As I write this article, I’m watching snowflakes float past my window. Even though several of my friends had mowed their lawns on Good Friday, most of them posted photos of snow-covered lawns the day after Easter. Go ahead, check the date of this newsletter; honest, it’s really spring. I have to admit that I was a little gung ho about spring this year, vowing to ignore the weather simply because the equinox had passed, but I still have to wonder, is it really a new season? Whether you listen to the groundhog or depend upon the calendar, it’s supposed to be spring, but with snow in the air, the signs seem to indicate otherwise.
That kind of bait and switch is one of the deceptions of life that Jesus came to deal with. Since I’ve been preaching through John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry, we did not touch on one incident that happened in the final week of Jesus’ life, which we find in Mark 11:12-14, 20-26.
After Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he went back to the town of Bethany for the night. The next morning, as they returned to Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree that had leaves but no figs, and he cursed it (vs. 14), “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” Then Jesus continued to the temple, where he drove out the money changers and those who were selling merchandise, saying (vs. 17), “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Then the next day, when Jesus and his disciples were returning to Jerusalem, they saw the fig tree Jesus had cursed withered from its roots. When Peter called attention to the dead tree, Jesus told them to have faith in God and said:
“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your sins.” (Mark 11:23-26)
This incident has confused Christians for centuries, but its implications are very important for us as individuals and as the church; it gives us a better understanding of the new season Jesus began with the new life he provides through his death and resurrection. The key to understanding the fig tree is what Jesus did in the temple.
When Jesus arrived at the temple, there was all kinds of activity, but it was empty and unfulfilling. What had been intended to be a “house of prayer” was robbed of its purpose; so Jesus disrupted what was going on. In the same way, the fig tree had plenty of leaves, but the show of life provided no figs; so Jesus cursed it, and it withered. While we often think of Jesus’ actions in the temple as cleansing it, in reality he was closing it. By the end of the week, when Jesus died on the cross, the purpose of the temple had come to an end, indicated by the sign we read in Mark 15:38, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” So Jesus explained to his disciples that a new season was beginning, a new life in which people no longer have to go to the temple to offer sacrifices in order to worship God and pray, a new life in which action without fruit would be just as dead and useless as the tree without figs.
Through his death and resurrection Jesus provides new life that begins and continues through forgiveness, making it possible for people to approach God directly in faith. Instead of going through the motions that make it look like we have life, we need to put our faith in Jesus who died to forgive us; we need to die to ourselves and receive forgiveness; and we need to show real fruit – forgiving others as we have been forgiven. Then we can show the world that we really live in a new season of new life.