Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Week Day 5 - Jesus Screams In the Absolute Darkness

Candles, in the Church of the Nativity, Jerusalem
FRIDAY, APRIL 18

SCRIPTURE - MATTHEW 27:45-46

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"





WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?

As Jesus hung suspended on a cross an unnatural darkness began in the middle of the day and continued into the natural darkness of sunset.

New Testament scholar R. T. France writes: “Given the symbolic significance of the darkness as a divine communication there is little point in speculating on its natural cause: a solar eclipse could not occur at the time of the Passover full moon though a dust storm (‘sirocco’) or heavy cloud are possible.” (France, Mark, 651)

N.T. Wright writes: “It can’t have been an eclipse, because Passover happened at full moon, so that the moon would be in the wrong part of the sky.” (Wright, Mark for Everyone, 215)

Craig Keener says that the darkness "could come from heavy cloud cover. But the Gospel writers use it to convey a more profound theological point. (Keener, Matthew, 685)

However it happened, this was a God-caused darkness. Jesus is bearing the load of the sins of all humanity. Sin causes separation; in this case, essentially from God. Sin separates us from Light. Sin and light cannot coexist.

Years ago Linda and I and our sons visited Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs. We were guided into the depths of these tunnels to a place where we were told that, when the lights in the cave were turned off, we would experience "absolute darkness." I thought, "This is cool!" 

The lights went off. We stood there, for several seconds. Our guide said, "You are now experiencing absolute darkness. Place your hand right in front of your eyes. You will not be able to see it." 

Our guide was right. It was so completely dark that I could not see what was right before me. Had the lights failed us that day, we would not be able to see each other. I imagine we would say things like, "Are you still near me?" "Are you here?" "We've got to stay close to each other!" And, "Don't abandon me while I'm in this darkness!"

On that day 2000 years ago the darkness that covered the land was not absolute. But the existential darkness was. The thickness of all this world's sin and failure and shame and guilt weighed on the heart of One Man. Out of this physical and ungodly darkness Jesus screamed. 

"Screamed?" I think so. The Greek wording here is: ἐβόησεν  ὁἸησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ. Those last two Greek words are transliterated: phone megale. A mega-phone! Jesus mega-screamed these words over and over and over again and again, since the verb indicates continuous action.

He doesn’t call God “Father” but θεόςμου θεός μου… “My God… My God…” Jesus is in relationship with Abba Father God, but it now feels like abandonment. Six hours after he was placed on the cross, three of them being hours of darkness, Jesus feels abandoned by God. 

We don't know how long the feeling lasted. Assume three hours. Perhaps He screamed over and over for that long. And know that, for Jesus, it was utterly real and all-embracing. (Craig Keener comments that "the early church would hardly have invented Jesus’ cry of despair in uttering a complaint about alienation from God, quoting Ps. 22.” Keener, Matthew, 682)

As the weight of this world’s evil converged on Jesus He was giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). The sins of the “many,” which he is bearing, have for the first and only time in his experience caused a cloud to come between him and “Abba” – Father God. 1 Peter 2:24 explains it this way: 

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. Paul, in Galatians 3:13, writes: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."


The curse of sin is that it makes a great divide between us and God. Sin breaches relationship. As Jesus bears our sin He experiences the Great Separation. Listen to how N.T. Wright expresses this.

“Out of the unexplained cosmic darkness comes God’s new word of creation, as at the beginning… And it all happens because of the God-forsakenness of the son of God. The horror which overwhelmed Jesus in Gethsemane, and then seems to have retreated again for a few hours, came back in all its awfulness, a horror of drinking the cup of God’s wrath, of sharing the depth of suffering, mental and emotional as well as physical, that characterized the world in general and Israel in particular. The dark cloud of evil, Israel’s evil, the world’s evil, Evil greater than the sum of its parts, cut him off from the one he called ‘Abba’ in a way he had never known before. And welling up from his heart there came, as though by a reflex, a cry not of rebellion, but of despair and sorrow, yet still a despair that, having lost contact with God, still asks God why this should be.” (N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone, 216-217)


REFLECTION

1. Take time today to slow down in your heart, get alone by yourself, bow before God, and think of the passion of the Christ.

