The Darkest Miracle
Text: Mark 11:11-26
Proposition: A pretense of faith that has no fruit is offensive to God and will be judged by Him.
Introduction: False advertising, we’ve all experienced it. The hotel that looked great on line turns out to be in an industrial area at the end of a runway, the car that was supposed to get phenomenal gas mileage turns out to be just average. Law suits against false advertising have involved organizations from Kellogg’s Rice Krispies claim to be able to boost your immune system, L’Oreal skin products claim that it could boost your genes to Eclipse gum that claimed it could kill germs. If you’ve ever been the victim of false advertising it has likely left you angry. To some degree that is what the passage we are going to look at this morning is all about. It’s been considered to be one of the strangest miracles that Jesus ever did mostly because it was destructive rather than corrective. It seemed fickle rather than purposeful but it was all about false advertising. Have a look at Mark 11: 11 to 26.
I. There’s A Different Way of Looking At the Obvious.
Last week we looked at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on what we have come to call Palm Sunday. In verse 11 it says, “And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” When He comes to the Temple all Jesus does is look around yet this too is a significant moment. What did Jesus see when He looked around the temple that Sunday, the day after Sabbath, the day before Passover preparations went into full gear? I would expect that He saw the Court of the Gentiles filled with cages of lambs and doves. I’d expect that He saw money changers and merchants of all sorts, pilgrims and Pharisees. He might even have seen into the courtyard of the Holy Place where the sacrifices would be killed. He might even have glimpsed the curtain that was in front of the Holy of Holies. There were likely few in Jerusalem that day that thought of Malachi 3:1, a prophecy made 450 years earlier. “… And the Lord, whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap.” Jesus in the temple on Palm Sunday was the fulfillment of the first part of this prophecy. Then as suddenly as they came Jesus and the disciples left and returned to Bethany. Verse 12 describes the events of Monday as Jesus and the disciples go back to Jerusalem. That’s when this peculiar event, this darkest of miracles occurs. Jesus sees a fig tree in full leaf and goes over to it expecting that there would be a fig He could find to relieve His hunger. In verses 13, 14 it says, “When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs”. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again. And His disciples heard it.” We know that the next morning they would all see that the fig tree had withered from the roots up, in one day. (vs 21,22) It’s the kind of miracle we don’t associate with Jesus, it seems fickle, it’s destructive. Yet you need to ask the question, ‘Why did Jesus go to the fig tree in the first place?’ The answer is that it was in full leaf, a sign usually that the figs, which grew when the leaves did, would be there even if it wasn’t the right season. The cursing of the fig tree was all about the consequences of false advertising, the leaves promised fruit but there was nothing. But what if the whole miracle of the withered fig tree wasn’t about the obvious but rather more like a visual parable, like the way the Old Testament prophets would act out a prophecy from God. Ezekiel 4 would be an example of that. What if everything that is about to happen is directly related to the cursing of the fig tree? Look what happens next.
II. The Cleansing of the Temple, A Shadow of the Consequence of Profanity.
The word ‘profane’ comes from Latin, it literally means ‘before or outside the temple’. In its older, more literal sense, "profanity" refers to a lack of respect for things that are held to be sacred. On that same Monday just after Jesus had cursed the fig tree He comes to Jerusalem and enters the Temple and sees exactly what He saw the day before, profanity. Look at how it is described in verses 15,16, “…Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple.” It was not just commerce to accommodate the pilgrims of Passover it was straight out collusion of the merchants with the high priests. It was the controlling of who gets to sell sacrifices and the gouging of exchange rates as they came to pay the Temple tax. The coin of other countries had to be converted into Hebrew coin, the only currency accepted in the Temple. If people brought their own animals for sacrifice they risked the priests turning it away as not being pure enough. If that wasn’t enough people were taking short cuts through the Court of the Gentiles to get their merchandise to the entry areas. Jesus acts like a refiners fire, like laundryman’s soap He cleanses the Temple. He turns over the tables of the money changers, He opens the cages of the doves and sheep and forbids the use of those cutting through the court for convenience sake. Look at verse 17, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’, But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’.” The Temple was held out, presented as, advertised if you will, as ‘a house of prayer for all nations’. In fact the people of Israel were meant to be the people of God that valued and sustained such a meeting place. That’s what was on the outside but when you got up close to it, it was a den of thieves. All leaf no fruit.
III. Jesus Describes What Fruit Ought to Look Like.
It’s clear that the people knew what Jesus was saying just as it is clear the scribes and Pharisees also knew that Jesus was exposing them. Jesus and the disciples leave the temple and the next day, Tuesday, they head again back into Jerusalem and come to the place where Jesus cursed the fig tree. Verse 21, “And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.” ”. You’d expect Jesus to say something about the tree but look at how He answers Peter.
1. Have faith in God. Jesus describes this as a faith in the God Who can move mountains, a metaphor for anything that seems unmovable. It is a faith that asks for help, a faith that believes God is not only willing but able to answer the mountain before you.
2. Have a resolve to be single minded, don’t second guess God. Believe that God will respond in His timing, in His way, to His glory. This is not a call to have faith in faith, as if just believing in something hard enough will force it to happen. It is a call to have a faith in God that is unswerving and rests in His answer.
3. Recognize the connection between forgiveness and prayer. Your act of forgiving is directly connected to God’s willingness to forgive you. Your humility in doing this is what God uses to direct your next steps. So your ability to speak to God, namely prayer, is dependent upon your willingness to forgive.
I’d submit to you that Israel was failing at all three of these. Their faith in God was deeply eroded as seen by the profane way the Temple was being cared for. The state of Israel had become prayer-less, they each did what they thought was right and didn’t seek God’s plan or will or Word. Their inability to humble themselves, to see and acknowledge their sin and the subsequent need for the Savior left them in a place where Passover was a ritual not a prophecy. They would miss the Messiah even though it was they themselves that had heralded Him the day before. The leafy state of Israel had no fruit in that day and it would experience the wrath of God for saying one thing and doing another. Within 40 years Israel would be reduced to rubble, the Temple would be torn down and it remains so to this day.
So what does God require of you? It is to be who you say you are in Christ. It is to have fruit, the fruit of faith in God. It is to be single minded in that faith, hold the course and don’t be seduced. It is to humble yourself and forgive especially when He brings it to mind as you pray. Avoid at all costs the false advertising that mocks God.