Intro: On my desk at home I have a pair of Emmett Kelly, Jr. bookends that my mother bought for me years ago. Emmett Kelly Jr. was a legendary American clown; his character was Weary Willie. These bookends in some way touch my soul; in between my bookends rest my three favorite Bible translations. So, Weary Willie reminds me when I am tempted to feel weary, it is time to reach for the Word!
In our lesson today, Jesus has the Jewish nation on his mind. He uses two events like bookends to his lesson about judgment. The first piece or bookend of the event takes place when Jesus is walking toward Jerusalem with his disciples, realizes he is hungry, and walks to a fig tree in order to pick some fruit. But there is no fruit even though the leaves on the tree make it look healthy and promising. The leafy fig tree is a facade; looks visually inviting and hopeful, but void of fruit [the tree is an object lesson about the spiritual hypocrisy and fruitlessness of Israel]. So Jesus gets angry, curses [judges] the fig tree, and keeps walking to the temple.
When Jesus gets to the temple, he becomes aware that the priests have ignored God’s instruction about their duties to maintain a sacred place of worship for God’s dwelling. Instead, the priests, money-changers, and merchants are padding their pockets by taking advantage of the poor [extortion]. As well the priests are doing business in the Gentile courtyard which hinders the non-Jews from worshiping. Therefore, the temple is a facade; looks like it is busy with life, but it actually is a place where the practice of sin is allowed to hide and contains no prayer for the nations. Immediately, Jesus expresses the anger of God and drives them out of the temple [judgment has been put into action]. Note, the temple will be destroyed in 70AD when the judgment is complete.
Here’s the second piece or bookend of the event: The next day Jesus and his disciples are walking past the same fig tree [still an object lesson] and they notice it is dying from the roots up. Jesus wants his disciples to understand about the judgment coming. If the life of Christ is not in us, we will not only be fruitless, we will spiritually wither and die. We must dwell and abide in Christ.
Only the life of Christ can atone for our sin, but repentance and turning from sin is essential. Jesus is the Judge of sin and we must surrender to his righteous commands. This evening ends Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement. For the Jew, it is a time to ask God to forgive and cleanse his people from sin. For Christians, we know Jesus is the Messiah who atones for our sin and provides peace with God. So, today, may we spend time in prayer for the Jews to recognize their Messiah who offers peace, the salvation of the unbelieving world, and for our very own hearts to repent of all known sin. Judgment is inevitable, but forgiveness comes when we ask for the blood of Jesus to cleanse us.
Mark 11:12-14, 20-24 NLT Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”
Prayer: Lord, according to your Word, I know your plan for redemption includes the salvation of the Jewish people. So on this Holy Day of Yom Kippur, I pray for the Jewish people to come to know you as their Prince of Peace and personal Savior. May they receive the perfect atonement you offer. Open their eyes, reveal yourself to their hearts, and help them confess, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” For non-Jews, we pray for them to hunger for your righteous justice, mercy, and forgiveness, Lord. And for all hearts, we pray the blood of Jesus to cleanse us and make us holy in your sight. We are a sin-prone people, but you are a holy God! Hear the cry of our hearts, today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.