The Worst Condition a Church can be Found in...ask Jesus
My favorite books of the Bible are the gospels. In them, we discover who God really is by looking at Jesus' life. When we see the heart of Jesus, we see the heart of the Almighty God. Jesus showed us compassion, mercy and truth. He also showed us things that made him disgusted...one of those things being the local temple.
The story begins with Jesus and the disciples entering Jerusalem. It was a very busy time, as the passover was being celebrated. People from all around were making their way into Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple. Jesus went into the temple himself. The Bible says "After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late afternoon..." (Mark 11:11). In other words, Jesus came in to inspect what was going on.
The next day is when the story gets interesting...even a little confusing. Jesus and the disciples got up that morning and was heading back to the temple. On the way, Jesus' stomach began to growl. Someone forgot to pack breakfast. The Bible says, Jesus being hungry...
"He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said, 'May no one ever eat your fruit again!' And the disciples heard him say it." (Mark 11:12-14). Now if I had of been one of the disciples, I would want to know why Jesus cursed a tree because it didn't have fruit when it wasn't the season for it to have fruit? We'll get back to that in a minute.
Afterwards, Jesus and the disciples proceeded to the temple (the same place he was the day before). When he gets there, he finds the church serving the people who have come to worship God. Since many people were from far away, they had to wait and buy their sacrificial animal in Jerusalem; and what better place to support than the local church, right? Many people didn't have the right currency, so they would have to get their money changed over. Again, the church was there to serve them by changing over their money so they could buy their sacrificial animal. But there was a problem. The local church was overcharging the people for both the livestock and to change their money over. In disgust, Jesus turns the tables over, drives out the livestock and calls the church a den of thieves and robbers. But that's not the end of the story. Matter of fact, the most important part happens next.
Jesus and his disciples leave the church. The disciples probably whispering about Jesus' really bad day. First, he misses breakfast, which results in him cursing a tree; then he flips over tables and drives out livestock, which killed a major income the church was accustom to getting every year. Yes, things were a little frustrating to say the least.
On the way back, they pass the tree. It's completely dried up. Peter, who always spoke up first is like, "Jesus, the tree you cursed is completely dried up!" And I love Jesus' response, "Have faith in God." Here is where Jesus, the Master Teacher ties it all together.
First we must conclude Jesus does nothing by accident. He really wasn't just having a bad day. There is also a reason the fig tree was part of the story going to and from the temple. Many would ask why Jesus cursed a fig tree for not having fruit in the season that it wasn't supposed to. However, a fig tree is not like most fruit trees. It's unique. You see, a fig tree always produces leaves and figs at the same time. The fact that this fig tree even had leaves that time of year was a freak of nature. Are you making the connection?
Jesus is teaching us that the temple (and many of our churches today) are much like the fig tree. From a distance, it promises fruit. From a distance, it sends a message to people that it has the fruit they need to satisfy a spiritual hunger. Nice buildings, steeples and fancy crosses all promise the spiritual fruit of peace that can only be found in God. Yet, when you get up close to it, you realize there are only of leaves, but no fruit. This is a picture of religion.
There are many churches clothed in the leaves of religion. They promise hungry people spiritual supplement. Yet when people get up close, they find nothing but religion. The leave just as hungry as they came. Religion is the best thief of all. It robs people of their faith; it steals the belief that God is approachable. A church that bears only leaves is a church that cherishes their religion about God more than a relationship with God.
These churches are just like the fig tree. They have a lot of leaves, but they are dry and dead. Jesus has removed his breath of life from them. They exist, but they are lifeless, neither do they see life change. Baptisms are few. Discipleship is just a word. What is the end result of these churches? I love this. Jesus answers the question when Peter ask about the dried up fig tree. Have faith in God. When Jesus is invited into the equation, all things are possible. Even dead, dried up churches can experience a resurrection; they can become fruit bearers and see life change through the gospel.
So let me close with this. If Jesus showed up at your church this weekend, would he find a lot of leaves and fruit? Would people show up hungry for God's acceptance and find hope and love? Or would they find burdens and legalism hidden underneath religious leaves? If it's the latter, I can assure you, it's the worst condition a church can be found in, because it makes Jesus very unhappy.
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