Has anyone ever built a fort or a tree house? I’ve been a part of several attempts in my life. One was when I was in 5th grade. It wasn’t very good, just an overgrown tree that we cut some branches out in the middle so we would have enough space to sit. But what got me really wanting a fort, was in sixth grade when I went to a science camp with my school. There we had to build a quick shelter to simulate what it would be like if we got caught in the woods on our own.
Three friends and I found a hollowed out tree. We put several large pieces of bark for the door, and right before we were going to close off the roof, the time was up. Now, your shelter had to be water proof, well from all four sides it was, but not the roof. To which the counselors poured a gallon of water on top of us. None of us got out of there dry.
Finally, my last attempt at a fort was in junior high, when I helped, and I use that word loosely, my friend build a tree house in his back yard. We got as far as the platform, and yes, it was as bad as you can imagine.
But in our minds, our forts where our castles. They looked like the great forts of the world. Where you could have battles, fight dragons, and storm the gates. Through our perception of what we had built, it was grand. The reality was a whole other story. The forts were ugly, hastily built, and couldn’t hold out a drip of water, let alone an attack.
And that’s where we jump into the Gospel of Mark today. A place where the view looks good to some, but the reality beneath the surface is all but good. So if you have your Bible, we’ll be in Mark chapter 11, starting in verse 12.
As we get into Mark 11:12, let’s catch up to where we’re at. Last week we talked about trusting God in the areas that he is moving us toward. We talked about how the disciples were trusting all that Jesus had done, and the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, but what they weren’t trusting in was Jesus’ words about how he was going to die and raise from the dead. They trusted, only so far as it worked out for them. Which we can do somethings too. We can trust God only so far, but when God starts calling us to places that hurt, it’s there that we can begin to falter. We can also falter when God calls us into places that don’t line up with our perceived plans.
And when we begin to falter in our trust of God, we can get to where we’re at in Mark chapter 11 verse 12. Let’s read.
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 
Now let’s break this passage into 3 segments: The first segment is Jesus’ first encounter with the fig tree. This part of the passage is extremely important because it gives us a bases for what is about to happen.
It seems kind of odd that Jesus would be looking for a fig from the tree when it is specifically stated in the passage that it wasn’t the season for figs. I mean, when do we expect to see pumpkins, is it in the cold of the winter, or the cool of the fall? So, if figs weren’t in season, why would Jesus expect to find a fig?
The answer is, it’s because of the leaves. I learned something new this week. A fig tree produces it’s fruit before it produces it’s leaves. I always thought trees produced leaves and then they’re fruit. Well apparently it’s backward with the fig tree. Jesus saw the leaves of the tree, and since the fruit came first he figured that there was also fruit.
So why is this important? Later on we’ll see that Jesus uses this to speak to Peter about faith, but for now, we see a tree that looked good on the outside, but the reality is that it was far from good.
Let’s move on to the second section of the passage, the clearing of the Temple. If you’ve heard this event spoken on before you might know that the people being driven out by Jesus were currency exchangers. Basically what was happening, was the exchangers were doing some shading things. People would come from long distances with their money, but had to exchange it for temple currency to purchase anything at the temple or give to the temple as an offering. So people would have to exchange their regular money for temple money. This was done at an unfair exchange rate. It would be like reversing the exchange rate of the US dollar with that of the Mexican peso. People were getting less for their money than what they should have been.
Now, I have always focused on this aspect of the situation. Jesus is mad because of this injustice. But something has never sat right with me, and we actually deal with this today. If Jesus was upset with the money exchangers in the temple, does that mean we shouldn’t take donations for donuts? Or sell raffle tickets? It’s been a question I’ve asked myself several times, and I’ve been asked by others as well.
But there’s a verse here, that I’ve been understanding wrong. It’s verse 16, “…and [Jesus] would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.” I’ve always understood this to mean that the people were exchanging their money, and selling animals for sacrifice. So Jesus wasn’t allowing them to stay. But there’s more to it.
