Holy Monday: A Holy Week Reflection
We are planting a little garden this year but we didn’t plant a fig bush. Maybe we should have? The story of the Jesus cursing of the fig tree on the Monday of Holy Week has always perplexed me so I clicked over to Wikipedia to see what I could learn about figs. It seemed the place to start. I didn't know figs were among the first cultivated plants by human beings--before wheat, barley and legumes.
I learned that many varieties of figs make a breba fruit early in the fruit-bearing cycle. This early fig fruit isn’t the like fruit harvested later in the season.The breba fruit is an inferior fruit that grows on old wood. The plump tasty figs of late season ripen on new growth.
On Monday of Holy Week, Jesus was on the dusty path to Jerusalem with his disciples. It is important to remember why Jesus had disciples in the first place. The disciples were apprentices; he called them to follow so he could teach them. They learned best with visuals.
When Jesus stopped and cursed a fig tree (Mark 11), he was providing an object lesson. He found only leaves and no breba fruit. The fig tree was fruitless.
Mark 11:12 states that Jesus was hungry, but apparently Jesus wasn’t hungry for food. Mark points out that it wasn’t fig season. So what was Jesus doing? What did he want those looking on to understand?
The fig tree was an object lesson for the disciples, and so it is for us as well. In the Bible, the fig tree symbolized the nation of Israel. When Jesus cursed the tree, it withered. (Matthew 21:19) He was showing his apprentices that the blessing of God which once came only through the Jewish nation and the Old Covenant was passing away. Jesus came to earth to inaugurate the new. He was hungry to move toward his destiny.
Jesus went from the fig tree to Jerusalem and to the temple. There he pronounced judgment on the activities in the temple, overturning the tables of those selling goods for the temple sacrifices and disrupting all the temple services. With his actions, Jesus was effectively putting an end to the acceptance of those offerings before the throne of God. And he sealed his fate before those who would kill him.
Jesus was showing his disciples that the history of Israel-- and mankind---was about to make a major shift. The sacrifices of animals would no longer be accepted. The fig tree, long associated in the minds of the Jewish people with Israel, was withering. The blessings, which came through God’s chosen people would soon come through new growth by means of the final sacrifice, the “once and for all” sacrifice of Jesus, for the sins of the whole world.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.“Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. “Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come—it is written of me in the scroll of the book—to do your will, O God.’”
When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them” (which are offered according to the law), then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second.
For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:4-9;14-18)Many of the Christians addressed in the book of Hebrews were directly related to the first generation of those who had come to know Jesus as their Savior. They hadn’t seen him like their parents or grandparents. They needed a refresher on what Jesus did for them on the cross when He established the New Covenant in his blood for the forgiveness of sin.
The Jews to whom the letter to the Hebrews was written were living during the days of the withered fig tree. The nation of Israel under Roman rule and the Christians living during this time after Jesus ascended into heaven were under duress. The temple sacrifices were still happening but the end was coming. These were uncertain times for the Jews---believers in Jesus and otherwise. These early Christians began to wonder if their parents and grandparents had been duped? Maybe they needed to go back to the old ways, make the sacrifices in line with their heritage and try to get back into God’s good favor?
The writer of the book of Hebrews exhorted them to put their faith in the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus.The fig tree that was Israel had withered. Jesus had come to become the final sacrifice and He was the final priest. He came and did what the Old Covenant could not do.
Mark records what Jesus told the disciples when they pointed out the withered fig on Tuesday of Holy Week:
Jesus said to them, “Have faith in God. (Mark 11:22)
The days ahead would require great faith.
One commentator I read said if the fig tree had had fruit on it on Monday then it would have been a sign of the Messianic kingdom the disciples were anticipating---the kingdom that would have made Jesus a king crowned with jewels rather than thorns.
The fig tree, though alive and bearing leaves, had no fruit and gave no indication that it would bear fruit. Jesus was showing the disciples that the events of the coming week were necessary. Israel had blessed the world with the Savior, but it was the Savior who would bless the whole world.
Jesus came to turn things upside down. No man has ever lived like the man Jesus. Think about it. The life of Jesus has and continues to impact millions and millions of people’s lives down through the ages. Of course, he wasn’t just a man but it is important to remember that he laid aside his glory as the Son of God to become like us so he could do for us what “the blood of bulls and goats” could not do.
But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering. He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (Is. 53:10 NASB)So what’s the takeaway from all this talk of fig trees and covenants? As I think about these things, I can’t get away from the fact that Jesus was hungry. The time was at hand, the day on which all of human history would pivot. Jesus was hungry to do the unimaginable for me and for you.
Jesus still hungers for us. He desires that we would have “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of (our) hearts enlightened, that (we) may know what is the hope to which he has called (us), what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:17-19)
If we would enter the story of God, which is our story, we will consider the fig tree this Monday of Holy Week. Let us remember Christ’s hunger to redeem us as we walk toward the cross and the greatest story ever told.