Today I'm doing something out of the ordinary. Because today my 'thought' comes from a section of my sermon from this past Sunday (Palm Sunday) where I spoke about Jesus withering of the fig tree and cleansing the Temple (out of in Mark 11:13-14 and 20-21).
Many told me afterward that it helped them understand a text that had always confused and bothered them. So, if you are such a person, my prayer is that it may do the same for you. Enjoy (hopefully)!
"The day after that first Palm Sunday, Jesus headed to the Temple, and on His way cursed a fig tree which had no fruit on it, and it eventually withers and dies (Mark 11:13-14 and 20-21). It's a story that makes some struggle, because it makes it seem like Jesus is simply in a bad mood, or being mean and irrational, since he expects a fig tree to bear fruit when it's not even the season for figs!
Yet our struggle with the event can be resolved when we understand that Jesus is not mad, nor cursing the tree because He's irritated. Rather, He's engaging in a common form of prophetic instruction -- using a symbolic act that teaches a truth or serves as a warning of things to come.
God employed this form of instruction with Hosea when He called him to marry a prostitute and to remain faithful to her, even though she would be unfaithful to him -- sign of God's faithfulness to unfaithful and idolatrous Israel, as well as a reminder to us who so often "cheat on God" with other gods or idols. Isaiah engaged in it as well when he as called by God to walk around barefoot and naked for three years -- a sign to Egypt and Cush that they would be defeated by Assyria, and "led away stripped and barefoot" (Isaiah 20:2-6).
So why does Jesus curse and wither the fig tree? Because as we often see in the O.T. the fig tree represents Israel (Jer. 8:13 / 29:17 / etc.). Paul uses the same imagery in Romans 11.
And what's the message Jesus conveys through it? The fig tree, like Israel -- looks good from a distance to the human observer (v. 13). She lush and green and healthy and full of leaves, and from all outward appearances seems like a tree that should be laden with fruit. But upon closer examination, she is found to have produced no spiritual fruit at all (v. 13b). Yes, Israel had her large, magnificent temple (which even Roman writers described as one of the world's most magnificent buildings). She had her intricate religious organization with over 700 priests on duty at any given time, along with her highly detailed order of rituals and sacrifices and a priesthood with all its colorful robes and finery. She had her High Priest, religious lawyers, scribes and elders. There was even the Sanhedrin, the Temple guards, and so much more. It was all quite massive and impressive (similar in many ways to the Vatican).
But like the fig tree Jesus cursed, she had not produced what God desired most: The fruit of a holiness. A people that loved Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, prayerfully worshiping Him in spirit and truth and praising all the consummate glories of His Name. People who through great effort and personal sacrifice take the message of His greatness to the ends of the earth. And therefore, like the cursed tree which the disciples found withered and dead (v. 21), Israel would also be judged -- for she was not what she appeared to be. She lacked the spiritual fruit she was supposed to produce. That's the message of Jesus through the withered fig tree. Any "fruit-bearing tree" (or person) that BEARS NO FRUIT, will eventually be judged, wither, and die (Mt. 3:10-12, 7:15-20, John 15:6...).
And the same is true for the cleansing of the Temple. It's another prophetic and instructive visual sign where Jesus seeks to show them, through actions that no one can ignore, that God is not pleased with the way they have taken what He ordained to be a place of worship and prayer and made it into a religious circus, and money-making machine. As with the fig tree, Jesus "wrath" is a prophetic sign of what God would soon do to the nation if they did not repent and restore the Temple to what it was supposed to be -- a place of reverence and praise and earnest prayer and the worship of the true God for people from all nations (vv. 15-17).
Like the withering of the fig tree, the temple cleansing is intended to be a prophetic sign, foreshadowing in miniature what would actually did happen in reality in the year 70 A.D. when the Roman Army destroyed Jerusalem, and then dismantled the Temple stone by stone, until "not one was left upon the other" (Matt. 24:2). It may even foreshadow the Day of Judgment when God will clean house and separate the sheep from the goats.
If those who witnessed this event had only heeded its true message, and the warning Jesus was giving them through it, it would have saved them from experiencing a much worse judgment in the future. For in reality, it's a very gentle form of "wrath" that is meant to save them from a much harsher form of wrath in the future. Which means it is really an act of God's grace and mercy, clothed in instructive anger, and conveying to all -- through a visual warning no one could forget -- a wrath that will be infinitely worse in the future if they refuse to repent and change their ways."
Food for thought as we approach Good Friday and rejoice to remember that Easter is coming!
In His Service, Pastor Jeff