First, there’s the people carrying merchandise through the temple courts. They’re not carrying merchandise to the courts, nor are they carrying merchandise from the courts. They’re carrying it through the temple courts. What’s happening is the temple courts had become a short cut for the outside market place. Instead of going around, people were simply walking through the area as a quick way to get from point A to point B.
Secondly, what courts were they walking through? It was the court area that was specifically designated to the Gentiles. To the non-Jewish people that had come to worship the God of Israel. This makes Jesus quoting of Isaiah 56:7 make more sense, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations…’”
So it’s not just that people were exchanging money at an unfair rate, it was that the area given to the Gentiles was being desecrated by the action of the Jews. The Jews had set up a racketeering operation in the Gentile area, making it harder for both Jew and Gentile to worship God, and then on top of that, people were using it, not as a holy site, but rather as a simple walkthrough. These exchangers and merchants were thinking they were good in doing what they were doing, but the reality it was far from good.
Let’s look at the third segment: The second encounter at the fig tree. Here Peter sees that the fig tree from a day earlier has begun to wither away. Peter draws Jesus’ attention to the withering tree, but Jesus’ words are kind of complexing here. He says, “Have faith in God…”
Now the verses following focus on faith, prayer, and forgiveness and a bit on how the three work together. Jesus talks about faith that can move a mountain and throw it into the sea. About asking anything in prayer and it will be given. And about forgiving those people that we hold things against.
Let’s put all this together, and see the flow of the passage. The fig tree had leaves but no fruit, the temple was corrupted and used as a pass through with hardly any room for the Gentiles, and now Peter is surprised at Jesus words having power over the fig tree. What does it all have in common?
Isn’t it that their is a false facade in each? The fig tree’s leaves were there, but there was no figs. The temple was there, but there was no reverence. Peter had seen so much, but there was no faith. Each of these segments shows us that there is something that is there, but on a closer examination it is not right. There’s a facade of good, but the reality that each segment is far from good, or where it should be.
The tree should have figs, the temple should have been revered, and Peter should have had the faith Jesus was talking about. Each one had an image of good on the outside, but once looked at more closely that image was seen to be false.
Just like the tree, the temple, and Peter we can have this false facade too. We can act like we have the fruit of God, we can act like we have reverence for him, and we can act like we have faith, but in reality, it’s just a facade.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit isn’t there, our reverence is just lip service, and our faith is only ankle deep. Now this might not be all the time, we might have times of breakthrough, but we can too easily slide into a life where we know the right things to say, and the right things to do. And then we just wear the facade.
But that’s not were God wants us. He wants the facade that we can easily put on to be ripped away. Jesus curses the tree, Jesus runs out the exchangers, and Jesus challenges Peter to tell a mountain to be thrown into the sea.
This gives us an action plan for our own lives.
First, we need our tree cursed. That means we need to call a problem a problem. Let’s stop beating around the bush and making excuse for our wrong actions and attitudes. Let’s be honest. I get angry, I spend too much money, I don’t give enough time to the things I should, and too much time to the things I shouldn’t. We need to be honest with the fruit not being there.
Second, we need to get it cleaned out, and not let it back in. We need to get with people to help us. We need to go deep into the Scriptures. We need to be more aggressive in our prayers.
Finally, we need to have our faith challenged. We need to stop distrusting God, and believe that he is not moving. We need to seek him deeper, and forgive more freely. Letting nothing hinder us from trusting him more.
This week my challenge for you is to walk in each of these steps.
First, take an inventory of your life, and call out those things that are not of God. Jealously, lust, lies, un-forgiveness, anger, bitterness, hate, selfishness. Whatever it is, call it out and write it down.
Then, dive into God’s Word. Look up the passages that contain the things that you are dealing with and read them, and then re-read them, and couple this with prayer, asking God to clear these things out of your life. Ask him to not allow you to hold back from him, but to have it cleared out like the temple.
Finally, trust that he will do it. Trust that he will make good anything that is bad in you. Trust when we tells you to do something, that you do it. That you respond as the Scriptures would have you respond.
God calls us out of our facades, out of our illusionary forts, to allow him in. So that we become the people he has called us and saved us to be.
May God give you the strength to call out sin, give it over to him, and trust that he will work all things for your good. Amen.