Did Jesus Need a Snickers Bar When He Cursed the Fig Tree?

Mark 11

12The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus felt hungry. 13He noticed a fig tree a little way off that was in full leaf, so he went over to see if he could find any figs on it. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.

15When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves, 16and he stopped everyone from bringing in merchandise. 17He taught them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

18When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so enthusiastic about Jesus’ teaching. 19That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.

20The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it was withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Teacher! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23I assure you that you can say to this mountain, ‘May God lift you up and throw you into the sea,’ and your command will be obeyed. All that’s required is that you really believe and do not doubt in your heart. 24Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. 25But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. ”
(Mark 11:12-25, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Mark 11 gives two different stories in which Jesus seems to go off for no good reason. The chapter begins with Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem on a donkey as the crowds praised Him. Everything seems to be going great, which makes the two stories that follow all the more difficult to comprehend.

The next morning, after the triumphal entry, Jesus is hungry. He sees a fig tree and since there’s no fruit on it, He curses it. The author makes a point of telling the reader that the tree only had leaves on it because it was too early in the season for fruit. In other words, the fig tree didn’t have fruit on it because it shouldn’t have had fruit on it. The fruit wouldn’t arrive until several months later.

Jesus had to know this, and yet He curses the fig tree anyway.

What’s going on with Jesus? I imagine one of those Snickers commercials in which the person who’s hungry takes on a completely different persona until a friend gives them a Snickers bar. After taking a bite, the person returns to their normal self. The commercial ends with the tag line, “You aren’t YOU when you’re hungry.”

The text says that Jesus was hungry. Did He just go temporarily crazy because He was hungry?

After cursing the fig tree, they returned to Jerusalem where Jesus went to the temple and began driving out the merchants. He’s knocking over tables and though the text doesn’t say this, I sort of imagine Him with a whip, driving out the money changers from the temple area in Indiana Jones fashion!

Will someone please get this man a Snickers Bar?

After Jesus’ episode at the temple, He and the disciples leave the city and the next morning, they see the fig tree. It’s withered from the roots. The disciples make mention of the tree to Jesus, who responds by telling them to have faith in God and they will be able to move mountains.

If you’re like me, you’re probably scratching your head while squinting your left eye and thinking, “what?”

We can probably dismiss the idea that Jesus was just raging because He was hungry. After all, He spent 40 days without food in the desert being tempted by Satan and He was able to withstand all of Satan’s efforts, so there’s no reason to believe that Jesus went into an uncontrollable rage due to some minor hunger pangs.

Remember that much of what Jesus did was for the sake of His disciples. He was always teaching them, often through object lessons. This is certainly the case here too as the text says, with regard to Jesus cursing the fig tree, that “the disciples heard Him say it.” The author makes a point of letting the reader know that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples heard Him. That seems like an important detail, otherwise there would be no need for the author to mention it.

Look too at the text and notice that the story of the temple is sandwiched in between the details of the fig tree – the fig tree is cursed, Jesus drives out the merchants at the temple and then the fig tree is withered. Certainly, this is not coincidental story telling by the writer, but intentionally written in order to make a point.

Yes, but what’s the point?

Let’s look at the details of the temple passage to see if we can make sense of it. After Jesus drives out the merchants, He says:

“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”

Jesus is angry because the temple is supposed to be “a place of prayer for the nations”, but it has been turned into “a den of thieves”.

The temple was a massive structure that had different sections for different purposes (Click here to read more about the different areas of the temple). Outside the temple was a courtyard that was divided into different areas, one of which was “the Court of the Gentiles”. This was the only place where non-Jews could come and worship the Lord at the temple, and yet it had been converted into a farmer’s market and mobile banking exchange center.

Imagine you are a Jew who wants to come to Jerusalem to make a sacrifice. You can take the long journey and bring your animals with you (doable but inconvenient) OR you can come without your animals and you can purchase your sacrificial animal when you arrive in the city (much more convenient). This is how business works – you figure out what people need, you provide that need for them and you make a profit off the sale.

This is what was happening here. The idea of providing animals for people was not what made Jesus angry. What was objectionable was the fact that their profits were exorbitant, hence, Jesus calls them thieves. Additionally, they were conducting business in the only place that Gentiles could access the temple for worship, thus negating the temple’s purpose as a “place of prayer for the nations.”

Jesus was not reacting to hunger pangs but to a pattern of unrighteousness and greed exhibited by the religious rulers and business leaders.

