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The Lesson of the Fig Tree

The Gospel of Mark: Jesus the King  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  45:56
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Introduction

1. Mark Sandwich Again
a. The beginning and the end help us to understand the middle.
b. In this case the fig tree story helps us to understand what Jesus is doing clearing the Temple.
Mark 11:12–26 NRSV
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “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.” And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

A Fruitless Fig Tree

1. A Perplexing Story
a. Many have tried to explain this story to justify Jesus' actions.
b. Many have tried to use this story to prove Jesus wasn't truly sinless.
c. Why would Jesus expect fig's to be on a tree that was out of season?
i. Archaeologists and others who are experts in the customs of the ancient Near East give us the best explanation.
ii. The test of whether one could expect figs from a fig tree was not the time of year but whether the foliage of the tree was in full bloom. The story tells us that the tree was in full bloom, so Jesus would have expected there to be figs.
iii. This still doesn't justify why jesus would get angry and curse the tree.
2. Why would Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?
a. Jesus, among other things, was a prophet. One of the most graphic forms of prophetic communication in the OT was the object lesson.
b. They would often use nature or everyday life to communicate God's truth.
3. The Sin of Hypocrisy
a. The fig tree showed the signs that it should have figs on it, yet it didn't. Jesus was using the fig tree as an illustration of hypocrisy.
b. Jesus would often accuse the religious leaders of hypocrisy.
Luke 12:1 NRSV
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.
c. Hypocrisy is one of the top ten objections that many people have against the Church. Many people have been turned off of Christianity because they have watched the lives of those in the Church and saw that often they don't live what is preached.
d. Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 2:24 NRSV
For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
e. However, Paul and Jesus are not addressing hypocrisy in the Church.
f. There is a direct link between the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the Temple. That is why Mark interjects his account of the cleansing of the temple between the cursing of the fig tree and the discovery of the withered tree the following day.

A Misused Temple

1. The Herodian Temple
a. Divided into four parts: The court of the Gentiles; the court of the women; the court of the Jews; and the Holy of Holies.
b. The court of the Gentiles was the largest part of the Temple complex. The design of the temple included a place for Gentiles to congregate because God had called Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish people, to be a blessing to ALL nations.
c. The people of Israel had the mission of proclaiming the truth of God not just to themselves but to ALL people.
2. The Layout of the Temple Corrupted
a. The court of the gentiles was meant for the gentiles to be able to be present in the Temple so that they could come to know and fear the Lord.
1 Kings 8:43 NRSV
then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.
b. However, the Jews, who hated the Gentiles, hoped that the Messiah would one day come and cleanse the temple of all Gentiles and get rid of them once and for all.
c. So they turned the court of the Gentiles into a market place that served the purpose of selling sacrificial animals for temple use. They turned it into something that the Gentiles would have no use for. Corrupting the courts from it's original purpose.
d. The sale of animals for sacrifice had become a lucrative source of revenue for the Sanhedrin. The celebration of the Passover, a feast of obligation for every Jew was one of the most lucrative seasons of all.
e. Jews would stream into the temple from all over the place and need to buy animals for their passover sacrifice. So the temple would sell them at a premium price because people needed them. They would also exchange currency because the temple would only use one currency. The rate of exchange was also a premium.
f. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded in AD66, as the Roman armies were coming against Jerusalem, 255,000 lambs were slaughtered in Jerusalem during the passover.

Jesus Had the Right to Be Upset

1. Jesus reacts for a reason.
a. Quoting Isaiah 56:7 in saying that His house was meant to be called a house of prayer "for all nations" Including the Gentiles. The whole purpose of the temple had been distorted.
b. The Jews hoped that the Messiah would cleanse the temple of Gentiles, but Jesus cleansed the temple for the Gentiles. It was a place for people, not sheep and goats.
2. The Rulers Were Angry
a. The rulers were very angry with Jesus, and they plotted to kill him. Why?
b. because Jesus went against the status quo, and they feared His influence with the people. Jesus represented change that would affect their bottom line.

The Lesson From The Fig Tree

1. Do you see the connection? The lesson of the tree applies to Israel, symbolized in the OT as God's fig tree.
2. Appearing to bear fruit but barren and cursed. Israel had proven unfruitful with respect to God's purpose for her. Their worship had become an exercise of hypocrisy.
3. As the fig tree was cursed, so was the nation of Israel, fit only to be cast into the fire.
4 Jesus Points the Way
a. Jesus teaches his disciples a lesson in what life looks like serving God.
b. He shows them that serving God is about faith, prayer, and forgiveness. Not about rituals, judging and making money.
c. He stresses the need for true forgiveness and how forgiveness is the starting point of genuine faith, and answered prayers.
Big Idea: Jesus cleared the temple so ALL people could hear about God, we are called to a purpose that is all inclusive. We are called to open up our temple courts and share our faith with everyone. But in order to share faith one must live by faith, and forgive others no matter what the offence.
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