And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. 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. Mark 11:11-14
Thousands made the pilgrimage to worship in the temple in Jerusalem on Passover, hundreds bought and sold animals for sacrificing. Jesus looked around at everything. He saw their hearts. He saw corruption, injustice, extortion, and detestable, degrading behaviors in the temple built to worship a pure and holy God. The gap between what was happening in the temple and what was meant to happen at the temple was so great. He left and came back the next day to deal with it in righteous anger. On the way he saw a fig tree with leaves, he was hungry but found no figs and cursed the tree.
Why would Mark put this story in his gospel which seemed so unlike Jesus’ character? Because greater things were happening. A new narrative was beginning. The teaching visual of the tree symbolized them. The disciples knew the metaphor of the fig well as learned Jews. The worship of Israel had leaves like the fig tree but was fruitless. The curse meant judgement was near, the destruction of the temple was Imminent and redemption nigh. No longer would sacrifices need to be made on the altar because Jesus himself was coming to Jerusalem to be the perfect Passover sacrifice once and for all. The old covenant was about to become the New Covenant in his blood, as Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper. The temple curtain would be torn, a new relationship with God would begin, and the church of Christ followers would be born.
We don’t like to think of God bringing warning and judgement. But His holiness and hatred of sin demand it. He created us to enjoy pure love and fellowship in the garden. Sin changed it; Jesus came to bring us back to God. God desires our worship not for his benefit but for ours. Take a look at your life, is it like a tree that has fruit pasted on to it to look good at all times, or is there real fruit growing? Do you honor God with your lips but your actions are far from him? Just like Jesus saw the gap in Israel’s temple worship and what worship is intended to be, look at that gap in your own life between what God desires and what you offer him. Write down a couple steps you can take to honor God more and make your worship of him more pure and holy.
By Donna Burns