Story 164: Passion Week: Judgment…God’s Job and Ours

Matthew 21:18-22 ; Mark 11:19-26

Silhouette of dead tree at sunset

The coming of Christ to Jerusalem was like a rush of wind, blowing through the hustle and bustle of the Passover Feast, disrupting everything and turning it upside down. As He walked in upright, steadfast obedience to His Father, He shook the settled pretenses of false worship and the malice of the corrupt leaders. The favor of the people was being called out. Would they choose the ways of man or the ways of God? Would they be on the right side of True History?   Would they give their loyalty to their Lord?

As everyone watched to see what the radical young preacher, this Jesus, would do, nobody seemed to realize that they were the ones being tested. They thought it was Jesus who was under scrutiny, but in God’s reality it was their time for choosing. Meanwhile, Jesus stood in the straight, iron strength of God’s mighty power against the churning mess of sinful men. It was up to everyone else to realign themselves with Him.

One way to think about this is to compare our need for God to our need for oxygen. We can’t survive without oxygen. It is ridiculous to reject air.  It is pointless to argue or complain about having to breath. It is far better to be grateful that the oxygen is there. On a far deeper level, we need God.  Every culture has formed some faith system in their reach towards Him.  But Jesus declared that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We can’t get around what He said…either He is wrong and He was a horrible liar, or He is right, and we ought to give all that we have to follow Him.  There is no other option for eternal hope. He is the Source, and without Him, when the human race rejects Him, we plunge ourselves into horrible defeat.

This defeat may take time.  The religious leaders certainly thought they were going to get away with killing Jesus.  But today, the names of the high priests are only known to history because they murdered the Son of God, while Jesus has been worshipped with great devotion since the day He rose again.  In the end, Christ will have the total victory, and those who do not align their hearts and lives to Him will face absolute devastation.

The second day of the Passover week had come and gone. Jesus journeyed with His disciples on their nightly path to Bethany. It was a small village on the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from the city. It is the place where He raised Lazarus from the dead. It is also where Mary, Lazarus’ sister, had anointed Christ with perfumed oil. Jesus and His disciples slept there through the watches of the night to regain their strength. As the sun rose, they could look across and see the formidable walls of Jerusalem. How it must have glimmered in the sun.  As morning came, Jesus journeyed with His disciples back to the Temple.

Along the way, they came across the very same fig tree that Jesus had cursed the day before. Only now, the bright green leaves were gone. The entire tree, from the roots to its highest branch, was shriveled and dried up. It was shocking. Something that had seemed so vibrant and alive the day before was completely dead.  As we look at the stories in the book of Matthew and Mark, we can see that the fig tree was a symbol.  The nation of Israel had not responded to their Savior…they had not produced the spiritual fruit they were made for.  And because of this, there would be judgment.  Somehow, the Jewish people would be cut off from life. Today we can look back and know that this prophecy came true.  Within the lifetime of the disciples, the nation of Israel was totally decimated by the Roman Empire.  It would be another 2,000 years before Israel became a nation again.

When Jesus’ disciples saw the tree, they were amazed. “‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’” they asked.

Then Peter remembered what Jesus said. “‘Rabbi,’” he said, “‘behold, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.’”

Jesus responded, but you’ll notice, He didn’t say much about the fig tree.  He simply used it as an example to offer His disciples a rather astonishing promise:

“‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours'”

Mark 11: 22-24

These words of Jesus are so grand and great that they are difficult to believe. When we read them… and I mean really read them, do we take His words seriously? Is there doubt, reluctance? Are we carrying some fear that He won’t answer?   Do we sincerely believe our prayers can have that kind of power? And if we don’t…what does that tell us about our faith in Jesus?

These words were a challenge to the disciples. Jesus knew they had faith, but He also knew there was greater faith to be had, and until their faith was so great that it could move a mountain…truly and completely believing it is possible in the power of God…then they were meant to keep on pursuing greater faith.

These words were not just a challenge for the disciples. They were meant for all who belong to Jesus. As we seek to live by faith, to follow Him on the path of faith, what it is that He is putting in front of us to pray for? Do we have the faith to ask without doubting? Surely as we start to pray those prayers, Jesus will lead us into deeper realms of faith…to the place where He will answer them. He will remove the barriers and brokenness in our hearts so that we can wholeheartedly embrace fullness in Christ.

Jesus knew that we all have those barriers to faith, so He explained an important one to His disciples:

“‘And whenever you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive your sins'” 

Mark 11:25

Imagine how this all looks from Jesus’ perspective. God is all powerful, all knowing, totally able to do anything He chooses.  And He is full of love and desire to work in power through His children. Yet unforgiveness is toxic. If we are full of anger, unforgiveness, and malice towards each other, what will we do with His power? We will abuse it…use it as a way to compete and tramp down others…allow our own darkness to taint God’s work in the world. Even as we seek to love God, we will misrepresent Him because we haven’t chosen to forgive.

This may seem like a small thing, and because we treat it like a small thing, we live smaller lives for God.  Forgiveness is a big deal in the eyes of God.  It is important to quiet ourselves and take time to listen to our hearts. Who have we not forgiven?  Who has hurt you? Ask yourself this and be still. Listen to the answer inside you. Who do you feel hurt by? Who makes you feel angry when you think about them? Who do you have accusations against? Whose success is threatening to you? Whose failure would you enjoy?  Who do you avoid?

We were created for a perfect world of perfect love. We were not meant for this petty, selfish world where we do so much to hurt each other. There is much to forgive. Pray through forgiveness with the Lord, even for things that seem small to you: “Lord, I forgive Susie for ignoring me and favoring Sally…Lord, I forgive Jack for mocking me in front of our colleagues…Lord, I forgive my husband for leaving his clothes on the ground so I have to pick them up.”

Pray also through the big things, so great and painful that they are hard to think about… “Lord, I forgive my mother for abandoning our family…Lord, I forgive my neighbor for slandering me and destroying my reputation…Lord, I forgive my husband for abusing our child.”   These are agonizing pains…the horrors of a world under a terrible curse. Jesus does not require that we allow sin to continue, and we are meant to protect the innocent. We should not agree with abuse and slander and abandonment, and we should stand with Jesus against evil as we are able. But when sin comes against us, we are still required by God to forgive. It removes the toxic power of unforgiveness from our souls and allows us to draw near to God.  We can trust…we must trust…that He will apply His perfect justice and mercy in His perfect time.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree, it was a symbol of God’s coming judgment on the nation of Israel. They refused to repent and put their faith in their Savior. Yet when Jesus answered His disciples about that curse, He did not tell them to do the same. They were not to curse the nation. They were to pray in faith for big things, and they were to forgive.

 

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