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Doug Batchelor - Fig Trees and Pharisees


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    Doug Batchelor - Fig Trees and Pharisees

I'd like to share a little amazing fact with you. Way back in 1630, when the pilgrims landed, one of the first governors was a man named John Endecott. He was good friends with Roger Williams, one of the founders of our country. And they were trying to really establish civilization in a very wild world at that time. I just finished reading an incredible book on the life of Roger Williams, and it talked a lot about John Endecott in that. And at one point, John Endecott, with his family, they imported a number of little saplings from the Old World, from Europe and England, and he had a pear tree. And he actually recorded that when he was planting this pear tree, he told his families that gathered around, "We hope this pear tree will take to the soil in the new world, and that many years after we're gone, it will still be here bringing fruit."

Well, not only did that pear tree outlive John Endecott, and his children, and his grandchildren, but it outlived George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, I got the order wrong, and Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt, and would you believe the Endecott pear tree is now believed to be the oldest man-planted fruit tree in North America? It was planted in 1630, it's now 390 years old, approximately, and it is still bearing fruit. Incredibly, it's survived many storms, hurricanes. In 1964, some vandals went through. I don't know why they'd do such a thing, but they cut off all the branches, and cut it off six feet high with a chainsaw, and everyone thought that was the end of it, and it continued to sprout many new branches. Now, you've got a picture of it, now they've got a fence around it to protect it, and they don't even mark it lest anyone should think to do anything mischievous. But to this day, the Endecott pear tree that John Endecott planted is still bearing pears.

So, this morning we have a Bible study I'd like to do with you, and it's on the subject of "Fig Trees and Pharisees." You know, the Bible tells a story about Jesus cursing a tree, and this is something of an enigma, it seems so out of character. But if you turn in your Bibles, you'll find the short version of this story in Matthew chapter 21. There's also an account in Mark 11, but let's go to Matthew 21 first, verse 18. This takes place after the triumphal entry. It's a during the final passion week of Jesus's life. "And one morning it says, In the morning, as He returned to the city,"

He was daily going to the temple, He was teaching, "He was hungry." You would think that somebody would be providing the Messiah with some food, but Jesus had to go out and forage for food. "And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it." Now, according to the Jewish law, that if there were trees in an orchard, the poor were allowed to glean fruit from those trees. And it's not uncommon that they would have many fig trees in Israel. What makes this unusual is this is during the time of spring, during the Passover. Fig trees in that country normally did not bear that early. It could happen, but it would be unusual.

Something else is this is taking place near two towns called Bethany and Bethphage, and Bethpage means house of figs. So, figs were very common in this country. So, Jesus sees a fig tree by the road, and He goes towards it. From a distance, He sees that it's got leaves all over it. And if a tree has leaves, that typically means that it has figs. Figs are unusual in that about the same time the leaves are in full bloom, the fruit is ripe. And then Jesus, He said, "Let no fruit grow on you ever again." And, "Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw," they heard Jesus say that, "They marveled, saying, 'How did the fig tree wither away so soon?'"

Now, I'm going to jump, I want you to read both accounts of this. If you go to Mark chapter 11 and we'll start with verse 12, you find the story again. "Now the next day, when he came out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves," He was at a distance, "He went to see if perhaps it would have some fruit on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves." So, it was not the season for figs. "In response, Jesus said to it, 'Let no one eat fruit from you ever again,' and the disciples heard it."

Now in Mark, notice something happens. Right after this it says, "So they came to Jerusalem, and Jesus went into the temple, and He began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. And He taught them, saying, 'Is it not written, 'My house shall be called the house of prayer for all nations?' But you've made it a den of thieves.' And the scribes and the chief priests heard it, and they sought how they might destroy Him, for they feared Him, because all the people were astonished at His teaching. When evening had come, He went out of the city." Keep reading, verse 20, "Now in the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots." So now we see a day went by, "And Peter, remembering, said, 'Rabbi, look, the fig tree you cursed has withered away.'"

