If you were standing there on the day that Jesus hung on the cross, you probably would have thought back one week before when he entered the city. The crowd was in a frenzy of praise for him. Now, that same man who entered the city hailed as Messiah and king was nailed to a cross bleeding his life out. One thought might have gone through your head, “What happened?” How do you go from cheering crowds to screaming insults in one week?!
That’s what I’m interested in exploring with you right now. You see, it seems clear that if you walk with Jesus, you will come to seasons in your life marked by the choice to make a very unpopular decision or not. Those seasons will shape you and determine the trajectory of your life from that point on. We’re going to explore what Jesus did that made him so unpopular, beginning with those who liked him the least to begin with and coming closer. Any guesses on who liked him least? Yeah, that’s right: the Pharisees. You can stack them up with the rest of the religious leaders too.
Jesus enters the city amidst the cheer of the crowd and goes to the temple. What he sees infuriates him, but he decides there’s been enough excitement for one day. He goes back out of the city, sleeps, then gets up the next morning and heads into town. He’s hungry, so on his way he sees a fig tree with leaves (should mean figs too). He walks up looking for something to eat. There’s nothing there but leaves. What does he do? He curses it. He basically says, “I came here hungry and you showed me leaves, but I get here and find nothing but a show”. Little bit of an over-reaction you might say? Well, think about where he’s headed. Let’s walk with him.
We roll into town and head straight for the temple. Everybody’s buzzing, “Jesus is back! Let’s go kick the Hades out of those Romans!” What does he do? He busts into the temple and starts kicking over the benches of merchants. Their money is scattering, he’s breaking the cages of the animals they are selling, then he picks up some strands of rope and starts driving people out who came to sell and do business! All around us, mouths are hanging open.
As the moneychangers run out screaming profanities back at Jesus, Jesus replies, “People come here hungry and searching for a place of rest and you! You hide out here and mug them with your rules and your moneymaking schemes!” Then, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve and tossing his whip aside, he speaks to Andrew, “bring the blind and the crippled to me.”*
The lesson? Once you purge the money-motive true ministry can begin. That, however, was how the temple was run. So what made Jesus so unpopular with the Pharisees? He messed up their system.
(*Interesting side note: the merchants that Jesus kicked out were selling the proper currency to be used in the temple. They were also selling “perfect” sacrifices so that people could offer them on the altar. “Perfect” meant without defect. In those days, that meant a lamb could not be lame, sick, spotted, etc. Jesus kicks these men out and then welcomes the lame and the sick into the temple.)