Faithlife Sermons

Cursing Trees and Throwing Mountains

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So, I’m an amateur landscaper. It’s something I really enjoy. It clears my head, and gives me an excuse to get outside. But, what I really love is to watch beautiful things come to life. It’s an amazing concept to me that you can plant these ugly little bulbs or plugs or whatever, and in a few short weeks, with the right care, they will bloom into vibrant colors that can be arranged.
And so, landscaping is one of things that I pay attention to when I go places. And, here’s what I’ve found out over the years as a pastor who has made a number of house calls to collapsing families: a lot of the time beautiful landscaping is a facade that hides a wrecked house. Several year ago when I was a youth pastor, I was asked to go and visit and teenage girl who was in the throes of rebellion. She was running away from home, and basically would run off with any guy who had a car. She was self-harming, and her parents’ marriage was in shambles. Someone had given this family my number as a type of hail mary attempt at bringing hope to the family. Driving to her house that day, I came to a gated community. On the other side of the gate, once I had arrived at her house, I saw one of the most pristine homes I had ever seen. I remember stopping in the driveway of her home, taking it all in, thinking of how clear an example this was of how many people are attempting to live their lives. Pristine, beautiful exterior hiding a wrecked life.
And, this is what Jesus found to be the case in Jerusalem and at the Temple. To drive that home, He would use an illustration that none of his disciples would ever forget.

God’s Word


A Strange Scene

“he became hungry” This is a strange scene if we’re honest about it. So, Matthew tells this story quickly, giving us the most important details, which makes it a little difficult for us to get the timeline straight. But, we’re able to see from that this happened over a 24 hour period. This begins the morning before Jesus flips the tables in the temple an concludes the following morning. In fact, at the end of verse 19 and in verse 20 where it says ‘at once’ it might be easier to understand as ‘quickly.’ It doesn’t necessarily mean in a second. But, very, very quickly, and obviously from a horticultural standpoint, this all happens very fast.
So, Jesus wakes, and he’s hungry. Jesus had traveled quite a long distance and would have had limited provisions; so, it makes sense that He would have found himself to be very hungry. Being hungry, Jesus sees a fig tree filled with leaves. Now, that, in and of itself, caused that particular tree to stand out. There were numerous trees located around Judah, but as Mark notes, it’s not the season for figs in late March, early April, and so most fig trees are still dormant, or perhaps just beginning to sprout their earliest leaves. But, there were a variety of fig trees in Palestine, and some of them would sprout early, and when a tree had leaves as this one did, it was a clear indicator that it had fruit. So, you can imagine Jesus’ disappointment when He arrives at the tree to realize that there are no figs on the tree. It's like when you're on the interstate late at night, and you're just famished, and you see at Cook Out on one of those Green Signs, and so you exit, just to find it closed. So, Jesus curses the barren tree. He goes straight up Harvey Updike on it. Jesus speaks against the tree, and within a day, it’s dead and will clearly bear fruit no more. This is the only time we see in the Gospels Jesus perform a miracle to curse.
So, Jesus wakes, and he’s hungry. Jesus had traveled quite a long distance and would have had limited provisions; so, it makes sense that He would have found himself to be very hungry.

Strange, but Intentional

“May no fruit ever come from you again!” But, as strange as this scene is, it’s intentional. You know, some people have pointed to this story about Jesus and said, “See, Jesus had a flawed character! He threw a hissy fit over not getting some figs He wanted.” But, my goodness, that is to miss the point of what Jesus was saying and what Matthew was trying to get across to his audience. You see, the NT shows Jesus to be the great Prophet that was to come. had long promised that Prophet even greater than Moses would come, that is the Messiah would come, He would speak as God with the Authority of God, and that is exactly what Jesus was doing here. Jesus wasn’t throwing a hissy fit; He was speaking prophetically and authoritatively. Prophets often did things that appeared out of character for purpose of vividly illustrating the power of what God was saying. Hosea married an unfaithful woman and remained faithful to her. Ezekiel cooked his meals over dung!

