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Is There Any Fruit?

SUFFERING KING: THE BOOK OF MARK:
Is There Any Fruit?: Mark 11:12-14
Pastor John Nicholas
Sunday December 13, 2020

Last week, we talked about the coronation parade of Jesus.  His triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem.  His return for His final Passover celebration.  The celebration that honors what God has done to save the nation of Israel out of slavery to the Egyptians.  The God, who Passed over the first born of the Israelites.  The Father who, in a few short days, will not Passover His Son so that others may be saved.

Jesus, who traveled as a king on a humble donkey to the gates of Jerusalem.  Jesus who was honored as a conqueror by the crowds as they shouted Hosanna (save us) and threw their cloaks and branches onto the road to make His way smooth.  Jesus seeing the temple, His temple as they passed over the Mount of Olives.

And the first thing that He does when He gets to Jerusalem is to survey His temple.  He looked and saw the condition.  The outer courts.  His first act after the coronation parade into Jerusalem.  They had spent the night in Bethany.  Probably with Lazarus,  Martha and Mary.  With the disciples.

Now, it is early Monday morning.

V12

12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.

It is now the morning after the eventful day.  The cheering crowds, with shouts of Hosanna – Lord save us, fresh in the ears of the disciples.  Probably relishing the previous events.  Maybe forgetting about how Jesus said He must suffer and die.  Or at least pushing that idea to the back of their minds.  Based on the reception it does seem impossible that in a few short days Jesus would be murdered.

But not to Jesus.  With focus and drive, with purposeful intention they wake and leave.  There is no wasted effort or motion in Jesus.  It is all with single goal in mind.  The cross.  And they left Bethany; early.

Now it would be important to note that the first meal of the day probably did not occur when they got up.  More than likely breakfast is mid morning.  Now they are travelling back to Jerusalem and Jesus is hungry.  Remember He is not only God but He is also man.  Incarnate which means He gets tired and hungry.  And this sets the scene.

Jesus is hungry –

V13

13 Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.

Jesus is hungry, a comment that must have been made since it is referenced in v12 that He was hungry.  And He spies a fig tree in the distance.  And it is in leaf.  Maybe it is towards Bethesda, as we spoke the name means house of green figs.  Or maybe it is closer to the Mount of Olives.  We just don’t know for certain.  All we do know is that it was on the road back to Jerusalem and it was a tree that was not in a private field (how do we know this?  Jesus would not steal, and a fig tree probably would not fall under the allowance of gleaning for a stranger).  Plus the fact that Matthew says that the tree wasn’t itself.

We need to stop here for a moment.  We need to discuss the time, the season.  As we spoke last week it was Sunday at the start of the most amazing week that ever existed.  And now the time is Monday morning, before the mid morning breakfast.  So we have the time, but what about the season.  We know that they came to Jerusalem for the Passover.  That puts the season into the month of either March or April, possibly the first week of May.

And why is this important?  Because the fig tree has leaves.  Figs are in season from June through November.  Keep this in mind.

Because Jesus is hungry and because He sees the green leaves and He, and the disciples, go to investigate.  And what is discovered?  It is just a tree full of leaves.  Green leaves and no fruit.  It gives the appearance that it should have ripe figs.

And Mark makes the statement that it was not the season for figs.  This is a clue to what will happen and the meaning thereof.

V14

14 And He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.

Jesus goes to the leafy fig tree because He is hungry.  He finds no fruit because, as Mark records, it is not the season for figs.  Then Jesus curses the tree, saying that it will never produce fruit from this moment forward.  In fact, the tree will wither and die.  With the ending, “and His disciples heard.”

I think that we can all say that a brief look at this passage certainly shows, what appears to be, some unusual behavior by Jesus.  First this is the only miracle by Jesus that is negative in its outcome.  And when we examine these three verses it does not seem to be fitting with the character of Jesus.  I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that we are not to take these verses out of context either.  In other words they sit right between the coronation parade/temple inspection and the cleansing of the temple.

