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Mark: The Tree and the Temple {part 2: the Tree} [Mark 11:12-26]

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Mark: The Tree and the Temple {part 2: the tree} []

Last week we began looking at this section in Mark, where Mark uses what is called in Hebrew literature an inclusio, which is a literary device where two teachings are wrapped around one central lesson. The cursing of the fig tree story is bracketed around Jesus cleansing the temple. The purpose being the bracketed material, the fig tree, is an enacted parable, as it were, for the purpose Jesus cleanses the temple. Enacted parables were common to the prophets of the OT as well [ex. The broken flask].
Last week we came to a section in Mark, where Mark uses what is called in Hebrew literature an inclusio, which is a literary device where two teachings are wrapped around one central lesson. The cursing of the fig tree story is bracketed around Jesus cleansing the temple. The purpose being the bracketed material, the fig tree, is an enacted parable, as it were, for the purpose Jesus cleanses the temple. Enacted parables were common to the prophets of the OT as well [ex. The broken flask].
While these two accounts [from Mark’s gospel] are difficult for us to deal with, in that if you look at one account by itself you might be tempted to think this is Jesus acting out of character, but when placed together they help us understand the lesson of what is going on here. Last week we focused on the temple this weeks focus will be on the fig tree and hopefully we’ll see a little better and with more clarity why these two events are so important.
While these two accounts [from Mark’s gospel] are difficult for us to deal with, in that if you look at one account by itself you might be tempted to think this is Jesus acting out of character, but when placed together they help us understand the lesson of what is going on here. Last week we looked at the temple while this weeks focus will be on the fig tree and hopefully we’ll see a little better and with more clarity why these two events are so important
Stand for the reading of the word of God []
Stand for the reading of the word of God []
As pastor my primary job is the preaching and teaching of the word of God. While preaching and teaching go hand in hand, many things go into preparing a sermon or a lesson. Prayer, study, meditating on the word…one of those aspects is interpretation…interpretation of the bible. The Pastor/teacher is not only called to prepare a meal from the word of God for the people but also to help the people eat from the word of God for themselves…i.e. cook for themselves. Popular today is cooking shows, there are a ton of them, where someone goes through the steps of preparing a meal so that audience can cook it for themselves…well that’s one of the purposes of the pastor/teacher as well.
As pastor my primary job is to preach and teach the word of God. While much goes into the teaching and preaching of God’s word…there is prayer, study, meditation, etc. one of the aspects of preparing a lesson is interpretation of the bible. Interpretation of the bible is key to clearly relaying the word of God to others. While my job is to prepare a meal for others to eat from out of the word of God, it’s also my job to help people eat from the word of God for themselves…i.e. to cook for themselves. Today there is a plethora of cooking shows where someone shows how to prepare a meal so you at home can do it for yourself…the same is with the pastor/teacher helping to understanding the word of God.
So I want to give you 5 principles for interpretation, you’ll notice these 5 are what I used on this particular passage. [this is not an exhaustive list]
In saying that I wanted to share with you 5 principles for interpreting the word of God [not exhaustive list] you’ll probably notice I used these 5 in our text today
Interpret the obscure text by the clear text: some texts are difficult to get so we need the clear texts to help us in our understanding of the obscure
Interpret the obscure text by the clear text. some texts are difficult to understand, so we need to use what is clear to understand what’s not clear.
interpret the partial text by the complete text: You’ve heard me say it many times…context is king! Our passage today is a good example of not only looking at the partial but at the whole.
interpret the partial by the complete: you’ve heard me say it over and over again…context is king! This text is a good example of not looking at only a partial part of the text for understanding.