2. Resolve in your heart to never again take for granted what Jesus has done for you. Consider how and what it means that He bore your sins, and by His stripes you are healed.

3. Express in your own words thanks to God for what He has accomplished on the cross, which is: your justification; your being set right with God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Abraham and the Binding of Isaac

Here's the sermon I have two weeks ago at Redeemer about when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

You can access the Powerpoint and follow along.

Sermon for April 6th, 2014
Hebrews 11:17-19


Easter Week Day 4 - Jesus Takes the Second Cup

Linda, walking in Jerusalem
THURSDAY, APRIL 17

SCRIPTURE - LUKE 22:14-18

14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."

 17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?

The cup Jesus takes is one of the four cups taken at the Passover meal. New Testament scholar Joel Green thinks it was the second cup. This is important.

Cup #1 – the head of the family gave a blessing over that cup. Cups 3 & 4 came after the Passover meal, and then Psalms 114-118 were sung – "The Great Hallel."

Cup #2 – that’s the point in the Passover Meal where the youngest son in the family asks the father, "Why is this night different from other nights?” “Why is unleavened bread eaten on this night?” And other questions… 

Jesus, on that night 2000 years ago, took the second cup. It was a different night, and would change the world.

At the Passover meal the father, on taking Cup #2, would tell the story of the exodus, and give a message on Deuteronomy 26:5-11. The meal was interpreted as and seen as an act of remembering and thanking God for his past liberation of an oppressed people. It was a celebration of God’s faithfulness and hope for the future deliverance of God’s people.

They would eat lamb and bitter herbs. They would drink the series of four cups of wine.

At the original exodus Passover lambs were slaughtered. The blood of these lambs was applied to the doorways of the Jewish homes as a sign for the Angel of Death to pass over their homes and spare the life of their first born. When the father tells this story, the Jews at the meal imagine themselves right back in the world of Moses in Egypt. Haven't you ever heard someone tell a story in such a way that you feel as if you are right there? You feel the emotions that were felt back then, as if you could smell the food being described and sense the oppression yourself, and then... 

            … experiencing the incredible thing of being set free!

Here, unknown to Jesus' disciples, it was one of those different nights. The Jewish Meal of all Meals was happening, for the one-thousandth time. The original Passover WAS a night different from all other nights. It was the night when the avenging angel of death “passed over” the homes of the Israelites so God could liberate the people of Israel! But this night, recorded in Luke 22, is going to be very, very different from any other night. And it will be remembered forever, not just by Jews, but by the peoples of the world.

This quite-and-very-different night begins by Jesus talking, not of the Moses-Exodus story, but about His impending death, and His Kingdom that is coming in its fullness. Jesus is changing the meaning of Passover. This is shocking and unexpected.

Can we just stop here for a moment?

Change is hard. This change is beyond hard. Because up to this point Passover was celebrated in the SAME WAY ALL THE TIME! "We always have done it this way!” (These, BTW, are the 7 Last Words of the Church.) The same questions are asked. The same answers are given. And it has been this way, this very same way, for hundreds of years.

But ON THIS NIGHT, as Joel Green says: “Instead of the expected focus on the historic deliverance enacted by God in Israel’s past, Jesus talks about his own death and vindication, and the coming of God’s dominion.” (JG, Luke, 761) "As you drink Cup #2, this cup, remember Me." What Jesus does on this night draws on the Exodus story. But, as N.T. Wright is so fond of saying, this is the "New Exodus."

"After taking the [second] cup, Jesus gave thanks and said..." He did this on a night that is different from any before it, and from any that will follow. Jesus was showing that He was the "New Moses" who was leading not only Israel but all of humanity in the New Exodus and the liberation of all humanity.

