Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fig Tree

Just over five years ago, when my wife and I retired to where we now live, we did what many people do when moving. We took cuttings from some of our plants. One such cutting was of a fig tree, which was already flourishing in a pot.

It was duly planted, and nurtured and is now about nine or ten feet high.

A couple of months ago we were on the back patio enjoying a cup of coffee, and observing the back garden. Looking at the fig tree, I said to my wife,”If that tree doesn't bear fruit this season I will chop it down!”

Two weeks ago, we were repeating our mid-morning ritual with a cup of coffee. What do you think we saw? Figs!

Hidden amongst the lush green leaves were some beautiful, fat figs.

I suppose I could be excused for being reminded me of the occasion of Jesus cursing the fig tree:

“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”.

As we talked about it, we remembered the context in which this event happened. Jesus had entered the city to much excitement from the population. It seems from the record that, having traversed through the excited populace, His first stop was at the temple, the use of which reminds me of the edifices which are usually called “churches” today.

Here Jesus found some very religious people who regarded themselves as the spiritual leaders, even the elite, of the day. They were using this building, which was supposed to be for the worship of God, for all kinds of purposes. It had become a place for satisfying greed, for the selling of goods and livestock, and, there is no doubt that the religious leaders were doing well.

Jesus was rightfully indignant regarding the charade confronting Him. He literally created havoc as He disrupted the cosy arrangements between the businessmen and the religious leaders. Can you imagine the scene as He tipped their precious money-changing tables over, the contents spilling on the floor to get trodden into the animal manure? The indignant religious leaders were seeing their cut of the profits disappearing, and, to make matters worse, their leadership and authority were being brought into question. Their prestige, high standing, and importance, were shown to be like the stinking mess on the floor.

They were all show, and no genuine fruit!

The religious leaders were great salesmen, but what they were selling was mainly self oriented, to be well regarded, housed well, financially comfortable, well dressed and well fed. Just as importantly they worked hard at convincing the religious adherents that they were extremely important as a means by which God communicated with them.

These fellows made themselves publicly prominent. Can you imagine what they would have done with today's media. Although; we probably don't have to imagine. Do we? It does seem rather familiar! I wonder why?

It was after this that Jesus observed the fig tree. Beautifully resplendent with leaves. What a glorious site!

But, wait! There is something about this fig tree of the eating kind. Fig trees really do put on a great show of beautiful leaves, but on a healthy, productive fig tree we will find, almost hidden amongst the leaves, the fruit. Some actually begin to show fruit even before the leaves appear.

The variety we have in our back yard is the former.

Jesus wanted His followers to realise that religious behaviour, religious show, attendance at religious meetings, even praying and reading the Scriptures does not ensure that a person is pleasing to Him.

This tree was a great example: It looked so lush and beautiful dressed in it's God given finery. It made a great display. It said,”Look at me!” But it wasn't saying, “Look at the fruit I'm bearing because of what the Grower has given me”. This tree was saying, “Look at ME! Aren't I glorious in all my finery! I've put so much effort into looking good.”

In Jesus' day, a traveller was legally able to pick the fruit of any tree growing by the road. The fruitless fig tree was representative of everything the religion of the temple and the Pharisees displayed to the world; an exercise in futile self interest; a disgusting display of meaningless, fruitless religion, which denied all that the prophets had foretold, and scorned the Messiah.

Is your purpose in life to display your religious finery and to practice meaningless rote rituals of attendance at meetings, clearing your conscience by partaking in the Lord's Snack, listening to sermon after sermon, attending Bible Studies?

It sure looks good!

But, with all our religious activity and busy-ness, are we, being built up as a part, “of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Surely three or four years of being discipled, nurtured and taught, ought to be sufficient to bring us to a level of maturity which will enable individual Christians, as a part of the Body of Christ, and as individual parts working properly, to be used to cause the growth of the Body for the building up of itself in love.

The fig tree wasn't cursed because it had no fruit, it was cursed because of its hypocrisy. It acted a part. It pretended to be what it wasn't. It was all show and no substance.

How many hungry "travellers" have had to go on their way hungry because we are like that fig tree?