Compare scripture with scripture: the best commentary on the bible is the bible itself. [the next point goes along with it]
Use the OT as a guide to understand the NT and the OT is subject to the NT i.e. it’s fulfillment is in Jesus. Remember the OT anticipates the NT and the NT is the fulfillment of the OT. You need them both to fully understand God’s word.
compare scripture to scripture: the best commentary on the bible is the bible itself…which leads into the next point
Work to understand the particular meaning of the particular text: is what’s being said literal or figurative? Are there other places where this happens? This is another text that is often taken very generally when there is a particular point.
use the OT as a guide to understand the NT and the remember the OT is subject to the NT fulfillment in Christ. The OT anticipates the NT the NT is the fulfillment of the OT. You need both to fully understand God’s word.
Work to understand the particular meaning of the particular text. Is what’s being said literal or figurative? Are there other times this has happened? This text today has been taken often too generally and not understood by the particular meaning it portrays.
That particular meaning is…Jesus comes to Jerusalem, the center of religious life, looking for spiritual fruit and true worship and what does he find? He finds a tree that makes a promise it can’t fulfill and a temple that is full of activity that incurs God’s wrath. i.e. there is no fruit and false worship where there should be fruitfulness and true worship. Three things that should be evident in the lives of God’s people, fruit, faith, and forgiveness…Jesus finds none…and His divine judgment is announced.
You’ll find in the OT the fig tree is often used to represent the status of Israel. [; ] {hence our principle #3&4} So Jesus comes into the center of religious activity and finds and empty fruitless people that have no consideration for the things of God. This fig tree gives the appearance that it is able to satisfy hunger but it failed to deliver that promise. Israel had made that same promise, with all their religious activity but the truth was there was no substance in all that activity…i.e. it’s useless!
This should serve as a warning to us in the church today as well. If God did this to Israel, the natural branches, what makes us think He will not do the same to us, the unnatural branches, if we are fruitless, faithless, and unforgiving? Let’s learn...

The Lesson of the fig tree []

The danger of appearance without reality. As I said, there was a lot of religious activity going on in Jerusalem at that time, but it was fruitless. There was the appearance of fruit but the reality was it was all for show there was no fruit at all…just like this fig tree.
Tree-huggers of our day may have a problem with what Jesus did here, the poor tree didn’t do anything wrong. Remember this miracle is used for an acted parable in teaching the disciples about fruit, faith, and forgiveness.
You may look at verse 13 and say, ‘well it wasn’t time for figs yet.’ True, figs usually ripen from June-August so it wasn’t that time yet…though on occasion fig trees will bear fruit earlier. However fig trees bear fruit first and then the leaves come on. So the fact that this tree had leaves but no figs is an indication that it will never bear fruit, it’ll only give the deceitful appearance that it bears fruit. You see the lesson? It’s quite clear actually.
The same is true for the people of God, there is a danger in appearing to be religious but only in outward appearance. If we recall this lesson was taught by Jesus to the Pharisees who were consumed with the outward appearance in chapter 7, washing the cups and kettles. They were so consumed with rules and regulations they missed the true purpose of God, to worship Him in spirit and truth and to love others as yourself.
There are still those today who play church, come to church regularly, give money to the church, do things that Christians are supposed to do but it’s all just appearance and not reality. They are more concerned with rules and regulations than God’s word and sharing the gospel.
There is a necessity of fruit. Jesus told His disciples they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another. Jesus taught in , any branch that does not bear fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire. There is a necessity of fruit in the life of the believer. All through Mark we’ve seen Jesus teaching the disciples this basic lesson. Being a follower of Jesus is not about keeping this or that rule…it’s about true repentance and belief in Jesus as savior and out of that comes a life that, like Jesus obey’s God’s word and serves God’s purpose.
This week at boys camp I taught the boys about service one night. I taught the boys that we should serve not because where asked to but because Christ came and served us and gave His life a ransom for us therefore our response should be to serve God however we can. Many of those boys took that to heart as throughout the rest of the week several boys would pick up trash, sweep, help set up things, assist the cooks. It always blesses me more than you can know when I spend my time down there with them boys to see God working in young peoples lives. The same should be said of us…is it evident that God is working in your life?