Maybe our thoughts run something like this – He knew it wasn’t the season for figs, He checked any way and found what He suspected.   So why did He curse the poor fig tree?  I mean it didn’t do anything, it was out of season.  it wasn’t fair to the tree.

With this in mind there are two things we must address before we move forward.  First, this passage should cause you to reflect and consider who you know Jesus to be.  In other words Jesus either is God or He is just a Rabbi.  If He is a rabbi then recoiling at the cursing of the tree is warranted.  However, if He is God then the tree is part of His creation and the ‘potter can do what he wants with the clay.’  Secondly, we should not impose humanity on the tree.  The tree is neither good nor bad.

We must always keep this in mind, especially here.  Jesus is 100% God and 100% Man.  He is deity incarnate in ancient Palestine.  Creation was by Him – Colossians 1:16.  Jesus is walking and living in His creation.  This is His road, this is His town, this is His tree.  All these things exist because of Him.

Colossians 1:16 (NASB)

16 for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

In fact didn’t we discuss this aspect last week?  Jesus went and inspected His temple.  He was looking at what condition it was in.  And this walk to the leafy fig tree without any fruit because it is out of season, is also with regard to the condition of His creation.

Jesus is using this opportunity to give a parable in physical form.  He is showing them something more than just a fig tree that has no fruit.  And this makes sense if we look closely and we will see that it is not hidden.  Mark’s concise description telling us that it is not the season for figs and that the disciples heard Jesus curse the tree is key.  These all point to something more than just seeking fruit to eat.  Jesus is heading back to Jerusalem, back to the temple, and this tree is all part of the road to the cross.

He saw the leaves.  They showed the vibrancy of the tree.  The leaves gave promise of fruit.  Jesus could see the leaves from a distance.  And He sees so much more than that.

Please turn to Micah 7:1-2.  Listen to what the prophet says, he says that there are no figs to gather.  He is using a simile to draw a comparison between the lack of figs and the fact that there are no godly people.

Micah 7:1-2 (NASB)

The Prophet Acknowledges Injustice

1 Woe to me! For I am

Like harvests of summer fruit, like gleanings of grapes.

There is not a cluster of grapes left to eat,

Nor an early fig, which I crave.

2 The godly person has perished from the land,

And there is no upright person among mankind.

All of them lie in wait for bloodshed;

Each of them hunts the other with a net.

Now turn to Hosea 9:10 where Hosea also equates Israel to the fruit of the fig tree.

Hosea 9:10 (NASB)

10 I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness;

I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first season.

But they came to Baal-peor and devoted themselves to shame,

And they became as detestable as that which they loved.

The action of Jesus is one of judgement that is displayed against the fig tree as a representative of Israel.  I think you can see this happening here.  Remembering the events of the day before.  Looking around the temple and returning to Bethany.  Now on His way back to the temple He is teaching the disciples through this acted out parable.

The bright green leaves of the tree were betrayed by the lack of figs.  In fact, we might say something like this fig tree in leaf without figs is like seeing a mansion all lit up, beautiful, opening the door and finding all the rooms empty.

In this case Jesus is making a statement about Israel.  Listen to Psalm 136.  Think about the everlasting kindness that God has demonstrated.  Israel has received countless blessings from God.  think about that list in Psalm 136 v23 and v24; He reminds us in our low estate, He rescued us from our enemies.  This the God whom Israel is supposed to worship.  Yet…

Israel who had the advantage of being chosen by God.  Those who were to be a set apart nation, a kingdom of priests.  This nation who was supposed to reflect God’s goodness and to bear the fruit of knowing God.  The fig tree shows the truth in this parable.

Israel is outwardly looking the part.  The ceremony, the celebrations, the priests.  Boasting about being God’s chosen people.  But inwardly they are barren.  Their leaves are bright and green, beckoning people to come and taste of the fruit.  but when they arrive there is nothing there.

