The Servant King Confronts Hypocrisy – Mark 11:12-33
We all hate false advertising. Companies love to mislead consumers to think their product is one thing but then we find out it is totally something else. I scoured the Internet this week for some of the best examples of false advertising. Here are some of them.
Today Jesus will confront false advertising. No, not out there in the world, but in here, among His people. Last week, we saw Him humbly riding into Jerusalem. But then today we will see Him cursing a fig tree and overturning furniture in the temple. Was He having a bad day? Are there two Jesuses? Like a Dr. Savior and Mr. Lord?
No, no, Mark would say. He is the One and the Same. He is full of grace, but He is also full of truth. This is a Savior you need. A good parent not only feeds you when you are hungry, but also is quick to stick her fingers into a child’s mouth when he is chewing on a coin or something bad for the child. Yes, this might make him uncomfortable and it may spill everything around in the process, but it is the most loving and gracious thing to do.
And so is Jesus. He fills our cups to overflowing, but sometimes overturns the tables and makes everything spill all over the place. He is full of truth, so He hates lying and hypocrisy and sometimes in love, He comes sticking His fingers into our heart making us uncomfortable.
Let’s explore that further today in our message entitled, “The Servant King confronts hypocrisy.” Let’s start with this:
- Hypocrisy: Defined and Illustrated (vv. 12-14, 20-21)
What do we mean by hypocrisy? We mean, “deliberate deception, trying to make people think we are more spiritual than we really are.” In the Bible the word “hypocrisy” means one who pretends to be other than he really is—a pretender. In other literature during Biblical times, it was used as mostly in the sense ‘play-actor, role-player.’
Here is what I don’t mean. Probably one of the biggest objections from the world and in media you’ll see it all the time is the fact that the church is full of hypocrites. The late pastor D. James Kennedy once had a guy come to his church saying this very thing: “The church is full of hypocrites.” He replied, “Well, there is always room for one more.”
Pastor R.C. Sproul explains: “The inverted logic goes something like this: All hypocrites are sinners. John is a sinner; therefore, John is a hypocrite. Anyone who knows the laws of logic knows that this syllogism is not valid. Would you say the church is full of sinners and since rapists are sinners so the church is full of rapists?
He adds, “The unspoken assumption is that a Christian is one who claims he does not sin. It reality just the opposite is the case. For a Christian to be a Christian, he must first be a sinner. Being a sinner is a prerequisite for being a church member. The Christian church is one of the few organizations in the world that requires a public acknowledgement of sin as a condition for membership. In one sense the church has fewer hypocrites than any institution because by definition the church is a haven for sinners. If the church claimed to be an organization of perfect people then her claim would be hypocritical. But no such claim is made by the church. There is no slander in the charge that the church is full of sinners. Such a statement would only compliment the church for fulfilling her divinely appointed task.”
I am not defending hypocrisy in Christians. Is there hypocrisy in the church? Absolutely. Paul tells the Romans Christians, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles BECAUSE OF YOU” (emphasis mine, Rom. 2:24). It is a sin among many and we all have different degrees of it in our hearts and it’s not when we CAN’T see it, but that we WON’T see it that becomes a problem and dangerous in our lives.
Let’s look at the text. Walking from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus is hungry and sees in the distance a leafy fig tree (v. 13). Notice it is not yet “the season for figs.” In Palestine fig trees produced crops of small edible buds in March followed by the appearance of large green leaves in early April. Eventually these buds dropped off when the normal crop of figs formed and ripened in late May and June, the fig season. Pliny, the Elder, observed, “The fig tree is also the only tree whose leaf forms later than its fruit.” Since it sets its fruit before producing leaves, once it has broken into leaf, it should have produced fruit.
However, the tree bore no fruit, not even the buds. Its leaves promised one thing, but it had not produced. It was a hypocritical fig tree. The outward appearance, said, “Come here! I have fruit that will meet your needs.” However, when you arrive, you realize you have been deceived. It was a show with no substance. It was dying on the inside. It was a diseased tree.
Jesus then as a prophet, pronounces judgment on the tree and Peter notices it later (vv.20-21). Why? Why so angry over a bad tree? Mark tells us what’s really going on. Notice the Markan sandwich. Fig tree is mentioned in vv.12-14, then we have the Temple scene in vv.15-19 and then in vv.20-21 fig tree again. When you have the Markan sandwich, he wants you to look at the meat in the middle. What’s happened to the fig tree is an illustration of Israel. All throughout the OT, the fig tree is a symbol Israel (Jeremiah 8:13; 29:17; Hosea 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; and Micah 7:1–6, for example).
