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Day 13: The Temple & the Fig Tree

Today's reading is from Matthew 21:12-22 (NIV)
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.
13 "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.
15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.
16 "Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"
17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.
18 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked.
21 Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done.
22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."

What is so interesting about these two incidents is that they both involve acts of judgement on the part of Jesus. One thing that seemed to mark Jesus' ministry was the lack of judgement on outward or material things. It was said as much in John 3:17 and Matthew 7:1-5. Yet, another look gives us insight into what Jesus was doing.

The first of these was a direct shot at the temple leaders who saw in the temple courts - and therefore in people's desire to come to God - an opportunity for money making. The Pharisees talked about the Messiah coming for ages before; but when the Messiah did come, they saw in Jesus someone who disrupted their lives and took away their sources of wealth. Not only that, but this was a court for the Gentiles - those who were not Jews, but who were coming to the Temple to worship. What had been for Missions had been made material and mercenary.
All too sadly we have had people who have used Christ, the Church, God's grace, for their own personal gain. They don't have the heart of wanting to worship God first, and inviting all who want to come to find him; but instead, have used their position to line their own pockets. This is what scripture says is "wolves in sheep's clothing".

The story of the fig tree seemingly is uncharacteristic of what we know of Jesus. Why could not Jesus have simply "blessed" the tree and given it new life? Why curse it and leave it fruitless forever?
Fruit is the product of life. The two stories follow each other on purpose. The fig tree symbolizes the nation - especially the religious rulers - and is meant to describe the religion they have created. It is devoid of life, outwardly having the form and structure, but devoid of any fruit.

That is the nature of religion. It's focus is on material things, and it's life is without fruit. Our lives as God's temple are meant to be places of worship and prayer, first; and because of that, they bear fruit in the Holy Spirit. We can't bear fruit in and of ourselves. Jesus says, "abide in me and you'll bear fruit". We don't bear fruit because we try harder; but because our efforts consist of staying close to Jesus...abiding in him...allowing his life to be reproduced in our character and lead to real fruit - the transformed life.

Peace

If you're reading along in the Bible through the Year with me, read Judges 13, 14, 15, the beginning of the Samson story. Here's a perfect example of what I've written above - the life of a person who moves from real hope to real disappointment because he selfishly does what he wants instead of obeying God's word.

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