Tonight, the night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus lifted the second cup. 

It was the night before the day when all humanity would be set free.

REFLECTION

1. Had you been one of Jesus' disciples at that Passover Meal, how would you have felt when Jesus reinterprets hundreds of years of tradition in terms of His own life and sacrificial death?

2. Think of how Jesus has liberated you from your enslavement to sin. Count the ways He has done this. Give thanks to God for this.


Introduce People to the Teacher and Step Aside

Church of the Nativity in Jerusalem
45 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46 “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
- Luke 20:45-47



Among things I never wanted to be when I was a child was a public speaker. I am an introvert, by personality. I didn't mind being on stage if I could hide behind my guitar. But I would feel physically sick days before having to get up in front of a class to give a book report or show-'n-tell. I would rather have a root canal than do that.

So what did God do with me? In spite of my fear and reluctance He called me to speak in front of people. If anything good comes out of my teaching and preaching I find it easy to thank God, who has made this possible.

Now I've got 44 years of public speaking and teaching behind me. Tonight I open my mouth and talk to others again. I'll teach two classes back to back - World Religions and Christianity in Redeemer Ministry School, and Intro to Logic at Monroe Community College. You would think I wouldn't feel nervous after all the teaching experience I have. But I do, and I will. 

I feel confident and nervous at the same time. I'd rather be this than arrogant and presumptuous. I'd rather be personally insecure and forced to find my security in God than be some Big Speaker who can't wait to be seen by others. In the verses above, Jesus warns the people about Big-Speaking, showy, pretentious religious preachers who love to be seen by others in all the glory of their personal abilities and religiousness.

Here is Jesus teaching in the Temple courtyards a few days before going to the cross. As He says these words it is nearly certain that "teachers of the law" are also listening. Jesus just flat-out tells His followers to stay away from such people, for they are neither servants nor humble. They have neither God's interests nor your's in mind.

In the Matthew version of this passage Jesus goes on to say: 

   8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Professional titles, to Jesus, are irrelevant. Servanthood is what is required. In order to be a Jesus-like servant leader humility is the proper attitude. I'm still being schooled about this. 

You and I don't need to be known by others. 

Introduce people to The Teacher and step aside.


REFLECTION

1. Jesus was a Servant-Leader. How can you follow Jesus in this way and serve other people today?

2. Take some time to get alone with God today. Confess any desire to want to be applauded by people. Ask Him to create more humility in your heart. Exalt and glorify Him in prayer and song.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter Week Day 3 - Jesus Brings In a Love Revolution

Jerusalem



WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3

During Easter Week, 2,000 years ago, Jesus was doing and saying Messianic, Kingly things in the city of Jerusalem. The tensions about Him were escalating, and would eventually lead to His crucifixion.


Certain Jewish religious leaders were confronting Jesus. In Matthew 22:34-40 some of the rules-righteousness Pharisees, who are really angry about Jesus and His failure to abide by all the religious rules they have accumulated, address Him with The Big Question. Here are two translations of that text. Only one of them is accurate.


SCRIPTURE READING - MATTHEW 22:34-40 - TWO VERSIONS

Version 1:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Turn off your cell phone." 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Turn off your neighbor's cell phone as your own.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Version 2:

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two 
commandments.”



WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?

The correct translation, from the original Greek text (which, BTW, and contra KJV-only worshipers, we are very close to having), is Version 2. Version 1 is false for the following reasons:
  1. There were no cell phones in the first century.
  2. Even if there were cell phones in the first century Jesus would not have needed one, since the Father in Him knows the hearts and minds of people.
  3. Version 1 is too legalistic-Pharisaic sounding. Jesus would never have said such a thing; i.e., Jesus would never have singled out a human-made unwritten rule as the greatest rule of all.
  4. Jesus wouldn't turn and give someone the evil eye if, while He was speaking, their cell phone went off.
Behind the Pharisees' question and Jesus' response lies the ongoing "Sabbath Controversies" they were engaged in. I'm going to illustrate this by using an example that happened to me recently.


