Lots of exciting goings-on today in what seems to be one of those real-time 24-hour micro-documentaries of Jesus’ life. It began at a village just outside Jerusalem called ‘House of Figs’ (Bethphage). Nearby was also the village of Bethany – meaning ‘House of Affliction’ or ‘Poor House’ – where Jesus lodged during the final week of his life and commuted into Jerusalem each day. It was located high up on the Mount of Olives, much higher than Jerusalem itself. What a great view you would have had from there! It was also where Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived, and also Simon the Leper. From these two villages, Jesus set out on the so-called ‘Triumphal Entry’ into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey as a symbol of royalty and of peace (Zechariah 9:9).
The action in this chapter involved a period of crowd hysteria (as it might be described today) where many of the city’s population recognised the Messiah for whom he was – at long last! Spreading cloaks on the road was an act of worship towards a king. Like most crowds, they had very little knowledge of what might happen next, and it is amazing how quickly their enthusiasm for Jesus waned over the next few days. They were truly the ‘thin’ soil in the ‘Parable of the Sower’!
Jesus – for the second time in his ministry – went into the Temple courts, the Court of the Gentiles, and forcibly removed all the traders from there. From his lips we get the great statement: “My house will be called a house of prayer…” (Isaiah 56:7). These days, God does not live in stone buildings; a ‘church’ is not a building at all! We should now better translate it as “My household will be called a household of prayer”; we, his people, his church, should be the praying ones and should avoid the distractions of everyday life. We don’t do this by avoiding everyday life, but by including our prayers in it – just as Jesus did!
Jesus then healed some people and then he cursed an unproductive fig tree. Since Bethphage means ‘House of Figs’, it was clear that fig-growing was big around there. If a fig tree didn’t do its stuff, it was despised and disposed of. The unfortunate fig tree cursed by Jesus withered overnight and was thus saved from years of wasteful existence. It may be that Jesus applies the same principle to his gathered people – his ‘Ecclesia’, or ‘Church’ – and expects fruit, or else! Read the Book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 to see more of his expectations of us. The ‘miracle’ of the fig tree’s negative growth was also a teaching point for Jesus: “If you have faith and don’t doubt, you can… If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (vv21-22).
Then there are a couple of parables that speak directly to the Jews: “The Parable of the Two Sons” one of which refused to obey his father but then changed his mind and did – and the other who agreed to obey and then did not do so in practice. The first son represented the despised, common sinners of society (who knew they were not good enough) and the second son, the esteemed religious people. (As evidenced by verses 31 and 32). In order to repent, you must realize that you are not good enough to enter the Kingdom on your own merits. What about us? Are we God’s ‘Yes Men’ who fail to get around to obeying, or are we those who – despite initial disagreements – put his commands into practice?
The second parable was aimed, probably at the Jew/Gentile divide: “The Parable of the Tenants”. The key verse is verse 43: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit”. The Jews had had their chance and the Gentiles were about to get theirs!
I think that the principle still applies today: churches, missional communities, and ministries that fail to produce results for Him, will be removed or overtaken, and the job given to others who will obey him and produce the results he is looking for. We have no divine right – as churches – to exist forever. Look again at Revelation chapters 2 and 3: how many of those churches continue to exist in Western Turkey today!