Good morning Gathering! It’s a joy to be with you this morning and a privilege to open the Scriptures together. It seems the more I preach, the more I feel a sense of humility when I get to stand up here and open the Word with the body of Christ.
It always reminds me how dependent we all are on the Spirit of God to lead us into understanding and to lead us in the application of God’s Word. And that’s certainly what we’re praying for this morning.
If you have a Bible with you, I’d invite you to grab that and turn to the Gospel of Mark and chapter 11. We are continuing our study of the Gospel of Mark this morning.
If you were here last weekend you’ll remember that Pastor Sam (from Red Tree) began chapter 11 for us, and we’ll be continuing in chapter 11 this morning by looking at verses 12-26.
Let me pray for our time together in God’s Word and then we’ll read our text. Pray with me.
This is an interesting passage. It contains two interactions that Jesus has; one is very well known & pretty straightforward. It’s of Jesus cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem (we’re all probably familiar with that one). The other account is a little more obscure, and it’s also a little confusing to be honest. It’s Jesus cursing a fig tree.
And at first glance these two things don’t really seem to fit together, but what I think you’ll see as I read this is that Mark intends for these two accounts to go together so that we might have a fuller understanding of a really important principle. It’s a principle that Jesus was teaching His disciples here, it’s just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.
One way to think about this text is as a visual parable. Jesus was always teaching through parables. What I believe He’s doing here is giving His disciples a visual parable.
He’s teaching them through His actions about something that is vitally important for them (and us) to understand. We’ll get into that in just a few minutes, but first, let’s read our text together.
“On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 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. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
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. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.
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.” 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. And when evening came they went out of the city.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 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.
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 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.” (Mark 11:12-25)
Let’s take just a moment and reset the scene. I want to make sure we’re clear on what’s happening in this picture. Sam highlighted last weekend that Jesus has just entered the city of Jerusalem.
This is what’s known as the Triumphal Entry. It is the closest that the Jewish people have come to actually worshiping Jesus for who He really is. You remember this incredible scene of Jesus riding in on a donkey as the people lined the street and threw their cloaks and palm branches down in front of Jesus. They all shouted, “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
It really is a beautiful picture and if we were there, knowing what we know and witnessing this in real time, we might think for a moment that the people actually get it. We might think for a moment that they actually see Jesus for who He is and they’re submitted to Him as their king.
But we know that they didn’t really get it. They didn’t understand what was coming later in the week. Jesus did. He understood. He knew exactly what was going to happen. He knew that the praises would turn to jeering and the “Hosannas” will become “Crucify Him!” by week’s end.
It really is a bizarre picture as Jesus enters the city. And then Mark tells us that the first thing that Jesus did when He got into Jerusalem is He went to the Temple to have a look around. And then He left. Mark says that it was late in the evening so Jesus took His disciples and went back to Bethany for the night.
And that’s where we pick up our text this morning. It’s the next day and Jesus goes back to Jerusalem with His disciples and heads straight for the Temple. But on the way something interesting happens. Jesus stops to get some fruit off a fig tree, but but there are no figs.
Mark says that it’s not the season for figs and so Jesus curses the fig tree and forbids it from ever producing figs again. Which sounds strange to us. Why would Jesus would curse a tree for not producing something that it’s not supposed to produce. I’ll explain more about that in a moment.
Mark says that they continue to the Temple and, as Jesus enters, He wrecks shop (which American slang for He turns the Temple upside down). We see Jesus begin turning over tables and kicking over chairs. He drives the money changers and merchants out of the Temple. It’s a display of righteous anger, passion, zeal for worship and for the house of God.
And then, when evening comes, they leave the Temple and go out of the city again. The next day they come back the same way and see the fig tree that (within 24 hours) had died and withered to its roots. And this is where Jesus explains something to his disciples about faith & about fruit (which is where we’ll end our discussion this morning as well).
And that’s what’s happening in the text. If we’re going to be honest, it begs a few questions. Like, “Why is Jesus so angry at the Temple?” And, “What is up with Him cursing a fig tree doesn’t have figs on it?” And, “Why is Mark telling us these things together?” And, “What does all of this mean when you put it all together?”
Well, let’s back up and see if we can figure out what’s happening. There is 1 overarching theme that Jesus is teaching His disciples in this text. I want to talk about that first. And then, with that understanding, we’ll be able to look at two different responses that this text highlights for us. Sound good?
First, let’s deal with the main idea that Jesus is driving us toward. And to understand it, we have to recognize that there is a connection between the cleansing of the temple and the cursing of the fig tree.
Mark is using them together to help us interpret Jesus’ meaning. And the principle is very straightforward: Jesus is coming against fruitless, empty, wrongly-motivated religious activity. It’s pretty telling that Jesus’ first action after being hailed by the people as King is to pass judgment on the religious leaders as being opposed to true worship of God.
Here’s what we have to understand. In the Old Testament the fig tree was often used to symbolize Israel and her standing before God. I’ll give you a couple of examples:
Jeremiah 8:13 — “When I would gather them, declares the Lord, there are no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree; even the leaves are withered, and what I gave them has passed away from them.”
Hosea 9:10 — “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers…”
Multiple times in the Old Testament the fig tree was used to symbolize Israel. Jesus, in much the same way, is making a pronouncement on the condition of the Jewish people. That they are fruitless. That they appear to have life on the outside (the green leaves), but they are without fruit.