Condemnation of the Hypocrites

“no first-ripe fig my heart desires” You see, prophets didn’t just teach in parables; they lived them out, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. The Prophet Micah had said in that when the Messiah came that He would not find a ripe fig among the house of the Lord. That is, godliness would have disappeared. You see, in the fig tree, Jesus is giving a commentary on the worship of God among the people of God in the Temple of God. In the cursing of the fig tree, He is declaring a final judgement upon the Temple. The tree looked fruitful. It appeared impressive. From a distance, it seemed as though it was everything one could want. But, the truth was far different. It gave the appearance of fruitfulness, but no real fruit. It promised, but did not fulfill. It was impressive from the outside but revealed to be pointless to meet anyone’s actual need and to serve any real purpose. This is what Jesus saw in the Temple. This was the hypocrisy that He was condemning. They had a form of religion, but they didn’t have the real thing. They had leaves of the gospel, but no fruit. They had the law, but they didn’t have love and grace. They had their rituals, but they had humility. They had their sacrifices, but they had no mercy.

Jesus Still Judges Hypocrisy

APPLICATION: But, brothers and sisters, what we must realize is that Jesus still judges religious hypocrisy today. Jesus is just as repulsed in our day by those who give the appearance of godliness on the outside without any love for him on the inside. Lig Duncan says it like this: “Hypocrisy happens when a person cares more about what other people think about them than what God thinks about them. A hypocrite is is more concerned with the loss of their reputation than they are the loss of their souls. The are more concerned with prestige than with character.” What about you? Last Sunday night, I had a small group in my home, and I asked what they thought would cause Jesus to flip over the tables in our church, and somebody said, “Hypocrisy.” And, brothers and sisters, that’s true.

The Temple Will Be Obsolete

It was for their hypocrisy that Jesus condemned the Temple. The failure of the Temple shows the need for a greater Temple. If you can't trust the priests and the experts in the law, who can you trust? If the Temple is corrupt, who and what doesn't know corruption? The Temple is yet another example how far short man-made goodness falls of the holiness of God.. It shows us how badly we need Christ. And so, on Monday, Christ would curse the fig tree, and by Sunday, He would render the Temple obsolete. On Monday, He flipped the tables. On Sunday, He would tear the veil. He had comes to mediate between God and man so personally that He would make so that the very Spirit of God could come to live within the heart of sinful man, and sinful man could survive it! Because Christ was with him! There was no longer a curtain! There was a new Temple, and that Temple was Christ, and He would indwell every, single one of his people so that they would be Temples of his Spirit.

The Stunned Disciples

“When the disciples saw it, they marveled” So, Jesus curses the fig tree, they go to the Temple, where they must’ve spent a considerable amount of time, Jesus flips the tables, and the day has passed. The next morning comes rolling around, and they’re likely going from the same house in the same direction once again when the disciples see the tree that Jesus had spoken against the day before. Perhaps, it had not all registered with them the morning before, but it’s registering now. Maybe they had not realized that Jesus was making such a statement about his authority the morning before, but they realize the next day, because they look up at this tree that had appeared so healthy only the day before, a tree healthy enough to have leaves before most other trees were bearing leaves, and now it’s withered away. Now, don’t think of this as being a little dry. I don’t think that would’ve impressed the disciples much. This tree is brown and brittle. It’s dead and obviously so. And, the disciples ‘marvel’ at what they see, a word often reserved for crowds that witness Jesus performing his miracles.
“if you have will not only what has been done....” Jesus’ response to his disciples amazement is remarkable in and of itself. He says, “You think this is impressive? You think it’s remarkable that I spoke and a tree withered? If you have faith and don’t doubt, you’ll be able to tell this mountain to jump into the sea, and it will ask you how high! This tree will be small potatoes, man!” Most likely, as Jesus is saying these very words, He and his disciples are standing on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Dead Sea. You can imagine Jesus pointing to the mountain and then to the Sea, and He tells him how the mountain will obey them.

Jesus’ Church Will Not Be Like the Temple

“whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive” So, Jesus, ever the disciple-maker, presses the glory of what’s just happened even deeper into the hearts of his disciples. They are astounded by what they’ve just seen. You can imagine that they’re still reeling from the scene at the Temple where Jesus has flipped the Tables, and now they’re putting all of this together that the cursing of the fig tree is the condemnation of the Temple. And so, Jesus goes further. Here’s what He’s saying: If you live by faith, if you walk by faith, if you live by my power, if you live filled with my Spirit, if you go in my authority, you will not be like this tree! You will not be like the Temple. You will bear fruit! You WILL! Your life will bear the fruit of godliness. Your church will bear the fruit of my power. It won’t be cold and dead and lifeless like this tree. It won’t be pretty on the outside and fruitless when you get up close like the Temple. NO! Because I will make it so! You come to me! You trust me! I’m going to supply the power, and so you WILL bear fruit!

