seems that God has an attitude problem – towards the wicked. That permanent
attitude (for God is eternal) is known as the wrath of God. Its penalties are
delayed until the Day of Wrath – but he wants to let us know it’s coming.
On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became
hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps
He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but
leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever
eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples were listening. Then they *came
to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who
were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the
money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would
not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to
teach and say to them, "Is it not written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE
OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS'? But you have made it a ROBBERS' DEN." The
chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy
Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His
teaching. When evening came, they would go out of the city. As they were
passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.
Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, "Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You
cursed has withered." And Jesus *answered saying to them, "Have faith in
God. "Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and
cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what
he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. "Therefore I say to you,
all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them,
and they will be granted you. "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you
have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also
forgive you your transgressions. ["But if you do not forgive, neither will
your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."] They *came again
to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the
scribes and the elders *came to Him, and began saying to Him, "By what
authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do
these things?" And Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question, and you
answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things.
"Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me." They began
reasoning among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say,
'Then why did you not believe him?' "But shall we say, 'From men'?"--they
were afraid of the people, for everyone considered John to have been a real
prophet. Answering Jesus, they *said, "We do not know." And Jesus *said to
them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
(Mark 11:12-33 NASB)
The character of God
will please forgive me if I begin this lesson with a bit of review. It makes
it much easier to understand one of the most difficult sections of Scripture.
We need to review the character of God.
you believe that the universe is a moral place? By that I mean a place where
“what goes around, comes around?” If you’re like most human beings, you hold
two contradictory beliefs:
you believe that righteousness will ultimately prevail – that so and so is
going to get what’s coming to him. It’s a matter of justice.
Interestingly, this belief is common across almost all religions.
you also believe there are people who do not get what they deserve (either
in good things or bad things). Some people die fat, happy and wicked;
others die in righteousness and pain.
a reason for this belief. It is rooted in the character of God:
is pure righteousness. There is in Him no taint of sin, as there
would be with us.
is uncompromising righteousness. He cannot compromise. As one old
preacher put it, “God is angry with the wicked all day long.”
tells us that “just desserts” have only been delayed (God is eternal, he has
plenty of time.) At Christ’s return we shall see the Judgment. But we need to
remember that this will not be a change in God’s attitude – only the final act
know that God is merciful. Again, we must consider the character of God. God
is merciful “all the time.” His mercy is pure. His mercy is without limit.
purity of that mercy is shown at the Cross; only the sacrifice of the
sinless would do.
depth of that mercy is also shown at the Cross – “no greater love.”
however, carries with it one intrinsic characteristic: it must be asked for.
The defiant do not receive it; the humble do – if they will but ask.
is trite to say God is omnipotent. But we need to recognize that point. It
brings out the question, “If God is righteous and omnipotent, what are all
these rotten people doing here when there are lightning bolts left?” We need
to remember that in mercy he has delayed things until the Day of Wrath. But
there are two things in today’s Scripture which bear on the subject of power:
did you ever notice how righteousness reinforces power? The wicked know
who they are, and when confronted, flee.
shares that same power with us – for his righteous purposes.
recall the lesson on symbolism regarding the Triumphal Entry. This set of
events happens immediately afterwards. The symbolic method of teaching is
still in session.
The fig tree
first and obvious question is, “Why?” We know of no evil done by the fig
tree! The answer is more clearly seen when you look at this as a symbolic
fig tree is used frequently in the Old Testament as a symbol for the
nation of Israel. We shall follow this line of thinking.
is obvious, therefore, that Jesus is teaching his disciples his power over
the house of Israel.
root of the lesson is simple: no fruit.
takes the symbol for Israel and deals with it. He has already taught them the
parable of the tree without fruit, and now he makes the lesson come alive,
visually. In this the disciples see the power of our Lord – which, by the way,
should teach them that he is going to the Cross voluntarily. His power is
sufficient to prevent the Cross; but it was for the Cross he came.
lesson? No fruit, no more tree. In AD 70 the Romans sacked Jerusalem and
dispersed the Jews over the face of the earth. The fig tree bore no fruit, and
it was withered. Matthew tells us the tree was withered from the root up – the
fate of any who will not have Jesus as their true vine.
