A Tree, A Temple, and A Timeless Truth: The Danger of Leaves Without Fruit

Gospel According to Mark, Volume 5

Have you ever wondered why Jesus cursed the fig tree in this story? This passage actually has a profound application for us. Learn how it relates to the subsequent passage on Jesus' clearing the temple. And see again how Jesus takes the opportunity to teach his disciples - and us - that God is not impressed with an outer appearance of faithfulness.

Todd WagnerMar 3, 2002Mark 11:11-26; Mark 11:11-26; Luke 13:6-9; Proverbs 20:6; Genesis 3:6-7; Genesis 3:21; Mark 11:14; Numbers 17:1-13

We've been making our way through Mark. It's one of the places in the Bible that talks about this person, Jesus Christ. There's an old saying among folks who have followed Christ that years ago the Word became flesh; "living Word," we just sang. " [But] the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…" Then since then, theologians, people who write about Jesus, have made it word again as if it's some textbook experience we're supposed to get where we're going to learn more facts about God so we can speak about theological things.

Well, our hearts in teaching right now is not just to pass on information, but the purpose of any teaching is transformation. The Word tells us, "Don't be conformed to the world, but be transformed," not something you do but something you allow to happen when you go to this Word we're supposed to look at.

We're supposed to let it wash over us and the truth of it convict us in our innermost being so we can be followers of Christ, so we can be individuals who respond rightly to him and show what is good, what is acceptable and perfect as we've been changed by the power of God's Word and as we can be changed by the power of God himself as he indwells in us and as he reveals himself to us in this one who is Beautiful Savior, Glorious Lord, God with us.

Let me tell you why we are so hung up on Jesus. If he was who he said he was then everything we need to know about God can be seen right there in him. He is the visible image of the invisible God. It says, "All the fullness of deity dwelled in him in bodily form," so if we want to know who God is, just look at this Jesus.

I want to just tell you something. I don't know where you're coming from if you're here today. I don't know if you think you're a Lutheran or a Muslim or if you're Hindu or if you're an atheist or if you're an agnostic. I mean, it doesn't really matter. We're not here to make you a Christian. Do you know that? God doesn't want to change your religion. He wants to change your relationship with him, and the way he's going to change your relationship with him is through Jesus Christ. That's it.

Now we have a group of folks we're looking at primarily in the Bible called Jews. This was a group of people that was part of a nation, and this nation was Israel, and God had just selected this nation by grace. They weren't any better than anybody else. In fact, they were worshiping foolish things just like everybody else around the world was. They had their little local deities. Then God grabbed this one guy who became the father of this nation. His name was Abraham. He said, "Abraham, trust me. Have faith in me. Follow me," and Abraham did.

He trusted in this God who revealed himself to him, and Abraham had a son named Isaac, and God passed on his promises to Abraham to Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob, and God taught Jacob that it wasn't about Jacob's conniving ability that was going to get him forward. It was going to be through God striving with him.

That's what Israel means, God strives with. Jacob/Israel, same person, became the dad of 12 or so kids, boys, who became the fathers of this nation that, even today, is perpetuated. Now Israel was a group of folks who was supposed to be telling the world about this God who had graciously revealed himself to them.

They were going to use a system of worship that was to shadow God's ultimate fulfillment of what he promised them would come. The nation of Israel all throughout the Old Testament had faith just like their father Abraham had faith that God would do for them what he said he would do for them. He would ultimately bring complete provision for their need, and not just physically but even more importantly, he would change their relationship with him permanently one day.

God introduced a system of worship that was centered around this thing called a tabernacle or a temple, where they would be reminded continually that their sin highly offended God and that God in his grace would make provision for that sin, temporarily through a system of blood sacrifices with bulls, sheep, goats, doves, and other things and then ultimately one day through this one who would be their Deliverer, not just politically but spiritually, who would ultimately deliver them from their burden and baggage and bondage.

Now this one, when he came, this Jesus, they really had a hard time with. They did not believe he was Immanuel, which means God with us, despite the fact that he didn't just claim to be something. He did some things that allowed folks to go, "You know what? A normal man can't do that." (See also: raise people from the dead, walk on water, still storm, feed thousands with literally nothing.) He said, "Look, if you don't believe me, believe the works I do because these works are here to authenticate who I am."

