These next few months we will be looking into a few of Jesus’s teachings, mostly ones that were misunderstood by the original hearers. Next week we will discuss a teaching that ends with many hearers walking away never to follow Jesus again. In weeks to come we will read some that made the disciples question “Is this for me? Or just for ‘others’?” As well as parables that were intended to be heard, but in hearing not perceiving. We will look at relations to the Old Testament that many believers miss when they spend the majority of their time reading New Testament only. We will read in light of the Epistles, which the Spirit uses to clarify and give us understanding–since He took of what Jesus taught and gave it again (see John 16:14; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).
In addition to reading these passages in light of other Scriptures, we will look at how we may read our own culture into the text, making it difficult to understand. Americans love democracy (or pretend to), individuality, and “none of your business” entirely too much to understand some of Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God. Likewise, other cultures must face the idea that family and community can become an idol, and we really do need time alone with Jesus, and the courage to believe even if grandparents or parents or siblings will not.
We will read while resisting the temptation to create new laws–such as those who read about the ‘rich young ruler’ being told to sell everything he has and come follow Jesus. Must all believers everywhere own nothing? Must all people sell all possessions, in all times and all places? You miss the entire meaning if you go down that rabbit hole. Jesus does not create a new system, He does not abolish the Law, He does not allow any to earn righteousness and He does not condone antinomianism.
The Fig Tree
For example, one parable, or teaching, that frustrated me for years is found in Mark 11:12-26, and Matthew 21:18-22. Did Jesus have a right to be angry? Why was He angry?
Jesus entered Jerusalm, greeted by worshipers and adoration claiming His Kingship. Yet, were they really worshipping? Was it true? Was it from their whole being, or spurred on by some other motive? It fulfilled prophecy, but were the hearts of the worshippers really worshipping, or was it lip service?
Then Jesus enters the temple, cleanses it of false worshippers, shucksters, people trying to make a buck off of those who really wanted to worship.
Jesus then walks by a barren fig tree, and curses it. He’s hungry, and angry, and curses it. The next day, the disciples see the same tree, remember Jesus’ words, are amazed that the cursed tree is truly cursed. They are amazed yet again that His words mean something, that when He speaks all of creation listens and obeys. All except the hearts of false worshippers. All except the barren trees who were money-changers and hosanna shouters.
In context, slowly read, the pieces fit together. When taken in light of Old Testament passages from the whole of redemptive history (especially seeing God’s desire to draw His people in, yet they walk away, experience barrenness and exile, He draws them in again, they walk away…barrenness and exile…then the Father sends His only Son…; and in light of all the allusions to being planted and tended, as a tree or a vine) Jesus’ anger is understood, His curse understood, and the teaching that follows on faith makes sense.
Where does our fruit come from?
Hosea 14, John 15. Are we barren? Are we fruitful? If we are His tree, we will look like it, but we will not produce the fruit. He does. He makes us fruitful. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, did He find faith? He wanted to. For long ages past God has wanted His people, His treasured possession, to know Him. Knowing Him is eternal life after all. Yet, many will prefer profits to prayer.
If we abide in His Words, they will shape us, and our prayers; and we will pray with a heart full of His love and righteousness–and then ask for things and be amazed and His power. Too often the modern day shucksters will isolate this last teaching, and tell you that if you had enough faith you could have your best life now, and have every material blessing you could ask for. Don’t believe them. Not for one minute.
Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven instead.
My prayer for this semester together in the Gospels is that we grow in grace and knowledge, cling to Him, and grow in our fellowship together as His body.