WHAT GOOD IS RELIGION WITHOUT FRUIT OR WORSHIP WITHOUT REALITY?
JESUS CONDEMNS THE HYPOCRISY OF AN UNFRUITFUL NATION WITH ITS EMPTY RELIGIOUS SYSTEM (CENTERED AROUND THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM) AND OF ITS EXPLOITATIVE RELIGIOUS LEADERS (THE SANHEDRIN)
TWO OBJECT LESSONS (ACTS OF JUDGMENT) FOLLOWED BY TWO CORRESPONDING APPLICATION LESSONS
Our culture loves to portray Jesus as this mild mannered, gentle teacher who went about doing good and blessing all the little children and spouting off moral platitudes. The two events we are going to study this morning present a far different picture of Jesus. We are now into the second and third day of Passion Week and we are going to see a Jesus who is fired up; one who is truly ticked off; one who responds in anger and judgment. What is it that caused Jesus to go off:
This is not a temper tantrum or uncontrolled rage on the part of Jesus
Controlled display of righteous indignation from the Judge of the universe who is the Truth
TWO OBJECT LESSONS (ACTS OF JUDGMENT) FOLLOWED BY TWO CORRESPONDING APPLICATION LESSONS
Acted out prophetic parables with the meaning attached
Want to treat this as one section – but will require 2 weeks to cover
Fig Tree: boasts of its leaves – but no fruit
Temple: showy and impressive – but no genuine worship
I. (:12-14) OBJECT LESSON #1 — CURSING OF THE HYPOCRITICAL FIG TREE
A. (:12) Occasion for the Object Lesson
“And on the next day, when they had departed from Bethany, He became hungry.”
Parallel: Mark 11:12-14
Perhaps staying in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus
What were the expectations of the disciples on this Tuesday morning? Having already visited the temple the evening before; knowing that they were going to return there
Humanity of Jesus – limited Himself in taking on human flesh; had normal need for food and water and nourishment; despite having existed from all eternity and having created all things; Breakfast the most important meal of the day!
Constable: The next day was Tuesday, which Hoehner dated as March 31, A.D. 33. Apparently the events of “Palm Sunday” took place on a Monday. The incident that Mark recorded next, beginning in verse 12, occurred as Jesus and His disciples walked from Bethany to Jerusalem on Tuesday morning (Matt. 21:18).
B. (:13) Expectation
1. (:13a) Hopeful Expectation
“And seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it;”
Caught his attention because it stood out from the other fig trees – it had leaves at this time of year (April)
2. (:13b) Hypocrisy Exposed
“and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves,
for it was not the season for figs.”
Not the season for fully mature figs … but it was for the small buds that should be there if leaves were there
Constable: Normally, small, edible buds appeared on the fig trees in March, before the leaves did in April. The lack of edible buds indicated that this tree would not bear figs later on, even though there were leaves on this tree. Mark explained that “it was not the season for figs”—for his non-Palestinian readers. Matthew did not add this explanation.
Jesus saw an opportunity to teach His disciples an important truth using this tree as an object lesson. Being a prophet, Jesus performed a symbolic act (cf. Isa. 20:1-6; Jer. 13:1-11; 19:1-13; Ezek. 4:1-15). He cursed the tree to teach them the lesson, not because it failed to produce fruit. The tree was a good illustration of the large unbelieving element within the nation of Israel. God had looked to that generation of Israelites for spiritual fruit, as Jesus had hoped to find physical fruit on the fig tree (Matt. 3:8; cf. Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10; Mic. 7:1; Nah. 3:12; Zech. 10:2). Israel’s outward display of religious vitality was impressive, like the leaves on the tree, but it bore no spiritual fruit of righteousness. It was hypocritical (7:6; 11:15-19, 27-12:40).
Parunak: The Lord’s expectation: not figs, for it was not yet the season for figs (June at earliest), but the buds appear about the time the leaves do. They’re not by any means as good as the figs, but can be eaten.