So what does this have to do with the fig tree?

Most commentators agree that the fig tree is representative of the nation of Israel. Jesus doesn’t curse the tree because He’s hungry and there is no fruit on it. He curses it as an object lesson for His disciples. The tree illustrates the nation of Israel, which was fruitless and had been for some time.

The curse illustrates that because of Israel’s fruitlessness, God’s judgment on Israel would be forthcoming. The temple was the center of religious life and what was happening at the temple was an example of the fruitlessness that existed and the fact that Israel had neglected their role in God’s greater purposes to be a light to the Gentile world.

The temple was destroyed in AD 70 and it has never been rebuilt. Thus, Jesus’ foreshadowing of impending judgment on the nation of Israel was fulfilled.

All this writing is making me hungry. I think I need a Snickers!

Reflection

How have you understood these stories in the past? What was your explanation for why Jesus cursed the fig tree and drove out the temple merchants?

It is clear that Jesus was angry when He drove out the merchants. How do you reconcile Jesus’ anger with the Biblical truth that He was sinless?

In what situations do you think it’s ok to be angry? What factors cause anger to be sinful?

What do you think are some effective and appropriate ways for dealing with anger?

While we are not under a curse like the nation of Israel was, it is clear from Scripture that God desires for His followers to bear fruit? What would bearing fruit look like for you and what steps can you take to ensure that you are not a fruitless Christian?

 

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

 

A Better Sacrifice

Hebrews 9

11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The theme of the book of Hebrews is “better”. The author gives a logical argument for why Christ is better than all of the elements of the Jewish religious system. He’s better than Moses; He’s better than the angels; He’s a better high priest and in this chapter, the author outlines why and how Jesus’s sacrifice is a better sacrifice than the Old Testament sacrificial system.

The short answer to why Jesus’s sacrifice is better is: it’s the blood.

In the first 10 verses, which I didn’t list, the author gives a brief description of the layout and function of the earthly temple, including the exact detail of the priestly duties in relation to the Holy of Holies, which the high priest entered only once a year to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people.

The first reason the author gives for Jesus’s sacrifice being better is that Jesus offered his sacrifice in the heavenly temple, not the man-made temple. According to verse 24, the earthly temple was merely a copy of the heavenly temple, and when the earthly high priest made atonement, once a year, he was doing it in the earthly tabernacle, which was merely a symbol of the heavenly temple.

Secondly, when Jesus made atonement, he did it with better blood. The earthly priests offered up sacrifices with the blood of goats, bulls and calves, which are imperfect animals. As a result, the earthly priest made this atonement on an annual basis. There was always a reminder of sin because of the constant need for atonement.

Jesus, on the other hand, offered up his own blood, which is perfect in every way, because he is not only better than an animal, he is God himself. His blood does not come from an imperfect, sinful being.

This logically leads to the final reason Jesus’s sacrifice is better. Jesus sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrifices because it is FINAL. As has been mentioned, the Old Testament sacrificial system required a constant stream of sacrifices to atone for sins committed. This is because the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently atone for sin.

But Jesus’s blood DOES permanently atone for sins. The author declares in verse 28 that:

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;

The argument the author is making is crucial to his audience, the Hebrews because there was a strong urge to hold fast to Old Testament rituals and to maintain adherence to the Law, even after trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. It was difficult for these believers to shift their thinking and see that there was no longer a need for the religious rules and rites they had been following for centuries. The author is helping them to see how the Old covenant had a purpose, but Jesus offers a new and BETTER covenant.

He offers this better covenant to us as well as the author notes that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Reflection

Early Jewish Christians had difficulty discarding their old religious traditions, (namely, the sacrificial system) and putting their trust in Jesus’s sacrifice alone. What religious traditions might be easy for you to subtly make a substitute for Jesus’s sacrifice? In other words, what rules or religious rituals apart from Jesus,  are you apt to put your hope and trust in as somehow providing a means of forgiveness and atonement?

The author states in verse 27 that man is destined to die once, and then comes the judgment. What is your reaction to the idea that there are no second chances after we die?

What new awareness or insights do you have regarding Jesus’s sacrifice as a result of this chapter of Scripture? How will this new awareness impact your relationship with Christ?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

The Significance of the Torn Veil

33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.

37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:33-41, NIV)


Mark 15 documents the climactic struggle of Jesus on the cross. Jesus shouts out something in Hebrew and those who are watching assume that He’s appealing to Elijah to save Him.