Christ hung out with the people of Israel for really publicly three-plus years, and we're at the place in Mark where we're getting to the very end. In fact, I've told you before that about 25 percent of the gospel of Mark, about 30 percent of all the Gospels combined, focus on this one last week. We are on Monday and Tuesday, heading toward what we've come to know as Good Friday, in the gospel of Mark.

Christ has walked into Jerusalem, which is the epicenter of this system of worship which God introduced to teach them some principles about their need to humble themselves before him. What had happened is these people had taken these ideas God had given them, and they lost their view of God that they were supposed to create. They had made them an end in and of themselves. The worship in the Old Testament was never an end. It was a means to an end.

It was the only end they knew, but it was a shadow of the substance that was to come. (Let me say it that way.) They rejected the substance. They rejected the one who came to fulfill all that they anticipated, and now this one, Jesus, is there to kind of confront them with their decision. That's where we are in Mark.

Turn to Mark, chapter 11, with me, and I want to read the most difficult passage in this book. It is the hardest section of the gospel, so what I need to do is make it as clear and simple as I can, and for your sake and for mine, I hope that happens. Here we go. Let's just read starting in verse 11, and I'm going to read a part you're going to recognize we did just two weeks ago which was what is commonly called the temple cleansing.

I made a case that it wasn't a temple cleansing at all. In fact, it was Jesus' way of saying, "This temple isn't going to be cleansed. This temple is now being condemned. This system of worship which you are so heavily invested in and think you're protected by… Just like a bunch of robbers go to a den so they can escape the sheriff's posse, you guys go hide in a temple through your acts of worship and think I can't find you there, though you're committed to a lifestyle that has nothing to do with a love for me. You hide behind worship in the way that I've told you to worship.

I don't care about your songs, and I don't care about your festivals. I don't care about your sacrifices. I want your hearts. I want you to be authentic lovers of me, not people who pay me some tax with attendance, tax with tithe, or tax with your donkey. I want you, and these things I put in place were to teach you about who I am and how you and I can be friends." Let's just read it.

"Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve [his disciples] , since it was already late. On the next day…" **This is probably Monday."…when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again!' And His disciples were listening."**

Now right there, you kind of go, "Now wait a minute, Todd. Why would Jesus curse a tree when it says it's not a season for figs?" We're going to try and answer that today. Now watch what he does. He takes this story about the fig tree, and he puts a bracket here. Now he tells you something about the temple, and he's going to go back and finish the story of the fig tree.

This what is called bracketing, or it's called a sandwich effect, and the meat is in the middle. In other words, what we're going to find out about the fig tree is to point you to the truth of what happened in the middle, and what happened in the middle helps you understand what's going on with the fig tree. Follow me. This is what it says.

"Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, 'Is it not written, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations'""?

"It's not some place that segregates folks based on what their nationality is. I wanted this to be a place where the whole world could figure out a little bit of who I am, and you guys have made this an ethnocentric place, where only Jews can go to a certain place, and that offends me because you are to be a kingdom of priests, mediators between me and others with the Word I have given you. You are to be a guide to the blind and instructors to the foolish, teachers to the naïve, and you haven't become that at all. You've become a separatist people." That offended him.

He said, "You guys have no heart like mine, and you take my name, and then you hide behind this system, which doesn't impress me. It's a good system, if your heart's right with it, but you guys are like a bunch of robbers hiding here, thinking I won't find you and judge you because you do certain things or you're at a certain locale or place." That's what's going on, and we talked about that in depth a couple of weeks ago.

Verse 18: "The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching." That he would go right into the epicenter of what they said made you right with God and say, "This is no longer necessary. You guys are kidding yourselves if you think this is going to appease God. This place is no more holy than any other place if you don't respond to what it's to call you to."

That upset the folks who had based their lives on saying, "Here's some systems and laws and traditions you have to live under." "When evening came, they would go out of the city. As they were passing by in the morning [Tuesday] , they saw the fig tree withered…" Now this is important. It tells us. "…from the roots up.

Being reminded, Peter said to Him, '[Teacher], look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.' And Jesus answered saying to them, 'Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, "Be taken up and cast into the sea," and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.'" Some manuscripts also have in there, "[But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.]"

