Matt Blackwell speaks on Mark 11:12-25
Series: The Gospel of Mark
The day after Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, Him and His disciples were returning from a trip to Bethany. He was hungry, saw a fig tree and decided to go to it, but realized it had no fruit. He spoke directly to the tree and cursed it, His disciples hearing.
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 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. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. Mark 11:12-14 (ESV)
This is one of those stories we tend to skip over because we’re not exactly sure what’s happening. Is Jesus just grumpy? What’s going on?
Something is definitely going on. Mark is intentional in his writing. There’s a purpose for us knowing that when Jesus spoke to the tree, His disciples heard Him.
The Fig Tree
Jesus was delivering a lesson on fruitfulness. He was looking at a tree that was leafy, but empty inside. Jesus knew the Old Testament where prophets would refer to the people of God as fruitless fig trees. He’s drawing on that illustration, saying the fruitlessness of this tree is indicative of the fruitlessness of the people of God.
There were exterior leaves, but when He got up close, there was no fruit. He saw the beauty of the tree, but it lacked nourishment. He couldn’t eat and be filled by it.
When we bear fruit, it’s not meant for us to look great, but to be nourishing. Like the tree’s fruit is to nourish the person who eats it, our fruit is to nourish the heart and soul of someone else. So when Jesus found the tree was fruitless, He cursed it.
This was a private illustration for His disciples, but it became a public illustration when they entered the temple.
15 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. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 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.” 18 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. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)
Jesus and His disciples were entering back into Jerusalem during Passover. As we remember from last week, the city’s population had swelled to two million people from all over. Heading to the temple during all of this was very intentional.
The temple was packed. Jesus entered into the Court of Gentiles, a large outer area where everyone could go; Jews and Gentiles. But as one drew further into the temple, it became more restrictive, only allowing Jews. Signs were posted saying Gentiles would be punished by death if they entered. The very heart of the temple was a place called the Holy of Holies. Only the high priests were allowed and only once on the Day of Atonement to make sacrifices for the nation of Israel.
Jesus walked into the big open-air court and saw a mass of humanity. People were buying and selling things. There were tables with moneychangers where people could exchange their foreign money for temple money in order to pay their temple tax. There were tables of people selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus saw all of this and just wrecked shop, turning over the money changing tables, coins flying everywhere. He took the chair of a guy selling pigeons and tossed it across the room. He started driving people out of the temple, telling them to get out.
Jesus is obviously having a bad day. He’s cursing at trees and yelling at people. What was going on?
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:6-7 (ESV)
Jesus knew the purpose of the temple and that it was being impeded. He knew the purpose of Passover and why the people had come to make sacrifices. This was the place designed for Gentiles to seek God, but because of all the chaos, they couldn’t. Jesus was quoting the Old Testament explaining that this was suppose to be a place of prayer for all peoples, but it wasn’t happening.
Not only that, but He said they had made it a den of robbers. There was extortion going on with the moneychangers.
In the Old Testament, a sacrifice of a bull or goat was required for a guilt offering. But God made a provision for poor people and allowed them to use a dove or pigeon. So when Jesus threw the chair of the man selling pigeons, He was showing that the poor people were being extorted and all of this was causing something to rise up in Him. He got angry.
Who should have been angry with this? Who should have been the people that stood up and said all of it was unacceptable?
The chief priests had the role to be in charge of the temple, to represent God and be mediators. They were to display the goodness of God to the Gentiles. They should have been outraged. But they weren’t. They were making a killing off of all of it, taking a portion off the top. They didn’t want to disrupt it, they were making money and gaining respect.
What Your Heart Values
When anger happens, it reveals something about what your heart values. It’s Jesus’ heart to value the glory of God. So when it was being impeded, it caused righteous anger to rise up within Him.
When Jesus challenged the chief priests by quoting the Old Testament passage on the purpose of the temple, they knew their authority was being questioned. Their income and respect were on the line. Jesus was threatening the sweet deal they had going on. This caused them to get angry.
