Lessons from the Fig Tree — Part One
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Lessons from the Fig Tree — Part One

With the cursing of the fig tree in Mark 11, Jesus taught His disciples a lesson about fruitfulness. Looking for fruit, Jesus found nothing but leaves, and so He performed a miracle of destruction, causing the tree to wither overnight. This, Alistair Begg teaches, was an enacted parable, a prophetic symbol of the coming destruction of the temple and imminent judgment upon Israel. The barren fig tree represented the same religious legalism that still promises satisfaction yet leaves us spiritually hungry.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Mark, Volume 6

Jesus vs. the Religious Leaders Mark 11:12–12:44 Series ID: 14106

Stories of the Kingdom

Mark 4:1–34, Mark 10:17–22, Mark 11:12–25, Mark 12:1–12 Series ID: 27201

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn to the Bible, to the Gospel of Mark and chapter 11. Last Sunday morning we studied from verses 1 to 11. In the evening, we then looked at the section on the cleansing of the temple between verses 15 and 19. And this morning I want to read from verse 12 to 14 and then from verse 20 to 25. So, Mark 11:12:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”

Then follows the encounter in the temple, and verse 20:

“In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’

“‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive … your sins.’”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Father, help us now, as we turn to this passage of Scripture, that we might both understand it and believe it and live in the light of it. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

Principles of Biblical Interpretation

Well, these verses that I have just read have been described as a narrative which “bristles with difficulties.”[1] A narrative which bristles with difficulties. And these verses have actually proved to be a breeding ground for irrelevant questions and implausible answers, not least of all in home Bible study groups, where people have decided to pool their ignorance when it comes to the matter of Jesus and the cursing of the fig tree.

In order that I don’t contribute to that, it is imperative that I remind you of how important it is to hold tightly to the principles that guide our interpretation of the Bible—not just this passage but of any passage. And it is the unique privilege of the individual who’s been appointed pastor-teacher to unfold the story of the Bible. The reason that the church has called me and my colleagues—and has decided to graciously provide for my needs—is in order that I might be diligent in studying my Bible and in seeking to come to an understanding of it in such a way that I would be able to expound it to the congregation and to others, and to do so in a way that is helped by both illustration and by application.

Part of the pastor-teacher’s responsibility is not simply to provide food but is to help the recipients of the food learn how to cook for themselves.

And the task that is granted to an individual such as myself is aptly summarized in the encounter between the Ethiopian man who was in a chariot riding back to Jerusalem, as is recorded in Acts chapter 8, when Philip was sent by God to run alongside the chariot. He encounters the man reading from the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, and as the man is reading out loud, Philip says to him, “Do you understand what you[’re] reading?” And the man replies, “How can I … unless someone explains it to me?”[2]

And that is the responsibility of the pastor and the teacher. And part of that responsibility is not simply to provide food but is to help those who are the recipients of the food to learn how to cook for themselves. And it is of interest to me—although I don’t watch these programs, I see them in passing—that we seem to have a deluge of cooking programs; that everyone and their uncle has decided that they are a chef or a chefette, and the best they can do is just explain to us. And I have watched them a little bit. I’m always intrigued by the way in which they do it: “We’ll put that in the oven”—and then all of a sudden, “And I have another one over here that came out just perfectly,” which is probably pretty good, because there’s no saying what has happened to that one that has gone in there. And so it goes on. But there’s benefit in that. I suppose I would do well to watch some of them and actually learn.

And so, when you are the beneficiary of the Word being taught to you, there is a sense in which you ought to be able to say increasingly, after time, “Well, I can see how he did that. I can see where he got that.” As opposed to saying, “I don’t understand how he did that, and I don’t know where he got that.”

So if you were to come with me into my study and look over my shoulder when I sit down with my Bible and read, “Then Jesus saw a fig tree in the distance, and he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it,” and you see my Bible, and you see a big, blank sheet of paper in front of it, and you’re sitting beside me at the desk, what do I do?

