Jesus is often referred to in Scripture as “the Son of David”. This title calls particular attention to the human ancestry of Christ. God promised that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David (1 Chronicles 17:11-14). He would establish an indestructible kingdom and rule over Israel eternally. The human lineage of Jesus is carefully recorded with lengthy genealogies found in both Matthew and Luke. These records show that Jesus was, in fact, a son of David.
As we studied last time, Jesus began “Passion Week” by riding into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey. He was greeted by crowds who joyfully cheered “Hosanna”, waved palm branches as He passed by, and spread their coats out on the road before Him. It was a reception fit for a king and the fulfillment of Zechariah’s ancient prophecy. But there’s more…
Centuries earlier young Solomon, one of the biological sons of David, had ridden a mule into the city of Gihon and was there anointed as king (1 Kings 1:38-40). The Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ bears a strong resemblance to that Old Testament event. By coming into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, Jesus was mirroring the actions of Solomon and showing Himself undoubtedly to be “The Son of David”.
“Palm Sunday” was a remarkable day. In today’s message, we are going to continue our study through “Passion Week” by considering what happened on Monday and early Tuesday morning. As we make our way through this sermon series, keep in mind that everything is building (you might even say rising) toward a spectacular finish!
I. THE BARREN FIG TREE
After a good night of rest in Bethany, Jesus and His disciples got up Monday morning and decided to return to Jerusalem. As they walked together toward the city, Jesus became hungry. He looked around and saw a fig tree covered with leaves standing by the road up ahead. Jesus approached the fig tree hoping to find a quick snack, but there was no fruit on it. In His disgust, the Lord cursed the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat from you again!” His disciples heard what Jesus said and may have considered His words to be a bit rash.
Fig trees naturally produce their fruit at the same time or even before putting on their leaves. Though it was early spring - which is not the ideal season for figs - the fact that this tree was already covered with leaves strongly suggested that there should be fruit on it. It would be quite abnormal for a fig tree coated with leaves to be barren. Jesus expected to find fruit on this tree, and was angry when He discovered none.
The Bible symbolizes the nation of Israel as a fig tree (Hosea 9:10). As the chosen people of God, they were supposed to represent Him rightly before the nations. By doing so, they would produce spiritual fruit among themselves and in others. However, despite being adorned with the leaves of God’s glorious favor, they had largely failed to bear spiritual figs. Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree that morning was a picture of God’s looming judgment on Israel.
II. THE CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE
Leaving the cursed fig tree behind, Jesus and the disciples continued into Jerusalem and made their way to the temple. When they entered, they saw money changers and merchants who had set up tables and were conducting business. This was likely taking place in the temple’s outer court, which was known as the Court of the Gentiles. Jesus became enraged by this, and began to drive out all of those who were buying and selling. He turned over their tables and chairs, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. Jesus reminded the people that the LORD’s temple was to be a “house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7), but they had made it a “robber’s den” (Jeremiah 7:11).
Many Gentile proselytes and even some ethnic Jews traveled long distances to Jerusalem in order to observe the Passover. Rather than bringing their own sacrificial animals on the journey, it was much easier to buy them after arriving. Furthermore, the annual temple tax had to be paid with Jewish currency creating a need for many to exchange their Roman coins. Knowing this, greedy money changers and merchants conveniently placed themselves inside the temple court and charged exorbitant fees to provide these services. They were taking advantage of these sojourners for their own financial gain. Jesus was infuriated by their blatant desecration of the temple and drove them out.
This event actually appears to be the second time that Jesus cleansed the temple. 3 years earlier, near the beginning of His ministry and also around the time of Passover, a similar occurrence took place (John 2:13-22). Jesus drove money changers and merchants out of the temple on that occasion as well. However, there are a few notable differences between these 2 incidents which distinguish them from one another. Sadly, it appears that these Jewish merchants and money changers had not heeded Jesus’ rebuke the first time around, and were now receiving it once again.
After cleansing the temple, Jesus started teaching the crowds that were gathered there. He healed several blind and lame people. Children began to cry out that He was the long-awaited “Son of David”. The chief priests and scribes got upset at these kids, but Jesus acknowledged that they were simply acting in accordance with Scripture (Psalm 8:2). Sometimes adults should listen to what children are saying! Jesus spent the remainder of the day teaching, then returned to Bethany for the night.
III. THE WITHERED FIG TREE
On Tuesday morning Jesus and the disciples started toward walking Jerusalem again. As they approached the spot where Jesus had cursed the fig tree a day earlier, the disciples were amazed to see that it had completely withered away. Usually this process took several weeks, yet this tree had completely shriveled from the root up in just a matter of hours. This speaks to the power of Christ and the immediacy of God’s judgment. The disciples asked Jesus how this could happen so quickly, and He began teaching them about faith, expectancy, and forgiveness.
There is a slight discrepancy between in the accounts of Mark and Matthew regarding the fig tree. According to Mark, the incident took place over the course of 2 mornings - Monday and Tuesday - just as presented in this sermon. Matthew, however, writes that everything happened on the same day. He states that it was actually Tuesday morning when Jesus became hungry, found the barren fig tree, and pronounced the curse that caused it to wither away immediately. While I believe Mark’s timeline to be correct, it really doesn’t matter. Either way, the essential truth of the story remains the same. God judges the fruitless, in this case the nation of Israel.
While Palm Sunday had been a day of great celebration and fanfare, Monday and Tuesday morning consisted of cursing, righteous indignation, and judgment. The nation of Israel hadn’t lived up to its calling. Therefore, its special and long-held status as the acting people of God was about to be suspended. This privilege and responsibility would be given to the Church, made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. Following the Ascension of Christ, the establishment and growth of the early Church is the primary topic of the New Testament.
Furthermore, the religious practice of that day was characterized by dishonesty and corruption. God intended the temple to be a house of worship where the sincere prayers of His people were to be offered, but it had instead devolved into a place of perversion and exploitation for material gain. Jewish leaders allowed the temple to become a place of business, and were certainly enjoying a percentage of the profits being made. The activities taking place there were making a mockery of the temple.
As we conclude our message this morning, I can’t help but wonder how Jesus would feel about the Christian church today. Have we done any better than ancient Israel? Are we producing the fruit that God desires of us? Can it be seen in our own lives and is it springing forth in the lives of others? Are we reaching the world with the gospel and laboring faithfully in the LORD’s vineyard? Do our churches more closely resemble “houses of prayer” or “dens of thieves”? If Jesus was to walk through our churches today, would He be upset by what He saw? What types of corruption need to be driven out?