Do You Pray?

“you ask in prayer” Jesus anchors this conversation around the subject of prayer. He is teaching his disciples that they will walk with a moment-by-moment realization and experience of his power through the exercise of prayer. He says, “Whatever you ask for in faith you will receive.” And, quite simply this begins with: Do you actually pray? Do you actually ask for it? The primary reason that God doesn't answer our prayers is that we don't pray. Let me ask you a question. What if: Your kids became exactly who you prayed for them to be. Who would your kids be? Your marriage became exactly what you prayed for it to become. Who would your wife/husband be? What type of wife/husband would you be? Your church became exactly the kind of church your were pleading with God that it would become. What glimpse of God would your church see? Every person you begged God to save yesterday were saved today. How many would be saved?

Prayer Demonstrates Faith

“if you have faith” Jesus puts a condition on the types of prayers that will experience his power. That is, they are prayer of faith. Perhaps, nothing demonstrates our faith like prayer. We’re literally talking to someone we can’t see. Prayer is the Christian method of moment-by-moment dependence upon the power of Christ. Praying by faith in Jesus is what makes our prayers Christian. I wonder if many of our prayers are powerless because they are nothing more than ritualistic, mindless murmurings that think nothing of the glory and the power and the kindness of the risen Christ! The Pharisees prayed, but they had no power. Jesus prayed, and trees melted! Who's prayers do yours most emulate?
Faith in the Bible is not merely mustering up as much belief as you can. It’s pleading with God and pleading with God so that you know God is with you, and when you know God is with you, it’s taking a step that you would never take otherwise. Think of Elijah. 850 false prophets and an angry queen. David, a shepherd boy, facing down a warrior giant. Moses, standing on the edge of the Red Sea with untrained men with the mightiest military in all the world in pursuit.
APPLICATION: Back yourself into a corner with God! That’s what Jesus is telling his disciple to do. That’s how He is teaching his disciples to pray. Understand that He is not teaching them to pray for airplanes. He’s teaching to pray so that the book of Acts will happen. He’s teaching them to pray so that men will sing as they are killed with rocks and so that jail cells will open without explanation. If God isn’t directing you to do some things that are terrifying to you, if God isn’t directing you to do some things that are beyond your competencies and beyond your comfort levels and beyond your own abilities to carry them out, keep praying, keeping being faithful. Because, brothers and sisters, the greatest joys in the Christian life, the greatest stories you’ll tell, the greatest memories you’ll have, the greatest movements you’ll witness are those when you back yourself into a corner with God where He has to provide or you will fail.

The Missionary Heart

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being at the IMB for some missions training. There, they have a wall of men and women who have been SBC missionaries that have been martyred for the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of those was Karen Watson, who was martyred in 2004 at the age of 38 in Iraq. Before her death, Karen hand-wrote a letter to her pastors that was only to be read in the even of her death. The original letter was framed, and I was able to read it. In the letter, Karen defined the missionary’s heart like this: The missionary heart cares more than some think is wise, risks more than some think is safe, dreams more than some think is practical, and expects more than some think is possible. Brothers and sisters, that is what is means to back yourself into a corner with God.

Do Not Doubt

“if you do not doubt” Jesus tells his disciples that if they are to know this power, this glory, this wonder, that they pray in faith and not doubt. They must embrace this missionary heart and not flinch, even when the world is closing in. But how? How do you not always pray with a ‘probably not’ in the back of your mind. How do we remove the doubt from our hearts? How do you live like Karen? How do you live like Peter would go on to live? How do you live with a moment-by-moment dependence and trust in the power and provision of Christ? We must pray with our minds full of Christ and not ourselves! We must not simply start with Jesus and end with Jesus, but He must permeate the whole thing! Think about how small and poor and weak and scared you are, and you will doubt. Think about what you have seen and what you know and what makes sense and you will doubt. But, think about Christ and his power and his might and his glory and his resurrection, and your doubts will wither like this fig tree!
You see, Jesus’ church is greater than Israel’s Temple. For in Jesus’ Church, the presence of God is within us and the power of God flows through us and the holiness of God covers us. Wherever we are, wherever we go, He’s there! So, You will bear fruit!
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