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The Curse of Empty Religion

Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard
2018 28 Mar

“Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered” (Mark 11:21).

Fig trees are for making figs.

Pretty simple, really. We plant apple trees because we want apples, peach trees because we want peaches, orange trees because we want oranges, and fig trees because we want figs. We might as well ask what good is an apple tree that doesn’t produce apples? You might as well cut it down. Or curse it, as Jesus did the fig tree (Matthew 21:18-19).

How did Jesus know the fig tree was barren? Because the leaves and the fruit typically appear at about the same time. To see a fig tree covered with leaves but with no fruit meant that it was barren.

Three insights help us understand this story. First, in the Old Testament the fig tree often stood as a symbol for the nation of Israel (Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 9:10). Second, the cursing of the fig tree occurs on Monday of Jesus’ Passion Week, four days before his crucifixion. Third, this story is placed next to the story of Jesus cleansing the temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-17). The money lenders had turned the Lord’s house into a den of thieves. They were profiteers who exchanged foreign currency and also sold the animals that worshipers from distant towns would buy to sacrifice before the Lord. By shrewd marketing they could charge exorbitant rates and make a killing off the pilgrims who came to worship. The whole scene angered our Lord because he knew that the temple should be a house of prayer for all nations.

Cursing the fig tree was Jesus’ way of saying that the whole nation had become spiritually barren before the Lord. They had the form of religion but not the reality. They knew the right words to say, but their hearts were far from God.

What happened on Monday served as a foreshadowing of what was to come on Friday when Jesus was put to death like a common criminal.

Cursing the fig tree is not a “happy miracle” like turning water into wine or curing leprosy or causing the blind to see. It is, however, a message from heaven to those would be followers of Jesus. Our Lord has no use for religion that is outward only and barren of the fruit of holiness and humility. Better to be irreligious than to be a “pretend believer” who goes through the motions and plays a religious game.

Better to be infidel than a pretend Christian.
At least with the infidel you know what you’re going to get.
The pretend Christian says the right words but there is no reality to back it up.

Jesus isn’t looking for a good show. He wants your heart to be his.

My Lord, deliver me from even the tiniest bit of religious pretense. May my life bring forth fruit that is pleasing in your eyes. Amen.

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