I was driving in downtown Monroe, stopped at a light, when a car pulled up behind me. The driver appeared angry - at me! He honked his horn, drove next to me, and gave me "The Look." It was not the look of love. Something about my driving had not been pleasing to him. I have no idea what it was. But I knew that, in his mind, I had violated one of his rules of driving. As a result I received The Look, not of love, but of condemnation.

"The Look" is what happens in a rule-governed world where following a set of rules is the means of acceptance and social righteousness. The prevailing mood is judgment and condemnation, because rules get transgressed. While it is polite to silence my cell phone in a Sunday morning worship service, it is not a Jesus-thing to give someone The Look when their phone goes off. Because love is patient, love is kind, love is not easily angered, and love keeps no record of wrongs.


Jesus was constantly breaking religious rules. In Mark 2:22-28 some rule-watching Pharisees address Jesus about the behavior of His disciples on the Sabbath. Contrary to Exodus 16:25-26, which rules out gleaning and plucking grain on the Sabbath, Jesus allows His disciples to do so. For this he gets "The Look."


Jesus' response is to reinterpret the Exodus passage, placing it in the greater context of God's overall purposes for humanity. Ben Witherington writes: "Jesus' point of view seems to be that human beings do not exist for the sake of the law, but rather the converse. The function of the Sabbath is to restore and renew creation to its full capacity, just as leaving the land fallow for a sabbatical year might do. The disciples' eating was a means of renewal and restoration for them. Thus, they should be permitted to eat, even at the expense of specific, clear prohibitions in the law. In short, Jesus sees it as part of his mission to interpret matters according to their true or original intention, no longer making allowances for the hardness of human hearts." (Ben Witherington, The Christology of Jesus, 68)


If the love of God was abundantly poured into my heart (Romans 5:5) I would not need rules such as "You shall not steal," or "You shall not commit adultery." That's why Jesus said that all the Law and prophets hand on the two Love-Commandments.

Jesus' revolution is, essentially, a Love Revolution. He was bringing in a love and grace environment, rather than a rules-environment. That's why Paul wrote, in Romans 5:2, that "we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand." "Gained access" is Temple language; meaning we who trust in Christ are ushered into the fields of God's grace.

Love, not law, wins. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

REFLECTION

1. Thinking of Romans 5:5, ask God for a fresh outpouring, a fresh deluge, a "rainstorm" of God's love to be poured into your heart today.



7 Signs That God Is In the House

Baptisms in the river in our backyard

When God shows up one should expect certain things. What are essential elements of a real move of God? 

I distinguish essential elements from contingent elements. For example, essential elements of "car" include wheels, motor, can be driven; contingent elements of car are attributes like red, four-door, convertible, and 450 hp (though certain testosterone-saturated males might call 450 hp an essential attribute of a real car).

What will a real move of God look like? Will there always, for example, be people falling down under the power of the Spirit? The answer is no, so "falling down" is a contingent, not essential, important attribute of a move of God. (This does not mean it is important, nor does it mean it is unimportant.)

Here's what I'm now thinking (with a little help from JB).

7 Essential Signs of a Real Move of God

  1. Proclamation and Demonstration of the Kingdom accompanied by the Presence of The Holy Spirit
  2.  People are transformed internally (identity, behavior, etc)
  3. Social transformation (reach out to lost, hurting, poor, etc.)
  4. Awe – (especially expressed in worship)
  5. A truth is restored or expressed in a new way (e.g., the. Father's love)
  6. Fellowship together and *disenculturation (unity, mission, prayer, etc.)
  7. Resistance and possible persecution

*Disenculturation - an examination of our culture through the lens of the Kingdom of God

Philosophy of Religion - Craig's Metaethical Argument for God's Existence

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students:


1. State Craig's argument:

1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

This is a logically valid argument, which means: if the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true.

