Around The Gate
New Hope Baptist Church
February 27, 2005
|And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.|
Luke 13:23, 24 (Supplemental Text)
Have you ever been the victim of false advertising? Have you ever been promised something, or given the idea that something was real when in reality, it wasn’t? We live in a world of super advertising Medias. The media inundates our lives with their hype, with their promotions and publicity.
Any business expecting to make it in this buy- crazy world has to have a better than good public relations program.
Advertising is not cheap through the media. The cost of a few seconds of airtime during a commercial for the Super Bowl costs millions of dollars. The expected returns are great.
The one thing that is all-important in the world of advertising is truth. Now, I don’t mean that advertisers always tell the truth, rather the truth or lack of it tells on their success in the end. Most times companies tell some truth in advertising. It’s like a contract that you can’t see, so you don’t read the fine print. So many other times companies are sued and go bankrupt because they failed to live up to their promises. Many times companies and/or individuals get into trouble not only for what they say but for their perceived intent; for what it looks like they should deliver. Unfortunately, advertising or false Advertising has taken its place within the church today. An article in the Times last week told of the National Religious Broadcasters intent for churches to focus on technology to stay relevant. They say the Gospel can be a multimedia message if churches will maximize their impact through the media by companies with slogans such as: “Church websites the way God intended.”
The story is told of a stressed-out woman on a busy street, tailgating an honest man. Suddenly, the light turns yellow, just in front of him. He does the honest thing and stops at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman hits the roof, and the horn, screaming in frustration as she misses her chance to get through the intersection with him.
As she is still in mid-rant, she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer orders her to exit her car with her hands up. He takes her to the police station where she is searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and placed in a cell.
After a couple of hours, a policeman approaches the cell and opens the door. She is escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer is waiting with her personal effects.
He says, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the “Choose Life” license plate holder, the “What Would Jesus Do” bumper sticker, the “Follow Me to Sunday School” bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk.”
“Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”
Such is the situation we will discover in our text today. As we have read in Matthew’s Gospel, a fig tree failed to yield what was perceived to be available. There are two backgrounds that I wish to share with you this morning: One will deal with the events surrounding Jesus’ encounter with the fig tree; the other gives a little information on the fig tree itself. In these brief backgrounds I will attempt to develop three distinctives about Jesus and some behaviors or signs of false advertising, and then I shall take my seat. From the text today, we can see that:
 Jesus hungers
 He hunts; and
 He hopes. We can also surmise that False advertisers typically:
 Make the biggest claims
 Lack substance, and
 Fail to stand up under the test of truth
We know that during this time as penned in Matthew 21, it was the final period of time on earth for Jesus. He had made His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the donkey. The crowds had spread branches on the road and followed Him shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
As He entered the city, everyone was excited and sought to know who He was. The crowds that had followed Him explained that He was the prophet Jesus from Nazareth. Jesus had entered the temple grounds and drove out all who bought and sold and He turned over the tables and chairs. Even in His frustration at the conditions that He found, He cured the blind and the lame that came to Him. Everyone was happy and excited except the chief priests and the scribes who were indignant because He received so much attention, even from the children and the youth.
When His work there ended for the evening, He departed and went out of the city to Bethany to sleep. He was likely exhausted and failed to eat anything before praying and going to sleep. Now, Bethany was an area out from but connected to Bethphage at the Mount of Olives. The name literally means “house of figs”. The area was calm, serene and even romantic by our standards today. Jesus could find sweet rest and sleep there. He was tired and drained on that Sunday evening, and He slept without eating.
When He arose early the next morning, He prayed and started back into the city area. It was then that He realized that He was hungry. Here we see Jesus in His human form. He was tired, distressed, and weary. He had slept outside, and wept over Jerusalem. On the way, perhaps on a hillside, He noticed a lone fig tree.
When you are hungry, you will notice things that you might not otherwise give full attention to. When you are hungry and go into the kitchen, you will notice that last piece of lunchmeat that would taste good with that end piece of bread. You will notice that apple in the back of the fridge that is beginning to wither. That’s why we shouldn’t go shopping hungry; we are likely to purchase things that we don’t need. When you are hungry, you notice things. Jesus was hungry and that was one reason that He noticed that fig tree.
The botanical name for this type of fig tree is ficus carica. A healthy fig tree would bear three crops over a ten-month period. The major crop comes from August until winter. During the second crop, there are green figs that are produced during the winter and remain until the beginning of spring. Then there are the first ripe figs. These stay on the tree through the winter and spring, ripening in summer from June on. These were the much sought after, most delicious and flavorful figs.
The fig tree that Jesus saw was truly amazing. It was during the Passover week in mid-April, and there was this fig tree in full bloom. It was full of leaves in April, which is the second reason Jesus noticed the fig tree.
