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Miracles of Jesus – Cursing of the Fig Tree | Sermon from 4/13/2014

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Today is Palm Sunday which is the day that we celebrate and remember Jesus making his way down from the Mount of Olives and into Jerusalem.

 1 - Mt. Olives
Mt. of Olives from Jerusalem

 

 2 -jeruslem from Mt. Olives
Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives with the Kidron Valley below the city walls.

 

 3 - Kidron Valley
The Kidron Valley is below the city walls.A Jewish Cemetery is in the foreground with all the graves pointing to Jerusalem

 

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The Walls of Jerusalem taken from the road leading down from the Mt. of Olives.This picture was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus would have entered the city through this gate which is called the Golden Gate.

 

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The Golden Gate

 

This is not the actual gate Jesus would have traveled through because the entire Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, but this is one of the oldest city gates dating back to about 520 AD when the Temple was rebuilt and it was built directly upon the remains of the old gate.  It was sealed when the Ottoman’s reigned in Jerusalem in 1541 in order for them to protect the city from invaders.  This is the only gate that leads directly into the Temple of Jerusalem.  So this is where Jesus would have entered the city.

Crowds would have gathered all along the road leading down from the Mt of Olives and across the Kidron Valley and what I never realized is that along this route is the Garden of Gethsemane which is the place where Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the Romans and deserted by his disciples.  So as Jesus is making his way into the city with a cheering crowd he would have come face to face with the reality that his closest friends would all fail him.  These pictures of the Golden Gate were actually taken from the Garden of Gethsemane so you can see how close the garden was to the city.  As we will hear today, Jesus entered and left Jerusalem several times that week and each time he went into or out of the city he would have seen or even travelled through Gethsemane which would have been a constant reminder of all that was coming.

When Jesus made his way into the city the people lined the streets with palm branches and shouted, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  This cheer tells us that the people were looking for Jesus to be their king.  They wanted him be their political and military leader who would rescue them from the occupation of Rome.  While they were looking for Jesus to be their king, I wonder what Jesus was thinking as he looked at them?  Was he looking into their eyes and hearts to see how much faith they had?  Was he looking to see how committed they were and how faithful they would be?  We always read this story and talk about what the people were looking for in Jesus but today I want us to think about what Jesus was looking for in the people, because the miracle we will read today tells us Jesus was looking for something.

So Jesus enters the city and immediately goes to the Temple and it says that all he did was look around.  What Jesus would have seen were people making preparations to celebrate the Passover.  People were making sure they had the animals they needed for the sacrifices and the right money to pay the Temple taxes and make their offerings.  Jesus doesn’t say or do anything this day, it says he just looked around and then returned to Bethany.  The next day Jesus returned to the city and this time there were no cheering crowds, it was just Jesus and the disciples and as they entered the city Jesus was hungry so approached a fig tree to look for food.  Mark 11:12-14

Jesus went to the tree because it looked promising.  He saw a fig tree full of leaves but there were no figs on it.  It wasn’t bearing any fruit so Jesus cursed it.  Why would Jesus curse a tree?  Was he just really hungry and mad that the tree didn’t have any fruit?  Was he having a bad day and in need of his first cup of coffee?  What is Jesus doing cursing a tree?  The disciples must have asked themselves the same question and since they didn’t get an answer right away, let’s move on and come back to this later.  So Jesus enters the city for the second time – Mark 11:15-19.

The courtyard of the Temple was where everyone came to make preparations for the Passover.  Since people came to Jerusalem from all over the region many of them didn’t have the right currency for the offering and Temple taxes and people wouldn’t bring the animals they needed for the sacrifice on the long trip so they would buy them here. So the money changers and those selling animals would set up in the Temple to help people get what they needed so they could worship and celebrate the Passover with ease.

In many ways what they were doing in the Temple was good because it helped people, but the downside was that these vendors were overcharging people and taking advantage of those from foreign countries and the poor.  It was the foreigners who needed to have their money changed and it was the poor who needed to buy the doves because the rich would have brought a lamb.  So it’s nice that the buyers and sellers are there to provide this service, but they were gouging those they said they were helping.  Jesus is upset by the injustice he sees and does something drastic and out of character, he creates a riot by turning over the tables and benches and sends the temple courtyard into chaos.  This is the second time that day that Jesus has done something drastic and out of character, he cursed a tree and now he has created a scene in the Temple.  Maybe there is something more going on here – maybe these two events are related.  Hold on to that thought.

So they leave the city and return to Bethany and the next day as they make their way back into Jerusalem they came across that same tree.  Mark 11:20-22.

 

 10 - dead fig tree
A withered fig tree

 

So the tree Jesus cursed is now dead.  The tree has withered from the roots outward which means it is completely dead.  Now trees don’t wither and die overnight, so we know that what has happened here is because Jesus cursed the tree.  It happened by the power of God.  It is a miracle – not a happy miracle that brings healing or life but one that brings a message.

So let’s step back and look at the larger picture for a moment:

• Jesus curses a fig tree

• Jesus clears out the temple

• The fig tree has died.

The meaning of this miracle and the answer to why Jesus cursed the fig tree is found in what happened in the Temple.  When Jesus drove out the buyers and sellers he was making a statement about what he found not in the heart of the Temple but in the heats of the people.  Along the road leading into the city and in the Temple courtyard when Jesus looked into people’s eyes and hearts what he found was that they were not being faithful.  Their worship had become empty.

