have been so abused. "...everything you pray and ask for -- believe that you have received it and it will be yours" (11:24)
It just seems so ripe for the Word-Faith movement.
We've talked about this before, and I need more brain power to address it carefully right now. The key to understanding it is verse 25 -- the attitude (of forgiveness) is a part of the belief. The kind of person who harbors bitterness or pride or manipulation is not the kind of person who will have the "faith to move mountains". Again, prayer is not about us telling God what to do -- it is about us aligning our wills with God's. (If you need to, reread the passages in Mark about prayer.)