Fig Leaves (A sermon on Mark 11)

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

 

Let’s call this sermon “Woah, calm down Jesus.”

 

There is a direction in the footsteps of Jesus. The Beginning of the end and the beginning. Jesus healed a blind man and said to him “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Jesus on the way.

 

The Way. Jesus says this about himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Now Jesus has told them what the way actually is. But these followers, this man, his disciples they have their eyes on a different way. We know this because Just before we enter into this story tonight. The Disciples know Jesus is coming as king. He’s going to establish his kingdom and then turn the world on his head. He’s going to overthrow the oppressive powers. He’s going to take back Jerusalem. He’s going to make Israel the eternal kingdom. He’s going to make Israel…Heaven. A kingdom that has no end.

 

And so James and John, you remember “the sons of thunder.” Yeah those wise guys see a shot for a promotion. They see that the Messiah has come to flip the system. Come to put everything back in its right place. And they want to be the big shots.

 

“Jesus Grant us to sit at your right and left hand?” Not only are they super pumped about this overthrowing. They want to be Jesus’ main dudes. Which peeves all the other disciples.

 

Jesus has literally just told them what he’s going to do. What’s going to happen. And like Peter from earlier. These disciples and all the people following Jesus have different expectations about what the Messiah is supposed to do.

 

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. (Because following the Messiah into Jerusalem was pretty much following the Messiah into battle.) And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

 

See it’s very possible the people following Jesus into Jerusalem were ready to be his army. They were ready for their expectations to be met. They were ready to declare. The kingdom.

11 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus[a] sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

So Jesus does this very public thing. And he does it publically for a reason. All things are gearing up. The Messiah is about to enter His kingdom.

 

Now the Jews already knew how the Messiah was going to enter the Kingdom. From the line of David one would come. The first prophecy of the Messiah is found in Genesis 49.

 

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;[a]
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
11 Binding his foal to the vine
and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,
he has washed his garments in wine
and his vesture in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes are darker than wine,
and his teeth whiter than milk.

 

In Zechariah 9

The Coming King of Zion

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

So these predictions of the colt, of a donkey that the Messiah, the king of salvation. The king of peace will come into Zion, Jerusalem, the mount where the Temple stood. The Messiah would come to the land of the Israelites on a donkey. And he would restore things and fulfill the promises of all prophecies. He would bring in the world to come. In fact The Talmud which we talked about the collection of the oral teachings that ultimately came from the Pharisees and rabbis. THAT taught that if Israel was worthy to receive the Messiah, the Messiah would come upon the clouds, but if Israel was not, he would come upon a donkey.

 

And so there is much to be said and seen about this holy teacher, prophet, rabbi, king, messiah coming into Zion on the back of a donkey. Some traditions and interpretation believe that the donkey and the colt (Other Gospels mention both) may have been kept near the Mount of Olives for this very purpose. Just a fun little nugget.

 

So Jesus is checking off the prophecy list and some people are picking up on it and some people aren’t. But Jesus for really the first time this Gospel is purposefully making a scene.

 

And the people shouted: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

 

Think back to week one of this sermon series. Imagine Rome and the Herodians hearing these shouts in the streets of Jerusalem. Imagine the Pharisees who love all their power and control and Laws hearing their subjects and students shout those words. Imagine the people in the temple hearing outside the walls “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

 

Jesus enters Jerusalem and goes into the temple courts and he sees how the leaders of Israel have abused a beautiful thing. He sees how God’s people have made a mess of things. But it’s already late and so he leaves to Bethany with the Twelve disciples.

 

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

12 On the following day, (His first day as the welcomed King.) when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

Now that’s a weird story. What do we take away from it? Maybe never eat fig newtons again? Why is Jesus angry at a tree that doesn’t have fruit when it’s not even the season for it to have fruit? It’s just a silly story.

But it’s actually a response to Jesus’ wanderings the night before in the temple courts.

Wait come again?

 

The night before Jesus walks through the temple courts. And he saw these very things. He saw the ta’anim-the Jewish leaders and sages and all the ways is which they had led Jerusalem and the temple astray. The ta’anim had desecrated a good thing. They had turned God’s covenant and place of offering into a place of profit and greed and self-righteousness. A place of this is our thing and not yours. What we do is holy and you Gentiles becoming before our God is not as important. They had turned the courts for the other nations into a market. And so Jesus sees these things and then sleeps on it before acting.

