March 30, 2011

Thursday, Third Week of Lent, Day Twenty


             Lectionary

Morning - Psalm 85, Genesis 41:25-40, 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1
Evening - Psalm 80, Jeremiah 9:2-16, Mark 11:12-26

And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.  And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

            Commentary

Again Scripture marks the progress of our Lord toward Jerusalem. Bethpage and Bethany are on the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem.  The Mount of Olives is on the east side of Jerusalem between Bethany and the city.  From there Christ could view the Temple, symbol of His presence and sacrifice.  To put the events in their proper sequence, Jesus travelled from Jericho through Bethphage to arrive in Bethany on the Friday before Passover, probably in the year 28.  He remained in Bethany for the Sabbath and went into Jerusalem on Sunday in what has been called "The Triumphal Entry" which is recorded in Mark 11:1-11.  The crowds who greeted Him with palm branches were the pilgrims traveling to or already in Jerusalem for Passover. The Triumphal Entry is a bold announcement that Jesus has come to Jerusalem.  It is also a bold acceptance of the fate that awaits Him.  He does not go in secret.  He does not hide in fear.  He goes into the city boldly, as a King to His Throne, and, at the same time, as a Lamb to the Slaughter. Having made His Triumphal Entry, Jesus returned to Bethany for the night.

The next day, Monday, Christ returned to Jerusalem.  On this day He saw the fig tree in leaf but having no figs.  This was an appropriate symbol of the decaying religion of the religious leaders of Israel.  Like the fig tree, they were luxuriant in appearance, but bore no fruit.  They were great in the appearance of Godliness, with their traditions and ceremonies, but their hearts were far from God.  The words of Christ withered the tree as the Gospel withers the pretence of faith in false believers. 

As He chased the moneychangers from the Temple Christ reminded the Priests of the true purpose of their calling (Mk. 11:17).  They were to lead the people of God into the very presence of God in worship.  Instead they had turned the House of Prayer into a den of thieves who robbed people of the very thing they were called to provide.

            Devotional Thoughts

We have been talking about Lent, and the things we do in this season of the Church Year.  I pray we have seen that it has never been our objective to simply add another season to the calendar or to create a pretty ritual or ceremony.  Our objective is to always to apply ourselves to holiness.  So, in Lent, we intentionally put aside some of the things that normally claim our attention, and apply ourselves to seeking God.  We turn aside from some of the pleasures of life. They may be good and lawful pleasures, but we lay them aside, not to say “I gave them up for Lent," but to spend the time we normally spend in those pleasures seeking God.  Of course we also spend the Lenten season in turning away from the ungodly things we have allowed into our lives.  For the first half of Lent we have talked about recognizing sin, confessing sin, and turning away from sin, and this is an essential part of holiness.  I sincerely pray that we have all applied ourselves to this during this time of Lent.  But holiness also means to embrace godliness.  Lent, then, is a time to apply ourselves to the positive actions and attitudes that are so much a part of holy living.  One of the most important of these is prayer

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