Sadly this fruitlessness and barrenness is what Israel had become, especially the temple and the religious leaders. They gave an outward appearance of great spirituality and devotion to God but proved to be hypocrites and Jesus hates hypocrisy. They had lots of leaves, but no fruit.
- Hypocrisy: Confronted (vv.15-19)
The Temple was for the glory of God and a light for the nations to get access to God. In front of the temple were four courtyards separated by four doors leading from one to the other. The first courtyard, the court of the Gentiles, was accessible to everyone. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles could all enter the court of the Gentiles. If you were not a Jew, but you wanted to know more about God and were a seeker trying to find God and looking to pray, you would be allowed to come to this area. Most likely, the selling and buying took place where it says “Gentile’s Court.”
It is where God’s presence was to dwell. It is where priests interceded for you in prayer. It is where sacrifices were made. It was also a place where unbelievers had an opportunity to become part of the community of faith.
As Jesus walks into the courtyard, He sees no light leading a lost world to God. Perhaps Jesus watches a Gentile trying to find his own corner to pray, but he too interrupted as a man with a squirming lamb flung over his shoulder brushes past him. The place is loud and noisy and Jesus has had enough. How did the Jews become like this? How did their worship turn into hypocrisy? They became convenient consumers.
Every male Jew, from age 12 on up, who lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem, was obligated to attend the Passover feast in Jerusalem. You were supposed to bring a one year old lamb without any blemish to be sacrificed (Deut. 12:5–7). This was not easy to do. You would have raised that lamb for a year, feeding and nurturing it. It was very personal to you. It was the best of your livestock. It had tremendous value to you. Then when it was time for the Passover, you would have to carry it, often for many miles to Jerusalem for the sacrifice. It was hard work! Then you would watch the priest kill this animal in front of you. You would be moved as you see this animal, which you took care of so sacrificially, die in front of you as its blood is spilled, representing a substitution for your sin. You would say, “Why is this poor animal killed and not me? That should be me for not loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. That should be me for not loving my neighbor. This animal is slain in my place.”
This was hard work, but not very convenient. So people came up with a better and efficient way and the religious leaders supported it. Instead of all that inconvenience, what if people can buy the animals on sight? No need to worry about raising an animal and feeding costs and the inconvenience of carrying it all the way from home! Let’s make this more efficient. Let’s make a shortcut. So a business was created for people to buy the animals on the Temple grounds. This was good business! The priests loved it. It supported their luxurious living at the expense of the poor Jew.
Now let’s say you actually did bring your own animal to the Temple. You would need to get it inspected. The priests hired inspectors and what are the chances your animal passed the inspection? 0%. They would find some reason to reject it and make you buy their animal instead. Oh yeah, there was also an inspection fee. This sounds like trying to get a flight nowadays right? $5 for potato chips, $3 for a soft drink, $2 to use the restroom (ever see that Southwest commercial?). And if you were too poor to bring a lamb, you could buy pigeons and doves (notice that in v.15).
This is why He calls it a den of robbers. They were robbing God of glory and robbing people from knowing God. Their real god was money and they used the Temple to get it. It was bare minimum religion. It’s lost its purpose. The form is there, but the function was lost. They were going through the motions, but lost the purpose of why they were gathering. It was lazy worship. They don’t have any idea because they’re not praying. It’s a market. It’s mechanical. They’re not even engaged. They’re not even reflecting. They’re not even thinking. What does Jesus do? He throws out convenient consumerism. Get these things out of here! This is a fig tree with leaves. Enough with it. It does not please me. It’s fake.
He’s throwing out something else too. He’s throwing out the sacrificial system, the priesthood system and the Temple system. He is the ultimate sacrifice that ends all sacrifices. He is the ultimate priest that brings you to God and He’s the place you can meet God, the Ultimate Temple. He is now the center of all worship. It’s all about me! He says.
Convenient consumerism is what is killing our churches today. It is the belief that the church exists to serve you. I am the center of worship and the church exists to serve me instead of Jesus is the center of worship and I exist to serve Him. Listen to the way we talk, “I didn’t get anything out of church today.” Operative word? GET. I’m here to get.
