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Lesson Plan for Matthew 21-23; Mark 11; Luke 19-20; John 12

 


In the past few weeks, we have read how Jesus has angered the Jewish leadership so much that they have already conspired together to bring about His death. The historical timeline of this past week's readings is exactly one week after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. After that event, Jesus goes into hiding in a small town 13 miles outside of Jerusalem (see John 11:54) and prepares for his final triumphal trip to the holy city.

Before we dive in, I think it is worth pointing out something from the beginning that might help us become better students of the four gospels. In this week's readings, for the first time this year, we were in all 4 gospels. With us reading the New Testament Gospels every four years and trying to do so in a chronological way, it is my opinion that we might miss the specific reasons each of the four gospels was written.

New Testament Scholar, N.T. Wright has written on such:

"Matthew takes us into the synagogue, where the people of God are learning to recognize Jesus as their king, their Emmanuel. Mark writes a short tract, challenging his readers with the very idea of a crucified king and turning it into a handbook on discipleship for followers of the servant-king. Luke addresses the educated Greek world of his day and paints a big picture of God’s purposes through Israel’s Messiah for the whole world.

John, by contrast, takes us up the mountain, and says quietly: “Look—from here, on a clear day, you can see for ever.” We beheld his glory, glory as of the father’s only son. John does not include the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, as the other evangelists do. But there is a sense in which John’s whole story is about the transfiguration. He invites us to be still and know; to look again into the human face of Jesus of Nazareth, until the awesome knowledge comes over us, wave upon terrifying wave, that we are looking into the human face of the living God." (1)

This is why the Gospel of John is my favorite gospel and is why we will start in John chapter 12. John has a keen way of highlighting the majesty of the Savior in a way the other gospels simply do not match. In addition, I think this might be why Nephi and others in the Book of Mormon closely link their writings with John as well as many sections in the Doctrine & Covenants deriving from Joseph Smith combing over John's gospel (see here for most of the references)

MARY'S CHRISTOLOGICAL CONFESSION

Jesus comes out of hiding from the city of Ephraim (see John 11:54 & John 12:1) and returns to the home of Mary, Martha, & Lazarus. As a side note, this Mary is not the same as Mary Magdalene or Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are at least 6 Marys in the New Testament. Here we are reading of who scholars call "Mary of Bethany". She appears in Luke 10, John 11, and here in John 12, and was very likely one of the many Marys present at the crucifixion and resurrection of the Savior. Mary was a very popular name. It was probably pronounced in Jesus' day as Myriam, which is the name of Moses' sister who was, arguably, the most popular matriarch in ancient Jewish history. She is referred to as a prophetess in Exodus 15:20. Jesus being surrounded by all these Marys might be suggestive of the holy role women played anciently in the ministry.

READ JOHN 12:1-9

"1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.

2 There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him,

5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?

6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

7 Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.

8 For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

9 Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead."

Martha, the sister of Mary, is found here, again, serving food (see Luke 10:38-42). Interestingly, the word for serve in verse 2 is di─ôkonei and is the same word used for deacons in the rest of the New Testament. This isn't to suggest Martha held a priesthood office, but it might suggest that Martha's role was filled with priesthood power.

Sister Jean B. Bingham has said:

"Often, we women don’t realize that the power through which we accomplish ‘much good’ in our callings and in our homes is an expression of priesthood power. As a matter of fact, all the good that is done in the world is done through God’s power. . . . Knowing that women have access to that priesthood power strengthens us to be able to do what is asked in whatever responsibilities or assignments are ours.” (2)

Mary comes along and anoints the feet of Jesus with Nard, an ointment often used on The Altar of Incense which was located in the Temple, right before the veil that separates the Holy of Holies. In addition, this ointment, most likely, was imported from India which would have made it very expensive. Judas, in verse 5, hints at its worth which causes some scholars to estimate that this ointment costs between a few months to over a year's worth of wages (see The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-Day Saints, p. 189). This is Mary worshiping at the literal footstool of the Lord. In the temple, the incense was meant to symbolize the prayers of the people ascending up into the holy of holies to the throne or footstool of God. 

