"A Place to Belong"#88-27
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 7, 2021
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2021 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Mark 11: 1-26
I turned the corner by the row of townhomes, a cluster of housing units, four all scrunched together under one roof. And my brother, Matt, and I had delivered newspapers to those townhomes, except on the days when the winter storms would sweep in and stack the snowdrifts so high that they would almost reach the roof on the side of our house, and Matt and I would climb up on the garage and jump off into them. Our house was just down the road from those townhomes. It was on a military base in North Dakota, about 15 miles west of the City of Grand Forks. I hadn't been back there in 20 years. I was serving with the Air Force Reserves and had been sent to that base for a week of temporary duty. I wondered if the old house was still there.
Have you ever been back to visit an old childhood home? Maybe you still live in that home. And I suppose it works either way, how being in that place brings you back. Even if it wasn't a good home, that place is still a part of you. Good or bad, it's left a mark on you, left you with some sense about the importance of having a place to belong. When we moved to that house there on the military base, we knew we wouldn't be there for long, but when it came time to move, part of me didn't want to go. In my bedroom, I had discovered a loose floorboard. So I made a small time capsule with a picture and a note with my name on it. I don't know what I thought would happen. I suppose it was a way to protect the memory of me there, to hold on to at least a small part of it. When I arrived at the place where the house had been, it took a moment for it to settle on me, what had happened. First, I thought I was on the wrong street. What happened to our house? It turns out the base management had other ideas for that space. And a couple of years ago, it had been demolished and in its place stood another with shiny vinyl siding and brick veneer trim.
There's an ancient stone wall that still stands today in the city of Jerusalem. It's called the Wailing Wall. Ardent Jews still go there in that common human quest for a place to belong. Jewish people go there to mourn the Great House that once belonged to God. The Wailing Wall is all that remains of it. God's house once stood there on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Three-thousand years ago, King Solomon had it built, and God saw that it was good. And God said to Solomon in the book of 1 Kings 9: "I have consecrated this house that you have built. I have set it apart as holy. I have put My Name there, and My heart will be there for all time."
But in time, things changed as they do, and not even God's house was an exception. See, Temple management had different plans for that space. They let the old stone walls stay, but they coated them, so to speak, with a thin veneer of religious observance and contemporary cultural values, hung in place like cheap vinyl siding. In truth, they had flat out abandoned the Lord, their God. They broke His heart and held on to idols instead—cheap, pre-fabricated gods of their own making. And so God one day said, "This house that I have set apart for My Name, I will cast it out of My sight, and this house will become a heap of ruins."
And it happened. Roughly 500 years later, long after Solomon was dead, God sent a foreign army to invade and reduce that house to a heap of ruins. But the loss of the structure never stopped God's plan. In fact, losing the structure would become a part of the fulfillment of that plan. It was a plan revealed even from the very beginning of the Jewish Scriptures. God, the Creator, had always intended to dwell in and with and for His creation. God would never be an absentee landlord. In God's plan, heaven and earth were made to be married together, cohabitating together forever. So even though the temple's structure was in ruins, the Jewish prophets long foretold a day when God would come to restore His house, and He would do it through the figure of the Messiah, the chosen King, the descendant of David, the father of Solomon, God through the Messiah would come into Jerusalem, riding on the colt of a donkey to restore God's house.
The words of the prophets speak with great expectation for that day. They said that the presence of God's Messiah would be the beginning of a new age. The blind would see; the deaf would hear; the lame would run. There'd be streams in the desert, green grass in the wasteland, and fig trees brimming with fruit, in season and out of season. And God's restored house wouldn't just be a place for the Jewish people to belong. It would be a place for all people. God said through the prophet Isaiah, "My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations." Everyone would be welcome in God's house. They could come in faith and talk to God to forgive and be forgiven, trusting and not doubting in their hearts that God was with them. And that He had given them a place to belong.
Yet, as much as the prophets hoped, they also warned the people, and they warn us today. They urge us to prepare our hearts for the day when God will come. They ask tough questions, "When God comes to His house, will He be heartbroken by what He sees? Will He find a thin religious veneer, shiny cover for greed and self-promotion?" Have your religious practices become empty rituals, empty like when you were a kid, and you'd come into the house after playing outside, and you'd open up the cupboard, and you'd open up the fridge, and therein you would find nothing but emptiness, nothing to satisfy your hunger? The prophet Micah said it like this. He said it would be like a fruit-picker who would come to a fig tree, stomach growling, and looking for that first ripe fig that his soul desires, but finding it empty. And so the prophets still question us. What will God find when He comes to His house?
There was a man named Mark. He was an early follower of the Jewish Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. Mark wrote an account of Jesus' visit to the temple in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Solomon's temple by then had been rebuilt, but things weren't really the same. Mark wrote down his account because he believed, as I believe, that this Jesus is the promised Messiah whom God raised from the dead. And I am speaking to you this day because I believe as Mark believed that in Jesus, we found a place to belong. Listen to this account from Mark 11 and see what you find.