Think about Jeremiah 8:4-13.  It is God’s judgment upon the land because of false teachers.  Scribes and priests.  Listen to the words, v8 Jerusalem turned away to continual apostasy.  V9 no man has repented of his wickedness.  V8 how can they say they are wise, there is a lying pen of the scribes.  V9 wise men are put to shame and they rejected the word of the Lord.  V10 everyone is greedy for gain, from the prophet to the priest.  V11 they heal superficially.  V12 they were not ashamed because of what they have done. And the answer in v13 is that the Lord will judge,  no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, the leaf will wither and what was given to them will pass away.

Jeremiah 8:4-13 (NASB)

4 “You shall say to them, ‘This is what the Lord says:

“Do people fall and not get up?

Does one turn away and not repent?

5 Why has this people, Jerusalem,

Turned away in continual apostasy?

They hold on to deceit,

They refuse to return.

6 I have listened and heard,

They have spoken what is not right;

No one repented of his wickedness,

Saying, ‘What have I done?’

Everyone turned to his own course,

Like a horse charging into the battle.

7 Even the stork in the sky

Knows her seasons;

And the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane

Keep to the time of their migration;

But My people do not know

The judgment of the Lord.

8 “How can you say, ‘We are wise,

And the Law of the Lord is with us’?

But behold, the lying pen of the scribes

Has made it into a lie.

9 The wise men are put to shame,

They are dismayed and caught;

Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord,

So what kind of wisdom do they have?

10 Therefore I will give their wives to others,

Their fields to new owners;

Because from the least even to the greatest

Everyone is greedy for gain;

From the prophet even to the priest,

Everyone practices deceit.

11 They have healed the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially,

Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’

But there is no peace.

12 Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done?

They were not ashamed at all,

And they did not know how to be ashamed;

Therefore they will fall among those who fall;

At the time of their punishment they will collapse,”

Says the Lord.

13 “I will certainly snatch them away,” declares the Lord.

“There will be no grapes on the vine

And no figs on the fig tree,

And the leaf will wither;

And what I have given them will pass away.”’”

Jesus’ curse is the sign of the judgment against Israel.  A judgment against those who will reject the Messiah.  A judgment that is focused on the temple.  He had visited the temple the day before and He is on His way back.  A judgment that will be further shown in the destruction of the temple in 70ad.  The temple which is the giant and bright shining symbol of the nation of Israel.  Jesus’ temple.

To those who much is given much is expected.  Were they living up to the calling?   Or had it just passed into the distance.

Let’s think about the words found in 2 Peter 1:3-4, all the promises seem so far away.  Will they even happen?  Is God faithful?  Perhaps it is because God seems so far away.  Remember way back in the beginning of the Galilean ministry, John 2:13-22, before Jesus sets out.  He cleanses the temple, drives out the money changes and those selling oxen and sheep and doves from the court of the gentiles.  Notice in verse v17 that the zeal for His house will consume Him.

2 Peter 1:3-4 (NASB)

3 for His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.

4 Through these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world on account of lust.

John 2:13-22 (NASB)

First Passover—Cleansing the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And within the temple grounds He found those who were selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

15 And He made a whip of cords, and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away from here; stop making My Father’s house a place of business!”

17 His disciples remembered that it was written: “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and yet You will raise it up in three days?”

21 But He was speaking about the temple of His body.

22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

This judgment is warranted.  He inspected the temple the night before.  Everyone was gone.  But the evidence of what is happening there is still to be found.  The stalls and the stands that show what has been going on.  That there has been no change since his first encounter at the beginning of His ministry.

The zeal for His house consumes Him, a direct quote from Psalm 69:9.  And when the temple becomes a display of hypocrisy His righteous anger and judgment come forth.  Hypocrite comes from the Greek word Hypokrites – which means stage actor.  Like the fig tree.  it looks like it should bear fruit but it is merely an actor.  A fake.

Psalm 69:9 (NASB)

9 For zeal for Your house has consumed me,

And the taunts of those who taunt You have fallen on me.