Sproul: The test of whether one could expect figs form a fig tree was not the time of year but whether the foliage of the tree was in full bloom.
C. (:13b-14a) Judgment = Cursing of the Fig Tree
“And He answered and said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’”
Seems like an extreme reaction
Hendriksen: The pretentious fig tree had its counterpart in the temple where on this very day a lively business was being transacted so that sacrifices might be made, while at the same time the priests were plotting to put to death the very One apart from whom these offerings had no meaning whatever. Plenty of leaves but no fruit. Bustling religious (?) activity, but no sincerity and truth, tremendous promise but a very poor performance! In cursing the fig tree and in cleansing the temple Jesus performed two symbolic and prophetic acts, with one meaning. He was predicting the downfall of unfruitful Israel. Not that he was “through with the Jews,” but that in the place of Israel an international and everlasting kingdom would be established, a nation bringing forth not just leaves but fruits, and gathered from both Jews and Gentiles.
D. (:14b) Audience = Jesus’ Disciples
“And His disciples were listening.”
Interesting: Jesus is cursing a fig tree … what will be the outcome? What’s the big deal … it’s just one tree; only destructive miracle directly accomplished by Jesus (the demons going into the swine and causing them to go over the cliff was an after-effect)
Bernard Russell, who wrote an essay titled “Why I Am Not a Christian,” cited this narrative as one of his reasons for repudiating Christianity. He said this incident displays Jesus as a man who expressed vindictive fury to an innocent plant, manifesting behavior that was not that of a righteous man, let alone the Son of God.
You have to understand the symbolism of this fig tree – what it represented – to understand the righteous indignation on the part of Jesus
II. (:15-19) OBJECT LESSON #2 — CLEANSING OF THE CORRUPT TEMPLE
A. (:15a) Occasion for the Object Lesson
“And they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple”
Background of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem: story of repeated apostasy and hypocrisy
– Gen. 22 – Abraham told to go to Mount Moriah and offer up Isaac as a sacrifice; 900 years later, around 988 B.C. David purchased Mount Moriah from Ornant (1 Chron. 21)
– Solomon builds beautiful structure there in accordance with God’s architectural design plans after David was denied the opportunity because he was a man of war (1 Chro. 28:3); overlaid with gold; impressive
– Babylon destroys that temple in 586 B.C., levels it to the ground and plunders its treasures; God’s judgment on the apostate nation of Israel for being hypocritical and unfruitful
– Upon return from captivity, second temple is build and finished in 515 B.C. (Ezra 6:15); but it pales in comparison to original temple (people wept – Ezra 3:12-13)
– Pagan ruler Antiochus desecrates the temple in 168 B.C. by putting a statue of the god Jupiter inside and slaughtering pigs on the altar – a direct affront to the Jewish laws of uncleanness
– King Herod starts rebuilding the third temple in 20 B.C. – actually not completed until just a few years before its ultimate destruction in 70 AD
Sproul: The Herodian temple was one of the wonders of he ancient world. It was a huge complex that was divided into four parts: the court of the Gentiles; the court of the women; the court of the Jews; and the Holy of Holies. The court of the Gentiles was the largest part of the temple complex.
Hendriksen: This magnificent sanctuary must have been a marvelous sight to behold, since it was built of white marble, richly set off with gold on its front and sides. It was entered by means of a huge double-winged porch or vestibule. . . In front of the doorway to the Holy Place hung a beautifully colored Babylonian veil or curtain. There was also “the second veil,” the one that separated the Holy Place form the holy of Holies.
