The Week That Changed the World: Part 3

Tuesday was a whirlwind of activity. It probably won’t surprise you that Jesus went back to the temple to teach and minister again. In fact, he spent the majority of that Tuesday in the temple. We’ll describe more about that in a few moments. But, right now, let’s walk step-by-step through the action that took place on that Tuesday. 

  • Jesus taught his followers a lesson about prayer from the cursed fig tree. (Mark 11:20-26; Matthew 21:20-22)

On Monday Jesus had very publicly cursed a fig tree that was in bloom, but completely barren. 

On the walk back to the Temple the very next day (Tuesday), the disciples noticed that in less than 24 hours the fig tree had died and actually withered up from the roots (Mark 11:20). 

Remembering what Jesus had said to the tree only 24 hours earlier, Peter shouted out, “Teacher! The fig tree you cursed is shriveled up and dead” (Mark 11:21). 

It almost sounds as if Peter was surprised. 

Jesus used the dead and withered fig tree as an opportunity to teach his closest followers about the power of prayer.

 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” —Mark 11:22-24 NIV

Don’t miss Jesus’ words: “…if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea…’”

The “mountain” in Verse 23 is symbolic. Craig Keener notes that “some Jewish texts speak of ‘removing mountains’ as an infinitely long or virtually impossible task [that could only be] accomplished by the most pious… Rabbis applied it to mastering tasks that appeared [to be] humanly impossible to master…” [1]

But in Mark 11, Jesus looked at a group of utterly ordinary men and said, “If you have faith in God, you can speak to this mountain…” 

Some believe that the “mountain” most dominantly on Jesus’ mind at that moment was likely the “mountain of dead religion and a dead temple”. 

It could be that Jesus even pointed to the temple as if to say, “Guys. See that mountain. That mountain is going to be moved and I came to move it!”

The great news is that ultimately, He did! The mountain of dead religion and a dead temple was moved thru the cross of Christ. 

When Jesus was crucified, He became the ultimate sacrifice for our sin! His body was placed in a tomb. A stone was placed over the entrance to that tomb, but on resurrection morning, the stone was rolled away! And, as that stone rolled away, the mountain of religion that stood between us and God was also moved, and access to God was made available to every man, woman, boy and girl — whether rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. 

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the word, “mountain.” Again, in that era, a “mountain” was a Jewish metaphor for any challenge or situation in life that appeared to be impossible, immovable or beyond our limited abilities! 

“Mountain” — a metaphor for any challenge or situation in life 
that appears to be impossible, immovable or 
beyond our limited abilities.

Think of the drama jammed into this moment. Jesus was just hours from taking on the “mountain” of our sin. He was moments from taking on the “mountain” of dead religion and a dead temple system… So, when the disciples appeared to be surprised over a fig tree He had cursed the day before, it’s almost as if Jesus looked at them thinking, “Really? You think that’s something? You ain’t seen nothing yet! The mountain of your sin is going to be moved and cast into the sea of my grace! The mountain of a religious system that has forgotten its purpose is about to be moved…” 

“And, if I can do that, then, regardless of the ‘mountains’ you face in life – whether it’s a mountain of… 

some self-defeating habit,
some constant, persistent character flaw,
fear that is crippling,
broken relationship,
marriage on the ropes,
a challenge that is bigger than your abilities, or,
opposition that is greater and stronger than you…

It doesn’t matter!

“The size of your mountain can’t compete with the size of your God. If you just have faith in God, you can speak to the mountain and your mountain is left with no option but to move!”

The size of your mountain can’t compete with the size of your God.

Mark Batterson has written extensively about the power of prayer. Here are two of my favorite quotes: 

“The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked…” —Mark Batterson [2]

“Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.” —Mark Batterson [3]

What mountain do you need to begin speaking to today?

Jesus began Tuesday of the last week of His life by challenging His followers, “Have faith in God… Speak to the mountains in your life… They will move!”

