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We have in these verses an account of two remarkable events in our Lord's history. In both, there was something eminently figurative and typical. Each was an emblem of spiritual things. Beneath the surface of each, lie lessons of solemn instruction.
The first event that demands our attention, is our Lord's visit to the temple. He found His Father's house in a state which too truly shadowed forth the general condition of the whole Jewish church--everything out of order, and out of course. He found the courts of that holy building disgracefully profaned by worldly transactions. Trading, and buying, and selling, were actually going on within its walls. There stood dealers ready to supply the Jew who came from distant countries, with any sacrifice he wanted. There sat the money-changer, ready to change his foreign money for the current coin of the land. Bulls, and sheep, and goats, and pigeons, were there exposed for sale, as if the place had been a market. The jingling of money might there be heard, as if these holy courts had been a bank or an exchange.
Such were the scenes that met our Lord's eyes. He saw it all with holy indignation. "He drove out all of those who sold and bought." He "overthrew the money changers' tables." Resistance there was none, for men knew that He was right. Objection there was none, for all felt that he was only reforming a notorious abuse, which had been basely permitted for the sake of gain. Well might He sound in the ears of the astonished traders, as they fled from the temple--"It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers!"
Let us see in our Lord's conduct on this occasion, a striking type of what He will do when He comes again the second time. He will purify His visible church as He purified the temple. He will cleanse it from everything that defiles and works iniquity, and cast every worldly professor out of its pale. He will allow no worshiper of money, or lover of gain, to have a place in that glorious temple, which He will finally exhibit before the world. May we all strive to live in the daily expectation of that coming! May we judge ourselves, that we be not condemned and cast out in that searching and sifting day! We should often study those words of Malachi--"Who can endure the day of His coming? and who will stand when He appears? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like launderer's soap." (Mal. 3:2.)
The second event that demands our attention in these verses, is our Lord's curse upon the fruitless fig-tree. We are told, that being hungry He came to a fig-tree in the way, and "found nothing on it but leaves. He said to it, 'Let there be no fruit from you forever!' Immediately the fig tree withered away." This is an incident almost without parallel in all our Lord's ministry. It is almost the only occasion on which we find Him making one of His creatures suffer, in order to teach a spiritual truth. There was a heart-searching lesson in that withered fig-tree. It preaches a sermon we shall all do well to hear.
That fig-tree, full of leaves, but barren of fruit, was a striking emblem of the Jewish church, when our Lord was upon earth. The Jewish church had everything to make an outward show. It had the temple, the priesthood, the daily service, the yearly feasts, the Old Testament Scriptures, the rituals of the Levites, the morning and evening sacrifice. But beneath these goodly leaves, the Jewish church was utterly destitute of fruit. It had no grace, no faith, no love, no humility, no spirituality, no real holiness, no willingness to receive its Messiah. (John 1:11.) And hence, like the fig-tree, the Jewish church was soon to wither away. It was to be stripped of all its outward ornaments, and its members scattered over the face of the earth. Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The temple was to be burned. The daily sacrifice was to be taken away. The tree was to wither away to the very ground. And so it came to pass. Never was there a type so literally fulfilled. In every wandering Jew we see a branch of the fig-tree that was crushed.
But we may not stop here. We may find even more instruction in the event we are now considering. These things were written for our sakes, as well as for the Jews.
Is not every fruitless branch of Christ's visible church in an dreadful danger of becoming a withered fig-tree? Beyond doubt it is. High ecclesiastical profession, without holiness among the people--overweening confidence in councils, bishops, liturgies, and ceremonies, while repentance and faith have been neglected--have ruined many a visible church in time past, and may yet ruin many more. Where are the once famous churches of Ephesus, and Sardis, and Carthage, and Hippo? They are all gone. They had leaves, but no fruit. Our Lord's curse came upon them. They became withered fig-trees. The decree went forth, "Hew them down." (Dan. 4:23.) Let us remember this. Let us beware of Church-pride. Let us not be high-minded, but fear. (Rom. 2:20.)
Finally, is not every fruitless professor of Christianity in dreadful danger of becoming a withered fig-tree? There can be no doubt of it. So long as a man is content with the leaves of religion--with a name to live while he is dead, and a form of godliness without the power--so long his soul is in great peril. So long as he is satisfied with going to church or chapel, and receiving the Lord's supper, and being called a Christian, while his heart is not changed, and his sins not forsaken--so long he is daily provoking God to cut him off without remedy. Fruit, fruit--the fruit of the Spirit, is the only sure proof that we are savingly united to Christ, and in the way to heaven. May this sink down into our hearts, and never be forgotten!
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