Now look to the judgment that Jesus renders on those who are to be the shepherd in Matthew 23:1-17.  Those that are to be shepherds are looking for honor among men, looking to be served, not to serve.  In harkens back to the feeding of the 5,000 where Jesus looks upon the crowd of Jews and has compassion because they are like sheep without a shepherd.  The ones that are to be the shepherds are like the fig tree.  they look like they should bear much fruit but in turn they are empty and barren.

Matthew 23:1-17 (NASB)

Hypocrisy Exposed

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples,

2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses. 

3 Therefore, whatever they tell you, do and comply with it all, but do not do as they do; for they say things and do not do them.

4 And they tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as their finger.

5 And they do all their deeds to be noticed by other people; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments

6 And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the seats of honor in the synagogues, 

7 and personal greetings in the marketplaces, and being called Rabbi by the people.

8 But as for you, do not be called Rabbi; for only One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters

9 And do not call anyone on earth your father; for only One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 

10 And do not be called leaders; for only One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 

11 But the greatest of you shall be your servant. 

12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Eight Woes

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut the kingdom of heaven in front of people; for you do not enter it yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ 

17 You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?

To finish this out we want to leave with these thoughts.  Israel was greatly blessed by God as can be seen throughout the old testament.  They were saved from slaver, blessed, and put in the position of being God’s holy people.  They were to be a beacon to the pagan world pointing to the greatness and holiness of the only True God.  Yet they had continually prostituted themselves to false gods even knowing who the true God was, and God was still merciful, forgiving and bringing them back.  And now His holy temple has fallen into a state of disrepair, not in looks because it still was impressive and beautiful, but in essence by the commerce that was occurring inside of it.  Therefore when Jesus curses the fig tree He is talking about Israel, that they are like a fig tree in leaf with no figs and therefore their blessings will be removed.

And in a few short days this will be seen as they reject the one that came to save.

First of all this is a very specific enacted parable directed at Israel.   A parable that is pointing towards the hypocrisy, the play acting, of God’s chosen nation.  So we can’t say, oh this is just like what is happening in the United States because we are a chosen nation.  Flatly and frankly we are not a chosen nation by God.  That rests solely on the nation of Israel.  Not us.

So then the challenge becomes how does this story of Jesus cursing the fig tree relate to us in the 21st century, far removed from ancient Palestine under Roman occupation?

I think it is important to remember the first recipients of this gospel, the persecuted church in Rome.  They knew that they were not Israel but I am certain that they heard the message clearly.  That they heard the judgment upon the chosen nation.  That they knew what a hypocrite was.

And therein lies the application.  There is always the tendency to look like a believer outwardly. But to be dead and barren inside.

We should look at passages like this with introspection.  We should examine ourselves and think?  Am I proclaiming that I am a believer and is there fruit to be shown?

Look at the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 –  what have you been given?  Is it growing?

Matthew 25:14-30 (NASB)

Parable of the Talents

14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.

15 To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.

16 The one who had received the five talents immediately went and did business with them, and earned five more talents.

17 In the same way the one who had received the two talents earned two more.

18 But he who received the one talent went away and dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them.

20 The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have earned five more talents.’

21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’

22 “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have earned two more talents.’

23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’

24 “Now the one who had received the one talent also came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.

25 And I was afraid, so I went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you still have what is yours.’

26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You worthless, lazy slave! Did you know that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter seed?

27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.

28 Therefore: take the talent away from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

29 “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.

30 And throw the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Spiritual growth is not something mystical that we have difficulty attaining.  It is a matter of obedience, loving the Lord,, prayer, coming together with other believers, studying the scripture.

We should pray and seek a life that were we to be cut that scripture would ooze out of us.  That we would be so rooted and grounded in God’s word that it influences every thought and action that we have.

And that not only would the leaves of our Christianity be bright and shining in the distance but when someone talks to us they would see the fruit that is born by Jesus in our lives.

Pray, Observe, Apply.

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