Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
November 4, 2012
 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.  And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.  As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.  And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
-- Mark 11:12-26, ESV
Have you seen the Snickers commercials where grumpy celebrities get turned back into regular people by simply eating a candy bar? “You’re just not you when you’re hungry,” they say. I suppose a little chocolate is good for hunger and may serve to keep one from getting into an angry or irritable mood.
I’ll bet the Apostles wish they had a candy bar for Jesus on the day after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Our Lord was indeed hungry and, apparently, more than just His stomach was growling. Look at what happened, and what it means, on the day we find Jesus in a bad mood. Read Mark 11:12-26.
The Cursing of the Tree
On this day Jesus was obviously hungry and went to get a bite from a local fig tree. Fig trees produce figs first, then leaves, so a leafy tree was like a Krispy Kreme with the “hot donuts” sign flashing. However, in spite of the outward sign of early figs, this tree produced no fruit. This made Jesus unhappy, in more ways than one, and He pronounced a curse upon the tree.
Was Jesus in a bad mood? Obviously. Did He curse the tree in a petty, arbitrary fit of hunger and anger? Far be it from Him. Everything that Jesus did and every word that Jesus said was perfectly calculated to communicate a message from God, be it judgment or be it mercy.
In this case it was a curse, so clearly this was a message of judgment. But upon what or whom? God is green, isn’t He, and He wouldn’t attack an innocent tree, would He? Probably not, but God isn’t nearly as concerned with trees as He is with people. And the people upon which He was pronouncing judgment was the Old Covenant nation of Israel.
In the Bible, one of the symbols for Israel is the fig tree. God said through Hosea 9:10, “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.” Israel in Jesus’ day had become a nation of outward religious ritual (it was the Passover season) and inward spiritual bankruptcy (lack of love, joy, and peace). Like a Christ-less Christmas, they were a celebration with no purpose, a body with no breath, and quite graphically, a tree with no fruit. In other words, they were a nation of hypocrites, and nothing puts God in a bad mood more than hypocrisy.
The Cleansing of the Temple
The next thing that Jesus did was even more radical. He had done it before, according to John, at the beginning of His ministry. Now He did it at the end, and it would prove to end His ministry.
I cannot picture Jesus in a “Mr. Rogers” sweater in this scene. He threw tables and chairs. He grabbed people and tossed them out. And whether or not John’s account should be recorded here or is just repeated here, Jesus grabbed a whip and, what else do you do with a whip, He gave people a whipping. Yes, Jesus was in a very bad mood, indeed.
And then, in the worst thing you can do to religious hypocrites, Jesus quoted Scripture to them and pointed out how they had utterly violated it. The text He used was Isaiah 56:7, “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Jesus point out that instead of being a refuge for poor Jews and a light for lost Gentiles, the religious rulers had found a way to make money off of them instead. As forefathers of the modern day televangelists, they were exploiting the religion of God to make money for themselves.
I don’t know what the word is for this. It is worse than hypocrisy. It is worse than mere greed, or dishonesty, or theft. It made Jesus, and it ought to make us, sick and it put Him in a decidedly bad mood.
The Crossing of the Line
This epoch of Jewish history was not the first time that Israel had played the hypocrite and sold their religious heritage for a bowl of soup. But I think it was the last time. Israel had crossed a line in the sand. Old Covenant Israel and the eternal and triune God were cut off from one another. Jesus cursed, cleansed, and cut them off on this day, presumably a Monday. On Friday they would cut Him off on the cross. In either case, Almighty God and national Israel were through.
Frankly, the mood and actions of God here scare me to death; not for myself and other truly saved people, but for those who play games with God. Apparently, there comes a time when the clock runs out, when grace goes sour, when mercy evaporates, when judgment cometh, when Jesus declares a permanently bad mood against a nation, a family, or most likely an individual who has repeatedly sinned against God.
“If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that” (1 John 5:16). I do not totally know what this means, except the truth that there is a mood you can set, a place you can go, a line you can cross, where you will be eternally cut off from the love, grace, and mercy of God.
Maybe the dispensationalists are right, and God will give Israel another chance. They are smarter than me, but I just don’t see it. Even if it is true, two thousand years or more is a long time to be cut off from God. Maybe God will give you or some hypocrite you know another chance. But I see no promise of tomorrow in Scripture, either. There is something that every hypocrite, every greedy and exploitive person, and every run-of-the-mill lost person should do, and they should do it now. Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Calling to the Faithful
As I said before, Jesus did not waste any time or words. Everything He did and said is a redemptive message from God. And even in the midst of the cursing and the casting out, there is a call from God in this story. It is the fitting and perfect ending. It is the inauguration of a New Covenant with God. It is the call to have faith in God.
It is not a call to patriotism, for patriotism is not faith. There were many Jews who thought just being a Jew, just being a leaf on the tree, would save them. They were wrong. Some people equate the United States, democracy, and Christianity as one in the same. They are three different things. Being an Israelite or being an American or being a part of any other national tree will not save your soul and deliver you from the cursing, cleansing wrath of God.
It is not a call to religion, for religion is not faith. There were many who worshiped in the temple who thought worshiping in the temple would save them, no matter how insincere or corrupt their hearts. Similarly, there are many today who think mere church attendance or membership will score enough points with God to gain eternal life. Jesus proved repeatedly that this is an empty boast.
Faith is faith. Faith is faith in God, not self nor government nor church. The latter three will fail you, but God will not, for He has promised, “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (ref. Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5). Faith is faith in God who can do anything, even the impossible. Like the hyperbolic mountain thrown into the sea, God can take the sin that separates us from Him and “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (ref. Micah 7:19). Faith is faith in God who hears our every prayer, filters it through the perfection of His divine will and providence, and grants that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (ref. James 1:17). Faith is faith in God who gives forgiveness and the grace to forgive, for “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (ref. Matthew 6:15).
Faith is big. It is bigger than any nation, bigger than any religion, bigger than all of our sin and those who sin against us. And, it is bigger than a bad mood. Faith is the promise of God, faith pleases God, and faith will keep Jesus from ever being in a bad mood, with you.