B. Expectation (not stated here)
– Temple was the place where the glory of God should reside
– Temple was the place where sinful men could commune with a holy God
– Temple was a place for reverence and devotion and prayer and communion with God
– Temple was a place where there should be no respecter of persons – both Jew and Gentile should be able to respond to God’s revelation and invitation to repent and believe and have one’s sins forgiven
Remember the critical teaching of Jesus in John 4 about where is the appropriate place to worship? The temple in Jerusalem as held to by the Jews or on Mt. Gerizim as held to by the Samaritans – Jesus overturned all of their notions about the locus of worship
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” vs. 24
The time was coming when the veil in the temple would be rent in two
The time was coming as Jesus had prophesied when he would tear down the temple and rebuild it
The time was coming when this temple would be destroyed by the Romans and the Jews would be without their beautiful religious crutch
C. (:15b-17) Judgment = Cleansing of the Temple
“and began to cast out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple. And He began to teach and say 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 robbers’ den.’”
Edwards: Goes beyond an act of cleansing which would be the removing of impurities and restoration to a rightful function (Is. 55:1-8); lays an ax at the root of the temple as an institution; the dissolution of the temple; The fig tree thus symbolizes the temple: as the means of approach to God, the temple is fundamentally – “from the roots” – replaced by Jesus as the center of Israel.
4 Corrupt Practices that Jesus Shut Down:
1) buying and selling in the temple – Commercializing God’s house of worship
2) moneychangers – extorting heavy fees for changing currency into what would be accepted for the temple tax
3) those selling doves at inflated prices – so you could not bring unblemished animals that would be accepted; you had to buy the official sacrificial animals
4) those using the temple as a convenient thoroughfare to get from Point A to Point B
Hiebert: every male Jew twenty years or over was required to pay yearly a half shekel toward the cost of the religious services in the temple. Foreign coins with their idolatrous images were refused for this purpose. The money-changers were in the temple court to change the Greek and Roman coins of the pilgrims into the Jewish or Tyrian coinage which alone could be used for the payment.
MacArthur: This place was a buzz. It was a cacophony of noises made by people and animals and He went into it and it says He began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple and overturning the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. First of all, those buying and selling were buying and selling animals. There were people who were bringing their animals in, they were being bought and then they were being sold to the people who came to offer sacrifices. It was a scam of the rankest kind because if you brought a sacrifice from home, let’s say you brought a lamb without blemish and without spot from your own flock, and you brought that to the temple to give as a sacrifice, there would have to be a priest who would pass the animal. All the priest had to do was say, “This animal doesn’t pass.” The animal is not good enough for sacrifice and you would be required to buy an animal from the vendors inside the temple at ten times the price.
Then, you would also be required to have the half shekel temple tax in a certain kind of coinage and pilgrims came from all kinds of nations when they came in for the Passover, and if you didn’t have the right kind of coinage, you would have to exchange your coins and the mark up was…according to one historian…at least 25 percent. If you were poor, you could give a dove as a sacrifice. According to the provision of God’s Law in Leviticus 12, poor people could give a dove. And doves in their economy would sell for five cents at your local town but if you bought one in the temple, they say it would be four dollars. This is perversion, prostitution, travesty, extortion, monopoly, just a horrendous operation…noise, traffic. It was anything but a house of prayer. Jesus went in and just ripped into all of this. He started driving out the people buying and selling, the people bringing in their animals and taking them out.
Hendriksen: By means of the gates it had become rather easy and convenient to use the temple area as a shortcut; for example, between the city and the Mount of Olives. The sacred place was being used for a purely secular purpose.
James Edwards: The enormity of the temple industry [during Passover] may be further appreciated by a comment from Josephus (War 6.422-27) that in A.D. 66, the year the temple was completed, 255,600 lambs were sacrificed for Passover!
2 OT Quotes significant here:
Is. 56:6-8 quoted here – gathering of the Gentiles
Jer. 7 quoted here – perversion of people of God and justification for this judgment
James Edwards: a specific censure of the Sanhedrin and the temple as the organ of religious exploitation; and asserting that the Gentiles have access to God’s self-revelation to Israel on the basis of sincerity of heart rather than by legal and cultic purity
D. (:18-19) Audience = Jewish Religious Leaders
“And the chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for all the multitude was astonished at His teaching. And whenever evening came, they would go out of the city.”
