Read – Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48
Reflection– On the traditional calendar, this is Holy Monday. Even though many churches don’t have any special services or remembrances on this day, there is no doubt that Jesus was busy, and his actions give us insight into what were some of his most important messages during these final days!
In Mark 11:11, after the triumphal entry on Sunday, the gospel writer, Mark, explains that Jesus went out to Bethany to spend the night which was often his custom when visiting Jerusalem. One interesting point to understand is that Jerusalem was crowded during this week, in fact, extremely crowded since it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread-Passover celebration and Jews from all over had come to the Holy City to participate. Some scholars estimate upwards of two million people could have been in and around Jerusalem during this time. This would explain one of the reasons that Jesus would not stay in Jerusalem at night. The other was that Bethany is where his good friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha lived, and so that would have been a comfortable place for him surrounded by friends during this final week.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem that Monday morning the first recorded activity was an encounter with a fig tree. Jesus was hungry and looked for food. The fact that Jesus experienced physical “hunger” reminds us of his humanness. In His deity, He would not have been hungry, but in his humanity he was. When He sees a fig tree with leaves but no fruit on it, His next action is surprising; He curses it and it withers immediately. You see, this type of fig tree only produced leaves when there was fruit on it, so it was truly an imposter. It looked “fruitful” but had nothing to show for it.
All throughout the Old testament, the metaphor of a plant (fig tree, vineyard, seed, tree) is used to describe Israel. Many prophetic words describe the fate of Israel’s disobedience and lack of fruitfulness ( Isaiah 5:1-7, Ezekiel 17:1-10, Hosea 9: 10-17). Because of this fruitlessness, Israel ended up in captivity twice (Assyrians and Babylonians). When Jesus curses this fig tree. on this day, it is another clear sign that Jesus is no mere man. Only God could curse the fig tree and cause it to wither and produce no more, and this immediate pronouncement of judgment was very instructive for the disciples. This was the state of Israel at the time, and in a tangible way He was demonstrating that hypocrisy had no place with His people. Having an appearance of godliness (leaves) without the fruit was just like the Pharisees and religious leaders, and this was further proof that judgement was coming for them. The disciples are truly taken back by this bold move by Jesus and ask him how this could happen? Rather than giving them an explanation, His response points them to faith and to prayer and alludes to their future role in the kingdom of God (Matthew 21:33-44).
The message of the fig tree to the disciples is a message to us as disciples today. As we live our lives are we just giving an appearance of godliness? More specifically, during this Holy season, do we just “look religious” or are really focusing on Christ Himself? A very important point here is that trees don’t produce fruit, they yield it. They don’t try really hard to make the fruit, they are fruitful as they obtain the nutrients from the soil. In other words, having a lot of religious activity is not a sign of fruitfulness, but staying rooted in the soil of God’s word will bring forth fruit in our lives. Our righteousness is not based on us, it is based only on His power. Every time the Israelites disobeyed and and turned to other gods, they stopped yielding fruit. We should recognize that God truly desires for us to live authentically, yielding fruit that comes from a heart focused on Him, because the consequences of hypocrisy are great!
The second event that happens this day is the cleansing of the temple. This is the second time that Jesus has had to exercise His authority when it came to the activities going on in the temple. Referencing two Old Testament passages, He reminds them of the purpose of the temple, what it is and what it is NOT. Isaiah 56:7 says that the temple is to be used as a “house of prayer” which is very different than what the moneychangers and those who were selling sacrifices were doing. They were making a profit, driven by greed rather than a heart to pray for the nations. In Jeremiah 7:11, God pronounced judgment on Israel for the evil they had done, turning His house into a “den of thieves”. Not only were they making a profit off of selling the sacrifices, they were essentially robbing the people.
Two important thoughts should be considered here. First, using His authority in this way, Jesus really revealed who He was. Remember the day before He rode into town in humility on a colt, today He is exercising His Kingly authority by cursing the fig tree and driving out evil. Jesus, God in the flesh, made His identity clear. Jesus showed us that God is a God of peace but also of righteous judgment! He is a God of Love and a God who demands Justice!
Last year, Easter 2020, we were clustered in our homes watching services online and foregoing the normal church attendance due to a crippling pandemic! But, a year later, we are in a different place. While things are certainly not “normal”, Easter services will happen all over the world even if they are slightly modified. For me, and I am sure for many others, I can hardly contain my excitement! To celebrate this glorious day with other believers in a corporate setting is a powerful experience! Yet, consider this: God no longer dwells in a temple made by man, but rather in our hearts! With this in mind, whether in a corporate setting or in your home, are you prioritizing holiness and prayer? In other words, what is the state of your temple today? Is it clear of greed, jealousy, envy, selfishness, pride, and other self-focused (fruitless) thoughts? As we come to worship this Easter (and every day for that matter) let’s remember that the “temple” of God is a place where God should be glorified! In other words, it’s not about us! Let’s recommit our “temples” to the one who “bought” us with His own blood!
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (I Cor. 6:19-20)
Additional Historical background information https://vimeo.com/crosswaymedia/fdojmonday
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