Readings for Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Last week we continued looking at the Temple in the life of the nation of Israel. It was the center of worship and life for this people of God, and, at one time, the dwelling place of the Living God on earth. God Himself instituted the Divine Service centered around the Temple sacrifices (cf. Exodus 29:38-46; Leviticus ch 8-10) which were given as offerings of thanksgiving and peace to God and to atone for the sins of the people.
The sacrifices were not meant to appease an angry God, but were intended to make the people holy through the cleansing of the unclean congregation and individual sinner, and through the forgiveness of sins by God as the Living God met with His people at the entrance to the sanctuary. They were also to provide food for the priests and express thanksgiving for the peace and blessings enjoyed by the people. He is a holy God and in communing with Him, His people must be holy also for they — and we — participate in the holiness of God (Leviticus ch 17-27 esp. ch 19 for the congregation, and ch 21:1-22:16 for priests). And only God can make us holy. He establishes the manner by which we are made holy, whether our sacrifices and offerings are acceptable to Him.
For the people of Israel, Worship culminated in a feast where the gifts of meat, grain, bread, and/or wine that had been returned to them by God were consumed by the people. That this is so is confirmed by God’s provision for the priests from the sacrifices — they were permitted to eat some of the meat from the sacrifices and the showbread after it had been offered to and accepted by God (Leviticus 7:28-36; 22:1-16; Deuteronomy 12:5-7). God required holy convocations of the people on these days — gathering together of the people for hearing God’s Word and worship. On the day of the feast, the offerings of the people were brought to God and returned to them to be eaten at the feasts.
And the people that came to the Temple were pilgrims to the holy city. This was not done just by an individual or a family — these were families, extended families, clans, and tribes — Israelites from all over the world. Many could not make the journey due to distance. But they still gathered in synagogues. These arose during the captivity of Judah in Babylon when Jerusalem was burned and the Temple destroyed. God’s glory left the Temple at that time. No longer did He make His dwelling place on earth in the Temple. Ezekiel tells us that the cherubim took God from the Temple (chapters 10 and 11), and mentions a future return to a much different and stranger Temple than Judah and Israel had previously known.
Synagogue worship developed as the people of Judah were cut off from the Temple, unable to sacrifice to God. It is here that our order of service takes shape in the reading of the Law. Out of this captivity grew the scribes and the pharisees, who were determined to make certain that the children of Judah knew the Law, the very Word of God, and did not forget it. Ezra, who received permission from Artaxerxes of Persia to return to Jerusalem and restore sacrifices in the Temple (Cyrus, led by God, ordered the Temple to be rebuilt), was a scribe. They scrupulously and jealously guarded this Word from this point forward, keeping Judah within the boundaries of the Law, focusing on outward evidence of cleanness, keeping the law to the letter, and heaping interpretation upon interpretation. The pharisees listened to the prophets and the writings, and relied on oral traditions that developed over time and through the exiles, believing in the existence of angels and the resurrection of the dead.
The Saducees also developed during the time of the Babylonian captivity. They trace their lineage back to the sons of Zadok, who was the high priest at the time of David and Solomon. Ezekiel tells us that they were the priestly party during the captivity, and remained so during the time of Christ. They possessed political power, and, under the Herods, governed the civil life of the people. They looked only to the Torah which was to be interpreted literally, and did not find the prophets and writings to be canonical. They denied the existence of angels and did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They were open to the philosophy of the Greeks. Rational, ethical, literal, they did not hold to any oral traditions like the pharisees. These were the men who were running the Temple in Jerusalem, offering the sacrifices of the people to God. God’s glory did not reenter the Temple and dwell with His people after the Temple was rebuilt. That is until Christ entered the Temple — the true Image and Glory of God made flesh.
Is it any wonder then, that Christ is disappointed with the state of affairs in the Temple, His dwelling place? And what about the leaders, the pharisees and saducees? There are a couple of things open for consideration in this section of Mark. First, God completely changed the worship life of the people when He dispersed the children of Israel throughout the far reaches of the world. Synagogue worship is our Service of the Word. It is centered around a reading from the Law and the Prophets, as Christ Himself did in Luke. A sermon followed explaining the passages read. The readings were even taken from a set lectionary, but the cycle differed depending on whether you were a Palestinian or Babylonian Jew. And the Shema, the first creed noted in the Bible was confessed by the people (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The focus on the Word applied to the individual life, took the place of the sacrifice in the local congregations. The synagogues continued throughout Jewish life into and past the time of Christ. Second, with the dispersion of the people of Israel, the spread of the Gospel message was made possible. These were launching pads for mission work. The Apostles took their message first to the synagogues and then beyond. And Christ Himself, God made flesh, walked among His people, taking the message directly to the synagogues, to Jew, to Samaritan, Gentile, Scribe, Pharisee, and Saducee. Third, Jesus went into the Temple and taught there extensively after setting it right. Holiness was still an issue for Jesus, a part of His ministry. It was who he is. One need only look at His response to those whom he healed: “Go and sin no more;” or “Your sins are forgiven.” He made them clean and worthy to stand in His presence. And what about the people, how did they view the Christ? Did they perceive Him to be an equal? Someone with whom they could stand together, slap on the back, joke with, bargain with? For those who received Him in Faith, they fell on their faces at His feet, acutely aware of their unworthiness. They were bowed over, subject to Him. Dead. They looked on the Christ with awe and wonder; the demons feared Him! Only when He had made them clean and lifted them to their feet could they stand in His presence and look on Him. Only when He had made them acceptable, holy, could they stand. And they listened to Him. Followed Him. Sat at His feet. Offered to defend Him, lead an army for Him. They confessed to the world that Jesus was the Christ. Those who did not know Him in faith, challenged Him, debated, sought to deceive, trick and trap Him. They did not understand His message, nor could they. They became defensive thinking that some of His words were meant for them and them alone, to undermine their authority. Ultimately they devised schemes to kill the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Jesus in the Temple is concerned with how we approach God, how we enter His presence, the dwelling place of the Most High. The place of worship is the place where God dwells, where He calls us to assemble. It is where He makes us holy, sanctifies us. And we enter the presence of God at His invitation, through the calling of the Spirit drawing us to Christ and the cross. Now, as in the time of the prophets, and the sacrifice of the Temple, it is only God who can make us holy through the sacrifice of Christ. And though the veil has been removed, just as those whom Jesus healed fell on their faces before Him, just as John fell on his face in the presence of the risen Christ, we too ought to fall on our faces each time we enter the presence of Christ in the sanctuary. For we cannot rise or stand until He has made us holy, acceptable in the sight of God.
Now, this hopefully provides some context for what follows in Mark. It certainly has continuing implications for us today as we struggle to learn who Christ really is, and the God who calls us to Him through the Spirit. In Chapter 12, we see Jesus teaching and preaching, and challenging the leaders and rulers of the people. Read through the end of the chapter, and into Chapter 13. We may not get through the end times discourse in 13, but be prepared to discuss. The fire has been lit. The stage is set for heaven and earth to collide.
Background information has been taken from Merrill C. Tenney, Ph.D. The New Testament: An Historical and Analytical Survey, (Eerdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI 1954).