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Treading the Swales

November 11, 2006

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….And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. Mark 11:13-14; 20-21

I was reading Mark 11, and then listening to a sermon by Joe Morecraft, a little preoccupied by pain in my knee as I walked on my treadmill. One of those providential connections clicked, as so often happens, bringing together nagging thoughts, my reading, and the sermon. That cursed fig tree again. Is it hardened ethnic Israel? Is it just a tree that let the Lord down when he was afflicted with mortal hunger pangs? (Maybe Martha was sitting and listening to him that morning instead of fixing breakfast before sending him off from Bethany.) Or is it cold Christians who just never seem to bring forth fruit, in and out of season–like, uh-oh–me?

When the Lord rebukes hardened, unbelieving men and teaches them of the Kingdom of God, they marvel (Matthew 22:22); or they are astonished (Matthew 22:33); or they see themselves in his parables and seek to lay hands on him but fear public opinion (Matthew 21:45-46); or they are offended (Matthew 15:12); or they plot his destruction (Matthew 12:14); or they call him an ally of the devil (Matthew 9:34); or they ask him to leave so they don’t lose more income from their pigs (Matthew 8:34); or they take up stones to cast at him (John 8:59).

But there are many whom God has elected to salvation. These people respond very differently: the woman at the well, Bartimaeus, the one leper of the ten, the man with the withered hand, and many others who, healed by Jesus, go on to glorify God and spread the gospel. They bear true fruit and become the branches of the true vine (John 15:1-5).

In the sermon I was listening to, Pastor Morecraft spoke of the true Christian as one who keeps his mind on Christ, always dragging it back to Christ when it wanders into temptation. And, the true Christian, he said, is always bringing new people to sit under preaching in his church. Rather withering. In more than three and one-half years, no one has shown up at my church saying, “Mrs. B sent me.”

What is the nature of a fig tree? Matthew Henry examines the fig tree in Judges 9:11 to scope out the fig tree in Mark 11 and Matthew 21. He says,

“The fig-tree must lose its sweetness, its sweet retirement, sweet repose, and sweet conversation and contemplation, if it go to be promoted over the trees, and must undergo a constant fatigue.”

So perhaps the Lord is annoyed with the fig for being a fig because a fig is a self-centered thing and does nothing out of its way to serve God in a moment of truth. Ouch.But a Christian isn’t–or shouldn’t be–seeking promotion over his peers. If he is, he has something very terribly wrong. But he has been promoted from death into life. He didn’t earn this promotion; it was given him by grace. He had no claim on any such thing; it was a gift for which he could not have even known to ask. And he should be seeking the same promotion for others.

This past week in the flooded Pacific Northwest, a lot of people have found that it isn’t how high up you live, but how high the terrain is around you, that determines whether your house will be under water. If you live in a swale, even at 500 feet, you could be flooded.

It isn’t just that a Christian has the blessing of salvation that makes him a Christian. He’s supposed to look around, in and out of season, and see whether there are “much people in the city” in his own neighborhood. If he isn’t looking around for others who need promotion from death to life, it could be that he’s in a swale, with the waters about to rush in, even though he thinks he’s above danger.

Posted by Mrs. B at 8:03 PM

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