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Lessons from the Fig Tree (Part 2 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
July 10, 2024 4:00 am

Lessons from the Fig Tree (Part 2 of 4)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 10, 2024 4:00 am

From a distance, a leafy fig tree can appear promising—but only a close look determines whether or not the tree bears fruit. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg warns about similarly appearing spiritually fruitful when merely going through religious motions.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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From a distance a fig tree filled with leaves can hold the promise of fruitfulness but on closer inspection you can quickly determine whether a tree has any fruit or not. Today on Truth for Life we'll hear a warning about how some people can give the appearance of spiritual fruitfulness when actually all they're doing is going through religious motions. Alistair Begg is teaching from Chapter 11 in Mark's Gospel. Here we have the Messiah King, the fulfillment of all that has been provided in the Old Testament. He is riding into Jerusalem gentle and riding on a donkey in fulfillment of prophetic passages from the Old. He is coming into the center of religious life looking for spiritual fruit and looking for true worship. And what does he find? He discovers a tree that makes a promise that it can't fulfill, and he discovers a temple that is full of activity that incurs God's wrath. Now, you're sensible people. You follow my line of thought.

Is this accurate? The King comes into the center of religious life, and what is held out as an apparent expression of fruitfulness is not there. And what should be the very exaltation of the living God as a house of prayer has actually been turned into a marketplace and into a bazaar. And although we chose to study these two incidents separately, they really belong together, and they help to explain each other. So I think you'll constantly find yourself moving back and between them as you seek to think this out.

Now, I then decided that the best way I could approach the passage was to try and summarize our thinking under three words, each of which begins with the letter F—that's just the way my mind often works—and they're all there. First of all, the issue of fruit, then the question of faith, and then the matter of forgiveness. We will only be able to tackle the question of fruit for this morning. So there we have it, seeing in the distance a fig tree. Verse 13, he went out to find if it had any fruit. He reached it, he found nothing but leaves. And so he said to the tree, May no one ever eat fruit from you again.

Well, what's happening here? This really actually is tough on the ears of the twenty-first-century Westerners, isn't it? Especially those of us who've been completely invaded by the tree-huggers of the world. If you are a tree-hugger, you must immediately not like this story. Are we then to assume that Jesus is simply employing his supernatural power in a way that is destructive, and he does so arbitrarily, and he does so cynically. In other words, he was hoping that he would find some of the little green figs that would be present before the fullness of the fig tree emerged, and when he found that it wasn't present, he just said, Oh, well, forget that tree.

I hope you'll never ever bear any figs at all. And you will notice the disciples heard him say it. Okay, well, here we go. We must go to our principle.

What's our principle? We take a statement that is difficult to understand, and we set it within the context of everything else we know about the individual who has just said what he said. Is it legitimate, then, for us to conclude that Jesus is acting in a way that is callous?

The answer is no. Why not? Because of everything else we know about Jesus. Because of all of the way that his character unfolds.

Because of all of the way in which he works. Now, of course, if we're opposed to the notion that Jesus, in the totality of the revelation of himself, helps us to reach this conclusion, if we are looking for a way to oppose Christ, then for sure we can say, Well, the only way that I could possibly understand this is in that way. But no. The staggering thing about it is that it is a miracle of destruction, and everything that we've seen of Jesus has been a miracle of transformation, or of restoration. So it ought to make us sit back and go, Whoa! So we have to say, Well, would I be able to conclude that Jesus is just acting in this way? Has Jesus ever acted in this way? No.

Therefore, it would be a complete aberration. Yes. Okay, let me hold that thought. Now, let me go to this question of the fig tree. What do I know about the fig tree?

I get a concordance. I look up fig tree. I see, where do you get fig trees? Well, you find that when you read the Old Testament—and you're going to have to trust me on this and follow up on your own—when you read the Old Testament, you discover that both the vine and the fig tree are used routinely as metaphors of the status of the people of Israel before God. It runs all the way through into the New Testament, as I hope we will see.

For example, in Hosea chapter 9, Hosea writes, God writes through the prophet Hosea, When I found Israel, it was like finding grapes in the desert. When I saw your fathers, it was like seeing the earthly fruit on the fig tree. And if you go and search your Old Testament, you will discover that the prophets spoke of this fig tree in reference to Israel's status before God. Far from the response of Jesus being arbitrary, it makes me wonder whether Jesus, who probably knew the entire Old Testament off by heart, whether Jesus looks on this scene, the occasion of it is a natural occasion. I wouldn't mind a fig right now.

He gets there, there's no figs. Does his mind go to Micah chapter 7 verse 1? You say, Well, I don't know what Micah 7 verse 1 is. I'm going to tell you what it is. This is what Micah 7 verse 1 says. What misery is mine? I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard.