 

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city.

Now Jesus’ anger could be directed at any number of things but the main thing he addresses is that “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” A reference to Isaiah. “But you have made it a den of robbers” which is a very intentional reference to Jeremiah.

 

This portion of Jeremiah’s writing is perhaps the most critical things we find in all his words. It’s directed at the temple, the temple leadership and those who went to worship under false pretenses. He’s yelling to these people entering the temple “let go of your religion and find God. “ Your religious rites and rituals did nothing for your sins against God and your neighbor. And God warns Jerusalem that if they continue down this path, do not expect to be spared from destruction this time. This threat would have been highly offensive to the people of Jerusalem who thought “we’re covered.” God’s cool with our folly. Because we’re the chosen people. We’re in. Jeremiah teaches don’t be so quick to assume you’ll be spared of this. You’re religion has blinded you. You think you have a favoritism that you may not have.

 

Jesus was threatening Jerusalem with this very same threat. The passage teaches the chief priest and the scribes, the Jewish leadership, the ta’anim wanted Jesus dead because of his authority, and because of his public acts in the temple.

 

The next day …As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”

 

What an interesting teaching. Jesus arrives as king. He get’s hungry. Curses a fruitless fig tree “May no one ever eat from you again.” Jesus cleans out the temple and threatens the security of Jerusalem. Then walks by the tree he had cursed that now has withered and died.

 

The Bible can be weird.

 

Now the common we find in this story ,the people loved Jesus for his message. They were amazed by his teaching. It’s the religious establishment that turned against him. The common people couldn’t believe the power of his teachings, while the leaders of Jerusalem feared him.

 

The ta’ anim feared Jesus.

 

The ta’ anim or as it is translated “the figs” feared Jesus.

 

The symbol of Israel and of the leadership and sages in Jerusalem was the fig tree.

 

What is interesting about the fig tree is that it grows its fruit and then its leaves grow. Jesus walks upon a tree that has leaves and so it should have fruit. So this tree the Jesus happens upon is a deceptive tree. The tree deceives the one who is hungry. The one who comes to be fed. Because it has no fruit. Hold onto that.

 

Curse this tree. May it never bear fruit again.

 

Jesus has arrived to this nation as king. He’s arrived to the temple. But all he will find is a deceptive tree. The presence of leaves should imply that there is fruit to the people of Israel. But as Jesus enters this city. As Jesus sees the corruption of the temple. Of the Jewish leadership of the ta’anim; the figs. He finds that there is no fruit to their faith. Only personal gain.

 

The fig tree; the emblem of the Jewish nation that on the surface seemed to be thriving with an abundance of leaves but spiritually it was producing no fruit. And so this nation would soon wither. The temple would soon wither. Jesus curses their deceptiveness and warns their destruction. Not forty years later the nation and the temple would be destroyed again by a Roman army. The fig tree did indeed wither very soon.

 

This whole incident with the temple and the tree Jesus ends it by steering the people back towards a dependency on God rather than these figs who have led Israel astray. This process of the temple has been corrupted. He will soon inform them of the new temple. Which might get him into some trouble. But he speaks to those traveling with him. He basically tells them look do not take part in what these people are doing. Do not be led to believe that forgiveness of sin depends on their doing. Or the blood of their animals. This is what he tells his followers to do, in contrast to these figs.

 

He empowers them to see what has been there the whole time.

 

“Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

 

He’s saying I want you to see this new temple that I’m going to bring forth. And it all will exist within you. Don’t have faith in these animals and their blood. Have faith in God. Whatever offerings you bring to the alter for blessing I tell you just have faith in God. And if that faith is to move mountains, it will be yours. Don’t feed their system. If you need forgiveness of sins I tell you bring yourself to the alter. Forgive others and you will see how God has forgiven you. Bring the pain of others to the alter and let it go. And your Father will see this sacrifice and you may have the comfort to know that your sins too have been forgiven.

Stop feeding their destruction. We have a new kingdom. The old will wither and die. But the new will come.

