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 known as The Come to Jesus Talk.
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, AMEN.
PRAYER FOCUS: Bearing Fruit
It’s Tuesday morning of Holy Week. In the Eastern Orthodox Church this day is referred to as “Great and Holy Tuesday.” 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 that tree looks like today?
On their way to Jerusalem for a second day of confrontation with the Jewish Religious Leaders, Jesus and his Disciples passed that fig tree. They saw it was completely withered. As usual, there was a lesson. Jesus paused to teach the importance of bearing fruit.
Like that fig tree, Israel showed all the signs of abundance–from a distance. The Hebrew nation was in full leaf; they had been blessed greatly. But the people were not faithful towards God. Nor did they love their neighbors, as we saw yesterday. Their leaders went to great lengths to appear holy. Only they weren’t. Even the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem was spiritually barren.
The Priests, Scribes, Sadducees and Pharisees all followed the letter of the law, and were careful to be seen doing just that. Then Jesus walked into the Temple and denounced them all as a den of thieves. He very publicly and very pointedly condemned their religious structure—their church—to remain a lifeless, fruitless thing. So it was, and so it would be.
Their synagogues remained open, for a time. 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 their religious organizations—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)
And so we take away three lessons from this event, and none of them have to do with figs or fig trees:
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, 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 changed the course of human history. But these victories have usually proven transient. Because even in the best congregations, the disciplines required of true faith, love and holiness have not been maintained. Inevitably, 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 also warning those whose promise is great, but who yield no fruit. They may seem impressive in the sanctuary or Sunday School room–loud, learned, authoritative. Given their impressive foliage, you’d expect many baskets of the best figs from them. We may envy them and seek to emulate them. But when (not if) their hypocrisy is discovered, we are apt to despise our own faith as well as theirs.
The Bible tells us that from the beginning of time as we know it, a war has raged between the spiritual forces of good and evil. Participation is not optional. We win when we bear fruit. The enemy wins when we don’t. Jesus, our Captain, our Lord and Savior, has every right to expect the first and best fruits of His followers.
This is Tuesday of Holy Week. It’s time we had a Come to Jesus talk. Are you going to bear fruit—or not?