Cursing the Fig Tree

Did Jesus just have a grouchy morning when He cursed the fig tree? (Mark 11:12-14; Matthew 21:18-22)

It wasn't even the season for figs, so was it really the tree's fault?

David Landegent, an RCA pastor in South Dakota, writes in the Sunday School Guide* (August 12, 2012) about it.

Jesus is acting out judgment on Jerusalem, just like Ezekiel in chapter 4.
Jeremiah 8:13: “I will surely consume them,” says the LORD. “No grapes shall be on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them.” ’ ”

Hosea 9:15-16: "Because of the evil of their deeds
    I will drive them from My house;
    I will love them no more.
    All their princes are rebellious.
    16 Ephraim is stricken,
    Their root is dried up;
    They shall bear no fruit."

Mark puts the episode right after the cleansing of the temple, which fits with Hosea 9

This story doesn't fit our sensibilities because we don't like to think of Jesus as cursing and withering anything.

But He certainly does.

Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil, and that work is evident in our lives in every sin. He came to judge, curse, wither and destroy every evil thought in your heart. Landegent: "A lot of people think Jesus came to help us be a little nicer, a little kinder. You were OK before and now you can be more OK. But that's not it at all. Jesus came to put the old sinful self to death so that the new can spring up.... You can only be spiritually fruitful when the old sinful self withers away like the fig tree in Jesus' miracle."

This also connects with the next passage. "Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them" (Mk 11:23–24).

Not only would the temple be cleansed, but it would be trashed later, because it refused to be cleansed. We need to have an unwavering faith that God will remove our trash and establish us in Christ. We need single-hearted desire to remove the trash, and not hang on to junk that Jesus wants to wither and remove.

* The Sunday School Guide is a small, independent, RCA-based newsletter. David Landegent is the main editor. As far as I can tell they have no online presence. You can write me for contact info, or a copy of this article.


Ulterior motives for denying faith

Aldous Huxley:

"I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning; consequently assumed that it had not; and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning for this world is not concerned exclusively with the problem of pure metaphysics; he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to.... For myself... The philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political."

from End and Means
quoted in Genesis v. 1, by James Boice.


Hour of Power

Timothy George has some good words on Robert Schuller, his Crystal Cathedral, the cultural-religious shift the phenomenon was in the 80s, and the building's recent sale to Rome.

What a Pastor Should Be

From 1600 years ago:

“Consider, then, what kind of man he ought to be who is to hold out against such a tempest, and to manage skillfully such great hindrances to the common welfare; for he ought to be dignified yet free from arrogance, formidable yet kind, apt to command yet sociable, impartial yet courteous, humble yet not servile, strong yet gentle, in order that he may contend successfully against all these difficulties.”

Chrysostom, “On the Priesthood” in Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1889, 1995), Vol. 9, pp. 33ff.



On this day we celebrate the Gentile Magi coming to worship Jesus with gifts. They acknowledged the boy Jesus as King with gifts fit for royalty (gold), and for one who would sacrifice himself (myrrh) and sacrifice for others (incense).

Persian Magi coming to Jesus is the symbol of all Gentiles coming to Yahweh through Jesus. It had happened before – Ruth the Moabitess, Rahab from Jericho, Uriah the Hittite. But now they come explicitly to Jesus and are given an open invitation to Yahweh, not through Israel or her temple in Jerusalem, but through Jesus of Nazareth. We are used to thinking of ourselves as God’s people, but it wasn’t always so. Our people were without God or hope, until we were brought near as He baptized and discipled our nation or ourselves.

Epiphany reading
Ephesians 2:11-22

Isaiah 60; Matthew 2:1-18


On the twelfth day of christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Twelve tribes of Israel

This one may seem strange. How are these gifts of God to us? Just because Jacob had twelve sons?
The numerical expansion God promised Abraham really begins here. From one faithful son of Abraham (Isaac), and one son of Isaac (Jacob), we now have 12 reckoned in God's covenant of promise. Not that they were saints. Their mothers were envious rivals, barren (Rachel) and needy and unloved (Leah), trying to one-up each other by the number of children they had. The brothers' own rap sheet includes incest (Reuben), unjust warfare (Levi and Simeon), and kidnapping and selling one of their own (Joseph).

