In Appearance Only

Thursday, January 14, 2016, 6:00 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song “Our Eyes on Jesus.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Matthew 21:18-22 (NASB).

Only Leaves (vv. 18-19)

Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

The Lord Jesus used a real life situation here as a parable to illustrate a biblical truth, i.e. a message from God. The tree represented the nation of Israel, who were God’s chosen people at that time. The leaves were a sign that fruit should have been present on the tree, but it was show only; profession only of having genuine fruit for God and his eternal kingdom. They, as a nation, gave lip service to God, but their hearts were far from him. Many of their leaders were hypocrites who worked hard at looking righteous on the outside, but inside they were full of wickedness and lacking in love and mercy for their fellow humans. They were a people who were religious in practice, but they were not followers of God. They, as a nation, were going to be judged by God and would no longer be his people. The kingdom of God was taken away from them and given to the Gentiles, i.e. to a people who would produce its fruit (See: vv. 33-46). Yet, although they were cut off from the vine due to unbelief, they can be grafted back into the kingdom of God if they believe in Jesus.

So, what can we learn from this parable to apply to the people of God, i.e. to the church, the body of Christ today? Or, to our individual lives?

For one, we can learn that God Almighty is longsuffering, and is patient with us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He endured Israel’s coldness toward him for many years before he finally judged them for their unbelief. We can also learn that, although God may judge our unbelief, idolatry and/or spiritual adultery in this life through trials, tribulations, and hardships, even if we must suffer great loss in this life, as long as we still have the breath of life, we can still be saved if we turn from our sin, and we turn to have faith or renewed faith in Jesus Christ. The people of the nation of Israel who still do not trust in Jesus as their Messiah can still be grafted back into God’s kingdom if they will just believe on Jesus to be their Lord and Savior (See: Ro. 11). Those who survive God’s judgments on the people of this earth can still turn their hearts to the Lord and be saved. And, those who know Jesus, but have wandered from their pure devotion, can be brought back to the Lord and to unadulterated fellowship with him (See: Rev. 2-3).

We can also learn that God is not pleased when his people, or those who profess to be his, make a show of righteousness on the outside, but inside are full of wickedness, or when their hearts have strayed from their pure devotion to him to where they have, once again, adopted the ways of this sinful world, and thus are not bearing fruit for God’s eternal kingdom (See: Rev. 2-3, for example). He is a loving, forgiving and merciful God, but that does not mean he is soft on sin. He is a loving Father who will discipline his wayward children in order to get them back on the straight path (See: Heb. 12:3-11). A large majority of the church here in America has strayed from her pure devotion to Jesus Christ and is following after the ways of humans, instead. She has become worldly and there is not much distinction between the church and the world anymore. She has turned the church into a marketplace and is selling a diluted gospel in order to appeal to the flesh of humans. I believe God is going to judge her, and that she will suffer loss in this world, but that those who are truly the Lord’s will be revived, and that many will come to faith in Jesus Christ.

If You Have Faith (vv. 20-22)

Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

In context, I believe Jesus’ words here entail much more than just a lesson on faith and believing God for the impossible, or for the seemingly impossible, i.e. on believing God for miracles. If we look at what Jesus did, and what the real life application was to his words and actions, we realize that what Jesus did was first of all to closely examine his people, his nation, and to see that, although they had the appearance of being righteous and of bearing fruit for God’s eternal kingdom, it was all show. There was no genuine fruit present. So, following this close examination, he declared judgment on his nation, his people. They would suffer loss. They would no longer be his nation, his people, due to unbelief, but his kingdom would be given to those who would believe and who would bear his fruit. Yet, there was still hope if only they would believe in Jesus to be Lord and Savior of their lives.

Then is the part about the mountain. A mountain is often a reference to an obstacle or to a seemingly impossible situation in our lives. In the Bible, it was often indicative of a place of worship, as well, and sometimes it was an allusion to idolatry and the worship of foreign gods. When I did the research on this several years ago, I learned that “this mountain” could have been a reference to the Mount of Olives or to Mount Zion, which is a reference to Zion, which is another name for God’s people, then the nation of Israel, and now the church. Mount Zion was easily viewable from the Mount of Olives.

