12 The next day when they went out from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree with leaves, he went to find out if there was anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for it was not the season for figs. 14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And his disciples heard it.
15 They came to Jerusalem, and he went into the temple and began to throw out those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple. 17 He was teaching them: “Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of thieves!”
18 The chief priests and the scribes heard it and started looking for a way to kill him. For they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was astonished by his teaching.
19 Whenever evening came, they would go out of the city.
Mark 11:12-19, CSB
Today is Monday. As we’re tracking with the life of Christ as he heads to the cross, try to imagine the scene. Yesterday Jesus marched into the city triumphantly on a donkey. The crowds cheered his arrival. Mark 11:11, the verse before today’s passage, says that Jesus went to the temple and looked around. We know from today’s text that he didn’t like what he saw. We can imagine him turning it over in his mind throughout the evening. We see that he then departed for Bethany. He more than likely went to stay with his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha there.
Our passage today tells us the well-known account of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. After seeing the hypocrisy and corruption yesterday, today he sets out to make things right. Can you picture him moving from table to table and turning them over? Can you see the astonishment on the vendors’ faces? Can you imagine the paralysis the chief priests felt as they wanted to put a stop to Jesus but knew they couldn’t because of the crowds? I think we’re so fascinated by this scene because it’s not what we’re used to seeing from Jesus.
There’s another story stuck just before this that seems odd, too. Jesus curses a fig tree because it didn’t have any figs on it. Why would he do that? And maybe even a better question: why would Mark include that story in his account of the most significant week in the history of the world? It turns out that when fig trees have leaves as this one did, they should also have figs. This one looked the part but didn’t deliver.
I think both scenes—the temple and the fig tree—tell us something about the heart of Jesus. Jesus will not tolerate imposters. The chief priests and the scribes we’re acting holy, pious, and religious. They looked the part. Just like the fig tree. But when you got past their appearance, you found them hollow. They were pretending. And Jesus would have none of it. So he cursed the fig tree as an object lesson for his disciples. He turned over the tables of those profiting off of faith but not actually serving the Lord. Both stories are instructive for us. Jesus will not tolerate imposters.
If you’re anything like me, you’re prone to fake it sometimes. To go through the motions of faith but not have your heart in it. Some of you may even not have faith at all but just pretend to in order to please someone else. Let me encourage you, this Holy Week, to remember something else. Jesus died for imposters.
In just five days he’ll go to the cross to pay for your sins, my sins, and the sins of anyone else who’ll turn to Him. That means that today you can take the mask off. You can be honest about your shortcomings because you serve a savior who sees you for who you are and loves you anyway. Jesus frees us to love and serve him, our flaws and all, without pretending. Since his love for us isn’t based on our performance, we can walk in freedom. Today, Christian, celebrate that and go and serve the Lord with your whole self.