Here is, I. Christ’s cursing the fruitless fig-tree. He had a convenient resting-place at Bethany, and therefore thither he went at resting-time; but his work lay at Jerusalem, and thither therefore he returned in the morning, at working-time; and so intent was he upon his work, that he went out from Bethany without breakfast, which, before he was gone far, he found the want of, and was hungry (Mark 11:12), for he was subject to all the sinless infirmities of our nature. Finding himself in want of food, he went to a fig-tree, which he saw at some distance, and which being well adorned with green leaves he hoped to find enriched with some sort of fruit. But he found nothing but leaves; he hoped to find some fruit, for though the time of gathering in figs was near, it was not yet; so that it could not be pretended that it had had fruit, but that it was gathered and gone; for the season had not yet arrived. Or, He found none, for indeed it was not a season of figs, it was no good fig-year. But this was worse than any fig-tree, for there was not so much as one fig to be found upon it, though it was so full of leaves. However, Christ was willing to make an example of it, not to the trees, but to the men, of that generation, and therefore cursed it with that curse which is the reverse of the first blessing, Be fruitful; he said unto it, Never let any man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever, Mark 11:14. Sweetness and good fruit are, in Jotham’s parable, the honour of the fig-tree (Jdg. 9:11), and its serviceableness therein to man, preferable to the preferment of being promoted over the trees; now to be deprived of that, was a grievous curse. This was intended to be a type and figure of the doom passed upon the Jewish church, to which he came, seeking fruit, but found none (Luke 13:6, 7); and though it was not, according to the doom in the parable, immediately cut down, yet, according to this in the history, blindness and hardness befel them (Rom. 11:8, 25), so that they were from henceforth good for nothing. The disciples heard what sentence Christ passed on this tree, and took notice of it. Woes from Christ’s mouth are to be observed and kept in mind, as well as blessings.
II. His clearing the temple of the market-people that frequented it, and of those that made it a thoroughfare. We do not find that Christ met with food elsewhere, when he missed of it on the fig-tree; but the zeal of God’s house so ate him up, and made him forget himself, that he came, hungry as he was, to Jerusalem, and went straight to the temple, and began to reform those abuses which the day before he had marked out; to show that when the Redeemer came to Zion, his errand was, to turn away ungodliness from Jacob (Rom. 11:26), and that he came not, as he was falsely accused, to destroy the temple, but to purify and refine it, and reduce his church to its primitive rectitude.
1. He cast out the buyers and sellers, overthrew the tables of the money-changers (and threw the money to the ground, the fitter place for it), and threw down the seats of them that sold doves. This he did as one having authority, as a Son in his own house. The filth of the daughter of Zion is purged away, not by might, nor by power, but by the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. And he did it without opposition; for what he did, was manifested to be right and good, even in the consciences of those that had connived at it, and countenanced it, because they got money by it. Note, It may be some encouragement to zealous reformers, that frequently the purging out of corruptions, and the correcting of abuses, prove an easier piece of work than was apprehended. Prudent attempts sometimes prove successful beyond expectation, and there are not those lions found in the way, that were feared to be.
2. He would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel, any sort of goods or wares, through the temple, or any of the courts of it, because it was the nearer way, and would save them the labour of going about, Mark 11:16. The Jews owned that it was one of the instances of honour due to the temple, not to make the mountain of the house, or the court of the Gentiles, a road, or common passage, or to come into it with any bundle.
3. He gave a good reason for this; because it was written, My house shall be called of all nations, The house of prayer, Mark 11:17. So it is written, Isa. 56:7. It shall pass among all people under that character. It shall be the house of prayer to all nations; it was so in the first institution of it; when Solomon dedicated it, it was with an eye to the sons of the strangers, 1 Kgs. 8:41. And it was prophesied that it should be yet more so. Christ will have the temple, as a type of the gospel-church, to be, (1.) A house of prayer. After he had turned out the oxen and doves, which were things for sacrifice, he revived the appointment of it as a house of prayer, to teach us that when all sacrifices and offerings should be abolished, the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise should continue and remain for ever. (2.) That it should be so to all nations, and not to the people of the Jews only; for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved, though not of the seed of Jacob, according to the flesh. It was therefore insufferable for them to make it a den of thieves, which would prejudice those nations against it, whom they should have invited to it. When Christ drove out the buyers and sellers at the beginning of his ministry, he only charged them with making the temple a house of merchandise (John 2:16); but now he chargeth them with making it a den of thieves, because since then they had twice gone about to stone him in the temple (John 8:59; 10:31), or because the traders there were grown notorious for cheating their customers, and imposing upon the ignorance and necessity of the country people, which is no better than downright thievery. Those that suffer vain worldly thoughts to lodge within them when they are at their devotions, turn the house of prayer into a house of merchandise; but they that make long prayers for pretence to devour widows’ houses, turn it into a den of thieves.
4. The scribes and the chief priests were extremely nettled at this, Mark 11:18. They hated him, and hated to be reformed by him; and yet they feared him, lest he should next overthrow their seats, and expel them, being conscious to themselves of the profaning and abusing of their power. They found that he had a great interest, that all the people were astonished at his doctrine, and that every thing he said, was an oracle and a law to them; and what durst he not attempt, what could he not effect, being thus supported? They therefore sought, not how he might make their peace with him, but how they might destroy him. A desperate attempt, and which, one would think, they themselves could not but fear was fighting against God. But they care not what they do, to support their own power and grandeur.