Now, you and I read that story, and have you ever wondered, did Jesus have low blood sugar and He had a little tantrum? You ever get irritable when you have low blood sugar? And so, He took it out on the tree. He said, "Mess with me like that. Here I thought I'd get some breakfast, you give me nothing. Well, I'm going to teach you. Nobody's ever going to eat from you again. I'm going to kill you." I mean, does that sound a little out of character for Jesus? This is the one who asked God to forgive, you know, the people that were crucifying him. You know, He's the one who said you're to be gentle with your animals and that you should love, God feeds the sparrows. And here, Jesus gets mad and He kills the fig tree because it doesn't give him breakfast.

Notice that in Mark's account, He curses the fig tree, then He goes and He has a confrontation with the false leaders. He casts all of the sellers out of the temple, and then they come back and they notice the fig tree is withered.

Why did this happen? What is the lesson that God is trying to teach us here? Well, before I just come right out and tell you, I want you to look at fig trees for a minute. Where do you first find a fig tree in the Bible? If I'm not mistaken, the fig tree is the first particular fruit mentioned anywhere in Scripture, and it's not mentioned they're eating it, the first thing that's mentioned is the leaves. Fig leaves, not fig fruit. And notice that Jesus goes to this tree, and there's just leaves, no fruit. Remember when Adam and Eve were first made? The Bible says they were naked, but it's pretty clear that they had these garments of light, they had an aura of light. They used to talk to God face to face, and what happened to Moses when he talked to God face to face? It says he's shown, there was a glow, there was a light.

But after Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate from the forbidden tree, the light faded, and they saw their nakedness, and they were ashamed. How did they try to cope with their shame? It says, "Then the eyes of them were opened," this is Genesis 3:7. "They knew they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings." Now, the trees may have been bigger and the leaves may have been bigger, I seem to believe that Adam and Eve were bigger, probably needed bigger leaves and bigger trees back then. But I don't know if Adam and Eve realized what happens to leaves after the curse of death. See, in the beginning, nothing died, and they picked these leaves and maybe thought that they'd just hold their form, but how many of you would trust going to church wearing fig leaves?

And something else you might notice here is the word, it says, "They made themselves coverings." That word, "covering," is chagora in Hebrew. That means belts, loin cloth, aprons. Not only is it poor quality material, it's not nearly enough material. These were miniskirts of leaves is what they made, belts. They're desperate, looking for anything. Then you go to Genesis 3, and after God said, "Where are you?" And man ran from God, He said, "What have you done." They said, "Well, you know, we eat from the tree and we saw we were naked," and of course Adams says, "The woman made me do it," and the woman says, "The snake made me do it," and the snake didn't have a leg to stand on, so he didn't say anything.

But then it says, "Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them." The word "tunics" there is kuttoneth, and it means robes, tunics, garments. And not only is it of better quality, it's much more. Now, this is probably where you have the sacrificial system established, because in order to get skin, something has to die. And God probably explained why His Son, the Lamb of God, was going to die to cover the nakedness of man. And when they wore these robes, they realize it cost the life of a lamb to cover their nakedness. You know, it cost the life of Jesus, the Lamb of God, to cover our sin and nakedness. So, God not only gave them better quality, he gave them more.

And so, here you see fig leaves represent, from the very beginning, man's attempt to hide his own sin through his own works. They sewed them. We did it. We made them ourselves. That wasn't going to work.

So, when Jesus curses the fig tree, because it has just leaves and no fruit, very simply, this was an analogy of what was about to happen to the entire nation. And before you think that this is a rant against the people of Israel, I want you to know that it's really speaking to the church today. It speaks to all people and all time, but Israel is a type of the church. Here they had all the forms of religion, and the temple, and the services, they had the ceremonies. That very day, that weekend I should say, they were going to crucify Jesus, and then they were going to run home so they could keep the Sabbath and go through all of the rituals and totally miss what the purpose of it all was.