Then He added this critically important insight. “And, oh, by the way, remember there’s a direct correlation between the effectiveness of your prayer life and the health of your relational world. Make certain you don’t harbor any unforgiveness. It matters to Your Father. It also impacts your prayer life….” (Mark 11:25 Paraphrased). 

At T-minus 3 days and counting, Jesus took time to teach His closest followers about the importance of prayer, the priority of relationships and the necessity of forgiveness. All of this takes place Tuesday morning. 

  • Jesus taught in the Temple and directly confronted the religious leaders (Matthew 21:23-23:36; Mark 11:27-12:37; Luke 20:1-44). 

Jesus and His disciples arrived at the temple some time that morning, and a crowd showed up early to hear Him teach (Lk 21:37-38). 

The religious leaders immediately began to attempt to pick a fight with Jesus by challenging His authority. Fresh on their minds were the events that took place the day before — that Monday — when Jesus had cleaned out the “Bazaar or Market of Annas” so he could make room for the blind, crippled, poor and children to receive ministry and spend time in His presence. 

These leaders probably feared that Tuesday would be a repeat of Monday, so the moment they got a shot, they challenged Jesus, attempting to establish their authority. 

“By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?” —Mark 11:28 NLT

In other words, “Jesus, maybe you didn’t get the memo? You’re not in charge, we are. We have authority over what goes on in the temple. Not you! Who gave you the right?”

Can you believe the audacity of this group?

There’s a great scene in the 2012 movie, Dark Knight Rises where one of Bane’s business associates, a guy named John Daggett, is upset about some of Bane’s activities. Daggett tries to challenge Bane’s authority, barking to one of his underlings, “I’m in charge here…”

This is a terrifying moment in the film. Because at this point, Bane towers above Daggett, places his hand on Daggett’s shoulder, and says in that deep distorted, Bane-like voice, “Do you feel in charge?”

Of course, just before the lights go out for Daggett, he realizes he was never in charge at all.

That’s the absurdity of what’s going on in this scene from the last Tuesday of Jesus’ life. The religious authorities had the impertinence to believe that they were in charge of the temple that had been created for the glory of God — the God they were actually in the presence of but didn’t even recognize it! 

They thought they were calling the shots! They confronted Jesus and asked Him the question, “Who gave you the right?”

Once again, Jesus completely flipped the script. Instead of answering their question, He asked them a question that they couldn’t possibly answer in public without upsetting the crowd and potentially inciting a riot. 

Round One of the Tuesday Temple Smackdown went to Jesus. 

Now, it’s Round Two. Jesus didn’t give the religious leaders an opportunity to get their equilibrium or mount an attack. Instead, He went on the offensive by sharing a series of three stories. 

The Story of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

In Matthew 21:28-32 Jesus shared a story about a man who had two sons. He asked them both to work in his vineyard. The older son must have been having a bad morning. Maybe he hadn’t had his first cup of coffee yet, because at first he responded, “No way! I won’t go.” But then he later changed his mind and went to work. 

The younger son initially responded, “You got it, Pop. You bet. You can count on me. I’ll go…” But then, he never actually got up and went. 

Jesus closed the story by asking, “Which of the two sons obeyed?”

The religious leaders immediately responded, “Well, duh? The first, of course.”

That’s when Jesus landed an upper cut to the chin. He stared directly at this group of very pious leaders and said, “You need to know that corrupt tax collectors, crooks and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.”

Ouch! That had to hurt!  

The implication from Jesus’ story and application was clear. The group of people Jesus just referred to — corrupt tax collectors, crooks and prostitutes — had initially said, “No!” when it came to the invitation to be part of His kingdom. But during Jesus’ ministry — over the past 3+ years — this group ended up saying, “Yes!” and coming into the kingdom in droves. Unfortunately, on the other-hand,  the religious leaders who had initially indicated that they were all about God’s kingdom…well, they were the son who had completely ignored the Father’s request and failed to see the reality of the invitation to a kingdom partnership that was right before their eyes.  

That story stung! Jesus was taking control of this round, but He wasn’t done. 