Now what are we to make of all this? We have the story of a fig tree. Christ is walking along. He sees it has leaves. It has no figs. It's not the season for figs. He curses it and says, "May no one ever eat from you again." He goes in, and he takes something that is supposed to be producing something it's not, and he says, "This is going to be condemned." Then he walks away that night. It's dark when they go by the tree. The next morning when they go by that same tree, it's light, and Peter says, "Hey that tree you cursed is withered, man, right down to the roots."

What's all this mean? We don't want to just know that this story now is in Mark, chapter 11. The purpose of God's Word is to teach us and transform us and to produce some change. The purpose of these two acts of Christ of cursing the fig tree and, in effect, condemning the temple, not cleansing and not trying to reform something he was about to do away with, but condemning the temple form of worship, was to teach those people something.

Everything he did was a part of his gracious intention to alarm his people, his contemporaries, about what it meant to be right with God, and he left this here for us so we could learn about him. Now let me just share with you a few of the things some folks have said about this little section of Scripture.

This is a collection of some commentators and what they say. One guy wrote this. "Why this withering curse on what seems to be an innocent fig tree that fails to satisfy his hunger? Why does he vent such anger on an inanimate object that fails to produce fruit out of season?" Maybe you have the same question.

One guy says, "This is a gross injustice on a tree which was guilty of no wrong and had done nothing but perform its natural function." Another guy says, "It's a tale of miraculous power wasted in the service of ill-temper (for the supernatural energy employed to blast the unfortunate tree might have been more usefully expended in forcing a crop of figs to come out of season); and as it stands, it's simply incredible." Well, what are we going to do with that?

What's interesting is we get all worked up over what happens to this tree. "Well, that's not fair. This poor little tree," but what happens to the tree parallels what is happening to the temple, and nobody is really upset for the temple's Grounds and Properties Committee. We're concerned about this little tree.

Well, the tree story brackets the meat. What he's going to show you is, first of all, it wasn't unreasonable in cursing this tree, and second of all, it isn't really about the tree and it's ultimately not about the temple. It's about you and me, just as it was about the folks who lived then. Let me see if I can unpack this a little bit.

Let me start by giving you a time when Christ gave a parable. He taught through a story about a fig tree in another gospel, in Luke, chapter 13, if you have your Bible and you want to turn there. What Jesus does in this story he told about a fig tree… As I made a case a couple of weeks ago, Jesus being a prophet, often did some things that were rather dramatic. Great teachers use audiovisuals a lot of times.

Christ was using this teaching technique, once in a story that was illustrative, and then later, at the very end of his ministry, in effect he was acting out a parable to teach them something. Look at Luke 13, and we're going to pick it up in verse 6. Now here, he's telling a story. This is not the same event, but it's the same type of lesson that is illustrated through a tangible acting out as in Mark, chapter 11. Here we go.

"And He began telling this [story] : 'A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard…'" Now what do you know about something planted in a vineyard. It's a safe place. This is no wild tree. This tree had been put in a safe place, a place that it was supposed to produce something…cultivated, watered, cared for, predators kept away from it.

"…and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?' And he answered and said to him…" Now this is the vineyard keeper. "Now wait a minute. Let it alone, sir. I know it's your tree, and you can do whatever you want with it. You can burn it down if it's healthy, but clearly, you're upset with this tree because it's not. Let me just spend one more shot at trying to turn this sucker around so it's a fruit-bearing tree."

He said, "Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, [fine] cut it down." What's interesting is that's the end of the story, and we don't ever know. It's what's called an open-ended parable because the point is not what happens to this fig tree. The point is what happens to you and me. What are we going to do?

This little parable shows us there's a divine design for this fig tree. There is divine investment and cultivation which produces a divine expectation which will produce divine frustration if it doesn't do what it's supposed to do. Let me say that again. There is a design for that tree. There is a design for you. There is an investment in this tree. There is an investment in you.

There is an expectation on this tree that it would do what it was designed to do and cultivated to do. There is an expectation on how we will respond to what God has invested in us; his own Son revealed on a cross, unique among men in that he has done this little thing called resurrected from the dead. There will be a day when there will be a divine condemnation on those who don't bear fruit in keeping with and responding to what he's invested in us.

The question is not, "What happened to this tree?" The question is, "What's going to happen to you?" and specifically, when Jesus was there, "What's going to happen to you, oh nation, that I've invested in? I've given you my Word. I've given you my prophets, and now I've given you my Son." I want you to also note in Luke 13. There is no request that is made here for an infinite existence of a fruitless tree.