III. His discourse with his disciples, upon occasion of the fig-tree’s withering away which he had cursed. At even, as usual, he went out of the city (Mark 11:19), to Bethany; but it is probable that it was in the dark, so that they could not see the fig-tree; but the next morning, as they passed by, they observed the fig-tree dried up from the roots, Mark 11:20. More is included many times in Christ’s curses than is expressed, as appears by the effects of them. The curse was no more than that it should never bear fruit again, but the effect goes further, it is dried up from the roots. If it bear no fruit, it shall bear no leaves to cheat people. Now observe,
1. How the disciples were affected with it. Peter remembered Christ’s words, and said, with surprise, Master, behold, the fig-tree which thou cursedst is withered away, Mark 11:21. Note, Christ’s curses have wonderful effects, and make those to wither presently, that flourished like the green bay-tree. Those whom he curseth are cursed indeed. This represented the character and state of the Jewish church; which, from henceforward, was a tree dried up from the roots; no longer fit for food, but for fuel only. The first establishment of the Levitical priesthood was ratified and confirmed by the miracle of a dry rod, which in one night budded, and blossomed, and brought forth almonds (Num. 17:8), a happy omen of the fruitlessness and flourishing of that priesthood. And now, by a contrary miracle, the expiration of that priesthood was signified by a flourishing tree dried up in a night; the just punishment of those priests that had abused it. And this seemed very strange to the disciples, and scarcely credible, that the Jews, who had been so long God’s own, his only professing people in the world, should be thus abandoned; they could not imagine how that fig-tree should so soon wither away: but this comes of rejecting Christ, and being rejected by him.
2. The good instructions Christ gave them from it; for of those even this withered tree was fruitful.
(1.) Christ teacheth them from hence to pray in faith (Mark 11:22); Have faith in God. They admired the power of Christ’s word of command; “Why,” said Christ, “a lively active faith would put as great a power into your prayers, Mark 11:23, 24. Whosoever shall say to this mountain, this mount of Olives, Be removed, and be cast into the sea; if he has but any word of God, general or particular, to build his faith upon, and if he shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith, according to the warrant he has from what God hath said, shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith.” Through the strength and power of God in Christ, the greatest difficulty shall be got over, and the thing shall be effected. And therefore (Mark 11:24), “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye shall receive them; nay, believe that ye do receive them, and he that has power to give them, saith, Ye shall have them. I say unto you, Ye shall, Mark 11:24. Verily I say unto you, Ye shall,” Mark 11:23. Now this is to be applied, [1.] To that faith of miracles which the apostles and first preachers of the gospel were endued with, which did wonders in things natural, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out devils; these were, in effect, the removing of mountains. The apostles speak of a faith which would do that, and yet might be found where holy love was not, 1 Cor. 13:2. [2.] It may be applied to that miracle of faith, which all true Christians are endued with, which doeth wonders in things spiritual. It justifies us (Rom. 5:1), and so removes the mountains of guilt, and casts them into the depths of the sea, never to rise up in judgment against us, Mic. 7:19. It purifies the heart (Acts 15:9), and so removes mountains of corruption, and makes them plains before the grace of God, Zech. 4:7. It is by faith that the world is conquered, Satan’s fiery darts are quenched, a soul is crucified with Christ, and yet lives; by faith we set the Lord always before us, and see him that is invisible, and have him present to our minds; and this is effectual to remove mountains, for at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, the mountains were not only moved, but removed, Ps. 114:4-7.
(2.) To this is added here that necessary qualification of the prevailing prayer, that we freely forgive those who have been any way injurious to us, and be in charity with all men (Mark 11:25, 26); When ye stand praying, forgive. Note, Standing is no improper posture for prayer; it was generally used among the Jews; hence they called their prayers, their standings; when they would say how the world was kept up by prayer, they expressed it thus, Stationibus stat mundus—The world is held up by standings. But the primitive Christians generally used more humble and reverent gesture of kneeling, especially on fast days, though not on Lord’s days. When we are at prayer, we must remember to pray for others, particularly for our enemies, and those that have wronged us; now we cannot pray sincerely that God would do them good, if we bear malice to them, and wish them ill. If we have injured others before we pray, we must go and be reconciled to them; Matt. 5:23, 24. But if they have injured us, we go a nearer way to work, and must immediately from our hearts forgive them. [1.] Because this is a good step towards obtaining the pardon of our own sins: Forgive, that your Father may forgive you; that is, “that he may be qualified to receive forgiveness, that he may forgive you without injury to his honour, as it would be, if he should suffer those to have such benefit by his mercy, as are so far from being conformable to the pattern of it.” [2.] Because the want of this is a certain bar to the obtaining of the pardon of our sins; “If ye do not forgive those who have injured you, if he hate their persons, bear them a grudge, meditate revenge, and take all occasion to speak ill of them, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This ought to be remembered in prayer, because one great errand we have to the throne of grace, is, to pray for the pardon of our sins: and care about it ought to be our daily care, because prayer is a part of our daily work. Our Saviour often insists on this, for it was his great design to engage his disciples to love one another.
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