Holy Week – Fig Tree & Temple
This Holy Week is unlike many I’ve experienced in years past. Typically I’d be spending time with leaders from New City Church, and Creston CRC making final arrangements for our joint Good Friday service. On top of that, we’d be coordinating our own Easter breakfast and worship service. Holy Week is typically full of activity for me as a pastor, and yet this week I find myself experiencing a slow pace, with time to reflect on more of Christ’s ministry in the last week of his life, and I’m doing that through the Gospel of Mark.
According to the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, he went back out of the city to Bethany. It’s actually interesting to watch Jesus’ movements that week and consider all the back and forth walking he did. I can’t help but wonder if the city was stirred every time Jesus left and returned.
The day after the triumphal entry, Jesus walks back to Jerusalem, and Mark records that Jesus was hungry. He saw a fig tree, and perhaps like any human who is hungry, walked over to it looking for something tasty to eat. But no fruit could be found, and in response, Jesus cursed the tree. This curse on the tree actually sets up what Jesus is about to do in the temple. Fig trees were often used in prophetic words of judgment upon God’s people. You can see illustrations of that in the Old Testament. Reflecting on the curse of the fig tree, one commentator notes, “The fig tree represents Israel, and is judged by its Messiah because, despite its appearance and religious activity, Israel failed to produce the appropriate fruit.”
Jesus is essentially acting out a parable about Israel, as he prepares to march into the temple courts.
Jesus arrives at the temple and began driving out the people who were buying and selling animals, he turned over the tables of the money changers, and began to teach them using words from Jeremiah, accusing people of making the temple a “den of robbers.” The point is that folks had set up an elaborate system to make money from the many people who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate passover. Instead of helping people get what they needed to make sacrifices to the Lord, the people overseeing the temple operation had crafted a clever money exchanging scheme to make extra cash. Not only that, but they had taken over the court of the gentiles, which meant gentile converts didn’t have adequate room to worship. In cleansing the temple, Jesus demonstrated his authority over the temple, and the leaders of the day didn’t like it.
Like the fig tree, Israel appeared to being healthy, and maybe in a space to provide spiritual fruit. They were facilitating passover, a primary feast, and encouraging people to make sacrifices to God to be right with him. But Jesus actions in the temple seem to indicate that while they were going through the motions, they were actually as barren as the fig tree.
Jesus had no problem upsetting the status-quo to draw attention to a greater reality. And the greater reality is that He is the Messiah, who has the authority and mission to draw the hearts of the people back to God. His actions that day brought him a little closer to the cross, and our salvation, which he chose to endure so that we could all be alive in him, bearing fruit for his kingdom.
We’re living in a moment where our own status-quo on life has been upended, and in this Holy Week, as we approach the cross with Jesus, perhaps our Messiah is inviting us to turn our hearts towards him again. Set down your phone, turn off the TV, remove the obstacles to worship in your life, and pray that God would help you hear and encounter Christ this week.