Why did the religious leaders want to destroy Jesus? He exposed their Hypocrisy
– Threat to their Popularity
o More Powerful – look at his miracles
o More Profound – look at his teaching – taught with authority
Afraid – saw Jesus as a prophet of God – Matt. 22:46
– Threat to their Pocketbook – they had quite a nice racket going in the temple courts
This event signed death warrant for Jesus —
How fired up does Jesus get when confronted with hypocrisy? Just check out Matt. 23 and his indictment of the religious leaders of his day.
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INTRODUCTION – PART2:
Religious Hypocrisy takes many forms. But in all instances, Hypocrisy puts on an external mask to try to look like something it is not. It dresses itself up in the activities of religion – lots of prayers; lots of donating money; lots of quoting of bible verses; lots of acts of worship – like baptisms and observance of the Lord’s Supper; singing and listening to sermons – but no heart reality of genuine faith and no submission to the authority of the Lord. Instead, there is an exchanging of the commandments of God for the traditions of the hypocritical religious leaders.
Jesus takes the two object lessons of the Cursing of the Hypocritical Fig Tree and the Cleansing of the Corrupt Temple and revisits them with these TWO APPLICATION LESSONS.
III. (:20-26) APPLICATION LESSON FROM THE CURSING OF THE FIG TREE –
BELIEVE IN GOD AND PRAY IN FAITH AND WITH A SPIRIT OF FORGIVENESS – NOT VINDICTIVENESS
A. (:20) Occasion for the Application Lesson
“And as they were passing by in the morning,
they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.”
Day 3 of Passion Day is going to be an extremely busy day – much takes place. Jesus got an early start.
Fig tree picture of the nation of Israel – Jer. 24 – 2 baskets of figs – good ones and rotten ones
(Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10; Mic. 7:1; Nah. 3:12)
Such a radical change (had been a healthy, robust flowering tree) in just a 24 hour period
Such a permanent change – some water and some nurturing care was not going to bring this tree back to good health
Constable: This event happened on Wednesday morning [Day 3]. “Withered from the roots” means that death was spreading through the tree, emanating from its sources of nourishment. The “roots” of the tree correspond to the religious leaders of the nation. The curse of spiritual death would spread from them to that whole generation of unbelieving Jews. Peter connected the judgment with Jesus’ words. In parallel fashion, Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on that generation of Jews would have a similar effect. Rather than explaining the symbolic significance of the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus proceeded to focus on the means by which the miracle happened.
Matt. 3:7-10 The ax had been laid to its roots
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
B. (:21) Incredulity on the Part of the Intended Audience
“And being reminded, Peter said to Him,
‘Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.’”
Peter sounds surprised here – how could this have happened so quickly and with such devastating results?
Thing about Hypocrisy: it looks healthy, but it is rotten to the core – that tree that outwardly just the day before had professed such health and vitality with its leaves of promise had already been nothing more than a white-washed sepulcher —
So it should not have been surprising that Jesus reduced it to the withered up shell it was in reality
The exposure of Hypocrisy … not the extinguishing of life
C. (:22) Primary Lesson
“And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God.’”
You would have thought that Jesus would have spoken more directly to the issue of Hypocrisy – and He actually does by addressing the need for genuine faith instead of a self-righteousness that is oriented towards external works – but he makes the application to the exercise of that faith in believing prayer – talking about the means by which Jesus performed the miracle … not the significance of the cursing itself
– the imperative of faith – divine command; not a suggestion
– the object of faith; not have faith in faith = positive thinking movement
– the exclusivity of faith – this is all that Jesus required of them – for salvation; sanctification; not faith plus anything else; sola fide
– the responsibility of faith – each and every person is responsible before God to exercise their own will; parents cannot believe for their children
– The urgency of faith – right now; not when you can get around to it or feel like doing it
Present tense – abiding faith; keep believing in God
Hendriksen: But what is faith?