The Story of the Wicked Tenant Farmers (Matthew 21:33-46)

The religious leaders were already angry, when Jesus launched into another story (Matthew 21:33-46). This story was about a wealthy and apparently honorable land owner, and a group of really evil, greedy, wicked tenant farmers. 

While the land owner was away on a trip, he sent representatives to collect his share of the grape harvest. This wasn’t a surprise. It was part of an agreement that tenant farmers made with land owners during this time. 

Tenant farmers would often enter into agreements with wealthy land owners to farm their land. Sometimes the land owners would even provide the seed and fertilizer. All of this was done by negotiation and agreement, with the expectation that at some point, the tenant farmers would give the land owner a certain percentage of the harvest. A certain return on the land owner’s investment. 

But, in Jesus’ story, when the land owner sent reps to collect his share of the harvest, the group of tenant farmers beat the first rep, murdered the second rep, stoned the third and then beat a fourth group of reps. 

The landowner was surprised and shocked. 

In a gesture of incredible patience and extravagant kindness, the land owner decided to send his own son to collect his share, believing that this group of farmers would at least respect the authority and position of the landowner’s son. That they would see his presence as an act of grace. 

But the moment the son showed up at the vineyard, these evil, greedy, wicked farmers thought to themselves, “That’s the heir. If we kill him, it all belongs to us…”

So, they seized the land owner’s son, drug him out of his own vineyard, and, then murdered him in cold blood. 

This would have been unimaginable to the audience hearing Jesus’ story. 

Jesus then asked, “What do you think the land owner is going to do when he gets back home from his trip? How will he respond?”

The leaders didn’t hesitate to answer. “He’ll obviously execute the wicked farmers and then lease his vineyard to responsible farmers who’ll give him his share of the crops.”

To make certain this group didn’t miss the point, Jesus made it plain. 

Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? 
‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’”
—Matthew 21:42 NLT

BOOM! Jesus had landed another spiritual right hook square on the jaw, putting this group of “evil, greedy, wicked” religious leaders on the mat. 

They completely lost it. They were furious about the story. In fact, they wanted to arrest Jesus that moment, but were afraid of the crowds that had gathered to hear him teach, so they somehow regained their composure. 

Jesus was unrelenting. He continues his verbal offensive attack with one more story. 

The Story of the Wedding Feast (Matt 22:1-14)

This story was about a king who prepared a huge wedding feast for his son. When it got time for the wedding, the king sent his servants to notify everyone who had been invited that the banquet was ready. Dinner was served.  Incredibly, everyone on the guest list refused to come. 

To refuse an invitation from the king was an incredible insult and complete dismissal of the king’s authority. This was unbelievable.         

Amazingly, the king, in his patience and grace, sent a second group of servant messengers with the same invite, “Hey! Maybe you missed the first invite? Maybe you forgot? But the wedding feast is prepared and ready! We’re serving filet mignon! We’ve got great wine! The time has arrived.”

This time, some of the people on the guest list completely ignored the invite of the king and just kept going about their business. And, for some unexplainable reason, others on the guest list actually insulted the messengers and even murdered them. 

Those hearing the story understood the point: Contempt for the king’s messengers was the equivalent of contempt for the king himself. This was an act of rebellion. 

Obviously, the king was furious, so he sent out an army to deal with the rebellion. They not only executed the murderers, but the army set the entire city on fire. 

Many scholars believe that Jesus’ third story was a prophetic story that was fulfilled in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. when the Roman General Titus leveled Jerusalem and slaughtered more than 1,100,000 Jewish people. 

Back to Jesus’ story. 

In the aftermath of dealing with the treacherous people on the first list, the king then invited a new guest list to the same wedding feast. 

“Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find. 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”—Matt 22:9-10 ESV

The implication of the third story was immediately understood by Jesus’ target audience. 

The current religious leaders in Israel had been on God’s original guest list. But they not only ignored the King’s invitation, they had rejected the King and even murdered the King’s messengers, which were the prophets. 

