Wednesday, March 11. Matthew 21:12-22.
Jesus got pretty worked up in today’s reading. He barged into the temple, flipped over the money changers’ tables, called the religious leaders a den of thieves, and cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit. The religious leaders had made the temple all about the outward act of bringing animals to be sacrificed and the commerce of that process. Jesus showed them the true purpose for the temple. It was designed for prayer and healing.
Today I want to focus on the weird story about the fig tree. It had no fruit, so it was cursed and it withered. Then Jesus told the disciples that they can move mountains. What’s that all about?
The temple and the leaders who were put in charge of the temple system were not bearing the fruit of the Kingdom of God, so they were rejected. The withered and gnarled fig tree was a saddening picture of the destruction that was soon coming to the fruitless city of Jerusalem.
OK, that symbolism is easy to understand, but what’s with the mountain being thrown into the sea business? Jesus explained the withered tree by saying, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Most of us look at this verse and find it difficult to understand its relevance to the fig tree. So, we tend to interpret it to mean that, “Just like Jesus used His supernatural power to destroy a fig tree, so, too, can I, if I have enough faith, pick any mountain I want and move it.” I’m not sure that is exactly what it means.
In order to really understand Jesus’ explanation of the withered tree, we must turn to the pages of Zechariah. In Zechariah 4:6-9 God encouraged Zerubbabel to build the new temple in Jerusalem. Here is a man who is being commissioned by God to rebuild the proper place of worship for God’s people. Zerubbabel is afraid because he knows that he will face great opposition in Judah from the surrounding enemies when he starts the building project. So, God says to him, “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.’ What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’”
Jesus was reenacting this scene for His disciples. Jesus was saying to them, “Friends, just like Zerubbabel was commissioned to build a new temple, I’m calling you to build the new temple, the church. It’s not going to be a temple of brick and mortar, but a temple built of people, held together by relationship, of which I’m the chief cornerstone. I know it will be difficult and you will encounter great opposition and you are scared, but, just like I said to Zerubbabel, this is a mountain that I can level before you if you will just believe. I will give you My Spirit and you will be able to build the temple of God in the hearts of all people in the world, one life at a time.”
May we be that kind of temple. The challenge for us today is to examine our temple. Have we made the worship of God something that is an external action that we have to do? Have we created systems to expedite our worship experience and still get the biggest bang for the buck? It doesn’t matter if you attend a mega-church of thousands or a house church of 10, you can fall into this trap. If you believe that church and worship is something that you “do” on a Sunday morning,
then you are standing on dangerous ground. Worship is everything we do, because it flows out of who we are. We are the temple of God, each one of us being individual bricks. The temple is not in our individual hearts, it is in our collective hearts being held together by the mortar of relationship, held fast in the bond of peace. The church is the community, and the effectiveness of our worship has nothing to do with the “stuff” we bring to offer God but has everything to do with the way that we demonstrate love, healing, and community with each other and with the people around us. Let’s make sure that our local “temple” has strong mortar; that we are flowing in an attitude of continual prayer and overflowing in authentic love for one another.
(most of this devo was copied from my study The Life of Jesus.)