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The Fig Tree and the Temple

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 21, 2021 12:01 am

The Fig Tree and the Temple

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 21, 2021 12:01 am

Why did Jesus curse a fig tree when He saw that it bore no fruit? Today, R.C. Sproul continues his exposition of the gospel of Mark, examining Christ's judgment against the religious hypocrisy of Israel and the warning this presents for us today.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind, and several occasions. Jesus chastened the religious leaders of his day for their show of spirituality. Their show of righteousness, but with the absence of fruit is simple. In the New Testament, Jesus said the barren branches are worthless and will become often thrown into the fire. So today as we returned to Dr. RC Sproul sermon series from the Gospel of Mark. We will see a stark example of Jesus. Disapproval the cursing of the figtree. If you have your Bibles and turn Mark chapter 11 verse 12 we read the next day when they come out from Bethany. He was hungry and saying from afar of figtree having leaves he want to see if perhaps he would find something on it when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves for it was not the season for fakes and thereupon Jesus found only leaves no flags cursed the fig tree, saying, let no one ever eat fruit from you again. The passage that I just read to you as I'm sure you can imagine, is one that has been quite vexing over the centuries for scholars because on the surface it seems that Jesus overreacts to this poor innocent figtree for not bearing figs when it wasn't even the season for fakes. The late Bertrand Russell who wrote the book attacking Christianity saying why I am not a Christian, included this narrative as one of the reasons that he gave for repudiating Christianity because he said this incident displays Jesus as a man who expresses vindictive fury to an innocent plant manifesting behavior that is not consistent with even a righteous man, let alone the son of God, and even Christian scholars who are more sanguine in their evaluation of Jesus are perplexed by this story. Some have said that this incident represents terrific waste of super natural power and it challenges our thinking to imagine why Jesus reacted in such a manner will those who believe in the sinlessness of Jesus and in the inspiration of the New Testament text have come to the defense of our Lord and tried to explain this somewhat bizarre incident in terms of some of the dimensions of the growing of things. The fig season is in the fall in Palestine. Yet in the spring. The fig trees that are dormant will send out little knobs or buds of what's called upon Jean and the support team are not real things, but they are the subsurface for the production of figs and after these little knobs have been set forth then I growth of foliage follows from it and people who are weary and hungry travelers from time to time will pluck these sprag being from the fig trees and eat them. Even though they're not fully developed figs.

They were edible and so the commentators say that what happened here was that these knobs that should've been present were not present. And so Jesus was angry because there were leaves but no budding by Jean. Well, I don't think that's the answer either this morning.

If you been worried about this text all your life. I am going to solve the mystery for you. One of the special traits that I had in seminary, which there were few was having the opportunity to take a course from a man who was in his mid 80s at the time who was one of the most distinguished archaeologists of the 20th century, Dr. James Kelso had been an associate of William Foxwell Albright, who was to archaeology what Einstein was the physics in the 20th century and also an associate of John Bright and I had this elective course in the customs and geography of Palestine from old Dr. Kelso who was perhaps the greatest living expert on the customs of that nation, and when we looked at this text. Dr. Kelso explained that this way that in Palestine there is a clearly defined season for figs, and the vast majority of species of figs grow within that season. However there were a few rare species of fig trees that bore fruit out of the normal fig season and he said the final test of whether one could expect figs from a figtree was not what time of year it was. But whether or not the foliage of the tree was in full bloom and so Jesus knowing the customs and culture of Palestine even better than Dr. Kelso saw this fig tree in full bloom, which would say clearly that figs not just Vadim and little knobs but real figs would be present on it. He turned aside to satisfy his hunger from these fakes. But instead of finding an exotic figtree bearing delicious figs out of season. He found a tree that was barren. So why did he curse, because Jesus, among other things, was a prophet and one of the most graphic forms of prophetic communication that we find in the Old Testament was the object lesson where the prophet would take something from nature or something from an ordinary use as Amos did with a plumb line and use that object to communicate the truth of God.

And so here Jesus finds an object that displays the sin of hypocrisy. It had all of the outward appearance of fruit, but it was empty. It was barren and if you follow the teaching of Jesus through his earthly ministry. You can see the severity with which our Lord regularly announce the particular sin of hypocrisy. This was his basic your critique of the Pharisees of the day.