The temple, and the Sabbaths, and the ceremonies, and everything they did all pointed to Christ. And so, here they had all the forms and the trappings of religion without the power. Leaves, no fruit. Jesus wants fruit from us. So, the big contest that the Lord had with the scribes and Pharisees was dealing with a form of religion without the power, outward religion. Leaves, no fruit. He talked to the religious leaders. He said, "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they might appear to men to be fasting."

Now, is it good to give? Should we all give? Is it good to pray? Is it good to fast? But should we be doing it because people are watching, or are you more interested in what God sees? God looks on the heart, man looks on the outward appearance as 1 Samuel tells us. And then you read in Matthew 15, Jesus said, "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and they honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. In vain they worship Me." You know what in vain means? They're wasting their time. Their worship is in vain. Jesus said if you're praying, and giving, and fasting to be seen of men, you'll get a reward. The only reward you get is the praise of men. What is that worth? Not worth it. Is that going to get you to heaven? It's not worth anything.

That great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, you've heard of P.T. Barnum, you know, Barnum and Bailey Circus? Phineas Barnum was...he is the one that had a swindle for everything. And he saw the crowds coming to the Metropolitan Church in London to hear Spurgeon preach, and Barnum wrote him a letter. He said, "Look, I want you to come preach in my tent on Sunday. You can preach as long as you want. I will pay you a thousand dollars a sermon." You've got to know that back in the 1880s, that was a fabulous amount. And he said, "You can have whoever you want sing, I'll provide the music." He just gave him a red carpet, "Whatever you want, Spurgeon, if you'll come preach in my circus."

And Spurgeon said, "I want to thank you for your very kind and generous offer, but because of Acts chapter 13, I can't do it." He said Acts 13:10. Barnum had to get a Bible out, Barnum's parents were Christians, and he got his Bible out, and it said, "O full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil and the enemy of all righteousness. Will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?" Spurgeon could not be bought, because he was the real deal.

You read in Matthew chapter 7, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing. Inwardly, they are ravening wolves. You will know them by," what? Their fruits, "Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?" He says I want figs, but you don't get figs from a thorn bush or a thistle. "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is," what? "Cut down and thrown into the fire."

There you got the word cutting down again, it's talking about a judgment that comes on either bad fruit or no fruit. Are you with me? "Therefore by your fruits you'll know them." Matthew chapter 12, Jesus has another parable. "There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and he set a hedge around it. And he dug a wine press in it, and he built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and he went into a far country. Now when the vintage time had drawn near, he sent his servants to the vinedresser that they might receive its fruit."

So now, Jesus is explaining that the church doesn't belong to us, it belongs to Him. Israel did not belong to the priests, it belonged to God. They were supposed to bring forth the fruits. "And when they sent the servants, the vinedressers took his servants and they beat one, and they killed one, and they stoned another. And he sent other servants." The owner of the vineyard said look, I've leased it to you, you're supposed to bring me some of the fruit. "More than the first, and they did likewise to them." What did they do? Beat, kill, stone, and what did Jesus say that the religious leaders often did to the prophets? It says, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you stoned the prophets that come to you," talking about the judgment coming. "Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'Give me the fruit of the vineyard, they'll respect my son.' But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir, come, let's kill him and let's just seize his inheritance for ourselves.' So they took him, and they cast him out of the vineyard, and they killed him. Therefore,"

Jesus is asking the scribes and Pharisees he's talking to, "'When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?' They said to him, 'He'll destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease the vineyard to others who will render him the fruits in their season.' And Jesus said, Have you never read in the Scripture, 'The stone that the builders have rejected became the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing and it's marvelous in our eyes.' Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.'"

So, this is telling us that the cursing of the fig tree, and the parable of the fig tree in the vineyard that doesn't bear fruit, and the vineyard leasers that didn't give fruit to the vineyard owner, it's all really telling us the same message. That God has a church in the world, it was Israel in the Old Testament, it's God's people, the Christian church in the world today, and we have a responsibility to be productive.

