Leaves, sins and fruit

Mark 11:11–25

Jesus is fully human. We are told in Hebrews 2:17 that ‘it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, …’

Jesus is your elder brother. He is just like you in all ways, except for sin.

If Jesus is just like you, then I suppose it means you are just like Jesus. Except for your sin.

The word became flesh and lived among us. Jesus was born (Luke 2:7). He grew (Luke 2:40,52). He got tired (John 4:6) and thirsty (John 19:28) and hungry (Matthew 4:2). He became physically weak (Matthew 4:11; Luke 23:26). He died (Luke 23:46). Jesus clearly displays human emotions. He “was amazed” (Matthew 8:10). His “soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). “Deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled” and “he wept” (John 11:33-35).

John Calvin said: “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh.”

When we read about Jesus, we do well to remember this. We are not reading about an emotionless super-being who was coated in spiritual Teflon and was untouched by the world or the people around him.

I have children. I have a grandchild. I find it rather strange in some ways to notice how I am influenced by them. My joy is not full when they are in difficulty. My desire is for them to have lives that are filled with love and peace. When I can talk to them, for days after I am either happy or sad based on how they are. If we are to believe the Bible, Jesus experienced the same kinds of feelings.

I think that the fatherly feelings I have toward you all are a dim reflection of the feelings that Jesus has toward you, his brothers and sisters. I suspect that the hopes I have for you all are the tip of the iceberg of the hopes that God has for you, his beloved children.

Our reading today starts with Jesus entering Jerusalem and having a good look around the temple. Let’s remember then that Jesus is not a tourist. As he looks “around carefully at everything” he is experiencing these feelings and thoughts. Abundantly more than when I look at my children, or you look at your loved ones, Jesus has powerful hopes and desires for the people he sees in the temple.

He goes back to Bethany with what feelings and thoughts? What are the things that are going through his mind that night as he reflects on what he found as he carefully looked around the holy temple?

The next morning he returns. We are told he is hungry. The Greek word used is peináō. It just means hungry. It is actually a bit stronger than the English word hungry, which we use when we feel mildly attracted to a snack. It means really hungry, or in need of food. It is always translated as hungry.

Some theologians use this verse to say that Jesus was capable of feeling real physical hunger. It’s the same word used when he was hungry after fasting for 40 days.

Was he hungry because he had been up all night praying about what he had seen in the temple. Was he disturbed in his sleep due to a great burden of sorrow and so he missed breakfast? Would Martha have even allowed such a thing? We don’t know.

Jesus saw a fig tree with leaves on. You need to understand fig trees to know what this means. Leaves on a fig tree mean it has fruit, because the fruit comes before the leaves. This tree was advertising that it had fruit. If a tree put out leaves without fruit, it would have no fruit at all that season.

Many people are shocked when they read in verse 14 that Jesus cursed the tree even though it was too early in the season for fruit. In the very next verse we find Jesus violently throwing over tables in the temple. This seems a little less shocking, but where has the Jesus of peace and patience gone to?

“The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up.” (Mark 11:20)

It seems at first odd that this strange story of the fig tree is dropped into the story of the temple. It is deliberate. The stories are there to help us understand something bigger, and they explain each other.

Let’s go back to the word ‘hungry’. Although it just means hungry or needy, it has a powerful metaphorical meaning: ‘to crave ardently, to seek with eager desire.’

In his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:6) Jesus said, “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.”

In John 6:35, Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.”

I think that Jesus is using the word hunger metaphorically. I think he is saying that God blesses those who ‘crave justice ardently and seek justice with eager desire’. Jesus is telling us that people with an ardent craving for life will be satisfied when they come to him.

The Jesus I see when I read these verses is a man who craves ardently for his people to be set free and eat the bread of life. Jesus has an enormous eager desire to save the lost. His love is so great he is on his way to the cross for these people.

And what does he find?

The fig tree is a picture of the temple in Jerusalem.

The temple is gloriously leafy. It has all the trappings of holiness. Everything about the temple is shouting about the greatness of God. The people in the temple are busy with temple business and adorned in holy temple garments.

As Jesus closely examined the fig tree, what did he find? He found that it was like the temple.

They both have leaves. Neither has any fruit.

The story of the fig tree explains why Jesus turned over the tables in the temple.

To put it another way, Jesus had an ardent craving to find fruit in his father’s house. He saw the leaves that advertised the fruit, but found no fruit. There were only leaves.

When there is no fruit the people perish. The fig tree perished, and the temple was torn down.

Jesus is passionate about you. If there are leaves but no fruit in your life, then what hope is there. We need to earnestly desire to bear fruit. If we do, and we go to Jesus with this eager desire, he will satisfy your eager desire. He has promised this.

Jesus can see what is within. He says that ‘Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

We may pretend to have light or love within, but our eyes show that in reality we are wolves in the clothing of sheep. Jesus can see that we are people who wash only the outside of the cup and dish, and do not understand that, unless the inside of these things is cleansed, the outside itself cannot be made pure.

The story of the cursed fig tree is a parable of our desperate need for fruit in our lives, not leaves. We need real living faith, not a mask of pretend faith like leaves.

It’s also a story of how hungry, how passionate, God is for us to have life. It’s a story of how deeply Jesus feels and how greatly he loves. He wants you to have fruit. He died so that you can have fruit. He offers you fruit if you desire it. But you have to desire it.

Don’t be timid. Don’t be full of yourself.

Let’s be hungry people. Let’s be people who crave ardently after God’s kingdom. Let’s have an eager desire for God’s kingdom.

Amen 아멘

About Pastor Simon

Pastor at Jinju International Christian Fellowship. Formerly of Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK. I am Simon Warner of Jinju Church. We speak English at Jinju Church, South Korea.
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