How many times, particularly in Matthew's gospel we hear Jesus saying woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, your like whited sepulcher beautiful pristine on the outside but inside filled with dead men's bones. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, you claim the outside of the plate, but underneath is filled with filth and several occasions.

Jesus chastened the religious leaders of his day for their show of spirituality. Their show of righteousness, but with the absence of fruit that should be a lesson to us in our own day several years ago, when our friend Archie Parrish was the international director of evangelism explosion.

He asked me to write a book to help his workers in that field because they had compiled over decades. The responses that people gave to the diagnostic questions of the Christian faith, and they kept track and they compiled the top 10 objections that people raised against Christianity, and so Archie came to me and he said would you write a book giving an answer to these top 10 objections and so I did in the title of the book was simply objections answered but one of the top 10 objections that they discovered in their ministry over the years was the objection that the church is filled with hypocrites and because people were watching the lives of church members throughout the week they were turned off to Christianity because they said Christians are hypocrites for one friend of mine when he heard that complaint that the church is filled with hypocrites responded by saying, well, there's always room for one more. And here's where the problem is dear friends what the church is full of his sinners. In fact, I don't know of any other organization in the world that we requires that you be a sinner in order to join it, but the church is an organization of sinners. Now here's where our logic gets a little muddled.

All hypocrites are sinners, but not all sinners are hypocrites reset again. All hypocrites are sinners, but not all sinners are hypocrites.

Hypocrisy is one of many sins and it's unfair of our critics to say well so and so is a professing Christian, and we saw him sin. During the week. Therefore, these a hypocrite. Not necessarily so. If I claim not to do something and then you see me do it, then I'm guilty of hypocrisy, so we need to draw that clear distinction there.

However, having said that, in the fence of Christians who by their fallen nature continue to sin, even after embracing the Savior we still need to be very careful to avoid the pernicious sin of hypocrisy.

Paul himself was aware of this when he said the Gentiles blaspheme because of us. They see us talking the talk and not walking the walk. Now the other side of this coin is something we in the church need to be very sensitive to. Why is it that sometimes we feel like we have to pretend that we've achieved a higher level of sanctification than we really have because we create pressure in the church, we create a level of expectation to Christians, we assume that they're going to behave at a certain level of purity which in many cases, dear friends, is completely unrealistic. We know that conversion does not cure all of our sin and that the process of sanctification is something that takes our entire lives. And there are no two people in this room this morning who are at the same point in their spiritual growth. There are no two people in this room this morning who came into the Christian faith, with the exact same amount of baggage from the world. That's why we're called to be patient with one another to have that kind of love that covers a multitude of sins. Yes, we have to discipline when gross and heinous sin manifests itself in our midst went public scandal besmirched is the dignity of the church, but in the meantime were a fellowship of sinners. One person set it where one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. I like the bumper stickers.

I don't usually like Christian bumper things but I like the one that says God is not finished with me yet and so let's not pressure each other to become play actors to pretend that were more pious than we are.

But in any case, the point that Jesus is making here is not so much addressing the problem of hypocrisy within his church. Rather, there's a direct link in this narrative between the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple. That's why Mark interjects the cleansing of the temple between the cursing and then the discovery of the death of the fig tree the following day. Let's look at what happens in the temple so they came to Jerusalem and 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, you know what folks have to tell you this I believe was Christmas day. Fox News had a presentation on religion in America in a very very famous preacher, was featured in this program and I didn't get to see the whole thing but I saw this I came in and I look at this preacher and he was saying with great gusto and great emphasis. I don't care who you are. I don't care what you've done or you've done it with God is not angry with you.

I finally find a formula for how to have a 15,000 member church.

All I have to do is tell people doesn't matter what you do, you never have to worry about the wrath of God, but I can't find that in my Bible. We do provoke God to anger, and we saw that the people of Jesus day provoked our Lord to righteous indignation. He came into the temple. The house of God, and was furious with what he found there. He cared what these people were doing. Think about the Herodian temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world was divided into four parts.

The court of the Gentiles, which was the largest part of 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 was 500 x 350 yards.

Think five football fields by 3 1/2 football fields. The space of the court of the Gentiles occupied 35 acres.