– The soul’s window through which God’s love comes pouring in.
– The openhand whereby man reaches out to God, the Giver.
– The coupling that links man’s train to God’s engine.
– The trunk of salvation’s tree, whose root is grace, and whose fruit is good works.
– The means of Abraham’s justification.
– The magnet that drew Moses away from the pleasures of Egypt, so that he threw in his lot with God’s sorely afflicted people.
– The force that overthrew Jericho’s wall.
– The secret that enabled Ruth to make her stirring confession.
– The weapon that killed Goliath and destroyed Sennacherib’s host.
– The deciding factor in Carmel’s contest.
– The shield that protected Job in the midst of his trials.
– The muzzle that closed the mouths of Daniel’s lions.
– The remedy that cured the centurion’s servant and many others.
Scripture also describes faith as:
– Leaning on the everlasting arms.
– Committing one’s way to the Lord, trusting in him, knowing that he will do whatever is best.
– Receiving the kingdom (or rule) of God as a little child.
– Being sure of what we hope for, and being convinced of what we do not see.
– The victory that overcomes the world.
The list could go on … how about in your life – What has faith accomplished? What does faith look like in your life?
D. (:23-26) Expanded Explanation
“Truly I say to you, ‘whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and cast into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you. 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 transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.’”
Statement of hyperbole for effect and impact
Mountain = the Mount of Olives; sea = Dead Sea – would take a miraculous event to accomplish such a deed
No act is impossible if it is within the scope of God’s will and performed by faith in the context of prayer from a loving and forgiving heart
Look at what Jesus is going to teach in John 14:12
Re vs. 26 — This verse does not appear in the most important ancient manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel. Evidently scribes inserted it later, because they associated the preceding verse with Matthew 6:14.
Parunak: In prayer we are not demanding what we are owed, but are asking God for a favor; it is inconsistent to do this while we are embroiled in bitterness with our fellow creatures.
J C Ryle: We have no right to look for mercy, if we are not ready to extend mercy to our brethren. We cannot really feel the sinfulness of the sins we ask to have pardoned if we cherish malice towards our fellow men. We must have the heart of a brother toward our neighbor on earth, if we wish God to be our Father in heaven. We must not flatter ourselves that we have the Spirit of adoption if we cannot bear and forbear.
Sproul: We have to be very careful with this verse. A whole theology based almost exclusively on this text has permeated the Christian world in our day. The word of faith movement, which espouses the idea of “name it and claim it,” tells us that all we have to do to receive something we want is to claim it as ours in Jesus’ name, and it will be ours. This movement is, in some ways, the Christian parallel to the New Age movement in the secular world. The New Age movement teaches that by visualizing what we want to happen, we can actually change the world around us. The force that is at the bottom of the New Age thinking is really magic . . .
I do not believe that this text or any text in the New Testament teaches that we are obligated to forgive people who sin against us unilaterally without their repentance. All the New Testament teachings on confronting brothers who sin against us, seeking restitution, carrying out church discipline, and so forth do not mean that if someone harms us, we have to say, “I forgive you,” We may do that, but there is an analogy between our forgiveness of others’ sins and God’s forgiveness of our sins. God does not forgive us unilaterally; He requires repentance. But when we repent, He does forgive. We must do the same.
IV. (:27-33) APPLICATION LESSON FROM THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE – JESUS IS GREATER THAN THE TEMPLE – RESPECT HIS AUTHORITY
A. (:27a) Occasion for the Application Lesson
“And they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple,”
All of the focus continues to be in the city of Jerusalem, at the temple of God
Matt. notes that he was teaching as he was walking in the temple
B. (:27b-28) Incredulity on the Part of the Intended Audience
“the chief priests, and scribes, and elders came to Him, and began saying to Him,
‘By what authority are You doing these things,
or who gave You this authority to do these things?’”
