“See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” —Jesus of Nazareth (Matt. 23:38-39, Luke 13:34)
Human Resources Professional speaking to employee on the edge: “Our goal for today’s session is to make you either a performing associate or a former associate. We don’t much care which.” In professional circles, this is also called “The Come to Jesus Talk.”
It’s Tuesday morning of Holy Week. Yesterday on the way to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus cursed a fig tree for being full of rich green foliage, but having no fruit. What do you think it looks like today…
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER FOCUS: The Come to Jesus Talk: Are We Bearing Fruit—or Not?
On their way to Jerusalem for a second day of confrontation with the Jewish Religious Leaders, Jesus and his Disciples passed the withered fig tree he had cursed the day before. As usual, there was a corresponding lesson. Jesus taught them about faith and about bearing fruit (Matt 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-21).
Did Jesus curse the fig tree yesterday because he was hungry? Did he just not like figs? Was he in a bad mood? Or was Jesus making one of his final points to his Disciples?
Like that fig tree, from a distance the Jewish people showed all the signs of abundance. Israel was in full leaf; they had been blessed greatly, and in return had promised great things to God. Their leaders went to great lengths to appear holy. Only they weren’t. The people were not just, nor true, nor faithful towards God. As we saw yesterday, neither were they loving towards their neighbors. The Jewish synagogue, and the magnificent Temple itself, were barren of spiritual fruit.
The Priests, Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees all followed the letter of the law, and were careful to be seen doing just that. Only yesterday, Jesus walked into the Temple and denounced it as a den of thieves. He very publicly and very pointedly condemned the Jewish religious structure—their church—to remain a lifeless, fruitless thing. So it was, and so it would be.
Their synagogues remained open, but their teaching became a dead form of what it had been. As a nation, Israel had no further influence. The Hebrew people became, for centuries, a withered tree. Jesus did not destroy the religious organization of the Jews—he didn’t have to. He left them as they were, rotten and decayed from the root, until the Romans came and with the axes of their Legions hacked away the fruitless trunk.
Renowned Evangelist Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon in 1889, observed:
Persons whose religion is false are frequently prominent, because they have not grace enough to be modest and retiring…they do not walk in secret with God, they have little concern about private godliness, and so they are all the more eager to be seen of men. This is both their weakness and their peril. Though least of all able to bear the wear and tear of publicity, they are covetous for it. This is the evil of the whole matter; for it makes their spiritual failure to be known by so many, and their sin brings all the greater dishonor upon the name of the Lord, whom they profess to serve. Better to be fruitless in a corner of a wood than on the public way which leads to the temple.
(from The Withered Fig Tree, Sermon #2107)
There are three lessons to take away from this event, and none of them have to do with figs or whether Jesus was really hungry:
1. A lesson for nations. A nation may be founded on good and godly principles, and may profess to be a faithful people. Its laws may be modeled after the great truths of Scripture. It may build an empire that spans the globe. And it may display all the foliage of civilization, and art, and science. But when it fails to exhibit the righteousness and faithfulness that exalt the nation before God, if there is no inner life of godliness, that nation will become barren and then wither away.
2. A lesson for churches. Throughout the ages, the church has included congregations that have changed the course of human history. But it has always proved a transient victory. Because even in the best congregations, the disciplines required of true faith, love and holiness were not maintained. And the Spirit of God left them to their vanity, fruitless, until they destroyed themselves.
3. A lesson for individuals. There are consequences for not bearing fruit. Jesus was condemning those whose promise is great, but who yield no fruit. They may seem impressive in the sanctuary or Sunday School room, very loud, very authoritative. Given their impressive foliage, you’d expect many baskets of the best figs from them. We may actually envy them and seek to emulate them. But when their hypocrisy is discovered, we are apt to despise our faith as well as the pretenders to it.
From the beginning of time as we know it, there has been a contest between good and evil. Participation is not optional. We win when we bear fruit. The enemy wins when we don’t. Our Captain, our Lord and Savior, has every right to expect our first and best fruits.
This is Tuesday of Holy Week. It’s time we had a come to Jesus talk. Are you going to bear fruit—or not?
TMP NOTE: In the Eastern Orthodox Church today is referred to as “Great and Holy Tuesday.”