That's a big church 35 acres just for one quarter of the building and in the court of the Gentiles.

What was going on was that the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin had turned the court of the Gentiles. Basically, into a stockyard for commercial purposes.

One of the most lucrative sources of revenue for the Sanhedrin was the sale of animals for sacrifice.

You can imagine that, on the occasion for the celebration of Passover, which was a feast of obligation for every Jew, the Jews streamed into Jerusalem from all quarters of the ancient world from all of the provinces and when they came for Passover. They had two problems.

One is that they were going to travel great distances carrying a sheep for the sacrifice. It was much more convenient for them to buy that sheep after they arrived in Jerusalem, so that they could prepare them for Passover but then the other problem they had. If they wanted to buy these animals in Jerusalem. They were using currency that was not in use in Jerusalem and just like when we go abroad if we want to go to Holland or Paris or whatever we have to exchange our dollars for euros and whenever we exchange our dollars for euros.

There's always that some kind of tariff added to it in that whole process of money changing. So when the pilgrim came to Jerusalem I had the by an animal, but he didn't have the right kind of money to buy the animal.

So the first thing he had to do was go to the money changing tables exchange his money for the Jerusalem money and then go and buy the animal all the animals were sold for a premium because the people needed them and the exchange rates were extraordinary, and so here is the church.

The exquisite building of the temple that had been dedicated to the glory of God and Jesus said, my father's house was built to be a house of prayer you've turned it into a den of thieves. The whole purpose of my church has been warped and distorted and turned into corruption and so our Lord is the other gospel still is made a whip of cords and went over and kicked over the tables, drove the moneychangers, and the animals of the temple cleansing will notice what else Jesus says here, is it not written, my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations for all nations. This incident doesn't take place in the holy of holies it doesn't take place in the Jewish segment of the temple doesn't take place in the women's court.

It takes place in the court of the Gentiles in the court of the Gentiles was part of the structure of the temple because way back at the time of Abraham, God called Abraham to be a blessing to all the nations and Israel had the mission of proclaiming the truth of God, not just to themselves but to all people, and so in the design of the temple there was a place for the non-Jew to congregate on the outer edges to be sure, but still to be included in the church of God. Now in popular Jewish expectancy. The Jews who hated the Gentiles had the hope that when the Messiah would come, he would cleanse the temple of all Gentiles get rid of them once and for all. But when Jesus comes he cleanses the temple for the Gentiles.

This place is for people not for sheep, not for goats. North Koreans in the year A.D. 66.

During the coming of the Roman armies against Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus said that in that year, 255,000 lambs were slaughtered in Jerusalem during the Passover can imagine it 255,000 BC.

What a huge enterprise. What a huge business was going on there. Batista said the temple is barren and on the morrow when he goes back towards Bethany, the disciples look and they see that tree the Jesus of cursed and they saw that it had shriveled up at its roots. It had been. Kirsten was worthy only of being cast into the fire.

It would never bring forth fruit again. The only possible use of it would be for firewood DC the connection. The object lesson of the tree goes to Israel and the symbol of the Old Testament for Israel was. Israel was called God's phratry and now the figtree is cursed and so is the nation because the heart of their worship was an exercise in hypocrisy.

He was ears to hear the word of God.

Let them Jesus said I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing important call for each of us to abide in Christ, glad you joined us for the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Each week Dr. RC Sproul continues his verse by verse series through the gospel of Mark as we spent time with each verse rediscovering the depth of God's love for his people. Even in stark warnings like we heard today. As you continue your own study of the gospel of Mark.

I hope you'll contact us today to request a very helpful resource. It's Dr. Sproles commentary on Mark is nearly 400 pages and with your donation of any amount to look at your ministries. We will be glad to send it your way, you can make a request and give your gift on our website at Renewing Your Mind.before we go today. Let me remind you that Ligonier has produced thousands of resources to help you study the Bible to get a better understanding of theology and what it needs to have a Christian worldview.

When you download our free app to your phone or tablet will have access to a huge virtual library of helpful study tools to find it by searching Ligonier in your app store. Jesus made the figtree with her and I taught the disciples an important lesson. But he also demonstrated that he has authority over all of his creation.

I hope you'll join us again next week. Continue the sermon series from Mark's gospel here on Renewing Your Mind

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