There is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs I crave. Jesus looks on this scene, having ridden in as the king to the headquarters of religion, observing the ceremonialism, observing the legalism, observing the utter emptiness that is represented in the activities of religion in the temple. He says, This is exactly it. Look at this thing. So, we know what we know of Jesus.

We have an inkling of what we know about the fig tree in its place. So then, what possible explanation is there for what he does? Here is my conclusion.

It's not unique to me. But what Jesus is doing here is an acted parable, that what Jesus does here is an expression of what we refer to as prophetic symbolism. That he is using the fig tree to set forth the judgment that is about to fall on Jerusalem. He's doing, in this action, what he then exemplifies in the cleansing of the temple that follows. Luke chapter 19—remember, as he approached Jerusalem, he saw the city he wept over it. He said, If you'd only known what brings you peace, it's hidden from your eyes. And then he says, The day is going to come when your enemies will surround you.

They will not leave one stone on another. Now, here's the implication. Because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you. Because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you. What has he said at the beginning of Mark? The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is near.

The time is near. Repent and believe the good news. And people are going about their religious activities without any consideration of these things at all. And just as from a distance this fig tree gave the impression of a fruitfulness that wasn't there, so these people gave the appearance of being able to satisfy a hunger.

But it wasn't so. You remember that Jesus had already addressed them. We saw this when we studied in Mark chapter 7, when they had come to him, the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they were accusing Jesus of not paying particular attention to the ceremonial accretions to the law of God, and how his disciples were eating food with hands that were unclean, and they were not eating and observing the washing of the cups and the pitchers and the kettles. And Jesus says to them, he says, "'Guys, come on.'" And then he quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. He says, he says, "'Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain. "'Their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God, and you're holding on to the traditions of men.'"

That's in the background of this. Now he comes into the very heart of it in the temple in Jerusalem, and what does he find? Chaos, where there should be the glory of God, and the holding out of the prospect of living water and fruit that would satisfy, exemplified in a tree that is precocious in its exemplification, but it is absolutely useless in terms of what it has to offer. And so, in verse 20, in the morning, as they went along, they see the fig tree withered from the roots. And Peter recalls Jesus' words, and if you have an NIV in front of you, you will notice that the second half of the sentence, it possesses two exclamation marks, one after the word Luke, Rabbi Luke, of course, which it wasn't there in the original.

We've added these things to try and help. The translator obviously feels that not only one exclamation mark but two exclamation marks are justifiable. The fig tree you cursed has withered. By these exclamation marks, the translator is suggesting that there is an element of surprise in the response of Peter. Maybe they're right. In which case, is the element of surprise on account of the fact that it happened? Or is the element of surprise on account of the fact of the speed at which it happened? Because in the natural process of things, growth and decay take time. I mean, you don't plant a tree one night and have a huge big tree growing in your yard the following morning, do you? And the trees that are disintegrating in your yard are disintegrating rather slowly. They've begun to die. They give the evidences of death.

It no longer leaves up there, and then slowly it comes down eventually. He says, But you don't usually get up in the morning and say, My, oh my, look at this! This whole tree is rotten from the roots, and that's what they discovered.

Rabbi Luke, the fig tree you cursed has withered. I just put in my notes, I just wrote down, Jesus said, Tell me something I don't know. And for those of you who want to pursue this, I just made a note to myself to come back to it later and not now, because we need to finish. But I made a note to myself to say, I wonder if there's something here in this process that helps me think through the issue of the age of the universe.

Okay? Because as you know, some people will argue for a very, very old universe. Because the scientists have told us, You can't have a young earth. It's gotta be a very old earth.

The only way that this thing could get like this. And you read it every day on The Wall Street, The New York Times, they tell you it's 700, 900, 7 million thousand billion years since Mr. So-and-so had done this. And if you're a sensible person, you look at that and you go, Where did they get that from? And then they say, Well, you couldn't be so silly as to believe that the earth is a young earth? Yes, I could.

Why? Because the Creator of the universe has the power to change the program as he chooses. Now, whether he has or whether he hasn't in relation to the dating of the earth, you know, you can go away and think about that all afternoon as you choose. But all the thing that struck me was, the reason it's so dramatic is because instantaneously the structure and the status of this tree is transformed not in the natural process of decay but as a result of the supernatural activity of the Creator God, so that the same God who made the universe can make it any way he chooses and has the power to make something that is very young look very old, for whatever reason. Unless, of course, you want to make Jesus subject to the natural processes of contemporary science, or whether you would like to have contemporary science bow before the majesty of a God who created, in moments of time, the universe that we now inhabit.

We finish in this way. Jesus makes no attempt to interpret the event. I think you should be a little disappointed by that. I was. Because if there was something in between verse 21 and 22 in which Jesus says, Oh yeah, that's right.