Thursday, December 11, 2008


This Christmas I am reminded of the foment going on in that section of the population of the world, which labels itself “Christian”, much of which represents what amounts to nothing more than a “product” of the production line of the religious enterprise of Christianism .

As I read the newspapers, watch the TV, listen to the radio, and speak with people, I am astounded at the diversity of understanding amongst many of those who bear the Christian trademark. The “product” they represent would never get past the quality control of any manufacturer, no matter how lacking in rigour.

One matter which comes to mind is revealed by Pauls statement to the Roman Christians, "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Romans 5:20).

The Mosaic institutions, the Law of which Paul speaks including the Ten Commandments, were institued because of sin. The result was that a spotlight was shone upon sin, the common attribute of every member of humanity. The introduction of the Mosaic institutions, was designed to highlight the prevalence of sin. Without the law sin wasn't an issue.That's what Paul understood when he said, “...I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died ” (Rom.7:9), and that is the result for all humanity; the law reveals all as spiritually dead towards God.

The Apostle then says, “..where sin increased (abounded),” where the light of the law showed how wide spread and abundant the fact of sin was , “grace abounded all the more”.

An amazing word is used here. It's the only time it is used in the New Testament. It's the word which has been translated as “abounded” in this verse. There is no English word, of which I'm aware, which can replace the Greek word which Paul used. To understand what he is saying we would have to say that grace super-abounded, abundance upon abundance.

That's why, for a genuine follower of Christ, Christmas is the celebration by a sinner, who, through God's gift of faith in the person, and finished work, of Jesus Christ, has received the super-abundant gift of grace; the unearned, undeserved gift of God's Riches At Christ's Expense.

That's why the Bethlehem event is precious to genuine followers of Christ, and an occasion to be remembered and celebrated.

That which masquerades as Christian, the world of Christianism, it seems has tunnel vision which ignores sin. There is a constant emphasis on what I consider is a perversion of grace, a grace which winks at sin, a grace which is the gift of a loving, chubby cheeked, gray haired old fellow called “god”, who smilingly lavishes this “grace” upon a people who have no concept of their sinfulness, or the gravity of sin before the holiness of the Almighty God.

God's grace is no ordinary grace, such as the benevolnce and leniency of one human to another. When we speak of God's grace we are speaking about grace which not only offers judicial mercy and forgiveness from the consequences of God's just laws, but a grace which opens a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, in fact SAVING GRACE.

God's gift of saving grace, revealed through the very same Jesus Christ, who lay in that manger in Bethlehem, is nothing apart from sin!

How can the kindness and compassion of mercy be understood as a gift of saving grace if the hard , legal requirements of God's justice are not understood?

How can teaching about God's pardon and the absolution of His forgiveness as a consequence of saving grace be understood apart from the cold facts of deserved, and just, condemnation and retribution of God's law?

To talk about grace without understanding this is a meaningless nonsense.

The first Advent, which we celebrate at Christmas; God coming to earth in human form (God incarnate), was necessary because of the insidious disease of sin which infects ALL human beings. It was the earthly beginning of thirty three years of the sinless life of the perfect Man , who lived the perfect sinless life, which made Him the only being eligible to be the sacrifice God's law required as a satisfaction of His justice.

God's law declared all human beings as guilty. The work of Jesus Christ satisfied the requirements of God's law for all who trust in His person and finished work, who come to Him, recognising they are guilty before, and justly condemned by, God's law, and who, desiring to turn away from the behaviour and tendencies which sin works in their lives, seek His mercy.

It is meaningless, if not impossible, to understand or teach God's gift of saving grace, without understanding and declaring the absolute need of such grace, which the law points out!

As Paul told the Roman Christians, “For the wages of sin is death (separation from God), but the free gift of God is eternal life (with God) in Christ Jesus our Lord. “

Many in Christianism moan about the “Xmas” abreviation as being Christless, but they have no qualms about speaking/writing about God's saving grace apart from man's sinful need !!

This Christmas, as always, I, and mine, will be reminded of our sinful need, as we are reminded of God's great grace in Jesus Christ, and we will praise His name and rejoice in the freedom He has bought for us..