Seems like an official delegation from the Sanhedrin
This was their domain; how could the loyalty of the people be diverted to the teaching of some uncredentialed pseudo-Rabbi??
Jesus was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth … he did not have the background one would expect; he had not had the training that one would have expected
Yet he was acting with so much authority … on what basis??
– His teaching had demonstrated great authority – Mark 1:21-22
– His miracles had demonstrated great authority
– Not afraid of confrontation with the religious leaders of Judaism – did not shrink back from healing on the Sabbath
– Had demonstrated even authority over demons
They were trying to shut Jesus down
But they did not understand that one greater than the temple was in their midst
People today don’t respond well to the authority of Jesus; to the authority of the Word of God; nobody is going to tell me what to do; I will read the bible to have it say what I want it to say; I will live my life the way I think best
You can’t have the salvation that Jesus offers without the authority that Jesus commands
C. (:29-30) Primary Lesson
“And Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.’”
Remember the mission of John the Baptist laid out in John chapter 1
Here was one recognized as a prophet by the people
Not an intellectual problem as if they did not know the answer to their question; it was a moral problem; did not want to submit to the authority of Jesus in their hearts
Look at how the critics of the Apostle Paul tried to shut down his ministry – accusing him of having no legitimate authority; being self-sent rather than commissioned by God
2 Cor. 1:12; 3:1; 6:4; 10:7
By what authority do I preach this morning? Where is my certificate of ordination from some mainline denomination?
– I must be examined as to meeting the qualifications of a pastor – laid out in the NT – must continue to meet these; not a one-time check the box type of thing
– Look for the character fruit of the Holy Spirit – cannot be counterfeited or manufactured by human means
– – The gift for teaching and exposition can only come from the Holy Spirit; the discernment of the body of believers must evaluate that gift in light of the word of God
– You will know them by their fruit – good grapes or rotten?
D. (:31-33) Expanded Explanation
“And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, From heaven, He will say, Then why did you not believe him? But shall we say, From men?’– they were afraid of the multitude, for all considered John to have been a prophet indeed. And answering Jesus, they said, ‘We do not know.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’”
Acting simply on the basis of expediency rather than conviction
How are things going to turn out for me if I answer this way or that way?
What a pitiful, cowardly answer: “We don’t know”
This from a group of proud men who always claimed to understand all things; they were not used to professing ignorance
MacArthur: Strong challenge. Our Lord is stunningly brilliant. They’re really on the hot seat. If they said the ministry of John is from God, then they have to admit that Jesus is the Messiah because that’s what John said. If they say the ministry of God is not from God, it’s from men, then they’ve got a problem because all the people knew that John was a real prophet. You see, it’s a package deal. You can’t take John without Jesus. And you can’t throw away Jesus without throwing away John.
James Edwards: institutional religion, even its pinnacle in the powerful and prestigious Sanhedrin, is vacuous unless it is centered in the “Stronger One,” declared to be God’s Son at the baptism of John. John’s significance for Jesus – and in this instance for the Sanhedrin – is as a herald of Jesus’ divine Sonship, with which Mark begins (1,1, 11) and ends (15:39) his Gospel. The “these things” of which the Sanhedrin inquires can be understood only if they are seen as consequences of the authority (exousia) of Jesus as the Son of God, which John’s baptism inaugurated. What Jesus does as God’s servant has meaning only because of who he is as God’s Son. The exousia of Jesus is in fact the exousia of God.
How fired up does Jesus get when confronted with hypocrisy? Just check out Matt. 23 and his indictment of the religious leaders of his day.
Are we praying with faith in a spirit of forgiveness, expecting Jesus to remove obstacles from our path of ministry so that we can be fruitful?
Are we submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ … understanding that all authority has been given to the Son who in the Great Commission has sent us out to make disciples of the world in dependence upon him
What kind of ambassadors are we for Jesus Christ?