But, then I had to look at the context of the passage once again. Jesus had just cleansed the temple of its “robbers” (merchants) and its business dealings which were crooked, and which took the place of (or superseded) prayer in the temple. Then, he judged the fig tree, which was symbolic of his judgment on the nation of Israel for their unbelief. So far, the passage has been about Jesus judging the nation of Israel, his people of that time, for how they treated God’s holy temple, and for their religious hypocrisy. After this, his authority was questioned by the religious leaders of the temple. Then, he told some more parables.

The first one had to do with mouthing words of loyalty to God, but following the profession with disobedience, in contrast to those who had not yet made such a commitment, but then later changed their minds and who did obey, i.e. a reference to the Gentiles’ belief in Jesus. The next parable had to do with how the nation of Israel treated the prophets of old and with how they were going to treat Jesus, i.e. that they would put him to death, and thus the kingdom of God would be taken away from them because they rejected their Lord and Messiah and killed the giver of life on a cross. Then, in chapter 22, there was one about the wedding banquet, and again it was an indictment against the nation of Israel, God’s kingdom people at that time, and was a declaration of judgment against them and of eternal punishment in hell for all those who did not put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

So, Jesus’ words to his disciples about the mountain and about faith, when they asked him how the fig tree withered so quickly, were in the context of all of these declarations of judgment against God’s people, now the church, and for all the reasons mentioned. Also, grammatically speaking, some translations suggest that the command to the mountain was for it to throw itself into the sea, so with that comes even another possibility.

Yet, either way, the message is still one of examination of the church, and of proclamation of judgment, and this is what the disciples were to do (emulate) by faith, i.e. they were to, by faith, also closely examine the church, i.e. those who called themselves followers of Christ, they were to declare God’s judgments on the unbelieving, the hypocritical, and those who gave lip service absent of obedience, as well as they were to tell Zion, the church, to judge itself and to die to self (throw itself into the sea), i.e. to turn from their sinful ways, their idolatry and their spiritual adultery (repent), and to follow Jesus Christ with their lives in obedience. And, this is what they did in obedience to their Lord, by faith, and it is what we are to do, too.

I am speaking here, though, of God’s righteous judgments, according to his word, not according to the will of man or personal prejudices. This is not a license to get nitpicky about stuff we don’t like, but is a call to examine our own hearts first, and then to judge the church rightly for its adulterous ways, to call her to repentance, and to give her the hope of renewed faith and restored fellowship with God when she repents of her sin and turns to walk in the Spirit by faith in putting to death the deeds of the flesh. The church of today, especially here in America, needs to be called to repentance and to renewed faith in Jesus Christ, for the majority have fallen prey to deception and to wolves in sheep’s clothing, so they need to have their eyes opened to the truth and to turn from their sinful ways. We, the church, need to get our eyes off the things of this world and on to Jesus Christ.

Our Eyes on Jesus / An Original Work / April 23, 2012

Based off Hebrews 12:2-13

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.
Our faith starts and grows in Him,
Who for the joy set before Him
Endured all our sin.
Scorning the shame of the cross,
He sat down beside God above.
He was willing to die for us,
To save us, in love.

Think about the opposition
He endured from sinful men,
So when you go through life’s trials,
You stay strong within.
Knowing all He went through for us
Helps us not grow weak of heart;
Not grow weary; don’t give up;
And not from Him depart.

In your struggle against sin’s ways,
Resist not to shed your blood.
Have you forgotten the words
God spoke to us in love?
“My child, don’t ignore it when
The Lord corrects you; do faint not,
Because the Lord disciplines those
That He loves, of God.”

God rebukes us all for our good;
Share with Him in holiness.
It produces a harvest of
God’s own righteousness.
Therefore, strengthen all within you
That is weak and might give way.
Stand firm in the faith God gives you;
Trust Him and obey.