The authority of the creator to judge. So we can easily get the first two points, the danger of appearance without reality, the necessity of fruit, but I think we can sometimes miss this third lesson…the authority of the creator to judge. John’s gospel tells us that,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
The Preincarnate Work of Christ
John referring to Jesus as the Word made flesh, points out some important truths…Jesus was in the beginning with God and He is God and all things were created by Him…nothing was made that He didn’t make, nothing has life that He didn’t give life to…therefore the creator, Jesus, has the authority to judge according to His good will. Jesus has the authority to judge.
3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it
Often we overlook that part and just view Jesus as this peaceful servant…and in his earthly ministry that was primarily what he was…but we know from other areas in scripture that Jesus is also the judge of the world. we see Jesus as the judge who comes treading the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God…who judges and makes war. Here in this fig tree lesson where given a small glimpse into the authority and sovereignty of Jesus as creator and judge.

The lesson of the withered fig tree []

A surprise lesson in Christ dominion. Jumping down to verse 20, twenty-four hours later what was once a full and luxuriant tree full of foliage, though no fruit, no is dry and lifeless…dried up to the root…withered away. To the surprise of Peter and the other disciples they see the tree Jesus cursed and are amazed at how quickly it’s dried up. They are not surprised to the fact that the tree is withered but to the speed in which it happened.
The natural order of things, when a tree dies it is a slow process, it begins to show signs of death a few branches here and there before it totally rots away…deterioration does happen over night. But in this instance that is exactly what happens. Now Jesus doesn’t interpret this event for us he goes, verse 22, right into have faith in God. But I wonder, and I don’t think it’s a far stretch, I wonder if there is something here to help me think through the age of the universe. What’s on display here is Jesus’ authority and dominion so it’s not a far stretch to think in light of the entire universe here.
As you know and have heard many people argue for a very very old universe, they say it’s billions and billions of years old. Because this is pounded into our heads, the mindset is often you couldn’t possible think the the earth is actually quite young? Yes I could think that. Scientist say, “it has to be old, look at this rock structure or that whatever”… they say it’ has to be billions of years old and if your a sensible person you say, I wonder how they came up with that number?
I can believe in a young earth and heres why, because the creator of the universe has the power and authority to change the program as He chooses. Whether he has or hasn’t I don’t know for sure obviously, you can go home and think about that all afternoon if you like. But what struck me was this…what was so dramatic about this event wasn’t the fact the tree withered but the speed in which it did. The natural process of things didn’t go as normal but was changed by the supernatural activity of the creator.
So is it so hard to believe that the God who created the universe could make it any way he chooses? Is it so hard to think that the God who created all things could make something very young look very old for whatever reason who chose? The question if who bows to who? Does Jesus the creator bow to contemporary science or does contemporary science bow to the creator God? I know what I say.
The necessity of faith. It appears as though Jesus avoids their response to the withered fig tree but he actually drives the lesson home by teaching them about faith, prayer, and forgiveness. We have the power of God in us as believers, let’s not forget this truth. Jesus is going to use an extreme illustration to teach us about faith. Now notice the connections in this section…the absence of prayer=a lack of faith=a fruitless temple. You see how it all connects? what was supposed to be a house of prayer had become a den of thieves, because of a lack of faith in God to answer their prayers and a lack of trusting in God’s promises, which lead to a fruitless temple and a fruitless people. We should take note of this section.
A couple of things about faith…as I’ve noted before people today have no problem with faith, things like have faith, or keep the faith are not uncommon but that empty nonsense..notice Jesus points out to us what faith should look like.
Verse 22 “have faith in God” the object of our faith is God. faith in faith or faith in yourself is empty…but when the object of your faith is God…then it’s the object of your faith that gives faith it’s significance! You with me? The object of our faith is what matters and our faith is in Jesus Christ alone!
Verse 23, the nature of faith. the nature of faith is complete confidence in God to do even the impossible. Notice the phrase, “does not doubt in his heart” that’s the nature of faith complete confidence in God to do even what we know is absolutely impossible.
