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Read from verses 35–42.
There was another reason besides that of carelessness and of unbelief which hindered many from walking in the light of the truth while it still shone upon them. That same reason still keeps back many a one from acting according to what they know and feel to be right. It is written
Verses 42, 43. “Nevertheless (in spite of the blindness of most of the Pharisees) among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue : for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
How much of this do we still feel and see! Each time we seek to please man rather than God, we follow in the steps of these cowardly rulers.
Once more, before He left the Temple for Bethany, Jesus lifted up his voice, and in a few words summed up all that He had taught.
Verses 44–50. “Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness. And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For
I have not spoken of myself : but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.”
There is little need to explain these words. Their meaning is plain. In Christ there is life everlasting, out of Him death eternal.
Again and again, while there was yet time, the Saviour proclaimed that heaven-sent truth, which is in fact the judgment of the world; for at the last day it is this that shall decide the fate of men. “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him : the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
The morning after these things, the Lord Jesus, by a striking action, showed the reality of the great truth that life and death depend on Him; and that no outward show can deceive Him. It is written
MARK xi. 12–14. “ And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: and seeing a fig-tree afar off, having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon : and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it."
Matthew xxi. 19. “And presently the fig-tree withered away."
This act was at once a parable and a miracle. Many explanations of its meaning have been given. The simplest of these is the best.
By His treatment of the fig-tree, Jesus, in a striking manner, showed that the vain boast of righteousness made by the heads
of the Jewish nation was in itself a sin, deserving of punishment. Why was the fig-tree a picture of the Jewish Church ? For this reason :-had it been a rational creature, capable of good or evil, its fault would have been its hypocrisy. It could not have had ripe figs upon it, for the time of figs had not yet come, that is, it was too early in the year; but neither should it have had leaves, for the fruit of the fig-tree forms before the leaves.* It should, as it were, have confessed its nakedness. Christ, for the instruction of His disciples, spoke to it as if it had been a reasonable creature, and punished it for pretending to be something better than others of the like nature, when in reality it was worse, for it was entirely without fruit.
The leaves upon it seemed to hold out a promise to the hungry that figs might be upon it, but this was only a deceit. The Saviour's search showed the real nakedness of the tree; and was immediately followed by His command that it should wither away ; and so it ceased to be a tree at all, for it “ dried up to the very roots.” Behold, in this the history of the vain boast of righteousness in human nature !
The Jewish nation, called by God and instructed by Him, had been made not only a lesson to all men, but a type of the very nature of men. In spite of all their advantages, the Jews had, from the beginning, been continually falling into sin. No one fruit of real holiness had they been able to bring forth ; and no wonder," for the time of fruit was not yet.” The day of Christ was not yet come. Even as the disciples searching for fruit had proved the barrenness of the fig-tree, so the law given to the Jews, for that express purpose, should have shown them that in them dwelt no good thing. They had failed to learn the lesson, and now the sentence had gone forth. The
* The fruit of the fig-tree is formed in the Autumn of the previous year, and before the leaves expand, the fruit attains a good size.
Jewish Church was about to wither
dried up to the very roots.
Of the many epxlanations given of this remarkable passage of Scripture, this seems the best, because it is the only one that does not alter either our Lord's words, or their plain meaning. Like the parables, it has in it what may be called a public and a private lesson. The private meaning more directly concerns each one of ourselves. It is this: all natural goodness is as the leaves of the fig-tree. It is lovely in itself, and too often hides entirely the want of the fruit, which is that real goodness which can only be found in the soul that has union with Christ through the Spirit. "Do any of us think well of ourselves ? Then are we like the fig-tree, covered with leaves, but without fruit—“the time of figs is not yet.” When is the time of fruit ? When we have discovered that “in us is no good thing ;” that in, and through Christ only, we can bring forth fruit to the glory of God.* There is but one way by which we can ever be convinced of this. It is by Christ, as it were searching for our fruit, and showing us that we have none : then His Holy Spirit makes a stir within us, and proves to us that all our fancied goodness is but as leaves; that we have not, and never had, one single fruit to offer Him: and it is a merciful decree wbich withers away our pretence of goodness, drying it up to the very roots, so that we shall never see or hear any more of it.
We should not pass from this subject, without observing the gentle loving-kindness of the Lord Jesus, in that when He had lessons of mercy to give, He always chose out some sufferer to comfort or to heal; but when it was a lesson of punishment which He had to convey, He chose a senseless tree that could neither feel pain nor grief at the command which destroyed it for ever.
Thus in every thing He carried out the character of the Redeemer of men, who came "not to destroy men's lives but to save them.” *
* John xy. 1-10.
O thou, who art the life of our souls, leave us not to the barrenness of our fallen nature. We beseech thee, send thy life-giving Spirit into our hearts, that we, by thee, may be enabled to "think such things as are right, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.
Jesus with His disciples left the withering fig-tree, and passed on to Jerusalem. The time of His ministry was nearly closed, and it is remarkable that He appears to have ended it in« the
very same manner as He had begun it. At the first Passover after He had been declared by John the Baptist to be the Messiah, He had by His single authority turned out the buyers and sellers from the Temple, the House of God, which they had made into a place of merchandise. We read that when for the last time He with His disciples had
Verses 15-17. “Come to Jerusalem and Jesus went into the Temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves ; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the Temple. And He taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer ? but ye have made it á den of thieves.”
Luke ix. 51.