“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it”
(Mark 11:12-14, NIV).
There are a lot we can learn from Mark 11:12-26 but I just want to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. Here Mark sketches two quick portraits of Jesus in a role we sometimes fail to see when we read the Bible. These verses do not show the ‘meek and mild’ Jesus of our childhood stories and our adult imaginations. Rather we see here Jesus the Judge – standing firm against the unrighteousness and executing judgment on offenders of God’s law.
The first incident shows Jesus coming to a fig tree with the intention of picking and eating some fruit from it. In His humanity, He was hungry. However, the tree had leaves only but no fruit. Seeing this, Jesus uttered a statement of judgment as His disciples listened: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” When Jesus and the disciples passed by the fig tree the next day it was completely withered (Mark 11:20-21). Most scholars see the fig tree cursing as an object lesson parable. The fig tree represents Israel, barren because her devotion to God had grown cold by Jesus’ day (in connection with “the temple courts” incident on Mark 11:15-18). The curse in verse 14 meant that Israel the nation through which God intended to bless the world, was about to be set aside because she had rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
The second incident shows Jesus in the Temple area expelling those who were desecrating the “house of prayer” (v.17). If we were to imagine ourselves inside the Temple areas, what could we see? Geoff Treasure writes: “Far from a place of prayer, there very buildings had taken on the character of a den of thieves. You were aware of them as soon as you entered the part of the temple reserved for Gentiles. The money changers confronted you… They exacted a high fee for exchange and an even higher one if you wanted change as well as exchange… Their profit was enormous… Others had set up in business with one eye on the profits and the other on their pockets. These were the animal sellers… These merchants had a man-made monopoly, for no animal could be offered to God unless it had been passed as acceptable by the priests. The regulation was an open sesame for self-aggrandizement.”
In short, the atmosphere was anything but worshipful! Jesus the Judge saw the sacrilege and injustice with which the people had polluted the Temple, and He executed judgment on them. In what must have been an impressive display of authority, Jesus turned these “den of robbers” (v.17) upside down as he cleared the courtyard of the Temple of the distractions to prayer.
This is a facet of Jesus that we don’t look at very closely (your preachers might skipped this sermon). Youthful Christians particularly like to call Jesus as “my buddy” or “my pal.” He laughs at our jokes and overlooks our pranks. Sure, Jesus is the most emotional person I ever knew: He smiled, He laughed, He cried, He loved, He angered and serious. Sure too, Jesus is our Friend. But He is also a righteous and loving Judge. Jesus is not looking for buddies to pal around with, but men and women who will live lives of righteousness. As apostle Peter expressed it, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).
Friend and Judge? Yes, Jesus is both. He is the perfect blend of love and justice. His love forgives our sins but His justice confronts us with the task of clearing sin out of our lives and replacing it with righteousness. Friend and judge; love and justice. You can’t have one without the other. Amen.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.