Well, I do a number of things, but one of the things that I did this week was, I had to remind myself of certain principles of interpretation, so as to guard me against a bizarre explanation. What principles? Well, at least these. I wrote down, “I must interpret the obscure by the clear and the partial by the more complete.” That’s a principle of interpretation—that you come to a passage of Scripture that is immediately obscure, you have to then set that within the context of other passages of Scripture which are more complete. Because some passages of Scripture, immediately and especially on first reading, seem to be so difficult to understand. And one of the things to do is to say, “This is difficult to understand.” Then you can start from a position of humility, rather than, “Well, I’m sure I understand this.”

Secondly, I noted to myself, I have to be sure that I am comparing Scripture with Scripture and that I’m going to let Scripture check my interpretation. Okay? So that I’m going to make sure that the passage of Scripture that is before me is set within the context of the entirety of the Bible, and that when I reach a point of interpretation, that I will be able to take that interpretation and check it against the Bible. Because if I come up with an interpretation that runs contrary to the clear and plain and obvious teaching of the Bible, then I and everyone else may be absolutely certain that I’m wrong in my interpretation. And you then will be able to say, “Aha! We got you.”

Thirdly—and this is particularly important in this reference—I must make sure that I use the Old Testament as a guide to understanding my study of the New Testament, and I must, when I read the Old Testament, read it in relationship to and in subordination to the New Testament and its fulfillment in Jesus. You got that? So when then I read the Old Testament, I see that the Old Testament is like I’ve gone into like an older map of Scotland, and it had certain roads and highways in it, and they’re pointing forward; and then I come to a new map, where all of these things are present, but they have now come to fulfillment in the present situation. And then I’m able to take that which is in the new—in act 2, as we put it last week—and realize that my understanding of act 1 must be in subordination to the way in which things have been fulfilled in act 2.

You still with me? Three of you are. That’s good.

And fourthly—and this will be my last one, ’cause it’s not exhaustive, this is just selective—fourthly, I have to make sure that I am working to understand the particular significance of each separate passage. All right? So that the particular significance of each passage needs to be understood. Not understood in isolation; that’s why we’ve already gone through points one, two, and three. But nevertheless, understood.

So when you come to a passage like this, you have to then start scribbling down on your pad; you say, “Now, what are the things I’m going to have to investigate?” Well, I’m going to have to investigate this matter of the fig tree. I’m going to have to investigate whether Jesus ever has another miracle of destruction or whether this is unique. I’m going to have to look and see whether Jesus is represented anywhere else in the Bible as doing something out a fit of pique, as apparently is happening here. And I’m going to have to ask myself the question, whether the form of expression in this particular passage is literal or whether it is figurative; whether what is being described is actual or whether it is metaphorical. I’m going to have to ask of the passage, Is the language in this passage figures of speech, like hyperbole and metaphor and simile? That’s why you need the English language, incidentally. And is the language largely proverbial? So, for example, Jesus has already said, after the encounter with the rich young ruler, Jesus says to his disciples, “I’m going to tell you something: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”[3] What is that? That is a proverbial statement. That is a proverbial statement.

It takes nothing away from the truth of the Bible to understand when things are used figuratively or metaphorically.

Well then, when we come to this question of the mountain being cast into the sea—which we won’t get to this morning, not if I keep on at this rate—but if we deal with the mountain cast into the sea, we have to ask, Is this proverbial language? And for those of us who want to jump up on their hind legs and start talk about how they take the Bible literally, then we’re going to have a good discussion with you, after we’ve had a coffee, about how many times you’ve seen a mountain actually being thrown into the sea—apart from an act of God himself, not an act of somebody who was “believing” that it was possible to do.

Well, it takes nothing away from the truth of the Bible to understand when things are used figuratively or metaphorically. And one of the ways in which we understand the Bible literally is to understand it in the literal context of the language as it’s used. So when Jesus says, “I am the door,”[4] we understand that it is a metaphor. He’s not saying that he’s a door; he’s a human being. When he says, “This is my body,”[5] he is using the bread as an indication of that which represents his body, and so on. So when we come to this, we must apply it in the same way.

