Reading through the Bible together
This chapter takes us to the final events in Jesus’ life just prior to His trial and crucifixion. The chapter opens with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and introduces a theme which takes us to Matt. 22:14. In the triumphal entry, Jesus publicly identified Himself as the Messianic King of Zech. 9:9. The people become greatly excited and there is a great public profession of love and support by the general public. Jesus then enters the Temple as the Messianic King and takes charge. He drives out the money changers while welcoming the blind and lame whom He then heals. He permits children to shout Hosannas of praise. Such actions would continue to endear Him to the people, but the priests and scribes disliked the disruption of the reverential orderliness they had established, as well as being angered by having their profitable money changers driven out. What we see here, is a theme highlighting the adoring public against the hostile religious powers.
Then Jesus leaves the Temple on His way to Bethany. On the way, He passes a fig tree. Its showy leaves proclaim it should have fruit, but the tree was barren. This was like the showy profession of love and support for Christ which proved to be without fruit, because later these same people would call for Christ’s crucifixion. God is not looking for showy public praise, but for the quiet fruits of Godliness in personal lives.
Jesus points out “real fruit” in contrast to the talk of the religious leaders when they challenged His authority to take charge of the Temple. He illustrates this by contrasting one son who loudly proclaims his willingness to do a job commanded by his father, yet he never goes. Like the empty fig tree, he produces words but no meaningful action. By contrast, the other son seems rebellious, refusing to go, yet repents, and produced practical results. He lacks the show and pomp, but actually did his father’s will.
This is followed by two more parables in which profession and performance are contrasted. First, we have the vineyard leased to tenants who profess loyalty to the owner, yet they mistreat the owner’s servants, and kill his son.
We finish this chapter on the parable of the wedding feast. Jesus tells a story in which ordinary people are invited to a wedding feast in place of the aristocrats who refused to come. However, one among the people refuses to put on the free wedding garment.
The lesson is clear: Showy public praise to God is meaningless without an accompanying practice. Sinful humans demonstrate strong tendencies to substitute energetic public worship for practical godliness. Also the verdict is clear: God would rather have good fruit than fruitless showy leaves. May we focus on bearing godly fruits in our individual lives more than producing stylish public displays of worship. We need to worship God with more than the words we say.
Stephen Bauer, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Southern Adventist University