You know, people love Christ. He is seen as this compassionate, gracious leader, and he is, but you need to know this about our compassionate, gracious leader who came, as he said, as a lamb and will return as a lion. He came as a lamb, gentile and meek, humble; offering forgiveness, grace, and justification. He will come back demanding worship and doling out judgment on his enemies.

Christ is the vineyard keeper in this parable, and he makes no request that God would forever ignore the improper response to the divine design. We are in what's called a season of grace, where the Lamb has accomplished for us the forgiveness that the Old Testament system, which I'll talk about a little bit in a minute, anticipated and hoped for, but there's going to be a day when he's through digging around with his church, with his Word, with his Spirit, with his songs, with his arts, and with his creation.

There's going to be a day when he is through digging around the soil of men's hearts, and compassionate Jesus is going to have no problem saying, "You know what? It is time." We don't know when that time is for us. For this nation in Mark 11, it was right then. For that generation, it was right then. For you, it's going to be in your lifetime.

Let me tell you, a guy was asking me again this week about the thing called the unpardonable sin and what it is. There is some reference in Matthew 12 and earlier in Mark, I think chapter 3, where we talked about this event that happened to this nation when they rejected the Word of the Father about who he was, the Word of the Son about who he was, and the Word of the Spirit revealed through the Son about who he was. That nation rejected all three testimonies of God himself.

As a nation, they were put into judgment, and they were not going to be the people used by God the way God intended to use the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so as a nation, they went into judgment, but for us, the unforgivable sin is this. It's dying apart from faith in Jesus Christ. That's it. "…it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…" This thing called blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Blasphemy is when you attribute to something, something that's not true or when you deny that something, something that is true of it. What you have here in this little section is a group of people that has responded to whom Christ is by saying, "We don't think you're that." They denied that to him. They blasphemed his name, and if you die apart from coming to a place of repentance of who Christ is, then there's going to be a reconciling that with the Holy God, and that happens at your death.

For me, I heard the gospel many times about who Jesus was, and I go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. Good deal. Fine. Not interested." I, in a sense, blasphemed the Holy Spirit. I said, "Jesus is not who he said he was, and the Holy Spirit, whatever that is (this Casper item that's floating around here), I don't get it." I, in a sense, blasphemed the Holy Spirit by saying, "I have nothing to do with him." I lived my life in rebellion against God the Father. I blasphemed the Father.

Very few of us respond to this truth the first time we hear it, so if what it means here is you can't ever attribute to God everything that's due to him, then none of us would have a chance. The point is that, what you have to do in your generation, in your lifetime is respond rightly to who God is, and there is going to be no problem amongst the merciful Son in saying, "You know what? It's time. I expect no infinite existence of an unresponsive creature."

Every miracle and every story that Christ did, again, was a gracious intention to alarm his contemporaries to induce them to change the way they think (see also: repent) about themselves and about God. Here, we have now this fig tree, not in Luke 13 but this fig tree in Mark 11, that now he is acting out a parabolic story. Still, you might go, "Well, why has he cursed a tree when it's not the season for figs?" Are you ready for my two cents on that?

Here we go with a little botany for you, for any arborists who are out there. A fig tree is unique. It produces typically three different crops of figs, sometimes more. The interesting thing about a fig tree is it sheds its leaves in late fall heading into winter, but before it starts to put the leaves back on it, there is a certain type of fig that grows to about the size of an almond. It's green, and it eventually falls away in late April to early May.

Now these little green figs always came before the leaves. If, in fact, a tree would produce leaves without these early season figs, it would not produce what you and I most fully identify with figs in May and June when the real full crop comes in of the darker, richer, sweeter type of figs. This happened in what is about the first week of April. In March is when these little green figs show up. About a week or two after that, leaves about the size of a magnolia leaf cover the whole tree.

If you have leaves, you ought to have these early season figs, but it's not the season for figs to be harvested. That's really May and June. Sometimes peasants would walk along the road and would pick these little green figs. They were a little bit more bitter, but there was nourishment in them, and these were the forerunners of the figs that were to come. Then sometimes, there'd be another crop in October through December.

What's really going on here is Jesus is walking along. He sees a fig tree with leaves. We know that because it says this tree had leaves. It had the outward appearance of…what? Of being a healthy tree. A tree with leaves should already have…what? Some little evidence of the full figs that are to come.