As Jesus and His disciples were drawing near to Jerusalem, to Bethany and Bethphage at the Mount of Olives, Jesus goes on to send two of His disciples with a commission and to say to them, "Go into the village that is opposite you and straightway, as you are going into it, you'll find a colt, a donkey, tied up upon which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it." And if someone says to you, "Why are you doing this?" you say, "The Lord has need of it. And straightway, He's going to send it back here." And they went away and found it, a colt tied up facing the door outside on the road. And they began to untie it. And some of those who were standing there said to them, "What are you doing, trying to lose the colt?" And they told them just as Jesus had said, and they permitted them to do so. And they bring the colt to Jesus, and they put their clothing on it. And He sat on it, and many spread their clothing on the road, on the way. And others spread branches that they had cut from the fields, and those who were going at the front and those who were following kept shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming rule and reign of our father David. Hosanna, in the highest!" And Jesus went into Jerusalem, and He entered the temple courts. And after looking around with personal interest at everything, because the hour was already late, He went out of the city, back to Bethany with the twelve.
And on the next day after they had gone out from Bethany, Jesus became hungry and seeing a fig tree in the distance that had leaves, He came to see if He could find anything on it. When He came to it, He found nothing, nothing but leaves. It was not the season for figs. And in response, he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And His disciples paid close attention. And they come into Jerusalem. And Jesus, upon going into the temple courts, began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple courts. And He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons, and He would not permit anyone to carry a vessel through the temple. And he was teaching them, saying, "It is written, isn't it, that My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations. But you have made it into a den of bandits." And the chief priests and the scribes listened. And they continued to seek a way to destroy Him. They were afraid of Him, for all the crowd was continually astonished by His teaching. And when it had gotten late, they went out of the city.
The next morning, as they are going along, they saw the fig tree withered to its roots. And Peter remembered and says, "Rabbi, the fig tree You cursed is withered." And in response, Jesus says to them, "Have faith in God." I'm telling you for sure, whoever says to this mountain, the temple mountain in Jerusalem, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea.' and does not doubt in his heart that what He declares, what God declares will happen, it will be so for him. Therefore, I tell you whatever you pray for and request, truly believe that you have received, and it will be so for you. And whenever you stand praying, truly forgive. If you have something against someone so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions." That's the Gospel of Mark 11:1-25.
The loss I felt that day, standing where my old house had once stood, in some ways was unique to my life experience. Having grown up in a military family and serving in the military myself, I've lived in 22 different houses. And so maybe I was being a little overly sentimental when I saw the house gone, and it felt like a part of my soul had been erased. But at the same time, I get the sense that there is a universal human experience of longing for home, a home that always seems to be just out of our reach. And I believe that Jesus stands with us in this experience.
See, in some ways, each of us has wandered from the home that God would provide for us, preferring instead to hold onto things, things that will never provide the security we're looking for, things that will always leave you empty like a barren fig tree, unresponsive to its Creator. And yet still, Jesus stands with us and for us. Jesus used that fig tree as a sign for us. I admit it's a strange sign. It's striking behavior for Jesus. It's the only time in the Gospel of Mark recorded that Jesus uses His power for destructive purposes, the only time. He's getting our attention. He wanted to show them, and He wants to show you that without Him, home will always be out of reach. And we only make matters worse by clinging to the world's promises for security. And that's why the temple building in Jerusalem had come under God's judgment. The building, the structure had become their God. And so God, to save His people, would destroy His house again. He cast that house out of their sight to help them and to help us more clearly see the home that we have in Jesus.
Jesus is the living temple from which God's heart will never depart. On the barren tree that was His cross, Jesus sheltered us from God's just judgment against our sin. Like a sturdy roof over our head, Jesus weathered it all for us. And on the third day, He rose again from death, restoring the temple that is His body, so that you would always have a place to belong.
At some point between all those moves across the country as a kid, it finally dawned on me. See, I was normally sad about letting go of our old place and the people that we knew there. And I was always unsure about what awaited us in the new place, but somewhere around move number nine on a road in western North Dakota, I realized that even in between structures, I was still at home because I was with my family. Looking back, what made my family a secure place to belong was not that my parents were perfect. They weren't. And it wasn't that my brother, Matt, and I always got along. We didn't. It was simply that my Mom and Dad, by God's grace, raised us under the shelter that is Jesus Christ.
Their first priority, whenever we moved anywhere, even before we found a house to live in, was to find a church, a community of Jesus followers who gathered together to hear God's Word and to pray, to practice forgiving and being forgiven, to receive life from God and to share it with everyone. For my parents, it was never a question of whether we would go to worship God with the church that week. It was only a question of where. They knew and you know that whatever your physical address happens to be in this present passing age, wherever Jesus is with His people, that's where you belong.
Please pray with me. Dear Father, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until we rest in You. And so bring us home to Jesus because He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.