2. How does Craig defend P1?

a. By "objective moral value" (OMV) we mean: a moral value that is true independently of what people think of it. Thus, if it is true, it is true for everyone. Like, e.g., the statement The lights in this room are on. If that statement is true, then it is true for everyone; if it is false then it is false for everyone.

b. Give the "teacher analogy" I used in class.

c. Craig cites a number of atheists who admit that, on their atheism, ethics is illusory. For example, Craig cites atheist ethicist Richard Taylor:

The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well.Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things are war, or abortion, or the violation of certain human rights, are 'morally wrong,' and they imagine that they have said something true and significant.
Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion.2
Taylor concludes,
Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning.3

3. How does Craig defend P2?

Many atheists agree that OMVs exist. Such as, e.g., Sam Harris in the Harris-Craig debate, and Michael Ruse (in the Craig essay).

OMVs function as "properly basic beliefs." A properly basic belief is one that we believe to be true without being able to evidentially prove it. Examples are: 1+1=2, and I see a car coming towards me (Implying that My senses provide reliable information about the outside world.). Even though we can't prove either of these statements to be true, we are rational in believing them until we are given a good reason not to.

For example we know that Racism is wrong. We apprehend this to be true. So, moral values are apprehended. Like we apprehend, by sense experience, that the lights are either on or off. Moral values function like "properly basic beliefs."

Both atheists and theists recognize that OMVs exist. This is not surprising if God exists. If humans are God’s image-bearers, then it’s not surprising that they are capable of recognizing or knowing the same sorts of moral values – whether theists or not.
[Note: Theistic philosopher Paul Copan writes: “We possess an in-built “yuck factor” - basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness, the obligation to treat others as we would want to be treated, and the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Josef Stalin. Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional.”]

For more see:

Divine Command Theory and P1 of Craig's Metaethical Argument







Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another Intractable Atheistic Problem

Detroit Institute of Arts

There are so many intractable problems within the noetic framework of atheism that I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony; that is, I know what to do, I just don'r know where to begin. Here's one such problem.

On the theistic idea of a rational God the emergence of creaturely rationality makes sense. But evolution without God  is interested in survival, not truth. Theistic philosopher Paul Copan writes: "We may form many false survival-enhancing beliefs such as “humans are morally responsible” or “humans have dignity and rights”— a phenomenon that naturalists commonly acknowledge." (Copan, Ethics Needs God, Debating Christian Theism, p. 90)

Now watch this. Here are four brilliant atheists who affirm what I just wrote. I say again - these are well-known, scholarly atheists who agree. So if you disagree here, take it up with them. 

“Boiled down to its essentials, a nervous system enables the organism to succeed in the four F’s: feeding , fleeing, fighting, and reproducing … Truth , whatever that is, definitely takes the hindmost.”
- Pioneering neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland (in Ib.)

"Truth is un-Darwinian."
- Massively famous (well-deserved) philosopher Richard Rorty (in Ib.)

"Morality is a “corporate” illusion that has been “fobbed off on us by our genes to get us to cooperate.” That is, “we think it has an objective status.”"
- Well-known anti-Dawkins atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse

“Man is a moral (altruistic) being, not because he intuits the rightness of loving his neighbor, or because he responds to some noble ideal, but because his behavior is comprised of tendencies which natural selection has favoured.”
- Famous philosopher-ethicist James Rachels

Copan logically follows with this question: “Why trust our minds, whose thoughts are the result of mindless molecules affecting other mindless molecules?” (Ib.) How odd for the atheistic, on the basis of his own noetic framework, to argue for the truth of anything, much less atheism. And how irrational for any Dawkins-type atheist to refer to herself as "bright."