18 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. Mark 11:18 (ESV)
The true high priest, Jesus, and the chief priests were acting out of anger.
Jesus was acting out of righteous anger, because the worship was being impeded and the poor were being extorted. His heart valued most the glory of God. The chief priests were acting out of anger, because their wealth and respect were being threatened. Ultimately, what their hearts valued most was themselves.
“One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. For if our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. Do not say, “What a shame, how difficult,” but rather, “this is the end, there is no hope.” – Timothy Keller
What is it in your heart that drives you to being angry and afraid? What does that say about the posture of your heart?
When we are fearful or angry, it is a neon sign saying there is something going on underneath, in our heart. What we truly value comes out.
Jesus was righteously angry when the glory of God was being impeded. The chief priests were angry because it was themselves and their prestige and prosperity that were being impeded.
Before we judge the chief priests too harshly, I wonder if our hearts more often are driven by the some motive. We follow after their hearts more than we do the heart of the true High Priest. We tend to value ourselves more than the glory of God.
We Are Also Priests
According to the New Testament, we are also called priests.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV)
We are to be priests who preeminently value the glory of God. So when we see His glory being impeded and the poor being extorted and prayer being overlooked, it should cause righteous anger to rise up within us. Does it? Or do you more often get angry when your prosperity and prominence is in question?
Often times, if I’m honest, I more often reflect the heart of the chief priests than the true High Priest.
But there’s hope for us.
Have Faith in God
20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Mark 11:20-22 (ESV)
As they left the traumatic temple scene, they passed the same fig tree that previously had no fruit. It was completely withered down to the roots. Jesus’ application was, “Have faith in God.”
I’ve been wrestling this week with how to apply this message. Ultimately, I decided to just give Jesus’ application.
The fruitless tree has all the accoutrements of life, having all it’s leaves, but no fruit. Jesus cursed that tree and it withered and died. Then He walked into the temple and threw people out of the presence of God, because worship was being impeded and the glory of God was being overlooked. He called His disciples and told them to have faith in God.
The remedy for the fruitless tree and for the faithless priests was to have faith in God.
How do we have faith in God? Can we stir that up in our own heart? Is it to sing more passionately? To study more diligently? What is it that will cause us to have faith?
How Do We Get Faith?
Ultimately, we realize it is only by the grace of God that we are able to have faith in the true High Priest.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23 (ESV)
We pray God would give us the faith to believe. Jesus is our true sacrifice that entered into the Holy of Holies as the true High Priest. He made access for us to gather near God’s presence. By His death, He ripped the veil that separated the Holy of Holies from top to bottom. Now the presence of God is accessible to all people. We don’t have to walk through the court of Gentiles and pass the sign that says only enter by death into the court of the Jewish people and then enter the place where only the true High Priest could go to be in the presence of God. But Jesus has gone and made atonement for humanity, for all people.
21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:21-22 (ESV)
Jesus is that true and better priest that gives us full assurance of faith. Our mediator isn’t a chief priest whose heart is far from God. It is Jesus. He enters in and it is only by His blood that we now have access and it’s only by Him that we have faith.
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23 (ESV)
It’s the faithfulness of Jesus that allows us to have hope, a hope beyond ourselves. It’s His faithfulness that leads us to live a life of fruitfulness. He increases our faith and produces in us the fruit that He’s called us to live.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
This is what God produces in you, so that your life isn’t just leaves, but is also fruit. So that others may eat of the fruit of your life, see God and say, “God is good.”
We ask that God will increase our faith, so that He will increase our fruit, so that people may see that He is good.
If you’re sitting here wondering if you’ve ever seen fruit in your life, ask God for the faith to believe in your deficiency and His sufficiency. His sacrifice as the true High Priest is sufficient to save your soul and call you to repentance.
That’s our hope and prayer; God will be faithful and will bear the fruit in our lives that He’s called us to live, so that others might be fed. So we wouldn’t be cursed like the fruitless tree or driven away from the presence of God like the faithless priests. But that we would live out the faithful, fruitful life that He’s called us to live.