You see, the amazing thing to know about fig trees is how they differ from every other tree. Generally, a tree will bloom with flowers and/or leaves first, and then the fruit will follow. A fig tree is just the opposite. The fruit comes first on a fig tree, then the leaves. So, when Jesus saw the fig tree full of leaves, it should have been full of fruit also. Even though it was not its season, even though it was not time for the ripened fruit to be in full bloom, the tree was advertising great things. It was publicizing a product to satisfy His hunger. It was full of leaves, so its hype was strong. It promised to provide a sought after commodity. It looked like the real thing on the outside and boasted like it was very fruitful when in fact; it was barren on the inside. It only looked good. It was really fruitless and phony. It appeared to be something it wasn’t.
Most scholars believe that this fig tree is symbolic of Israel, and especially its religious leaders. Remember the crowds had followed Him and shouted after Him to be the Son of David. Remember the people had been so excited and thrown branches down before Him as He entered the city. Remember the people praised Him as He healed the blind and the lame. Remember the religious elite who cited the Law before the people and Him. Remember how He entered the House of prayer only to find moneychangers and animal sellers, common day usury and commercialism? So many seemed to be with Him; so many seemed to want Him; so many seemed to be on target. So many praised and worshipped Him; so many sought after Him. Everything that they did advertised the promise of love, devotion, true spirituality and affection. But was their advertisement real? Could they, would they really provide what they promised? This day they shouted Hosanna, and a few days later they would shout “Crucify Him!” My question today is quite simple.
How about us? How real is our advertisement? Are our shouts full of love for God or, are they just hollow, empty words? Is our singing genuine melody of worship, or just sounding brass and tinkling symbols? Is our praying in earnest expectation to the personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, or just modeling after the words that we have heard and memorized over the years? Just what are we advertising today, and what really can be found?
Jesus was hungry and noticed the fig tree that advertised bountiful fruit, so Jesus went hunting.
The Bible says that Jesus went to Temple, to the place where faith should have been found, and found instead lifeless ritual, devoid of God’s power. They were just going through the motions. Jesus also went to the fig tree. He sought it out. He wanted to fellowship with the tree. He wanted relationship with the fig tree. He wanted relationship with the Nation of Israel, too. He wants relationship with you today. He said, “I stand at the door and knock. If any man opens the door, I will come in and sup with him.”
He hunts for souls through His Word. He hunts for souls through other believers. But more than that, He is hunting for true advertisers. “Those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” He is looking for the man or woman, the boy or girl who will not only boast of His goodness, but who can show by their own lives their true love and commitment to Him. Jesus hunts for souls not to bring them to destruction but to invite them to life eternal. His hunt is not to your demise, but to your good. His hunt is not for the externals that you display for men to see. His hunt is for the person that is willing to be led by the Spirit of God, the one willing to be submitted to God and the one that will allow the true fruit of the Spirit to be cultivated within their hearts.
It’s not what you say that counts but what you do, that will tell the story. It’s not what you do in this place, when we are all together, but what you do when you are all alone in the midst of the world and faced with a choice.
Jesus hungers for a fruit bearing life and he hunts for the person that will yield to the cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit in their life. But Jesus also hopes in great anticipation for He is not willing that any should suffer loss or perish.
When Jesus went to the fig tree, He went in full anticipation of finding fruit. He was hungry, He went hunting and He was hopeful. His was not an empty hope. His hope was expectant. He had a right to expect fruit because the tree boasted with such full leaves.
If you can’t deliver the goods, you ought to keep your mouth shut. If you can’t love your brother or sister even when they act unloving, you ought not to shake your leaves. If you can’t find joy in dire situations, you need to be still. If you don’t promote peace in the midst of misunderstandings, you shouldn’t offer counsel. If you are not patient and even-tempered, but likely to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, don’t mingle with others. If kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control elude you, constantly, then you may need to yank on the cord and see if you are really connected to the Spirit of the living God.
If you are known to be a Christian in name, if you make it your business to boast of your relationship with God; if the unsaved around you at work, at home and in your community have heard of your church involvements, your charitable giving, how you usher even when your feet are burning; how you sing in the choir even when your throat is sore, causing women to swoon and grown men to shed tears; how you spend so much time in preparing your Sunday school lessons to impress your students; and even how you fast and study to prepare your sermons, if people around you know all of that but are leery approach you on one of your bad hair days, something is askew.
All I’m saying is to make sure, be sure and know for sure that you are inside the gate and that the leaves on your tree are coupled with fruit.
God has a right to expect you to follow through and to live up to what you advertise; and He is hopeful that you will do just what you promise. He expects the fruit that you say is there and He has a right to expect.
