On Palm Sunday, I preached from Christ’s triumphal entry to his arrest in the garden this Thursday night (audio here). Having spent time studying the Gospel accounts and reading The Final Days of Jesus by Kostenberger and Taylor, I tried to lay out the narrative for our congregation’s eyes – hoping we could see more of Jesus together in the text. Below is the portion of my manuscript for Tuesday, where we find Jesus in the temple. May it serve you as you look to enter into Christ’s grief this week, and as we approach Good Friday -the tomb filled- then Easter Sunday, when it was found empty.
Jesus is back in the Temple, and the religious leaders have a plan: it’s time to trip Jesus up in front of the crowd. Their goal is to discredit him, shame him or quiet him. It’s time to show the people who is really in charge.
We pick up in Mark 11:27–33
 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him,  and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”
Tell us Jesus, who do you think you are? We are the ones with authority here in the Temple – we are the High Priests.
 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things.  Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”
 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’  But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet.  So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Got’em. You can see it – they were afraid of the people, so they punted. This is happening real time in public because they want an audience. They want to get the crowd back. But it’s not working, and now everybody is paying attention.
Jesus leans in with three parables, all pointed at the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees – and they are not subtle. He brings the parables of the two sons, the tenants, and the wedding feast. They’re each a sermon in themselves – so hear this: they all point to the religious leaders as unbelieving, treacherous, disobedient, and out of the kingdom. Jesus is exposing their hypocrisy and pronouncing judgement just as publicly as they questioned his authority.
Can you imagine the crowd at that point? What level of shaming, jeering, disdain or shock do you hear in the air? Or was it just awkward silence and hard stares?
What color is the rage in the hearts of the priests?
They can’t find a good way to arrest Jesus without inciting a riot. They are afraid of the mob – and they want the hearts of the people. They’re stuck – but they keep trying to trick him into incriminating or discrediting himself. There are legal and theological questions put before him, all tricks with the end goal of Roman arrest or religious heresy.
Jesus answers them all perfectly. He finds the third way and leaves them speechless, some of them awed, but most doubling down with resentment and anger.
At this point, Jesus seems ready to be done with it. He leans in again with his own question: Here’s Matthew 22:42–46
[Jesus asks,] “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”
If you’re in the crowd, This is your guy! He’s your 16 seed upset and the top team just got shut down.
With the Priests and Pharisees silenced, Jesus lets them have it in front of the crowd.
He spends 36 verses – which took me just under 5 minutes to mouth quietly in Starbucks, which was probably awesome to watch. Jesus puts them on blast and pronounces 7 woes with specific accusations about their character, sin and condemnation. And he does it in the temple, in front of the crowd, to their face.
You can read it at length for yourself, but in Matthew 23 he makes statements like this:
Jesus, talking to the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees in front of the crowd and his disciples:
 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,  so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 
 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
 You blind fools!
 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Jesus isn’t playing anymore. He didn’t come to align himself with the Priests and Pharisees. There are no more veiled statements or subtle parables – they’ve poked enough today, and the day is ending with everyone clear about where Jesus stands: the old way of life in the temple is over, and the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees were just put on notice that their time is up.
What do you feel, standing in the crowd? After hearing Jesus say all that to the so-called Holy Men? What do you feel right now? How tense is that room?
Now what would you feel if you were the Priests and Pharisees? You can’t even get a word in, you just want this guy to shut up and go back to the sticks. Now he’s in your face in front of everyone and he’s reading your mail. Every shame you hide, every space you lie to yourself, and he’s dropping truth bombs all over your self-made kingdom.
What are you feeling? They feel threatened. Cornered. Insulted. Red-faced, tight jaws. Some of them are confused, some near to truth, but all of them are blind. And they don’t like feeling like this. They’re not used to feeling like this.
That evening, as Jesus leaves the temple, he says to his disciples:
“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Matthew 26:2
And while they walk back to Bethany, a group of men, still in town, meet up in the dark of night, behind locked doors, and start talking.
You know this kind of talk. The airing of complaints, of frustration, of mounting anger and wounded pride. Air swirling with “How dare he? Who does he think he is? Doesn’t he know who I am, who we are? Someone needs to shut him up. Did you see the way the crowd looked at him? The way they looked at us. This is getting out of hand.”
And then a plan comes together. A plan to make him be quiet, to make an example of him, and to teach the crowd who to follow.
“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas,  and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him.  But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Matthew 26: [3-5]
They can’t arrest Jesus with everyone in town, it’d be too risky. He’s too popular. The quickest they could do it is after dinner on Thursday. The Passover meal will be over, and people will be sleeping off dinner, or leaving town to get ahead of the traffic. With the crowds lessening, and under darkness – they can put things in motion that will make him pay.