Cleansing the Temple
“things” holy? Can a place be holy? Can objects be holy?
they can. If God sets them apart, they are holy. All through the Old
Testament this concept is reinforced. God sets the Jews apart, they are his,
therefore they are holy. Dishes, candlesticks – all manner of things are
declared to be holy. Holy means to be set apart for God.
we see that Jesus’ anger is reserved for those who misuse the things set apart
for God. It is a sin against holiness.
is indeed a grievous thing. We can understand this better by examining a
principle that all of us hold: sins against the innocent are more grievous
than sins against the guilty. For example, if two drunks get into a brawl, and
one beats the other nearly dead, that is an evil thing. The police will be called.
But if that same drunk beats a small child like that, we are much more
outraged, and call for more severe penalties. Why? Because sin against the
innocent is more grievous.
same thing applies here. The Pharisees and such are the keepers of the
Temple. By their swindling the pilgrims who have come to God’s holy place they
are abusing their authority – and sinning against the innocent. It is an
outrage, and Jesus treats it as such.
too, that this is blasphemy. Blasphemy, we are told, is “taking the Lord’s
name in vain.” It is not just obscenity using his name; here, it’s much
worse. In this instance we have people who have said, “God commands,” when in
fact he has not. This is a terrible sin, and Jesus acts against it properly.
often miss this fact: Judgment begins with the house of the Lord. To those
who claim to be God’s people God will apply his measure of justice. Better to
be an open sinner than one who piously spouts “the will of God” in his own
By what authority
is a curious paradox here. The Pharisees complain to Jesus about the children
who are praising him in the Triumphal Entry – but offer no objection to his
cleansing of the Temple. Only afterwards do they question his actions. The
reason? Righteousness in action is very powerful; children are not.
– it is obvious to see – is the problem the Pharisees have. They understand
that all legitimate authority must somehow stem from God, who is righteous.
They see that righteousness in his Son. Not until Jesus allows it will they
use superior force to take him. Until then, He is the authority they dare not
they can attempt to undermine that authority. That’s there attempt here. It
hasn’t changed in two thousand years. When you speak of righteousness, do you
ever hear “What about the Salem witch trials?” The argument being that those
upholding the right are not perfect – and therefore should shut up.
What shall we do?
is no sense in reciting all this if you are not willing to make changes in your
life. What would Jesus have us do?
are curiously silent on this point. Confession of sin is almost never a sermon
topic; it sounds too “Catholic.” But confession is required:
almost as if Jesus were saying to the Pharisees (and remotely, to us), “I
won’t tell you what I know to be true until you confess what you know to
be true.” A personal relationship must have truth to thrive.
is it not a characteristic of the best personal relationships that we
share our secrets? Including the ones we’re ashamed of?
of all, confession is necessary to restore righteousness.
words on prayer here sound unbelievable. But you need to remember that the
entire lesson has been one based on symbolism. Where would we find a mountain
and a sea in symbolism? Take a look at the second chapter of Daniel. The sea
represents the people of the world; the stone is our Lord Jesus Christ. We
will indeed take that stone and – by faith – cast it into the sea.
sure of this is Christ that he tells us to pray – in the past tense! Pray as
if your prayers were granted; this is great faith indeed.
must remember that God is righteous. If we are to approach him, we must be
righteous too. That comes from Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross; but we put it
into effect by confession (see above) and forgiveness. Remember that mercy
must be asked for? His condition for mercy is that we extend it to others.
is just – righteous, if you will. In forgiving others I proclaim to God that I
beg his mercy in accordance with his righteousness. Forgiving others is
“fair” when I ask for forgiveness for myself. I can ask forgiveness with
confidence when I forgive others – basing myself on the righteousness of God.
than that: it shows that I am a child of God, for children imitate their
please, between magic and faith. Magic says, “If I just really believe, and
say the right words, I will get what I want.” Bill Cosby gave us the antidote
to this. He once had a comedy routine about learning karate. The instruction
manual on how to break a brick told him to “think right through the brick.” So
he was thinking right through the brick when he hit. Unfortunately, the brick
was thinking “Oh no you’re not.”
prayer of faith is God’s way of letting his power flow through us. If you want
mountains moved, they will have to go where God wants them to.
it all together: By confessing our sins, asking for mercy (and giving it
freely to others) we have the ability to tap into both the power and mercy of
God. It must be done in faith – but so doing brings us into harmony with his