Otherwise, you are just like the fig tree in a parable given by Jesus; useless; using up the ground where you stand; depleting the soil; intercepting the sun and taking up room. Jesus hungers for you to produce much fruit; Jesus hunts for those who will produce much fruit; and Jesus hopes for you to produce much fruit. But Jesus also helps us out. In the parable about a fig tree found in Luke’s gospel, the owner orders a fruitless tree to be cut down. The vinedresser pleads for one more year until he could dig around it and put manure on the soil to see if it would then bear fruit.
In the same manner, Jesus gives us a little more time. You see, He is long-suffering and patient, but He will not remain so always. He digs around the ground in your life to give room to your roots to spread out and grow. He adds some manure to the soil hoping to stimulate the roots to produce fruit. Into every life, a little rain must fall, the saying goes. Jesus will orchestrate and/or take advantage of situations in our lives to stimulate growth and fruit. It might be a little thing like difficulty at work or your car giving out. It might be more stimulating like a wayward child or a chronic illness. It might even be devastating like the loss of a loved-one, a life threatening illness of your own, or the complete loss of job, home and possessions.
Whatever the situation that comes into your life, Jesus is hungry, He is hunting and He is hopeful that you will be stimulated to produce fruit.
If you don’t want to be a disappointment, if you want to bear the kind of fruit that He is looking for, then remember that the signs or behaviors of false advertisers are always apparent. From them we hear lots about “what we do”, or the gifts of the Spirit, but little about “what we are”, or the fruit of the Spirit. They have the biggest boasts. They know the most about everything. They have experienced more than anyone else in every area of life. They catch the biggest fish; they know the biggest names; they have the worst tragedies; they sing the most solos; they usher the busiest isle; they have better ideas for a better auxiliary; at work they have the biggest Bible on their desks; they wear the heaviest crosses; hang signs about Jesus on their walls and repeat the most Bible verses. All of those things are o.k., but false advertisers will always lack substance.
False advertisers lack the essence of their advertised product. You can’t just say here’s a cake and not expect someone to take a bite. If there is no sweetness, no eggs and flour and vanilla flavoring, it just looks like a cake but it can’t stand up to the test of truth. Truth is the place in life where God will go through you to get His glory. You see, false advertisers stand around a gate that has many people hanging around. They all look like the real thing, sound like the real thing, and some even believe they are the real thing. They don’t realize that they are standing at the wide gate. There are so many others hanging around because many find that gate so it’s overcrowded. But Jesus said in Luke that we should strive to enter the narrow gate. Those in this gate may not boast a lot, but they will step forward when the chips are down. They may seem small in the company of so many big shots. They may not stand out in a crowd, but they are in the right gate. It’s the narrow gate where all are welcome but few will enter.
A couple of weeks ago, I was appointed assistant secretary to the union at work. It was the night of our installation dinner. I was asked to do the invocation. In fact, my name had already been placed on the program without my knowledge. I advised the secretary twice that “I pray in the name of Jesus.” She brushed it off and asked me to do it. I quickly jotted down a prayer and when I was called to the podium, I began to feel something. I asked all to stand and I began to pray something like this: “To the Creator of both heaven and earth; we acknowledge that both glory and honor are yours; we are mindful of your Sovereignty, your omnipotence for the earth is Yours and its fullness; your omniscience for You know all things; and your omnipresence in that all things are in Your presence; we submit this evening, its business and needs into your care; we seek you guidance and wisdom on this body, its members, its board and its officers in future days; we petition you blessings on this food to nourish our bodies and our palates; we offer You our praise, our thanks and full acknowledgement of Your majesty; as I pray in the authority and name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Make sure that your tree has more than leaves blowing. If you are professing to be a child of God, there must be some fruit to bear witness to the truth. If you are not saved today, there is much ground to be covered and Jesus is hungry for you, he is hunting for your participation and hopeful of your yielding. The song writer has said it like this:
In times like these, you need a Savior. In times like these, you need an anchor. Be very sure, be very sure, your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock. This Rock is Jesus, yes, He’s the One. This Rock is Jesus, the only One. Be very sure, be very sure, your anchor holds and grips the solid Rock.
Jesus is our ultimate example of Truth in advertising. He said that He was the Son of God. Didn’t He prove it so? He said that He came to seek and save men from their sins. Didn’t He prove it so? He said that He is the way, the truth and the light. Didn’t He prove it so? He said that if His Temple was destroyed, He would rise it up again. Didn’t He prove it so? I know that He did. Shortly after these events He went to Calvary, walked up a hill call Golgotha. He let men nail Him to a cross and hang it high. They stretched out His arms and pierced His side, and He hung His head and died. He proved it so! He laid in the grave all night Friday, he laid in the grave all day and night on Saturday, but early on Sunday morning, just before the birds went looking for worms and the while the moon was still on duty; early on Sunday morning, while the dew was still damp on the roses and the guards were in the twilight zone, He got up from the grave and declared, “All power in heaven and earth is in my hand”. I tell you, He proved it so! He is who He said, He did what He promised, He is God Almighty, and that’s just the way it is!