Martha, Mary's sister, had her Christological confession in John 11 before Lazarus was raised from the dead. Here, Mary has a Christological confession in her actions. During this time at the house in Bethany, many Pilgrims would be traveling to Jerusalem for the oncoming Passover. As they traveled they would ritually sing Psalms. One of the most popular was Psalm 132 which speaks of going before the Lord and worshiping at his footstool (see verse 8). For this reason, I suggest that Mary's actions are her recognizing Jesus as the literal God of Israel. She has come before His literal footstool. Her preparing the Lord for his burial with the ointment would have been a sign, like her sister Martha, that she was operating with priesthood power.

Lastly, we do not get any record of any male disciples worshiping at the feet of the master until after his resurrection (see Matthew 28:9). All the gospels abundantly attest that the women around Jesus appear to "get it" much quicker than the male disciples.

QUESTION:

What might these examples teach us about the roles of women within the kingdom?

President Nelson has taught:

"From the dawning of time, women have been blessed with a unique moral compass—the ability to distinguish right from wrong. This gift is enhanced in those who make and keep covenants.

... May I clarify ... points with respect to women and priesthood. When you are set apart to serve in a calling under the direction of one who holds priesthood keys—such as your bishop or stake president—you are given priesthood authority to function in that calling.

Similarly, in the holy temple you are authorized to perform and officiate in priesthood ordinances every time you attend. Your temple endowment prepares you to do so.

If you are endowed but not currently married to a man who bears the priesthood and someone says to you, “I’m sorry you don’t have the priesthood in your home,” please understand that that statement is incorrect. You may not have a priesthood bearer in your home, but you have received and made sacred covenants with God in His temple. From those covenants flows an endowment of His priesthood power upon you." (3)

It is my belief that the priesthood power of righteous women is amply attested to in the Gospels more than anywhere else. You will find that increasingly the case as you read about the oncoming suffering descent and resurrection of the Savior in the coming weeks. 

Jesus is now prepared to go to Jerusalem one last time. He has been anointed and prepared for burial. He is ready to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah.

THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

The event that follows is only one of five incidents that get reported in all four gospels. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are two of the five. For all 4 gospel authors to include it, the event must tell us something indispensable about the Savior.

READ JOHN 12:12-19

"12 ¶ On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,

13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

14 And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written,

15 Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.

16 These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.

17 The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record.

18 For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle.

19 The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him."

In Matthew's account of this event, we are told "a very great multitude" was present (see Matthew 21:8). In that same chapter, Matthew says this entry by Jesus was an event in which "all the city" of Jerusalem was present (see Matthew 21:10). How many people were present for this?

The numbers vary a bit according to biblical scholarship, but the median range puts the population of Jerusalem at this time at about 55,000 people. It ought to be remembered, though, that this was approaching Passover so Jerusalem was full to the brim with Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The population would swell to well over 100,000 (4). If we take Matthew's words at face value, we are talking about a crowd well over the size of any NFL or College Football stadium.

Jesus riding the colt through all of Jerusalem with that many people looking on would have been thrilling. He would have trekked the road that ascended all the way up to the temple.

QUESTION

As you picture this scene, how do you think it would have impacted Jesus?

An interesting detail we get later on in John chapter 12 is Jesus saying, as He routinely did the last few months of His life, that His soul was troubled (See verse 27). The Greek here, tetaraktai, more fully means to cause one's mind to pace to and fro. What we get in verse 27 though is an empowered Christ that we haven't seen yet. We are starting to see the complete submission we see in Gethsemane, for he says something similar here. Some LDS scholars suggest that the raising of Lazarus and then this triumphal entry would have been extremely encouraging for the Savior. Jesus is untouchable within this crowd which is why He can do many of the things openly in Jerusalem at this time even though the Great Sanhedrin had already plotted the death of Him.

