Cleaning House, Mark 11:12-26

It’s hard not to see the fig tree as a symbol of Israel’s spiritual fruitlessness.  Israel is symbolically referred to in many different ways, and a fig tree is one of those (Lk 13:6-9).  The nation’s spiritual emptiness is brought out in many ways as well…A dry ground (Isa. 53)

So what this means is that Jesus wasn’t actually seeing this fig tree, He was seeing Israel when He saw the fig tree.  

  1. The Cursed Fig Tree, 2) the Cleansed Temple, and 3) the Confident Pray-er

#1:  The Cursed Fig Tree (12-14, 20-21)

At first I was confused by Jesus.  If it isn’t the season for fruit then why would He be upset with the tree and curse it?  It almost seems below Jesus to be angry at the tree, I thought.  For one, there certainly would have been other sources of food along the way, and two, couldn’t he have just said “Be fruitful!” and figs would have begun popping out?  That was not the way Jesus worked.  He didn’t turn stones into bread when Satan tempted Him, and He didn’t turn a fruitless fig tree into a fruitful one using His divine power either.  Jesus never used His divine power to make things easier for Himself.  Let us not sin by thinking He should do it for us though.  

This is said to be the most difficult event to make sense of in all the Gospels.  Why would Jesus curse a fig tree for not having any fruit if it wasn’t yet time for it to have fruit?  It is the only miracle of destruction recorded in the Gospels.  Was Jesus just peevish?  Was this a case of “hanger”?  If He used His power to destroy the tree why didn’t He use that same power instead to force its fruitfulness?  You might see why its puzzling.  Except, remember to read what comes before and after a passage to help shed light on what you’re reading in the Bible.  The cleansing of the Temple happens in the very next moment, indicating a connection.  We see a fruitless tree, and, a fruitless temple.  This connection becomes even stronger when you realize Mark sandwiches the temple cleansing between the two fig tree scenes.  Just like judgment was brought against a fruitless tree, so too will judgment be brought against a fruitless temple, “Do you see all these great buildings?” Jesus asked pointing to the Temple in chapter 13, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”  Speaking to the Pharisees in Matthew 21:43 Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” 

Notice what Jesus says, “May no one ever eat from you again.”  You will never have the chance to produce and bless again.  You’re all done.  It reminds me of His threats to the 7 churches in Revelation.  He told them that if they didn’t correct the things He listed then He would come and remove their lampstands, meaning their church would go out of existence.  That’s not to say Christians lose their salvation, but, their ministry.  That would be like EFC allowing idolatry, immorality, false teachings to run unchecked and eventually the Lord would make EFC go out of business.  Christians would disperse to other churches, others would just quit church, whatever would happen, EFC would no longer be a local church.  

Don’t you want your life to be fruitful?  Don’t you want your church to bear fruit for the Father?  “If a man remains in me he will bear much fruit” (Jn. 15:5).  “The fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth.” (Eph. 5:9).  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-3).  

Application:  Are you a fruitful Christian, or, are there only leaves in your life?  John the Baptist said produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Mt. 3).  Do you have real fruit, or, do you have only the appearance from a distance that you’re productive for Christ?  

Application:  Fruitlessness will be Judged.  

#2:  The Cleansing of the Temple (15-19)

The ever persistent temptation to turn religion into business.  George Orwell said “There might be a lot of cash in starting a religion.”  L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, stated a year before launching his new religion:  “The fastest way to become a millionaire is to start a religion.”  The Jews didn’t invent Judaism, God gave it to them.  But, they had corrupted what God gave them with all their own teachings they added to it.  It was for all intents and purposes a man-made religion and no longer a God-given one.  

Here’s what’s going on:  back then all Jewish adult males were required to be in Jerusalem, no matter where they lived, for the major festivals on the Jewish calendar.  If you lived half way around the world, you had to go.  So Jews were coming from other countries, and having foreign currency instead of Jewish currency.  This was a lucrative opportunity for the Religious leaders of Israel and major profits were to be made.  

Imagine you’re a Jew living outside of Israel.  You packup and make the journey.  Arriving you’re full of excitement being with all your people in your historic city to worship Jehovah.  But, unfortunately as you go pay the annual Temple Tax required of every Jew you are reminded of how expensive it is to worship.  The tax is about the same amount as a working man’s wages for 2 days – which you are.  You’re okay with the tax, it goes to a good cause keeping up the Temple and everything, and, if that’s what Jehovah wants you’re happy to obey.  It’s the fees the leaders add on that really pinch.  Since the Temple Tax must be paid in the shekel, the official temple currency, you have to exchange your foreign currency for shekels.  Not a problem except they make you pay a hefty fee for the exchange.  While paying the tax you thank Jehovah that you had the exact amount otherwise they would have charged you another hefty fee to get change back.  Your next item on your To-Do list is to purchase a lamb for the Passover.  So you go to the Court of the Gentiles, and there they are all setup to exchange money and sell animals for sacrifices.  Looking over the lambs you exhale again at the outrageous prices.  But, at least you know your animal is guaranteed to pass inspection by a priest if you buy it from the temple.  Bringing your own animal is almost pointless – the priests rarely ever approve animals that don’t come from the Temple markets.  There was that one year the crops were bad so you couldn’t afford a lamb and went with doves instead, as the Law allows.  Bringing in doves you bought elsewhere you remember arguing with the priest to show you just exactly where and how the doves were flawed.  Without an answer, and, without a priests approval, you gave up and went and bought doves from teh Temple market at a price 10 times the amount you paid for the doves that just got rejected.  Why do the holidays always seem to be more about money than worship?  