On theism's noetic framework the above atheistic dillemma non-occurs. Copan writes:

"If a trustworthy God has created our noetic structure (not to mention an ordered, biofriendly universe that our minds can study and understand), then we have all the more reason for generally trusting these faculties or capacities rather than constantly doubting their reliability— even if, here and there, we may get things wrong. Indeed, we have been designed to trust our faculties (moral, rational, perceptual ..." (91) 

For more see Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.

Prayer Can Bring About Psychological Change (PrayerLife)

Warren Dunes State Park
One thing I do when I pray is ask God for my own self. I have found that praying for myself has brought a variety of changes in my own psyche (soul).

In prayer, fear can be changed to boldness. Do I, at times, feel afraid? Of course. The person who never feels afraid is brain dead. Stanley Grenz writes:

"The psalmist reported experiencing this kind of psychological or emotional transformation: "In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free" (Ps. 118:5). The psalmist then expressed the new boldness that came in response to prayer: "The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (v. 6; see also Ps. 138:3)." (Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, Kindle Location 468-470)

In prayer, anxiety can be changed to peace. We see this in Philippians 4:6-7:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

I have experienced this many times, so many that I'm tempted to say it's normal and to be expected; viz., that when I go alone to pray I come away less fearful and less anxious and more confident and peace-filled. 

I experience Henri Nouwen's "proof that prayer works." In his Latin American journal Gracias! Nouwen wrote that when he didn't pray or got "too busy to pray" he found himself more fearful and more agitated.

In prayer the threatening situation's power dissipates and the inner heart-agitator is shut off. 

Easter Week Day 2 - The Cursing of the Fig Tree Is Really About the End of the Temple

Jerusalem - Church of the Nativity
TUESDAY, APRIL 15

This is Easter Week - the days leading up to Good Friday and the cross .After Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of "Save us now!" ("Hosanna!"), he did some radical and revealing things in the city. One of them was His "cursing of the fig tree."

SCRIPTURE READING - MATTHEW 21:18-22

18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!”Immediately the tree withered. 
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 
21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THESE VERSES?

Jesus and his disciples are walking up Mount Zion, upon which Jerusalem is seated. On top of the mountain is the Temple. The Temple was in full view as they ascended. It's probable that the fig tree was higher up on the road. between Jesus and the Temple. As they walk to the Temple, Jesus see the fig tree ahead.

As He points to the fig tree, he is really pointing to the Temple. The barrenness of the fig tree is a visual analogy for the barrenness of the presence of God within the Temple. God is no longer showing up in the Temple. The religious leaders, instead of welcoming God's presence and introducing people to that presence, shut the door of heaven in people's faces and themeselves do not enter in. (Matthew 23:13) Their "religion" was rule-based and filled with self-centered pride.  Nothing worse could be said of a religious leader; viz., that they do their religious thing and bar God from the activities.

In the case of the Temple, God himself exited. How sad and worthless this is, since what people need is God and His manifest "with-us" presence.

When Jesus curses the barren fig tree and talks about "this mountain" being thrown into the sea, he's referring not to just any mountain, but to Mount Zion. Some people talk about a faith that can move mountains and use this passage as an example, but Jesus was really talking about a new kind of faith that would exist without the Temple. The Temple, where God had showed up for hundreds of years, was going down, never to be inhabited by God again. The day was near when true worship will not happen on this mountain or any mountain. Thus, "this mountain" (Mt Zion) can be cast into the sea.

Later, as Jesus and his disciples are walking down Mount Zion from the Temple area, his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked.“Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)

With the Temple now God-less, where will God manifest Himself? The answer, as the disciples will realize on the Day of Pentecost, is that the dwelling place of God will be in His people, both individually and corporately. The great, revolutionary new truth of Jesus in this story is that if you are a Jesus-follower then you are a temple of the presence of God. You are, as Richard Foster has written, a "portable sanctuary."

You host the presence of God.

REFLECTION

1. Consider ways in which you will welcome God's presence in your life today, ways in which you will welcome his presence.