This newfound confidence, if we can call it that, is spoken well of by longtime professor of ancient scripture at BYU, Dr. Keith Wilson:

"We tend to think of [Jesus], "Oh yeah, He's the Son of God." That He just kind of buckles up His belt and does His thing each day until He performs the atoning sacrifice. And yet we miss the personal side of Him. We miss Him when John the Baptist is beheaded, just wanting to have private space alone. He's hurting. We miss Him smiling. We miss Him, kind of disappointed at times. We miss Him when He is a little bit upset. So to see this personal side of Him and to see the fact that the Father built in some events right close to when He would [perform His atoning sacrifice] would been comforting for Him... we call it tender mercies, places where the Lord touches us. The triumphal entry was a huge tender mercy for the Savior Himself." (5)

The symbols used during this entry are also instructive. The donkey would have been a symbol of peace (see Zechariah 9:9-10). It might explain why the Romans present didn't see the Savior as a political agitator. King Solomon, on the day he became King of Israel, in 1 Kings 1:33 rode a donkey through Jerusalem to the temple. A few different examples in the Book of Judges and 2 Samuel might suggest this was a very ancient tradition for the rightful ruler of Israel to ride a donkey. This display of peace might have been a literal fulfillment of the angels' song at His birth for "peace on earth" (see Luke 2:14). In addition, it would have been a symbol of Jesus' right to rule as a descendant of the tribe of Judah (see Genesis 49:11).

The Palm branches are another interesting symbol. Some suggest it is a reference to the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. I think there is a more profound meaning here. We are told in Revelation 1:1 that Jesus had the visions contained in that book during His mortal ministry. In Revelation 7:9, during the 6th seal, we find a great multitude worshiping in the temple before the Lord and waving palm branches. In fascinating detail, the number placed on the multitude of Israelites present is 144,000. This number fits well within the population that was present for the triumphal entry in Jesus' day. The Palm branches, along with the host present, could have been a sort of ritual reenactment of a future event the Savior had seen in vision, further underlining the kind of comfort this scene would have brought Him.

James E. Talmage puts a nice capstone on the meaning of this event:

"The purpose of Christ in thus yielding Himself for the day to the desires of the people and accepting their homage with kingly grace may not be fully comprehended by us of finite mind. That the occasion was no accidental or fortuitous happening, of which He took advantage without preconceived intention, is evident. He knew beforehand what would be, and what He would do. It was no meaningless pageantry; but the actual advent of the King into His royal city, and His entry into the temple, the house of the King of kings." (6)

QUESTION:

What, if anything, do these details teach us about our Savior?

CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE

We will transition to the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus immediately rides to the temple.

READ MATTHEW 21:12-16

"12 ¶ And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.

15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased,

16 And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"

QUESTION:

What do we make of Jesus here? Is He angry? What do we learn here that we can emulate?

This event of cleansing the temple is one of the more confusing ones found within the gospels because it either appears to happen twice or the gospel writers have grossly different opinions of when it happened. James E. Talmage suggests Jesus cleanses the temple at the beginning of His ministry and here at the end, so I am going to go with that.

Talmage comments on an intriguing difference between Jesus between the first cleansing of the temple to, now, the second cleansing:

"On the former occasion, before He had declared or even confessed His Messiahship, He had designated the temple as "My Father's house"; now that He had openly avowed Himself to be the Christ, He called it "My house."" (Jesus the Christ, p. 528, 7)

Talmage further suggests that this is why Jesus doesn't need a whip this time. His authority over His House was plainer to those present (Jesus the Christ, p. 528, 8). New Testament Scholar, John W. Welch, even suggests that much of the Greek here suggests a relatively peaceful Christ here. The word for 'overturned' is katastrepsen and more plainly means to turn over. Welch further points out that Jesus' behavior doesn't scare away the Children or the blind and lame who immediately come forward. Even further, the word for crying in verse 15 is krazontas and it doesn't mean weeping. It more plainly means to speak with a loud voice (9). That is how the word is universally used in every other instance in the New Testament. This further underscores the firm, but peaceful Christ. He has cast out the moneychangers because they can tangibly see His authority over the House of the Lord.