Jesus knew that their praise was shallow.  In fact every time he passed by Gethsemane he knew that he would be standing there alone in just 4 days.  Even his own disciples were going to desert him.  The worship of the people was empty, their sacrifices where just a ritual that they went through and their buying and selling was hurting others.  The faith of the people and their worship of God was dead, from the inside out.  Jesus knew that when he rode into the city and he knew it when he walked into the Temple after that parade so the next morning when Jesus curses the tree he does it make a statement.  The faith of God’s people is dead.  They might look good on the outside, their worship and activity might look good on the outside, but on the inside there is nothing.

That Jesus is making a larger statement here makes sense when we understand that fig trees where often used as the symbol of God’s people in the Old Testament.  Listen to what the prophet Micah says, Micah 7:1- 3.  Micah is looking at the people of God and he is searching to see if they are faithful.  Are they bearing any fruit?  The answer is no.  There are no early figs on the tree.  The people were not being faithful to God.  This is exactly what Jesus said when he comes to the tree looking for fruit but finds none.  Jesus curse of the tree is a statement about the lack of faith he sees in God’s people.  They look good on the outside, they look like they are doing all that God has asked of them, they are worshiping God and maybe even helping others, but their hearts are far from God.   Their worship isn’t meaningful and it is not bringing them or others life.  Their faith has become routine and empty so Jesus not only curses the tree to make a statement that he is looking for more, but he clears out the Temple as a sign that things need to change.

There is one more message that Jesus is giving the people here.  In Mark 11: 16 it says Jesus would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  This would have included all the vessels that would have been used in worship so what Jesus is doing is actually stopping the entire process of worship in Jerusalem.  Jesus is saying that the worship of God was going to change forever.  And it did.  The first change came the moment Jesus died because it was at that moment that the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the rest of the Temple was torn from top to the bottom.  The holy of holies was where God dwelled on earth and only the high priest could enter this area once a year, but with the curtain torn from top to bottom it’s as if God is opening up the holy of holies himself.  God is saying that his presence was no longer going to be bound up in the Temple but available to all people.  The worship of God through sacrifices was now replaced by the worship of Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice.  God was replacing the sacrificial worship system with the worship of Jesus as savior and lord.

The second change coming was that the Temple was going to be completely destroyed so worship there was going to come to an end.  Jesus said this in Mark 13:2.  Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down.  35 years later that is exactly what happened and here is the evidence.

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Temple Stones lying where they fell in 70 AD

 

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Temple Stones lying where they fell in 70 AD

 

These stones were part of the Temple in Jesus’ day and this is exactly where they landed when in 70 AD the Temple was destroyed.  After that time there was no more worship of God and sacrifices to God in the Temple in Jerusalem.

So Jesus cursing the fig tree was first a statement that worship for God’s people was dead and producing neither faith nor fruit and the second statement it made was that the worship of God was going to change.  This miracle was Jesus way of calling people to examine their hearts and change their lives and today it is calling us to do the same.  This miracle calls us to reflect on our relationship with God and ask some tough questions.

• Is our faith producing fruit?

• Are we growing in our knowledge of God?

• Are we growing in our love for God?

• Is our worship from the heart or are we just going through the motions?

• Do we sing from the heart or from our voice?

• Do we pray from deep within our spirit or from the outer parts of our mind?

• Do we serve God out of duty and obligation or from a longing to see God’s kingdom formed in the lives of others and in our world?

This is what Jesus was looking for when he looked at the people as he rode into Jerusalem and this is what Jesus was looking for in the Temple and in his disciples and this is what Jesus is looking for in us.  Is our worship and our faith producing fruit?  Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter provide us the perfect opportunity to examine our hearts and lives to see if our worship has become empty, shallow and routine and if it has, now is the time to resurrect it.  We can’t come to worship this week and next Sunday just because we are supposed to, we need to come with humility and a hunger to give more to God and receive more from God and allow the power of Jesus, a power that performed many and might miracles, to change our hearts and lives forever.  Let us open our hearts and lives to God’s miraculous power, amazing grace and unconditional love.

 

Next Steps

The Miracles of Jesus ~ Cursing the Fig Tree

1.  This miracle calls for some honest reflection about our relationship with God.:

• Is our faith producing fruit?

• Are we growing in our knowledge of God?

• Are we growing in our love for God?

• Is our worship from the heart or are we just going through the motions?

• Do we sing from the heart or from our voice?

• Do we pray from deep within our spirit or from the outer parts of our mind?

• Do we serve God out of duty and obligation or from a longing to see God’s kingdom formed in the lives of others and in our world?

Answer these questions and offer your findings to God.

2.  Enter into worship this coming week and on Easter Sunday with this prayer:

Almighty God, open my ears and my eyes and my heart as I enter into your presence so that this time of worship may not be empty and shallow but filled with your spirit which can strengthen my faith and change my life.  AMEN

3. Read and Reflect on the Last Week of Jesus life:

• Monday:  Mark 14:12-25 – The Last Supper

• Tuesday:  Mark 14:26-31 – Predicting Peter’s denial

• Wednesday:  Mark 14:32-42 – Garden of Gethsemane

• Thursday:  Mark 14:43-72 – Jesus is arrested and tried

• Friday:  Mark 15:1-47 – Crucifixion, Death and Burial

• Saturday:  Mark 16:1-8 – Women go to the tomb

Sunday Morning

8:15 am: Traditional Worship Service with Nursery
10:45 am: Contemporary Worship Service with Nursery and Children’s Church

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