The problem is every image in the Bible of our purpose in the church describes as being part of something: sheep to a flock, a brick to a building, a part to a body and members of a family. Church is not something you go to or attend, it’s a group of people you belong to and are committed.
It is easy for church to become a company with customers whose goal is to make the customer happy. Some have called it McChurch. I feel it all the time (see picture). I feel like the guy on the drive-thru intercom. “Hello, good morning how can I help you today?” “Yes, I would like a church happy meal, by moving it to my backyard.” Do you ask your job to do that? I would like your church if you start a children’s ministry, a nursery, this or that. And I said at the time, “I would love to start a children’s ministry, but I can’t do it without you. You can pioneer that here. Come and help us.” They want me to say, “No, you do the work and let me enjoy the results.” Like Burger King, “Have it your way.” This does not sound like Jesus who says, “Give up everything” does it?
What do you have to offer me? So many times I wanted to say, “What do you have to offer us?” I know most of you actually travel many miles to come here and serve without complaining. I am thankful for you. This tells me that you want to be here. It’s not convenient. Is it supposed to be? Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything. However, serving can easily become mechanical. You can operate from experience. You can operate from giftedness. Jesus says, “Get that out. I want you to operate from brokenness and dependency and in tandem with your intimacy with me.”
Bare-minimum convenient consumer Christianity is just leaves. It’s hypocrisy. It says, “Look I am doing activity.” But there is no life in it. There is no real heart behind it. I come to get, instead of to give. Jesus confronts that in us and says, “I need that out of your life.”
Second reason their worship turned into hypocrisy was because they became tribal instead of missional. What do I mean? Tribal people are inward and always thinking about themselves. They run away from others, especially those different from them. Missional people are thinking about others and run toward others. Notice Jesus calling His house, “A house of prayer for all nations.” When you are a consumer, you are only thinking about meeting your needs. They forgot about mission. They forgot they were called to be a channel not a reservoir. Their hearts became calloused and insular. This is hypocrisy. Jesus says, “I want to throw out that tribal mentality out of your life.”
Do we have just leaves? Let’s bring it home. Here are six signs of a “Just leaves” McChurch:
- Church becomes a task to get done and not a Savior to worship. “How fast can I get in and out of church so I can watch the Bears game?”
- Being with God’s people for service or small group is optional, especially if other commitments come in the way (social commitments, career, extended family commitments, etc.) We are a family. Family is not optional. Family is priority.
- Not engaging with the Lord, no Bible open, no singing, no real reflection (not that you can’t have bad days)
- Serving outwardly, but mechanical inwardly
- Busyness of life choke out fellowship and intimacy
- Tribal mindset toward others
Let me clear as possible here. Many of you were born into families and you attended church and nothing was really asked of you. You went were your parents went. Then you became believers and attended churches, where maybe nothing was really asked of you there either. There were multiple services, very convenient, lots of programs, you didn’t have to talk to anybody, in and out, got your buzz in and maybe you even helped out here and there.
I’m not critiquing any church. But what I am saying is this. This attitude won’t work here at Living Hope. We don’t need a large quantity of people, but a large quality commitment from a small quantity of Gospel-driven disciples. We can’t do ministry without your 100% heart and commitment. A consumer relationship says I will stay with you as long as you meet my needs (do a good job Walmart or Target, here I come!) but a covenant relationship says, “It’s not about getting my needs met. As long as we are in a covenant, I am here for you. I will give what it takes to be part of the greatest work in the universe.” Jesus is not in a consumer relationship with us. He doesn’t say, “As long as you are meeting my needs, I will be committed to you.” We would all be done if that was the case. He’s in covenant with us. We need to be in covenant here with each other.
And if this is too much I am asking, this is not the church for you. I will not be offended if you say that. I understand family emergencies, vacations and such. I understand when you can’t make it to everything. That’s not what I’m saying. But I see a lot of consumerism in us. The truth is we don’t need people who treats the church as a mistress, taking her out when you feel like it, committed only if you wake up on time and have nothing else to do and because you can’t say no to the idols of your life like family and work. We need people who will treat her as the bride that Christ has died for. We can’t be on mission without it and it’s false advertising. It’s all just leaves without fruit.