We remember Jesus’ words in Mt. 6, “No one can serve two masters.  Either you will love one and hate the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You can’t worship God and money.” (Mt. 6).  

Of course, Jesus never became rich.  He told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give to the poor – not to Him or His ministry. (Mk. 10).  He said to one person who wanted to follow Him, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but, I have no place to lay my head.” (Lk 9).  He told another person, “What did you expect when you came out to see John the Baptist?  Someone dressed in fine clothes living in a palace?” (Lk. 7).  That would have been an absurd expectation was his point.  John wore camel’s hair overalls and ate bugs dipped in wild honey.  Peter told a crippled beggar, “Silver or gold I don’t have but what I do have I give to you” and with that Peter healed the man (Acts 3).  Paul, the servant of Christ said, “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands…” (1 Cor. 4).  Paul said “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8). 

Our Lord and His Apostles came in poverty, yet they were rich; they had nothing, yet owned everything (2 Cor. 6).  What a contrast to the leaders of Israel who loved their wealth, their prominence, their power, their prestige in society.  Their religion became about them, not God.  They sought to lift themselves up, not God’s people, and certainly not God.  They worshipped money, not God.

First, they turned the house of God into a den of thieves.  Read verse 17….  Jesus is quoting Jeremiah 7:11, turn there with me….read….

The house of the Lord cannot be a place of prayer and worship when it is about getting rich.  You can’t worship God and money.  Greed is idolatry, greed is worshipping something other than God.  Greed is sinning against the first commandment:  You shall have no other gods before me.  Its a sin against the 2nd commandment not to make an idol, as well as the 3rd which is not to misuse the name of God.  How are they doing that? You might ask.  Were they using God’s name as a swear word?  No, that’s bad, but, too often we think that is the meaning of this command.  They were using God’s name in vain by using his name to endorse their sinful activity.  They represented God to the people, they “bore His name”, and they acted greedily and extorted their own people coming to worship God.  They acted sinfully and thought they had God’s name and authority behind their behavior.  It keeps going though:  Its a sin against the 8th commandment, you shall not steal and the 10th commandment, You shall not covet.  Honestly at this point I have to wonder how Matthew felt – the former tax collector.  Jews who were tax collectors were despised because they extorted money from their own Jewish people.  I guess if you do it on behalf a foreign nation its despicable, but, if you do it for the Jewish nation its okay.  

Second Jesus is going to turn the house of God back into a house of prayer.  Read verse15-17a……   Jesus is quoting Isaiah 56:7, turn there and lets read….

That’s Jesus:  purging corruption and restoring holiness; cleaning out the filth and bringing back pure worship.  You may know some Christians who are greedy, you may know a church that seems greedy, you may see TV preachers who are greedy, but, you can never say Jesus was greedy.  Greed is about getting, Jesus came to give.  That’s the effect on someone’s life when Christ comes into their life:  they begin to swell over with generosity.  And that’s not just finances, it’s giving of yourself.  Jesus had no money or riches, but, Jesus gave His time to people, He gave His energy to people, He gave His heart to people, He ultimately even gave His life.  He became poor, Paul said, so that through His poverty He might make us rich.

Do you know how rich you are in Jesus?  

Third, Jesus just got Himself killed.  Verse 18 says….  Jesus has gone too far.  He is now getting in the way of their economy.  Whenever you want to get people serious touch their wallet.  Christianity will affect your personal economy as well as the economy at large.  This happened to Paul in Philippi and in Ephesus as well.  Turn to Acts 16:19…..A little slave girl had a demon that enabled her to tell the future.  She made her owners a great deal of money.  She kept following Paul around shouting to everyone that these men served the Most High God and are telling them the way to be saved.  Paul had enough of it and cast the demon out of her.  No more profits.  Verse 19 says….

Then it happened again in Ephesus.  Turn to Acts 19:23-27.  Paul and his companions were almost killed by a raging mob.  When an economy is built on idolatry, and people begin turning to Jesus, that economy will suffer because people will turn away from their idolatry. 

But Jesus set the example.  Here, the public rebuke of their money making system by Jesus launched the Jewish leaders into an emergency meeting to figure out how to kill Him.  He stood in the way of their power, their profits and their prestige.  He must go.  

Conclusion: Reclamation Deterrence Theory

In his book The Hidden War, John Nores describes his career as a California State Game Warden who worked to eliminate the marijuana grow sites drug cartels operated deep within state forests. Once these sights were discovered and busted up John and his crews would begin a cleanup and restoration process of the natural resources. One reason was obviously to bring back that area’s natural flourishing since running a grow site often devastated the area. The other reason was to prevent cartels from setting up operation again in that location after being busted up. It’s called “Reclamation Deterrence Theory. ” The idea is that in cleaning up the trash, removing the marijuana plants, replanting bushes and trees, removing stream diversions and basically undoing all the work the cartels did, it would deter them from returning to just pick up their operation again.

It’s like that for us in Christ too.  Jesus comes in and busts up our sinful operation.  He enacts His own reclamation deterrence in us.  He starts to clean up our lives and remove those evil ways from our old operation.  At the same time He starts to plant righteousness and build up holiness in us.  

Has Jesus busted you up?  Today let Jesus come in and claim you for the kingdom of God.  Let Him come in today and give you righteousness and begin to work righteousness in your life. 

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