Amazingly, God’s heart has always been people. So, when people on the first guest list ignored, refused or rejected the King’s invite, the King didn’t cancel the feast! He just expanded the guest list so that the wedding hall would be filled! 

This infuriated the religious leaders. They had created a culture of exclusivity when it came to how people could relate to God. But in this story, Jesus was putting them on alert! He was letting them know. “You guys were on God’s guest list, but you have repeatedly blown it. So, God has expanded the list and He’s inviting all kinds of people.”

This is one of the reasons that the crowds who heard Jesus teach were filled with hope! All of their lives they had been taught that they were not on the list. But, now, Jesus basically says, “Oh, yes you are!”

Once again, these leaders were enraged! Jesus was exposing their hypocrisy and rebellion. He was landing one solid blow after another… 

Now the leaders were even more intent on arresting Jesus, but in the aftermath of the healing crusade that went on the day before, the Temple was filled with crowds that had come to hear Him. The leaders feared that arresting Jesus would cause a riot and even endanger their lives.  

So, they decided to cede another round to Jesus, and to change their strategy for Round 3. 

They began asking Jesus a series of questions all meant to trick Him into incriminating Himself so they could accuse and arrest Him. Jab. Jab. Jab. 

Jesus countered every jab — every question —  in a way that silenced and stunned these leaders, while simultaneously amazing the gathered crowd.

Unwilling to risk losing face again in one of these public verbal exchanges,
they quit asking questions for good. —Matthew 22:46 MSG

Love God. Love People.

One of the most important questions Jesus was asked was when an expert in Scripture stepped forwarded and asked Jesus to “bottom line” the most important or greatest commands in Scripture. 

Jesus didn’t hesitate. He responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. 

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”—Matthew 22:37-40 NLT

In other words, Jesus said, “It all boils down to this, Love God and love people.”

Ground and Pound

The Tuesday Temple Smackdown wrapped with Jesus going “ground and pound” on the religious leaders and the system they had created that was keeping people from experiencing God. He was direct, relentless and scathing in his assessment. He refused to allow His opponents to “tap out.” (See Matthew 23) 

“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden. “Everything they do is for show…” —Matthew 23:2-5a NLT

It’s important to point out that Jesus wasn’t merely “talking smack” to this group of leaders. He wasn’t “dissing” them. He wasn’t petulant or petty. He loved these men enough to speak hard truth to them. Truth that might even cost Him His life. 

At the end of “match”, the religious leaders were on the ropes, but determined to end the life of a man they viewed as a nuisance and a threat. 

Jesus stayed singularly focused on His mission. He found a place to pray over this group of very stubborn, rebellious people and the city He loved so much. He would continue to love them and us through His words, actions and by eventually giving His life. 

  • Jesus prayed over Jerusalem and wept over the people in the city that He deeply loved (Matthew 23:37-39). 

At some point that Tuesday, Jesus wept over the city and the people He would ultimately give His life for. 

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. 38 And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. 39 For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” —Matthew 23:37-39 NLT

  • Jesus talked with His disciples about the future and eternity (Matthew 24-25:46; Mark 13:1-37; Luke 21:5-36)

As Jesus and the disciples started to leave the temple in Jerusalem, the disciples were blown away by and fixated on the size, scope and beauty of the buildings that made up the temple complex. 

As they marveled over these manmade buildings, Jesus began to unpack a vivid description of what the future would look like, even indicating that the temple would ultimately be destroyed. In fulfillment of Jesus’ words, that happened in 70 AD. 

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” Later, Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will all this happen? What sign will signal your return and the end of the world?” Jesus told them, “Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. —Matt 24:1-8 NLT

12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.  13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.  14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations[c] will hear it; and then the end will come.—Matt 24:12-14 NLT

43 “Keep watch! For you do not know what day our Lord is coming…44 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” —Matt 24:43-44 NLT

At the end of the day, Jesus and His disciples returned to Bethany, having challenged the religious leaders and system of the day. 

The Difference Between Religion and Christianity

Have you ever thought about the difference between Christianity and religion? There is a difference. 

  • Religion is spelled D-O.