Jesus here highlights perfectly the meaning of D&C 121:41-43 here. Reproving betimes means to correct quickly or early. It does not mean 'sometimes' or 'often'. The Savior corrects the situation by priesthood and persuasion and then shows an increase of love to the blind and lame when He heals them. It is worth noting that this is Jesus also putting himself above David, for David, according to some scholars, banned the blind and lame from actually entering the temple in 2 Samuel 5:8 (see The New Testament In Its World, by N.T. Wright, p. 597).

WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST?

Jesus moves on from this and curses a fig tree, showing forth his destructive powers and giving an object lesson on hypocrisy. For the next day or so He spends debating Pharisees and Sadducees with their leading questions. The Sadducees had apparently heard the Savior teach the doctrine of eternal marriage, so they were mockingly asking him the question about marriage in the resurrection. Sadducees did not believe in a literal bodily resurrection due to their Hellenistic influences. The Pharisees ask Him questions about the law, unsurprisingly.

The Savior sees through all these questions and asks one final question to those doubters present before He no longer is seen in public. He doesn't make another public appearance until His arraignment before Pilate.

READ MATTHEW 22:41-46

"41 ¶ While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,

42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.

43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying,

44 The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?

45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?

46 And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions."

QUESTION:

Why would the Savior save this question for last? What does this question, "What think ye of Christ" mean for us?

Jesus here quotes Psalm 110:1. The entirety of the Psalm is of great importance. Scholars suggest this was the Psalm sung when the ancient Kings of Israel would enter the temple to be anointed Kings. This psalm speaks about becoming a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. In short, the last Psalm Jesus quotes to these Jewish leaders is a Psalm about becoming a king and priest. Therefore, He is tying His identity back to the temple. The point Jesus makes here is that David is seeing in a vision two different beings. The Hebrew for the first Lord is Jehovah and the Hebrew for the second Lord is Adonai. David notes that this Lord will sit on the throne and be an heir, but why does David call him Adonai instead of a son? Jesus is highlighting His Messiahship as something greater than simply the rightful heir of David, a political deliverer. He couldn't have been plainer of His higher and holier mission.

Neal A. Maxwell has said:

"What think ye of Christ?” (Matt. 22:42.) However the world ignores or responds to it, this is the reverberating and the great question! (See Alma 34:5–6.) Can we answer with both our lives and our tongues, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”? (Matt. 16:16.) Until we can, whatever else we say and do will, in the end, make little difference." (10)

"And, if you sense that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, why not do so now? For in the coming of that collective confession, it will mean much less to kneel down when it is no longer possible to stand up!" (11)

 After this, Jesus gives a long discourse in Matthew 23 in which he pronounces seven woes upon the Pharisees and other hypocrites. Jesus has got everyone's attention and the leaders present dare not do anything about it. His countenance probably compels them not to. The last words, according to Matthew, that Jesus speaks unto every one is a lament:

"37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."

The discussion about gathering them under wings would have called to mind Psalm 91:4 which speaks of finding safety and shelter under the Lord's wings. These wings were about the wings of the Cherubim figures that fully covered the throne of God located in the ancient Holy of Holies. Scholars note:

"In the ancient tabernacle of Moses, God's throne was built upon the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, with two Cherubim whose wings stretched over the invisible throne, called the Mercy seat... Solomon's Temple throne was like that, but much larger. In the Temple's Holy of Holies, on either side of the throne were two great golden cherubim. Their wings touched the sides of the walls and made a kind of canopy that stretched over the throne; over whoever sat upon the throne; and the Ark of the Covenant which now sat in front of the throne as its footstool." (12)

Jesus' final words to the public were Him echoing these words from the prophet Joseph Smith:

"What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world?... The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose. It was the design of the Councils of heaven before the world was, that the principles and Laws of the Priesthood were predicated upon the gathering of the people in every age of the world. Jesus did everything possible to gather the people and they would not be gathered and he therefore poured out curses upon them. .. It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings." (13)

QUESTION:

What does this teach us about Temple? What is the purpose of them? What does it say that the last thing Jesus says publicly during his mortal mission is a lament that they rejected the blessings of the Temple that He would have given them? 

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