But God provides restoration and forgiveness in Egypt through Joseph, because of Judah's willingness to sacrifice himself for Benjamin.

The tribes' significance continues in the New Testament. Jesus says the twelve apostles will sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes (Matthew 19:28). In Revelation, each tribe has 12,000 sealed before any harmful judgment comes to the earth from God. This is a sign that Gentiles have joined Israel's 12 tribes as God's people, while the identity of the root of Jacob has not been lost. Jesus identifies Himself in the last book of the Bible as the root of David (Rev 22:16). This brings us to Epiphany!


On the eleventh day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Eleven true apostles

Jesus gave His faithful band a commission to disciple the world in His name. They testified and wrote down the truth in the Bible, the witness we have of the apostles’ teaching.

And they were ordinary men like us, who argued with each other at the worst possible moments, and asked God for crazy things. One came from working for Rome, another came from wanting to kill Romans. Worse, they didn’t understand His teaching much of the time, wanted to call down fire on Samaritans, and even tried to keep Jesus from going to the cross. Thomas doubted Jesus’ resurrection.

This was a hapless and human crew.

But in the long run, they caught on and preached sermons, planted churches, saw visions and wrote them down, turned the world upside down, and then (mostly) died a martyr’s death for their Lord.

Let us be forewarned from the path of Judas Iscariot, while giving thanks for Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James of Alpheus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Zealot.


On the tenth day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Ten good commandments

The summary of the law God gave Israel on Sinai, it expands slightly on the two greatest commandments, love for God and love for neighbor. We love God by serving only Him, not worshiping Him through images, not bearing His name hypocritically or otherwise in vain, and by keeping the Sabbaths He has given us.

We love our neighbor by honoring our parents and other authorities, refraining from murder, adultery, theft, lying, and coveting their goods in our heart.

The Westminster Catechisms have a helpful explanation of what each commandment positively requires and forbids. Keeping the sixth commandment means more than just not physically killing anyone.

One delight of the law and these commandments specifically, is that they can be used to convict us of sin leading to repentance, and also to guide us in righteousness after we receive mercy.


On the ninth day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Nine Spirit fruits

Love: desiring the truest good for others (godliness) and God's glory. 1 John 4:7-11.
Joy: rejoicing in God's grace and gifts to us in Himself and in others. Luke 1:47.
Peace: a heart at rest in God's justification (Romans 5:1), not restless or hostile.
Patience: willing to suffer long with and for others (2 Tim 2:24); faithfully waiting for God to fulfill His purposes (Rev 1:9).
Kindness: tenderness to the fragile frame of others (Ephesians 4:32).
Goodness: keeping the golden rule positively; not just avoiding harming, but doing good.
Faithfulness: both faith itself (a gift of God, Eph 2:8), and trustworthiness with others.
Gentleness: meekness, lack of harsh forcefulness (Matthew 5:5).
Self-control: not wild indulgence, but deliberate pursuit of godliness in word and action (Titus 2:1-7).


On the eighth day of Christmas

my True Love gave to me:

Eight beatitudes

Jesus begins His sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 with these 8 blessings, defining life in His Kingdom. Like Moses gave the law on a mountain, Jesus gives a new law on this mountain. The law brought a curse on sinners (Galatians 3:10), but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6-8).

The first 4 and last 1 are paradoxical. You wouldn't expect the poor to inherit kingdoms, the meek to possess the whole earth, the hungry to be filled. But God delights to raise up the humble and cast down the arrogant and exalted (Luke 1:51-53).

You could count Matthew 5:11-12 as a ninth blessing, but it seems to be more an expansion of the 8th. We often feel pity for the persecuted church. We shake our heads in helpless sorrow, or get angry about it. Jesus has a much different response: you're on the right track when the world hates you! Let us pray for the harassed church, but not seeking their comfort and the removal of all trials. That would slow our sanctification, lessen our reward, and dampen our testimony to a watching world.