Here’s the last thought:
III. Hypocrisy: Healing (vv.22-33)
I will have to go through this section quickly. Peter notices the tree has withered away and Jesus then talks about prayer and forgiveness. Then in vv. 27-33, Jesus says He is the King with authority. What does that have to do with anything? He’s giving us the way of healing of hypocrisy.
Jesus prefaces it by saying, “Have faith in God.” In other words, simplify your life. Relationship with me (vertical) and relationship with others (horizontal) is what matters and helps you become an authentic follower of me. I want a relationship with you.
It is hard to be fake in your personal prayer life with God. Cultivate that. Are you busy in the church, busy doing activities, but is it all mechanical? Are you sensing His presence? Jesus says, “Take out those things that are distracting you from fellowship with me.”
Secondly, work on the root before the fruit. The whole thing about praying and mountains moving and ask whatever you want and it will be yours should not be taken out of context. He’s saying, “Instead of being a consumer of my things, be so consumed with your relationship with me. As you open my Word and talk to me, you start to think like me and you start moving away from surface prayers to improve your life, you will start to let me be King in your heart and let me put my fingers into uncomfortable areas of your heart like areas of unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, anxiety that controls you day after day, lust and other addictive patterns, impatience, pride, irritability, critical spirit and self-hate…the things you hide from others.
Those are the real mountains that Jesus says He wants to move and make you into an authentic follower of Christ. You hide those areas and do a lot of activity in His name to hide it is hypocrisy. True fruit comes with dealing with the root issues. But it’s not enough to just simplify your life and work on your prayer life. That might work for two days. But where do we get the real fuel to burn away our hypocrisy and consumerism?
See, look at what Jesus did for us. He walks up to an unfruitful tree and rightly as the King curses and judges it. That’s what it deserved. Hypocrisy and unfruitfulness deserves it. That’s what you and I deserve for all of our showy, fruitless, lazy, consumeristic, convenience driven, tribal hearts.
But He does something so crazy a few days later. He walks up to another tree. A tree called Calvary. He carried the blessing of God. He was never hypocritical, but the most authentic lover of God and of people. But on this tree, He withered away, was cut down and tossed into the fire of God’s wrath because He was being judged and cursed for our hypocrisy. Galatians says cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. He was cursed so you and I would be blessed. He was made barren, so you and I would be fruitful. He is consumed with God’s wrath, so He can now consume us in a relationship with us. Now when we are withering away and our lives become mechanical, we can have hope that He can bring life into our dead hearts and make us fruitful.
Let that falls deep into your heart! When it does, “Jesus died for me,” will be more than just a slogan or a fact that we say. It will be a reality that is burning within us and every area of my life. So He says, “If you really knew my forgiveness way down deeply screwed into your heart, you won’t battle unforgiveness as much. If you really knew the cost of my love to get you to be mine, to make you into my temple, bought by His own blood, you wouldn’t run programs and fill your schedule with all sorts of busyness instead having fellowship with me.”
Maybe you do need to simplify your life and go back to loving God and loving others. Maybe you haven’t experienced His love in prayer for a long time and you need to get back to that. But the real problem underneath all the other problems of our hypocrisy is that the Gospel has become mechanical. So let’s repent of that. We have become too busy to reflect on the greatest love in the universe. But at the same time, let’s rejoice that for mechanical, consumeristic hypocrites like us, He was willing to die with an authentic love. Praise Him that His heart still beats fervently, relentlessly and vibrantly for our mechanical dead hearts.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Acts 5:1).
Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996, c1989). Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament : Based on Semantic Domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd
edition.) (1:765). New York: United Bible Societies.
Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English Lexicon of the
New Testament and other Early Christian literature. (3rd ed.) (p. 1038).
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Sproul, R. C. (2009, October 1). Is the Church Full of Hypocrites? Retrieved October 9, 2014, from http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/church-full-hypocrites/.
Sproul, R.C. (1978). Reason to Believe: A Response to Common Objections to Christianity (78). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Ibid. (pp. 78-79).
Grassmick, J. D. (1985). Mark. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 157). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 1, p. 269). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Akin, Daniel L. (2014-06-01). Exalting Jesus in Mark (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 251). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (451). Nashville,
TN: Thomas Nelson.
The background here and following is from The Gospel of John : Volume 1.
2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The
Daily Study Bible Series, Rev. ed. (109). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.