Just like you would walk by an apple tree and go, "Don't pick that apple yet because it's not the season for apples." Are there apples on the tree before the season for apples? Absolutely. In fact, if you go by an apple tree after the harvest, it's going to look…what? Barren. The tree might have the excuse of, "Well, you just weren't here two weeks ago when the old Washington Apple people came whipping through here and took all my apples. I'm a good tree. I just don't have any fruit because they've already plucked me clean."

See, when you're in March and April in Palestine, you can't say, "They've already harvested my figs." You're giving the appearance of being what you're supposed to be, a tree that produces fruit. You have the outward signs of fruitfulness, but when Christ got up close, he said, "All your foliage is deceiving, and may you never deceive anyone again. May no one ever be disappointed when they see from the outside leaves, though you're lacking what ought to be behind those leaves," and he cursed it.

It was cursed so thoroughly it was right down to its roots, which means there was no chance for it to ever come back again. What does this story bracket? It brackets the temple. That's what it points to, and what Jesus is saying in the temple is the exact same thing. "I have to tell you something. This temple has the outward sign of religion and of grace and of hope, but inside are a bunch of robbers and thieves, and I condemn it."

What's interesting is that when Christ dies and brings forward a new way, the substance that projected the shadow, a new way for man to be related to God, it says the curtain which separated the people from the most holy place where the ark of God was, that you could take a team of horses and say, "Go get them, boys!" and tie them to this curtain and it would not rip. That curtain was ripped.

It was ripped, it says in the Scriptures, from top to bottom, a thorough work, a complete judgment and destruction so it could never be restored, just like the fig tree, from top to bottom…no more need for barriers, no more need for you to produce what you were here to produce. What was the law there to do? What was the Old Testament sacrifice there to produce? It was to produce faith.

Faith in what? Faith in God, who in his grace provides for you a means through which you might be forgiven that, one day, the ultimate sacrifice would come, but you believe in that God, and you worship the God who is who has revealed himself who is holy and you are not, but you long for the day when the ultimate sacrifice will be there. What do we do? We have faith that the ultimate sacrifice has come, and God has now destroyed the shadow because the substance is there in the person of Jesus Christ. Do you see how these two things work together?

Let me give you some applications. Let me just start by saying it this way. God is not impressed with those who claim to be faithful. God is not impressed with those who give the appearance of faithfulness. He is present with those who are faithful.

As I wrestled through this, what is he trying to show us here? What's he trying to teach us? I believe that the point right here is that promise without fulfillment brings judgment, or if you want to say it this way, profession without practice ticks him off. (I can't use the P that would go there.) You know what? We have this so odd view of God that, you know what? We can look like we're going to bear fruit. We can look like we are this leafy, great tree…healthy.

"I hold my wife's hands when I'm supposed to. I move quickly through channels when other guys are around. I may sure my accountant sees how big the checks are I write to churches and philanthropic and religious deals. I go to church. I have my system that covers me and makes me look good, but in my heart, it's about me. There is no brokenness, and there is no change of mind about ultimately where life can be found. It is all about me."

God is not impressed with folks who surround themselves with a bunch of things when their hearts are far from him. That's the point of the fig tree. That's the point of the temple being condemned and Jesus saying, "Listen. Respond rightly to God. Trust in me. What work must we do? Believe in him whom he has sent. Humble yourself before me."

Let me just give you a great verse. One of my favorite proverbs is Proverbs, chapter 20, verse 6. It says, "Many a man proclaims his own loyalty [his faithfulness] , but who can find a trustworthy man?" I'm going to give you a little Hebrew lesson. We don't do this very often, but this is kind of great.

The word there for loyalty is the word that basically is the main word in your Old Testament. If you take that word out of your Old Testament, you are in deep kimchi. It's the word checed. Most of us don't know very many Hebrew words, but checed is one that's thrown around a lot. It is the word for covenant love. Men, you ought to have checed toward your wife. It is enduring faithfulness.

" Many a man proclaims [he is enduring in his faithfulness] , but who can find a man who is trustworthy?" This last word is a different word. It's the word ʹemuwn. It's the word we get in the Greek, amēn, from and that we then bring to our English amen. It's the word which means trustworthy, consistent, true, verily.