Reflections for March 7, 2021
Title: A Place to Belong
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. For FREE online resources, archived audio, our mobile app, and more, go to lutheranhour.org. And you can read or listen to Dr. Kari Vo's new series of Lenten devotions, Marks of Love, at lhm.org. Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Michael Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. I'm visiting with Dr. James Voelz, who is a devoted teacher of God's Word in our church body. So thank you again for being here with us, Dr. Voelz.
James Voelz: Thank you. It's a real privilege.
Michael Zeigler: We've been listening to Mark's account of Jesus over the last several weeks, and we've been encouraging our listeners to read, or even better, listen to the entire Gospel of Mark multiple times during this season of Lent. Now, Dr. Voelz, let's talk about a strategy for that. How is that helpful to know that this middle section is so critical?
James Voelz: Actually, in some ways, I'm going to coin a bad term here, the criticalist part of the critical section is the first part of chapter eight. So, from the beginning of chapter eight, the feeding of the 4,000 through 8:26, which ends with the man healed in two stages. Here, you have a kind of critical turn in the story. Because at this point, Jesus turns toward His inner group of disciples. And they bring to Him a blind man. And they exhort Him that He touch him. So, He takes the man outside the city. He spits into his eyes, puts His hand upon him, and He says, "Do you see something?" Looking up he says, "I see, because I see the people walking around like trees." And then He put His hands upon his eyes, and he saw clearly, and was restored.
Now what's this business of taking two steps to heal the guy. This is the only time in any of the Gospels that this particular story is recorded. And I would contend that this story is the single best represented story of the Gospel of Mark. It's about sight. It's about seeing; it's about not seeing; it's about seeing indistinctly, and then about seeing distinctly. This is what the Gospel of Mark generally has as a theme—this seeing, and then seeing and believing.
Michael Zeigler: So we've got the actual healing of the man. This literally happens.
James Voelz: Literally happens.
Michael Zeigler: It took two to goes at it for whatever reason. We're not told why. But what you're saying is that Mark has placed this here, and he wants us to see it as more than literal. It is literal. But more, there's residual meaning leftover.
James Voelz: And the very next incident is Jesus asking, "Who do men say that I am?" And Peter says , "There's various options. Some people think You're a prophet. And some people used to think You're Elijah," and so on. And Jesus says, "Well, who do you say that I am?" "You are the Christ." Now at that point you might think, "Well, okay. Peter sees clearly." Except for this: when Jesus goes on to give the first prediction of His Passion and His resurrection, right after that, Peter says, "Oh no, may it not be Lord?" And Jesus says, "Get behind me, Satan."
So maybe this two-stage sight isn't as simple as we think it is—that the disciples didn't see before and they see now. But let's look at a different possibility. Maybe it's not the disciples who have this sight problem. Maybe it's us who are the readers who have the sight problem. We've seen Jesus portrayed in the first seven chapters: mighty, raises dead people, heals the sick, casts out demons, stills the storm, walks on the water. You know what though? That's kind of not the real picture that we need to have.
The real picture comes up when Jesus gives the first Passion prediction and resurrection prediction. What's going to happen to the Son of Man? He's going to suffer a lot and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days, rise. He's going to die and triumph over death. You want to see God for who He truly is? You want full sight? It's at the cross.
It's not casting out the demons. It's not stilling the storm. Those are all partial sight. They're not false, but it's not the revelation of the heart of God. You want to see God for who He truly is. You must listen to the Passion prediction and resurrection prediction, and you must see Him at the cross, giving His life as an atonement for many. This is why this is the hinge. This becomes the hinge—because we know that what we're going to do we're going to go from a partial sight view of Jesus, His person, and His ministry, to a full sight view of Jesus, His person and His ministry.
Michael Zeigler: With your reading and listening to Mark's Gospel for all these years, with this strategy of noticing this hinge section, what has been the impact on you personally, if you could say briefly?
James Voelz: It was through this that I really came to see this all-encompassing theme of Mark that seeing is not believing, but believing is seeing. At the cross, the Jewish leaders in 15:32 say, and Mark is the only one who's clear about this, they say, "The Christ, the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross in order that we may see and believe" and its precisely what Jesus will not give them.
Michael Zeigler: You've got to flip it.
James Voelz: You've got to flip it. You have to believe first and then you see. And that's why on Easter morning, the young man says, "He is going before you went to Galilee. There, you will see Him just as He told you."
Michael Zeigler: Just as He told you.
James Voelz: If you don't believe that, you won't go to Galilee. If you don't believe it, you won't see because seeing is not believing, believing is seeing in the Gospel of Mark. And so, this hinge passage helps you to understand that the full sight, what it is that you've got to focus on and believe is in the death and resurrection of Jesus, not in the kind of mighty stuff like the stilling of the storm, and all that kind of stuff.
Michael Zeigler: Well, thank you again for joining us Dr. Voelz, and may God continue to bless you as you listen to Mark's Gospel and—believing—see the heart of God in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
James Voelz: Thank you very much.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" arr. J.S. Bach