The Context for Jesus’ Actions

Now, I recognize that that’s a long introduction. In fact, there’s a little more introduction, because you will notice in verse 11 that Jesus’ actions there seem to be rather anticlimactic—that after the drama of his procession into Jerusalem, it all seems rather sleepy at the end of the day. He has entered Jerusalem as the Messiah-King riding on a donkey. But in actual fact, if you see verse 11 not so much as the end of the procession as the reconnaissance for the next day, then you realize that he is actually planning for the events that are to follow.

And the events that are to follow, we might say, begin there in 11:11 and go all the way through to the beginning of chapter 13. Because if you look carefully, you will discover that all that unfolds between here and the beginning of 13 takes place within the context of the temple. So the events begin with the cleansing of the temple, and they end with the prophecy of the destruction of the temple. So you have, for example, in verse 21 here, Peter says, “Look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” In 13:1, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” Jesus says, “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”[6]

So in other words, this is set within the context of the prophecy of the judgment that is coming. And therefore, this is the framework. You have the same thing, for example, in Luke 19, where Jesus says that he “wept over” Jerusalem:[7] “How often would I have gathered you” and so on. “But you would not come to me.” And he says, “There is a dreadful judgment that is coming your way.”[8] I have to make note of that and keep that in my mind as I come, then, to this particular passage.

I have to also recognize that although the issue of the temple may not mean much to the Parkside congregation, we have to understand that Mark was written initially for first century dwellers, for whom the temple meant everything. When they were confronted by the issues of the temple, they recognized that the temple was the heart of Israel’s religious life, and the temple was the symbol of its national identity.

This past week I heard on National Public Radio that they were looking for $25 million to restore the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Apparently, a recent earthquake has unsettled its foundations, and although it’s intact within, it’s in danger of collapsing. And I thought to myself, “Well, I’m pretty sure they’ll get $25 million for that.” Then that made me think about our building program, which I won’t talk about just now, and then it made me also wonder whether anybody really cared about the National Cathedral. I don’t mean that in an unkind way. I just mean, I wonder how many people are really interested in the National Cathedral. Have you ever been in the National Cathedral? I have. Well, I would wager that most people haven’t. It’s just “the National Cathedral—wherever it is.” But for the Jewish person, they didn’t regard the temple in that way. The temple identified them among the nations. And the temple was the very center, was the very apex, of their spiritual activity.

Now, when you understand that, and you realize that what we have here is the description of the Messiah-King, the one who is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament expectations; here we have the Messiah-King, the fulfillment of all that has been provided in the Old Testament; he is riding into Jerusalem, “gentle and riding on a donkey,”[9] in fulfillment of prophetic passages from the Old; he is coming into the center of religious life, looking for spiritual fruit and looking for true worship—and what does he find? He discovers a tree that makes a promise that it can’t fulfill, and he discovers a temple that is full of activity that incurs God’s wrath.

Now, you’re sensible people. You follow my line of thought. Is this accurate? The King comes into the center of religious life, and what is held out as an apparent expression of fruitfulness is not there, and what should be the very exultation of the living God as a house of prayer has actually been turned into a marketplace and into a bazaar. And although we chose to study these two incidents separately, they really belong together, and they help to explain each other. And so I think you’ll constantly find yourself moving back and between them as you seek to think this out.

Now, I then decided that the best way I could approach the passage was to try and summarize our thinking under three words, each of which begins with the letter f; it’s just the way my mind often works, and they’re all there: first of all, the issue of fruit; then, the question of faith; and then, the matter of forgiveness. We will only be able to tackle the question of fruit for this morning.