When you get done praying and you say, "God, amen," what you're saying and what I'm saying is, "Lord, may this be" or "so be it." When we pray, "God, would you just capture our hearts so we don't get stuck in some dead works or some dead system? God, would you do that and teach us what it means to really respond to you? Amen." You're saying, "So be it" or "Make that true of us."

You know the little Budweiser ad, when they talk about the beer is what it claims to be and they go, "True"? What we ought to see in our life is basically, when you get done praying, you just say, "True." It's same thing. "Many a man proclaims [he is lover of God] , but who can find a man who is [true] ?" That's what the verse is saying.

There are a couple of ladies who are here this morning, a couple of guys who are here this morning with spouses who stood there and professed their checed love to their spouse. Don't nudge or elbow here. How many of y'all are married to a spouse who is true? Let me ask you a human question. What do you want?

Do you want a guy who buys you a big diamond, throws a huge wedding for you, writes his own vows (They are good. I mean, they are Robert Frostian vows. Shakespeare would covet these vows.), but he is not true, or would you want to marry some clod who wears high-waters to your wedding, who has a stuttering and a stammering problem, who doesn't write his own vows (he just finds the closest ones he can and, in a very inarticulate way, can just say, "If I can be your husband, where do I sign?"), but then that guy loves you?

There's no big diamond. There's no fig. There are no big leaves hanging on your finger, no exotic trip that looked impressive from a distance, but this guy values you. I mean, his life is about honoring you, and though he's in the position of leading your family, he makes sure he does nothing ever that is not in your best interests. Now, which one of those two guys do you want?

I mean, you want the first one who acts like the second one. I know that's what you want, but that wasn't an option. I know which one you want because I know what kind of woman I want. I want the one who's going to be true. Don't you? Why would we think God would want any less? God doesn't want a bunch of fig-leaf worshipers. Let me take you all the way back to Genesis 3. Check this out. Genesis 3:6-7:

"When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked…"

What did man do to cover his rebellion, to cover up the fact that he was now exposed? Look what he does. He puts on some outer trapping, fig leaves, so he wouldn't be exposed. "I'll just cover the shame and the nakedness with these things I do to make me look better before him." Now there are 14 verses I'm going to skip for the sake of time. Look at verse 21.

God rebukes him, tells him that what he did is going to have a serious consequence between God and man, between woman and God, between man and woman, between woman and man, and between man, woman, and the world. There's some hell to pay, literally, but God in his grace makes a provision. He rejects the fig leaves, and he gives them a different covering. Look what we have right here. PETA folks, brace yourselves.

"The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." He atoned is the word. He covered them. Question: Where do you get skins of animals? Answer: Animals. Question: What happens when you skin an animal? Answer: Blood is spilled. An innocent life was taken to cover a guilty life, and you go, "Man, that isn't right." If you're offended by what happened to the fig tree in Mark 11, you ought to really be upset with Bambi's mom right here.

You know what? God isn't really concerned about Bambi. He's concerned about those he created in his image, and he will go to no small effort to atone, to cover, to make provision for those he loves. In fact, he will so cultivate you, so checed you that, if you don't respond to that, it's going to produce some divine frustration. Are y'all getting this? This is huge.

What he's saying right here is, "Look, don't try and cover yourself in acts. You cover yourself the way I want to cover you. I'm not just going to kill Bambi's mom. I'm going to kill myself for you and cover you with my perfect provision, and if you clothe yourself in anything other than me, we have trouble.

Then, if you do clothe yourself in me, you bear fruit in keeping with the fact that your clothed in me. I don't want to just hear you say magic words. I don't want you to come forward in October at the Billy Graham Crusade. I don't want you to come forward later today. I don't want you to dedicate your baby. I want you.

Then you dedicate your baby, if that's what you choose to do, and then you walk forward at the Billy Graham Crusade. Then you check that little box in the Watermark News that says, 'I want to know how to receive a faith relationship with God through Jesus Christ.' Then by grace, you begin to be more committed, more competent, more connected, more contributing, and more creative as you bathe yourself in his Word and commune with him through prayer, as evidence that your worship isn't just leafy."

We don't have time, but in Hebrews, chapter 6, and in Hebrews, chapter 9, God calls the system folks worshipped him in dead works. "In other words, if you trust in what you do in sacrificing bulls and goats, they are dead works. What you do does not accomplish jack for me. If you do them in faith, it's pleasing. If you do them thinking the act in and of itself is worship, you're dead wrong, and they're dead works, and there will be death to pay for that." He calls them to trust in another work, a more and full complete work.

