A Fig Tree and A Den of Thieves

Mark 11:12-14; “And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: 13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find anything thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. 14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard it.”

In what is known today as the West Bank, Jesus spent the night with His friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha in Bethany. Being relatively close to Jerusalem, the next morning afforded Jesus and the disciples a short mile or so walk as they headed east back into Jerusalem. One can only imagine the heaviness of His heart as He made His way back after witnessing the insane practice of money changing at His Father’s house. While on His way He couldn’t help but take notice of a nonproducing fig tree…

Fig tree cursedFig trees weren’t just a source of food for the people in the region; they were also the national symbol. At this time of year the tree wouldn’t have mature fruit yet, but it should have been laden with small budding figs called “taqsh” or immature figs. Even these are a great source of nutrients and their appearance is a sure sign the tree will be a good producer of the mature fruit. As they grew to their full size they’d fall off and were typically eaten by the poor. The real figs would then appear and grow to full size within six or so weeks.

As Jesus approached the fig tree He clearly saw no taksh and just as He witnessed outlandish practices in the temple, He compared the tree to Israel.  Judgment had fallen on the tree as it withered up and died, but God’s forbearance allowed Israel time to repent even at this late stage in the game, albeit their time running short.

Mark 11:15-18; “And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. 17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. 18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.19 And when even was come, he went out of the city.”

Our Heavenly Father loves His children and is frequently referred to in a loving manner as the “hound of heaven”. He’ll wait and as He waits for us to come to our senses He provides through venues we couldn’t have imagined before.

Sometimes it’s for the person who gets saved while serving a life term behind bars and sometimes it’s salvation for the man who rebelled against God all his life and while on his deathbed he’s become the prodigal son. Such was the case with my father-in-law many years ago. After years of skirting around the edges of walking into the Kingdom of God, a repentant sinner became eternally grateful for the Father who reached out with open arms.

Even as the Pharisees were hurling their condescending innuendos at Jesus the day before we see God’s expressive love for His children in the tears Jesus shed. It’s much like the experiences we have as parents. While we know our kids are making poor choices we can only stand by and watch while they pitch their fits at times; praying they too will come to their senses. We always wait on them just as our Father does for us. Jesus would remind His disciples of this on their way to town the next day when they remarked at the dead fig tree…

The first stop for Jesus after arriving at Jerusalem was of course His Father’s house. Approaching the temple scene must have been surreal when He saw it filled with livestock, money changers and doves crowding the Courtyard of the Gentiles.

Holy MondayAs He entered the outer courtyard we see a rare occurrence of Jesus using physical force. Turning over the tables of the money changers and dove sellers brought the immediate attention of the high priests and scribes as they began plotting against Him.  His actions born from righteous indignation were that of one with authority, for no one would dare do such a thing at another’s home. He acted as a son in his own house, which to the Pharisees was reprehensible.

It was the second time Jesus went to the temple during His ministry and caused a commotion. The first time was at the start of His ministry as we see in John 2:13-16;

“And the Jews’ Passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: 15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; 16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”

At this first cleansing of the temple you’ll notice that He presented Himself as the Messiah.  You’ll also notice their lack of concern to His assertion and announcement when they started their old routines straightaway. By the time of His first visit to the temple in His ministry, their actions proved things in the past three years had only worsened.

The corruption they employed while using the temple money left them subject to extortion which has no place in the House of the Lord. And what they were missing was the condition of their hearts. They were there to sacrifice to the Lord because of their sin. The irony of the scenario wouldn’t even stop them in their tracks.

However, our Lord wouldn’t be deterred from His mission. He had come to set the captives free and clean all unrighteousness from Jacob.  Romans 11:26;

“And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”

As the commotion from the overturned benches and tables began to subside and the Pharisees fear of Him increased, the children and the infirm wasted no time in taking center stage.

Kids typically don’t miss a beat and this time around proved to be no different as they began crying out praises to His name when they witnessed the miracles He performed for the lame and blind.

Matthew 21:14-16; “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, 16 And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?”

While Jesus went about praying over the afflicted and healing them, the powers that be started plotting in a calculated attempt to save their own skin.  Their refusal to accept Him or even look in their own writings to verify the time was at hand must have been grievous to the Lord indeed. Certainly they knew full well He had just quoted a Psalm of David;

8:1-2; “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”

Again, another fulfillment of prophecy was taking place right in front of them, yet no one acknowledged God was on the move. Their behavior this time around wasn’t only making God’s House a house of merchandise like He’d warned them of earlier, but now they had turned it into a den of thieves by stealing from widows.

The events of the day came to an end leaving a mixed bag of reactions for everyone in Jerusalem. Those who believed in the Lord must have had some wonderful dinner conversation that night! Those He healed were probably still in shock as they climbed into bed.  And then there were the naysayers…the contentions would intensify the next day with Jesus’ parables.