Tuesday: To Make Things Alive
Take an afternoon sometime and write down all the reasons you can think of for Jesus’ life and ministry. I suppose we could fill innumerable pages. To bring light out of darkness. To fulfill the Law of God. We could go on. Today, as we get one day closer to the resurrection, I want us to remember that Jesus came to make things alive.
In His final days on earth, He chose to teach that lesson in the most unusual way conceivable: by cursing a fig tree so that it will not ever bear fruit again. Confused by that? You’re not alone.
The fig tree in question was symbolic of the religion the Pharisees would kill, and did kill, to protect. Theirs was a lifeless religion, the worst kind of all, based on a show of doing good things according to their laws and customs, while looking down their noses in judgmental hypocrisy at all others. Just as the fig tree bore no fruit or green leaves, so the Judaism of Jesus’ day, centered on the Pharisees, was a dead religion stuck in dry ground. The imagery of fig trees and vines was a common allusion to Israel in the Old Testament. More often than not, much to the Pharisees’ disgust, the allusion is to a vine that dies and gets trampled. It’s what happens when we lose sight of the mercy and joy of God. Psalm 105:33 serves as a clear example, “He struck down their vines and fig trees, and shattered the trees of their country.” See the symbolism, there? The fig tree represents the Jews and their religion.
Come back to Jesus passing by that fig tree. Matthew tells us that He was hungry and looking for something to eat. He might have expected to find fruit on the fig tree, but when He found none He cursed the tree and said, “May no fruit come from you again,” (Matthew 21:21). He didn’t curse the barren tree because He was crabby or throwing a fit. Like a hunger-inspired temper tantrum you might expect from a toddler. Instead, He was tipping off His disciples, and anyone who would hear Him, that a spiritual revolution was afoot. He was making a final break with Judaism and declaring Himself to true King of the Jews who is after a ‘heart religion’ that bears a fruit of joy, mercy and righteousness.
Naturally, the Pharisees ask Him about authority. We might like to see a reaction along the lines of, “Is something deeper going on, here? What does this all mean?” But no. Not the Pharisees. They refuse to look at the heart and instead ask Him who gave the authority to do these things! The tragedy of the Pharisees’ interrogation is that their lips make a profession of holiness, while their hearts are free from such concerns. They hunger for power, not holiness.
It’s the last week of Jesus’ life. It’s a matter of days before He will be crucified. And He goes out of His way to teach what we must receive as the single most important lesson of Passion Week: Jesus has come to make dead things alive in Him! The contrast couldn’t be brighter. Jesus is Life, the fig is death. Death is overcome by Life!
Life in Christ, the kind of life that Jesus promised and secures, always bears the marks of being once dead, but now alive to God. The fig tree represents the kind of religion that once was alive, but is now dead. Religion that is centered on the self, on the works of the flesh and on a show of spiritual superiority. And so it’s dead, and will always be dead. The events of Passion Week, from the Triumphal Entry, to the Fig Tree, to the Cross, remind us that Jesus came to overcome darkness and open the way of salvation. The salvation that belongs to the Lord always bears a fruit of righteousness in the soul of a man that is no longer dead.
Why did Jesus come? He came to make dead things alive. Will you present yourself to Him this week as one who bears all the marks of the new life He came to give? It’s a holy week, this Passion Week. It’s the kind of holiness that leads to lasting joy because in Him death is overcome and heaven is won. Let us be the children of Easter, then. Let us bear the fruit of His Spirit and be consumed with the praise of Life!
Hymn for Tuesday: Welcome, Happy Morning
“Welcome, happy morning!” age to age shall say,
Hell to-day is vanquished, heaven is won to-day!
Lo! the dead is living, God, forevermore!
Him, their true Creator, all His works adore!
Maker and Redeemer, life and health to all,
Thou from heaven beholding human nature’s fall,
Of the Father’s Godhead true and only Son,
Manhood to deliver, manhood didst put on.
Thou, of life the author, death didst undergo,
Tread the path of darkness, saving strength to show;
Come then, True and Faithful, now fulfill Thy word;
‘Tis Thine own third morning: rise, O buried Lord!
Loose the souls long prisoned, bound with Satan’s chain;
All that now is fallen raise to life again;
Show Thy face in brightness, bid the nations see;
Bring again our daylight: day returns with Thee!