This will be a very different Easter this year. As we continue to be physically distanced from one another as the church, I want to take this time to help us focus on the events in Jesus’ life that led up to Resurrection Sunday. I’m calling it Countdown to the Cross.
During this week we call the Passion Week of Christ, we will focus on what Jesus did each day on His way to the Cross and the Resurrection.
Holy Monday - What does Holy Monday say to us as we are being forced to be physically distanced from each other on a level unprecedented in our lifetimes?
It was only yesterday that Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly on Palm Sunday as recorded in Mark 11:1–11. After Jesus entered Jerusalem on that donkey colt, he went into the Temple and after looking around he departed for Bethany with the disciples, since it was already late. He would continue to spend the night in Bethany most likely at the house of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha.
Two major events happen on Holy Monday. 1. He curses a barren fig tree as a symbol of the “fruitless” nation of Israel (vv. 12–14; cf. Jeremiah 8:13; Micah 7:1). 2. He cleanses the Temple.
Cursing the Barren Fig Tree - A People’s Fruitless Faith
Israel failed to exercise faith in Jesus. They professed to be fruitful/faithful (waving palm leaves as He entered their city), but the Jewish people were fruitless (non-productive) in practicing their faith. Within a few days of Palm Sunday, they would deny their King and crucify Him.
After spending the night in Bethany, Jesus returned on Monday to Jerusalem and notices a fig tree that had produced leaves ahead of the season. Jesus knew that fig trees bear fruit twice a year -- in June and September. This was March/April, so even the unripened fruit should have still remained for Him to eat. But since the fig tree bore leaves, He expected to find figs, yet it was fruitless. Jesus cursed the tree and it withered at once.
The disciples were surprised to see the tree wither so rapidly. Just as Jesus had cursed the fig tree, He would judge a generation that rejected Him (Luke 21:20). He would later weep over Jerusalem on His way there.
The point here is that God wants our practice of faith to line up with our profession of faith. In other words, practice what we preach.
Jesus will later use the disciples’ surprise in order to teach on genuine faith in God. We will also see that the faith of every single disciple will be greatly tested in the coming days. How is your faith this Holy Monday? Does your practice line up with your profession?
Cleansing the Temple – Getting the Sin Out
He next drove the moneychangers from the temple (Mark 11:15–18).
There were 5 financial functions that took place there during Holy Week, each of which incurred our Lord’s wrath. There are also the 5 reasons Jesus cleansed the temple.
People would come to Jerusalem for Passover “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Since there were no banks along the way, they had to bring the money they would need to finance their trip to Jerusalem and back. (Some stayed in Jerusalem for 50 days until Pentecost, which made their trip even more expensive; cf. Acts 2:5–11).
Three financial functions were performed at the temple which carried their own Greek designation but are translated into the same English term: money-changers.
1. Foreign coins had to be changed into local currency, which was the function of the money-changers of Matthew 21:12.
2. Travelers would typically bring large denominations of money for ease of transport, which had to be converted into smaller coins. This was the function of the money-changers of John 2:14.
3. Travelers would also store money at the temple, a service rendered by the money-changers of Matthew 25:27.
For the first two functions, the money-changers typically charged a premium of 4 to 8%; those acting as bankers paid interest at a fixed rate (though this was contrary to Jewish law; Exodus 22:25).
4. Those who came to the temple were required to pay a tribute of “half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 30:13). This currency was in use only at the temple. As a result, those who came to sacrifice had to exchange their currency for it.
For each of these four functions, however, the money-changers were charging exorbitant rates. Since those who came to the temple had no other option, they were forced to pay them.
5. Animals used for sacrifice at the temple were required to be “without blemish” (cf. Exodus 12:5). Since raising such animals and then transporting them all the way to Jerusalem was difficult for most people, they chose to buy their sacrificial animal when they arrived. However, those who marketed such animals were charging unfair prices for them. Much the way some today are overcharging for essentials like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
For these reasons, Jesus “began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple” (Mark 11:15). He explained his action: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17).
Two Life Lessons to learn here:
1. Jesus knows our sins, whether others hold us accountable for them or not.
The authorities allowed corruption by money-changers and perhaps profited from them personally (cf. Mark 11:18; Luke 16:14; Matthew 23:25). But Jesus saw their sin and responded proactively to it. He sees our “secret” sins just as clearly today (cf. Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13).
I recently read where traffic on pornography sites was up nearly 12% during this time of social distancing.
2. The Lord is willing to forgive all sin that we confess.
If we will admit the sins in our personal “temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16), he will cleanse us and forgive us. If we continue to seek his help, he will continue to give us victory.
I encourage you to make time this Holy Week to get alone with Jesus. Ask him to bring to mind anything in your life that needs to be cleansed from your “temple,” then confess all that comes to your thoughts and claim his forgiving grace (1 John 1:9). Ask him to help you cleanse your “temple”.
I am convinced that one way our Lord wants to redeem the social distancing of these days is by using it to draw us closer to Himself than ever before.
What are the money-changers in your temple today? Let Jesus remove them today and make your temple a house of prayer!