The extreme phrase Jesus uses “the mountain be removed and cast into the sea” was actually a very common phrase used in Rabbinic tradition, they used it figuratively for God doing something impossible or incredible. The disciples understood what Jesus was saying…have complete confidence in God to do something impossible or incredible.
So many today have taken this verse out of context to make it mean what it was never intended to mean. The lesson is simple…God wants to do for you things that are impossible or incredible, when we take him at his word! what comes to my mind is Abraham as an old man waiting on God to give him a son. 100 year old men don’t have babies! Every year Abraham waited and trusted on God, that God would do what He promised to do when we take him at his word.
Jesus builds upon the necessity of faith with the effectiveness of prayer. v.24. Read verse 24. this is quite a statement isn’t it? How often do we side step verses like this? People say Jesus said ask whatever and you’ll have it…and we respond, well that’s not really what he means so we side step it. This is where those principles of interpretation come into play.
You can’t take it a make it say whatever you want it to say, you can’t take it out of it’s context and shape it some other way. Trust God to give, believe that He will answer according to His will, and receive what He gives in faith.
the characteristics of believing prayer
humility: I don’t know what to pray
serenity: opposite of the hypocritical prayer of the religious leaders, believe God
consistency: ask, ask, ask, don’t just give up and say, I guess God’s not going to answer, remember Abraham
charity: pray in love
submission to the sovereignty of God: submitting in prayer to God’s will
Here’s what you need to do with this verse 24, if you take it without the principles and characteristics of prayer how did it work for Jesus. At the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed what? Lord let this cup pass from me? Jesus didn’t get what he asked for? Did Jesus not enough faith to get his prayer answered??? No he was in submission to the sovereign will of God…nevertheless not my will but thine be done.
One commentator said, “When prayer is the source of faith’s power and the means of it’s strength, God’s sovereignty is it’s only restriction.”
This nonsense today that your prayer was not answered because of your inadequate faith is disheartening. A good friend of mine’s sister had cancer, and refused treatment because the church she attended said you only need to have faith. Well after she died of cancer they had the audacity to tell the family that if she had only had enough faith she could have beat cancer. Friends, that is appalling!
True believing prayer is not attempting to get God to change His will to fit our plans, it’s passionate pursuit to see God’s plans accomplished in us! When we pray we trust God’s power to give us what we ask but also we trust in His wisdom to give us what we need. I trust God enough to have him turn me down if he chooses. We may get answers we don’t want, find things we’re not looking for, and doors opened we don’t expect.
The need to forgive others. [v.25-26] This final lesson on forgiving others is a hard one for us if we take Jesus at his word. Some people have the mindset of “I’ll forgive but I won’t forget.” That’s kind of like burying the hatchet but leaving the handle sticking out of the ground. The lesson is a straightforward one but difficult. God forgives the penitent person and the penitent person has a forgiving heart. I truly believe this may be the number one killer of genuine spiritual life…unforgiveness
Don’t say you are a praying person or that you are seeking God when you are holding enmity in your heart toward your brothers and sisters. If Christ has forgiven us why would we not forgive others? Three things that will destroy a spiritual life are 1) immorality 2) anger 3) an unforgiving spirit.
Those three things will keep you from hearing the bible taught and benefiting from it. I’ve heard people tell me, I come to church but I don’t get anything out of it…if that’s the case you ought to ask yourself.
Are you filling your mind with filth?
Are you an angry person?
Are you harboring bitterness and unforgiveness in your heart?
Those things will kill your spiritual life! It’s no wonder what Jesus did to the tree…no fruit=God’s judgment....we had better check our own lives for fruit.
Are you bold in your faith in God? do you trust Him to do the impossible and something incredible? Better check our lives for faith.
Are you an unforgiving person? We’ve been forgiven much, do we forgive? Check you life for forgiveness for it’s fundamental for the believer.
When Jesus comes and examines my life does He find fruit, faith, and forgiveness?
Lord forgive us we pray.
The New King James Version. (1982). (). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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