You know how Jesus is pictured in Revelation? He's coming with a sickle to harvest the vintage of the world, and he wants us to be faithful in producing the fruit. Now, what is the fruit? You know this? Galatians 5:22, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy," these are good things, "Peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law."

God wants the fruits of the Spirit in our life. Now, there's two kinds of fruit. You've got the spiritual fruit, and then you got the practical fruit. If you have the spiritual fruits of the Spirit in your life, you will bear the practical fruit, which will be others will come to the Lord. You will be witnessing, and Christ will have a harvest. If you and I have the Spiritual fruit, it leads to the practical fruit of souls being converted, because we've got the gifts of the Spirit. What do we do with our love? We love others. Our joy, our peace, our long-suffering kindness, kindness to others, goodness, faithfulness, it's all bringing people to Christ. It's the sap on the inside that produces the fruit that others can eat.

You know, the things we read about the fig tree, it's not just something that happened to Israel. "Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar."

Christ was saying, you know, God is patient. He's made a note of all the righteous blood that's been slain, and He told the Jewish nation you have had greater privileges than anyone because I have given you the oracles of truth. You've got the Scriptures. I want you to live it in your life and share it with the lost, but instead you're hoarding it to yourself. Lazarus lies at your gate, desiring the crumbs that fall from your table, and you're feasting and arguing theology. And He said because you are rejecting, there will come a day of judgment, and the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah will be required of this generation. It's a fearful thing to be judged, cut down, and thrown in the fire.

But he said all these things will come upon, notice, this generation. How long is a generation in the Bible? Forty years, now read Matthew 24 verse 32. "Now learn this parable from the fig tree." What kind of tree? "When its branch has become tender and it puts forth fruit," it doesn't say fruit. "When its branch is tender and it puts forth leaves," just leaves. You know that summer is near. Summer was a hot time. "So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Assuredly I say to you this generation will by no means pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

You know, when Jesus began his ministry, He said, "My Father's house is a house of prayer." At the end of His ministry, He said, "Behold, your house is left to you desolate." He starts out saying, "My Father's house," the last time He leaves the temple, before he goes to Gethsemane, He says, "Behold, your house is left to you desolate," and he has a big confrontation showdown with the scribes and the Pharisees who had fig-leaf religion. It was all manmade righteousness.

Now, that could never happen to us in the last days, right? Or does history tend to repeat itself? Are we ever tempted to be less than authentic? And so, Jesus makes His prophecy, remember, in Matthew 24. Don't forget, in the beginning of the chapter in Matthew 24, Jesus said, "There will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." He's talking about the destruction of the temple, a judgment that would come on the Jewish nation, and he said this generation won't pass away. He says this in about 30 A.D.

What's a generation? Forty years, when was the temple destroyed? Seventy A.D. exactly 40. He says this generation will not pass away. Christ said no sign would be given but the sign of Jonah. And you know what? It says as Jonah was assigned to the Ninevites. What was assigned to the Ninevites? It was Jonah was an exceeding, Nineveh was an exceeding, great city, a three-days journey. He entered the city a half a day, and he preached, in 40 days it would be destroyed. Three and a half and 40. Jesus preached three and a half years, and then in 40 years the temple was destroyed.

I mean, friends, this is amazing, isn't it, how perfectly the Word of God fits together? Now, Matthew 24 is not just for the Jews. They asked when will this be the destruction of Jerusalem, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the world? Jesus now commingles the answer, because the church ends up, over time, repeating the history of Israel. There were many faithful Jews that were saved. The Apostles were all Jewish. The early church was all Jewish. Many came to the Lord, but it was a remnant. And in the Christian church today, there is 2.2 billion professed Christians in the world. Do you think they're all the real thing, or is there a lot of hypocrisy? It's not just out there, it's in here. When I say in here I mean it's in here, in my heart, it's in our church. The devil is always trying to convince us that if we've got a form of religion that it will pass. It's got to be the real thing.
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