Of course, and let me tell you why that is, and maybe even a little bit about the age of the earth, that would be absolutely super. But no, how do I get from 21 to 22? How do I get to have faith in God? We'll have to leave that for next time. But if we just have this issue of fruit, I say to myself as I'm sitting there, and you're with me now hoping that we're going to finish soon, how are we to apply this? What possible relevance does this have to people who are about to walk out into suburban Cleveland, so far away from fig trees and temples? Well, we need to remind ourselves of one of the principles with which we began, which was that we need to make sure that we interpret a difficult passage in light of all of Scripture. Therefore, we should sit at our Bibles and think for a minute, is there anywhere in the Bible that we have really an application of this? Because what you have in this dramatic instance is this great drama, this great warning of impending judgment. It is symbolized, prophetically symbolized, in the destruction of this tree instantaneously. And if you think about that for a little while, you'll say to yourself, Yeah, I think there is somewhere that we can go.

And where would that be? Well, it would be to Romans chapter 11. And in Romans chapter 11, Paul is teaching us concerning the remnant of Israel, concerning the purposes of God and putting together a people of his very own.

He is giving instruction to the Gentiles so that we might understand our place, that we are grafted into something that God has already begun to do, that God has not changed his plan, he's not changed his mind, he doesn't operate in two different systems. We have the privilege of being included in the company of those that are marked under the banner of Abraham, who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. And Paul says, if branches have been broken off, as they have—and this is verse 17—if some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, namely, Gentile believers, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.

If you find yourself boasting, consider this. You do not support the root, but the root supports you. If you get this, he says, you will then say, … branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.

Granted. But they were broken off, notice, by unbelief. And you stand by faith. Now, that helps us, because our next word is faith, isn't it?

Jesus says, let me tell you, if you've got faith, that's where we're going, they were broken off because of unbelief. You stand by faith. Here's the exhortation. Don't be arrogant. Instead, be afraid.

Why would we be afraid? Verse 21. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. If he entered into judgment for the unbelief of those whom he had called as a people to himself, says Paul, don't think for a moment that he will not operate in the same way in relationship to you.

Then you would say to yourself, well, that makes me think of John's gospel. That makes me think of Jesus saying, I am the vine, and you are the branches. That makes me think of his statement, he cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. Jesus comes to the center of religious life as represented in the temple, looking for prayerfulness and looking for fruitfulness.

And he discovers neither. The barren fig tree, emblematic of a ceremonial religious legalism that created the notion of satisfying the hungry heart. But when the people got up to it, there was nothing there to satisfy. And for some of us, that is all that we've known of our consideration of the Bible. Rules, regulations, the idea that if I do this, God will do this, a kind of quid pro quo. And we've come again and again, only to find hunger in our hearts. Some of us have actually decided to embrace that as a form of religion. And the warning of Paul is a warning we must face. If he didn't spare the natural branches on account of unbelief, he will not spare you either. Next time, we come to the necessity of faith, the necessity of forgiveness. But for now, we end with the challenge of fruitfulness. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg, with a warning today about the dangers of superficial or legalistic faith.

Alistair returns in a moment to close to the program. In our current series about the parables told by Jesus, we're seeing his divine authority. I mean, who else but God could wither a tree in 24 hours by his word alone. Jesus spoke with authority because he has the authority of God. He is, in fact, God himself. The book we want to recommend to you today will take you through additional evidence of the deity of Christ. The book is titled 100 Proofs that Jesus is God. This book pours over the scriptures to show how Jesus embodies the same attributes as God. Among other proofs, you'll consider Jesus' role in creating and sustaining the universe, as well as his power to forgive sins and redeem sinners. Request the book 100 Proofs that Jesus is God when you give a donation today through the Truth for Life mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate. Or if you'd prefer, give us a call at 888-588-7884. By the way, 100 Proofs that Jesus is God would make a great summer Bible study. If you request a copy of the book when you make a donation and you'd like to purchase extra copies for your study group or your church, just something you can share with others, you'll find them in our online store. They're available for purchase at our cost of five dollars while supplies last.

Visit truthforlife.org slash store. Now here's Alistair with prayer. Father, thank you that your word demands the best of us. That at its very core, when we stand back from it, is just a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ. That when we stand up close to it and we examine the details, there is much to challenge. There is so much that makes demands upon our thinking.

So for those of us who just want to feel something, it all just seems a little elaborate, a little too remote. And I pray that you would help us to understand that this message of the Bible is actually historical, that these things really took place, that it is rational, that it actually makes sense, and that it is empirical inasmuch as we can put it to the test, that we can actually taste and see that the Lord is good. So accomplish your purposes, we pray, and may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

We are so glad you studied along with us today. How can we avoid becoming the objects of God's wrath like the withered fig tree? And what kind of spiritual fruit and true worship is Jesus seeking from us? We'll find out tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-07-10 07:42:16 / 2024-07-10 07:50:47 / 9

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