Now, I need to to mention the season of the fig tree (as Mark mentions it). The way Mark phrases this makes it sound like there shouldn’t be fruit on this fig tree, but that’s not really the case. In fact, the variety of fig trees that grow in Palestine have two harvests.
You get an early harvest that grows off of last year’s shoot, and guess when that comes? It comes in the spring, with the leaf. So seeing a fig tree in full leaf in Palestine, you would expect to find figs.They’re not the full, big figs that you get in summer with the main harvest. These are small and not as tender, but they’re edible. And so, when you think about it, Jesus is communicating something really beautiful here.
You see, this whole time through the book, Mark has been telling us that God is doing something new. He’s been telling us that the kingdom of God is at hand. That something wonderful, something infinitely better is coming. That the fruit of this new thing is going to be unimaginable.
But that doesn’t mean that what God was doing before, to make a way for this new thing. should be fruitless. No, Israel was meant to produce fruit. Maybe not as big. Maybe not as wonderful as this new fruit that was ushered in through Christ. But Israel should be producing something, and they’re not.
And this is the visual parable that Jesus is telling of Israel. That, even though there are leaves and the tree gives the appearance of health, it’s not producing fruit. And that is not God’s design. God’s design is that healthy things will grow and produce fruit.
I think the temptation is for us to think that the old system was broken and wasn’t meant to produce fruit. That’s nonsense! The sacrificial system, the law, the prophets, the judges, the kings; all of it was meant to be temporary, yes! It was all meant to point to something permanent, yes! But it wasn’t broken. There should have been fruit. That’s what Jesus is saying.
Now, that shapes how we see Jesus’ interaction in the Temple. Like that fig tree, the religious culture of the day had the appearance of bearing fruit but was not actually bearing fruit. There appeared to be life because of the presence of the leaves, but no fruit was actually coming from the tree. Jesus finds a lot of religious activity in the Temple, but no faith.
In the space that was intended for Gentiles to come and pray, Jesus instead finds money changers and people selling animals for sacrifices. Something given by God for worship of Him and for His glory was being used by people for their own gain. And here comes Jesus, as Lord of the Temple, to purify it. You see, Jesus has come to restore the Temple to it’s original function; that it would serve as a house of prayer for all the nations. And so, He drives them out.
I think we need to pause here and ask a question of ourselves (and I’m including myself in this). Jesus still does this today, doesn’t He? He comes in with loving and righteous intent to cleanse His Temple. But the Temple is no longer the Temple.
We are the Temple. Just like in this picture, where the Temple is being used for something other than it’s intended purpose, we often take the things given by God for worship and we turn those things into ourselves. Jesus’ purpose is to restore us to our original function; that we would display His glory to all Nations.
That’s true of all of us, as He calls out idolatry in our hearts. I think this text calls us to ask some important questions: “What is the quality of my faith?” “Is it a faith that’s fruitful or is it a faith that’s just leafy, but lacks fruit?” “Do I just look good on the outside, busy going about my religious activity, doing the right things, saying the right things, but is that producing fruit?” These are the questions that address the motivations of the heart. This is the level where true worship takes place.
And the reality is for us all that there will often be things in our heart that do not align with biblical faith. The question is: “How will we respond when the Lord of the Temple comes to cleanse us?”
Church, Jesus is always calling things out in us. He is always seeking to cleanse and purify His temple. And the natural inclination of our flesh is to rebel against that purification. Our flesh does not want to give up power, and authority and control. And so we have a choice to make.
Are we going to press into the Lord of the Temple and allow Him to purify us, or are we going to respond in fear and flee His presence in order to continue exercising power and authority in our own lives? That’s the response that we see from the chief priests and the scribes.
They sought to destroy Him because they were afraid of losing power and control. And the call on us to lay down our idolatry is no different. It’s the call to joyful submission that comes from faith.
After all of this, as Jesus and His disciples are walking past that same fig tree the next day, Jesus shows us what the response to His work should be. He teaches His disciples about faith. He tells the disciples that they should trust God to remove whatever is hindering them from bearing fruit for Him. That they should exercise faith as God lovingly cleanses them from the things that are keeping them from intimacy with God.
Jesus uses this image of being able to move a mountain. He’s telling us what this kind of faith looks like in the life of the believer. Things that should be impossible are possible with God where the believer is walking in this kind of faith.
Now, before we close, I want to give you a work of caution about verse 24 and then I want to challenge all of us to wrestle with the application of this text. First, a word of caution. Jesus says this in verse 24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” I probably don’t even have to say the word of caution because you already see the danger here and understand the historical abuse of a verse like this.
Yes, we should pray boldly and believe that God will grant us what we pray for. When we pray according to His will and in submission to that will. This is not an invitation to treat God like a vending machine or a butler. Jesus has just taught us about submission to the Will and Purposes of God through faith. And so our prayers must be rightly motivated and in line with God’s Will. Jesus, in fact, models this very thing in the Garden of Gethsemane later in Mark:
“And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)
So what do we do with the application of this? Well, I can tell you how God is leading me to apply it in my life and maybe that will serve as an encouragement to you. The Spirit is asking me, “Where are the areas of your life that are not properly motivated toward the glory of God and being used for His purposes?”
If you are really willing to ask God to search your heart in that way, He will reveal areas where you’re turning your heart into a “den of robbers”. And then you have a choice: repent or run.
Let’s close in prayer.