 

Because let’s talk about something that I believe Jesus is aware of. Something the figs missed and something the figs were destroying.

 

God did not put on flesh and blood to start a new religion. As he says “isn’t my temple supposed to be a place of prayer for ALL the nations.” The whole world is involved. But the figs were being exclusive. It’s more about us, than it is about them. It’s more about my existence under the label of Christian than it is about all of the nations.

 

Jesus did not come to start a new religion. And yet we get caught up in the exclusiveness of being a Christian that we miss the prayer for ALL THE NATIONS. For everyone. It’s more about me sitting in the room. It’s more about my politics becoming the law of the land. It’s more about what people see me doing. It’s more about their sin than my sin. It’s more about me being chosen than their being lost. Well we should only worry about the Christians among the persecuted. They’re more important. What happened to the prayer for all the nations?

 

You see the scene at the temple involved literal consuming. Other people weren’t cared about and people showed up to take part in buying and selling. We are the consumer church! And maybe last Sunday is one of the most prime examples of it. Tons of people show up to hopefully hear a good sermon, hopefully hear some good worship, feel good and then not come back till Christmas. I mean we go to church because we’re “Supposed to.” It’s embedded in our culture.

 

Everything is about being seen in public as important people. As people who have it together. As someone who reads their bible or prays over a meal and goes to church. We love being looked up to and respected.

We love being a tree with leaves….but do we have fruit?

 

Because our consumption of Christianity without fruit communicates to the nations very false things.

 

Because a lot of people confuse God and religion and they walk away from them BOTH.

 

The tree is a deceptive tree. The tree deceives the one who is hungry. The one who comes to be fed. Because it has no fruit. So they confuse the two and walk away from them both.

 

I have so many friends who have suffered the deceptive tree and because of this they want nothing to do with God and the beautiful thing that I see and get to experience every day of my life. Because the tree that they saw was deceptive. It was about being seen. And not caring about them. It was about the people inside the faith and not the people outside. It was about Christianity more often than it was Christ.

The point isn’t Christianity. The point isn’t our leaves. The point is being a Christian. It means being a follower of Jesus.

It’s being connected with everything that is true and good and right. Everything that goes on around us,

that reminds us that there is so much more going on around us than we realize.

There’s nothing more beautiful than that. I mean that’s good news.

The King has come. And we’ve cheapened it as a way to put money in a bucket but not serve the nations. As a political identity but not a means for helping the poor. As a seat on Sunday but not a life that goes out and shares this grand amazing love with others. As a tree with fruit.

“Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn’t come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called “Christianity.”

When you truly engage in your existence in the kingdom of God you find fruit. You communicate something different to people.

This is going to sound cynical but it’s what I’ve seen in my own life. You know what probably going to happen if you live this way? And it is the great irony of how this passage ends. And I do believe it is how our “Christian nation” is about to wither.

When you live this way, with that amount of truth and love, and fruit in this country, Christians are going to ask you the same questions the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders asked to Jesus.

“By what authority are you doing these things?” “Who gave you authority to do this?”

Go serve a refugee, “How can you help them they want to destroy our country. They’re just coming here to take over.”

Go have a meal with a Muslim. Invite a homosexual to church. “Who are you to do these things?”

Go serve overseas. “But you might get sick, or We have enough problems here.”

Hang out with people who hate Christianity. “What are you doing eating with tax collectors and sinners?”

Christians will ask you these questions. Maybe you are asking these questions.

The point isn’t Christianity. It’s the King. It’s the Kingdom of God.

Our King has come. And He has given me authority. Faith to move mountains.

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

 

Because the temple was the place that was supposed to be a prayer for the nations.

Shortly after Christ ascends he makes his dwelling place in his followers. He gives those who follow him the gift of his living Spirit. And a person who has the spirit of God living in them the bible teaches that you my brothers and sisters are a temple. And to these temples God shares his same purpose to the temple of Jerusalem. May you be a prayer to the nations. That all people may know him. Don’t cheapen the kingdom of God to a seat in a church service. Because we have good news. Go everywhere and tell everyone. Gut your temple of the corruption of the figs. Bear the fruit of Christ Jesus.

 

Our king.

Our Euangelion.

Our Good News.

 

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