It’s about all the stuff people do — the rules people keep — to try to somehow secure God’s forgiveness, favor and acceptance. Stuff like praying, going to church, being nice to people or giving money to the poor. The list goes on and on. It’s all an attempt to earn our way to heaven. 

The religious leaders in Jesus’ day had created a meticulous system of at least 613 rules — 248 commands (stuff you should do) and 365 prohibitions (stuff you shouldn’t do). They even added a list of 1521 recommendations. 

No wonder Jesus said, They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matt 23:4) 

The problem with the “rules-keeping” approach to winning God’s favor and acceptance is that you never know when you’ve done enough. So you live with this nagging sense of fear and anxiety that you never quite measure up. 

On top of that Romans 3:23 tells us that we “all fall short of God’s perfect and glorious standard”.

Religion is always about what a person has to do. It’s an exhausting way to live. 

  • Christianity, on the other hand, is spelled D-O-N-E.

Christianity admits right up front that no one can ever measure up to God’s standard or holiness.  No amount of scrupulous rules keeping, rigorous self-discipline or self-denying sacrifice could ever merit God’s love, grace, kindness favor and eternal life. Christianity concedes the point: we can’t save ourselves by becoming good or doing good!  

That’s why Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. Christianity says that what we could never do for ourselves, Jesus has already DONE for us. 

Jesus lived the perfect life we could never live. He died the death we all deserved to die. He willingly died on the cross as our substitute to pay the penalty we owed for all the wrongs we’ve ever done. As we’ll read later this week, when Jesus died He cried these words, “It is finished or I have done it!” (John 19:30)

Christianity is about trusting what Jesus has already done. When we trust Him, He adopts us into the family of God (Eph 1:5; Gal 4:4-7) and begins to change us from the inside out (Rom 12:2). 

I’ve tried religion. In fact, the denomination I was raised in had a long list of rules for what you had to do or had to avoid to be made right with God. After years of trying to make sure I had every box checked on the list of do’s and don’ts, instead of being transformed, I was just tired. 

Jesus wasn’t into religion. He challenged it head on in His last public day of ministry. I’m not into religion, either. I’ve tried it and it’s a dead-end road. I’m a Christian because I know how bad I am and how good God is. I’m a Christian because I stopped trusting in what I knew I could never do, and, I started depending on what Jesus has already DONE through His life, death, burial and resurrection. 

I’m a Christian because Christianity isn’t about religion or rules, it’s about the fact that the God of the Universe wants to have a relationship with me through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Christianity is about a relationship, 
not about being part of a religion.

If you want to take the same step of faith I did several years ago, this prayer is a great place to start. 

A Prayer To Begin A Relationship With Jesus

“Dear God, thank you for loving me. I realize that I’ve sinned. My sin has separated me from You… I make a decision today to stop trusting in my own efforts and to start trusting in what Jesus did. I believe that Jesus died for my sins and in my place. I ask that You forgive my sins and lead my life. I choose to trust Jesus. I choose to begin a lifelong relationship with you today. Amen.”

[1] Craig Kenner, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, NT, p 166. 

[2] Mark Batterson. Draw the Circle: The 40 Day Prayer Challenge (Kindle Locations 986-988). 

[3] Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears (Kindle Locations 82-83). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Published by Chris Goins

My name is Chris Goins. I live in Birmingham, AL where I serve as the Lead Pastor of A2 Church + a certified John Maxwell Speaker + Coach. Welcome to my blog - a collection of ideas, quotes, insights, message notes + dynamic content intended to motivate you to reach your God-given potential + live a life of freedom and significance.

2 thoughts on “The Week That Changed the World: Part 3

  1. Jesus prayed over Jerusalem and wept over the people in the city that He deeply loved (Matthew 23:37-39). This was one of the verses that was preached on Palm Sunday. It’s like embedded in my mind of how much Jesus loved Jerusalem and the people, but most, not ALL could not accept HIM! It so relates to the Religious/Christianity. I’ve been there. Great read today Chris!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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