Jesus breathes His last breath before succumbing to the brutal effects of crucifixion, a torturous method of execution that is designed to slowly suffocate its victims.

And then comes verse 38. It’s so easy to gloss over because before this verse you have people standing around wondering if Jesus is appealing to Elijah and then immediately after this verse the focus shifts back to a centurion who had witnessed Jesus’s ordeal and who concludes that, “surely this man was the Son of God!”

So what’s the deal with verse 38? It seems so out of place to mention that the veil in the temple was torn in two right in the midst of describing Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s almost like the subliminal message that briefly interrupts the flow of the video you’re watching. If you’re not paying attention, you hardly notice it.

Yet this verse is extremely significant. If you’re familiar with the importance of the temple to Jewish religious life, the significance of this verse is probably evident. But if you’re not familiar with the role the temple played in the lives of the Israelites, let me give you some information that may shed new light on this passage.

The temple was THE center of religious life for the Israelites because it represented the very dwelling place of God. The temple was where Jews brought their sacrifices as an act of worship to God.

Inside the temple was a section called the Holy Place, which was separated by another room called the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies contained only one item, the Ark of the Covenant. The Holy of Holies was a room that could only be entered once per year, on Yom Kippur, by the high priest, who would enter the room and sprinkle the blood of a unblemished sacrifice on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in order to atone for the sins of the people.

The Holy of Holies was separated by a large thick veil, a curtain that created a barrier between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The significance of this veil cannot be underscored. It represented the idea that God is holy and man is not and therefore, God is not accessible to man because of his sin.

Yet immediately upon Jesus’s death on the cross, this tiny, easy to overlook verse says that this veil was torn in two, giving access to the very presence of God. The text specifically says the veil was torn from top to bottom, which is no accident. The symbolism is clear – the veil was torn by God Himself, giving access to His presence that was previously unavailable.

The heart of the gospel message is this: Jesus died on a cross, atoning for the sins of the world and giving sinful humanity access to Holy God. We no longer need to make yearly sacrifices because of the sacrifice Jesus has already made on our behalf.

We have two possible responses. We can respond like the centurion, who recognized Jesus is the Son of God, or we can respond like the religious leaders, who took the torn veil, sewed it up and reattached it, thus ignoring the sacrifice that Jesus had made.

Reflection

What is your response to the death of Jesus and the tearing of the veil? Are you more like the centurion, who recognized Jesus as the Son of God? Or are you more like the Jewish religious leaders who preferred to dismiss Jesus’s sacrifice in favor of their former way of life?

What are the veils (barriers) that you put up in your life that keep you from entering into the presence of God? 

For more details about the layout of the temple click here.

 

Photo by Nikola Bikar on Unsplash

Building a New Temple

The Dome of the Rock sits on the site where the Jewish Temple once stood and where some religious leaders expect a new temple to some day be built.
Photo by Dave Lowe

4Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him.

5And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.  6As the Scriptures express it,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem, a chosen cornerstone, and anyone who believes in him will never be disappointed.”

(1 Peter 2:4-6, NLT)


In this passage, Peter uses imagery of the temple, which would have been very familiar to his audience.

In the Old Testament, the temple was a place – a building made with stones, where God was worshiped.

Here Peter says that you, as Christians, are being built into a new temple, with Jesus as the cornerstone.

In masonry, the cornerstone is the most important stone in the building of a structure. The cornerstone is foundational. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone.

Peter is saying that God is building a new temple that’s not a physical temple, but a spiritual temple. It’s not made with physical stones but instead, it consists of spiritual stones made up of people. Jesus is the foundational stone and those who follow Jesus are the stones God is using to build this new spiritual temple.

The implications of what Peter is sharing are huge.  Instead of going to a place to worship God, you can worship God all the time, with your life, since you are the temple and God is with you all the time.

Additionally, in the Old Testament, the priest was integral to the act of worship. The priest administered the sacrifices on behalf of the worshiper.

Now that Christ has come, you are the priest. A mediator is no longer necessary.

Verse 5 says that we offer spiritual sacrifices that please him.

What are those sacrifices?

Our lives are the sacrifices. Go, therefore, and worship the Lord with your life!

Reflection

In your view, what does it mean to worship God and what is the way in which a person worships God?

Does your religious tradition utilize a priest? If so, what is your response to Peter’s assertion that you, as a follower of Christ, are a holy priest who offers spiritual sacrifices to God?

In what ways can you offer up your life to God as a spiritual sacrifice?