He begs the Hebrew people to not return to religious systems that were only there to picture the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That's what the book of Hebrews is about, to the Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith in Christ. Some of them said, "Well, we'll just move back over here and believe in this system of worship again," and he said, "You cannot go back. Do not leave the provision of God through Jesus Christ to protect yourself and to hide under these systems that have been ripped from top to bottom."

You know what's really interesting about the use of the fig tree as a symbol of responding rightly to God? I'm just going to give you some Bible here for a second. In Numbers 17, there's what's called the Rebellion of Korah. It's a time when about 250 leaders came against Moses and Aaron and said, "You're not special. You're no greater than we are. We can go and perform this service before God."

Moses collected 250 sticks and had every man write his name on one, and Moses and Aaron wrote both their names on one stick, and they put it before the presence of the Lord. The next day, these dead sticks came out, and there were 250 sticks that were still dead, and there was one that had blossomed and become green and had almonds on it.

It was Aaron's and Moses', and it was God's way of saying, "Listen, I'm serious when I say I am holy, and when I raise up a leader, you had better not pick your own, and when I reveal who I am through a group of individuals who have my Word and who are going to lead you into a right relationship with me, don't think you can sub them out for your own system. I am going to bless the Aaronic priesthood. I'm going to bless these men who will serve you in the temple as the means through which you can express faith."

What had happened is the people then perverted that system and thought the system itself was enough to impress God, so he took what was dead and made it alive, and then they perverted it, and he took what was alive and made it dead. I'm going to tell you something. The more you read your Bible, the tighter you see this story is, and the more evidence you have that this is not some workings of men.

Forty different authors, ten different civilizations, over 40 generations of people in three different languages, and this book is as tight as a sentence, because there's one author. His name is Jesus Christ. I believe! God doesn't get impressed with the outward signs and those who claim to be faithful who cover themselves with rituals and leaves. He's present with those who are faithful.

Let me give you one more. His disciples always listen. Now where do I get that? If you want to, look at Mark, chapter 11, verse 14. "He said to it, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again!' And His disciples were listening." We should do well to listen, especially when he's talking about blessings and curses. Jesus is saying right here, "Hey, I cursed you because you're not doing what I made you to do," and his disciples listened to that, it says right there in verse 14.

Here's my question. Are you listening today, when he says, "I curse the man who trusts in himself, who substitutes faith in God for some humanistic system, for some religious system of works that are dead"? He says, "Cursed is the man who trusts in flesh." In Matthew 5, he says these familiar words. "Blessed are the poor in spirit…" Who are in and of themselves bankrupt and have nothing to offer God but repentance. "…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

What God wants from us is clean hearts. You're going to sing a song here just in a second that talks about "O God of Jacob." That's the God of the Scriptures. That's the God who said, "I'm going to use this people to reveal who I am," and those people made that system into something they could trust in instead of the God behind the system, so he said, "I don't want your festivals and your songs. I want your hearts," so we sing, "Give us clean hands. Give us pure hearts."

"God, let me respond to your divine cultivation with fruit, the fruit of love and gentleness, patience, kindness, faithfulness, and we'll never present you our fruit. We'll present you our roots in Jesus Christ." If our roots are Jesus Christ, we're going to bear the fruit of our relationship with him, and we will be marked in such a way that people will see us doing everything we can with what we have. They will see us authentic, and they will see us making a difference while we're here. Let's pray.

Lord, what looks really difficult is not that difficult at all when we just take some time to see that all you're crying out for from beginning to end in ways that we… What I don't really understand is why you love us, why you care, why you strive for us, why you initiate a relationship with us, why you fertilize us with the blood of your Son. God on the cross died for me.

Father, you're not impressed that I stand here as a pastor. You're not impressed that I studied your Word this week. You're not impressed that I just said that you died on the cross for me. You're impressed when that penetrates the deepest recesses of my soul and my relationship with you forever changes because I no longer will do things for any other reason than in response to a love that you in your checedness poured out for me. May I be amēn. May my friends be true. May we have clean hands because we have pure hearts.

About 'Gospel According to Mark, Volume 5'

The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. <strong></strong> This volume covers Mark 10:35 through Mark 12:44.