The Issue of Fruit

So there we have it: “Seeing in the distance a fig tree,” verse 13, “he went out to find … if it had any fruit.” So that’s why my point is fruit. Nothing particularly brilliant in that, is there? Don’t have to spend a long time on that. Jesus is teaching something about fruit. Why don’t we put that down? “He reached it, he found nothing but leaves.” He went looking for fruit, “found nothing but leaves.” And so “he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’”

Well, what’s happening here? This really, actually, is tough on the ears of the twenty-first-century Westerner, isn’t it? Especially those of us who’ve been completely invaded by the tree huggers of the world. If you are a tree hugger, you must immediately not like this story. There really only are two great areas of worship left in Western democracy: that is the ecology that is represented by Al Gore and the philanthropy that is represented by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Those are the shrines before which our society is invited to bow down. And therefore, anything that violates either one of them would be immediately held in question. So this is an immediate challenge, isn’t it?

Are we then to assume that Jesus is simply employing his supernatural power in a way that is destructive, and he does so arbitrarily and he does so cynically? In other words, he was hoping that he would find some of the little green figs that would be present before the fullness of the fig tree emerged, and when he found that it wasn’t present, he just said, “Oh, well, forget that tree. I hope you’ll never, ever bear any figs at all.” And you will notice the “disciples heard him say it.”

Okay, well, here we go. We must go to our principle. What’s our principle? We take a statement that is difficult to understand, and we set it within the context of everything else we know about the individual who has just said what he said. Is it legitimate, then, for us to conclude that Jesus is acting in a way that is callous? The answer is no. Why not? Because of everything else we know about Jesus. Because of all of the way that his character unfolds. Because all of the way in which he works.

Now, of course, if we’re opposed to the notion that Jesus, in the totality of the revelation of himself, helps us to reach this conclusion—if we are looking for a way to oppose Christ—then, for sure, we can say, “Well, the only way that I could possibly understand this is in that way.” But no. The staggering thing about it is that it is a miracle of destruction, and everything that we’ve seen of Jesus has been a miracle of transformation or of restoration. So it ought to make us sit back and go, “Whoa!” So we have to say, “Well, would I be able to conclude that Jesus is just acting in this way? Has Jesus ever acted in this way?” No. “Therefore, it would be a complete aberration.” Yes. Okay, let me hold that thought.

Now, let me go to this question of the fig tree. What do I know about the fig tree? I get a concordance; I look up “fig tree.” I see, where do you get fig trees? Well, you find that when you read the Old Testament—and you’re going to have to trust me on this and follow up on your own—when you read the Old Testament, you discover that both the vine and the fig tree are used routinely as metaphors of the status of the people of Israel before God. It runs all the way through into the New Testament, as I hope we will see. For example, in Hosea chapter 9, God writes through the prophet Hosea,

When I found Israel,
it was like finding grapes in the desert;
when I saw your fathers,
it was like seeing the [earthly] fruit on the fig tree.[10]

And if you go and search your Old Testament, you will discover that the prophets spoke of this fig tree in reference to Israel’s status before God.

Far from the response of Jesus being arbitrary, it makes me wonder whether Jesus, who probably knew the entire Old Testament off by heart, whether Jesus looks on this scene… The occasion of it is a natural occasion: “I wouldn’t mind a fig right now.” He gets there, there’s no figs. Does his mind go to Micah 7:1? You say, “Well, I don’t know what Micah 7:1 is.” I’m going to tell you what it is. This is what Micah 7:1 says:

What misery is mine!
I am like one who gathers summer fruit
at the gleaning of the vineyard;
there is no cluster of grapes to eat,
none of the early figs … I crave.

Jesus looks on this scene, having ridden in as the King to the headquarters of religion, observing the ceremonialism, observing the legalism, observing the utter emptiness that is represented in the activities of religion in the temple, and he says, “This is exactly it. Look at this thing.”

So we know what we know of Jesus, we have an inkling of what we know about the fig tree in its place, so then, what possible explanation is there for what he does? Here is my conclusion; it’s not unique to me: but what Jesus is doing here is an acted parable, that what Jesus does here is an expression of what we refer to as prophetic symbolism. That he is using the fig tree to set forth the judgment that is about to fall on Jerusalem. He’s doing in this action what he then exemplifies in the cleansing of the temple that follows.

And as I mentioned, in Luke chapter 19—which I think I misquoted. Yes, I did; I collapsed two things into one. Remember, as he approached Jerusalem, he “saw the city, he wept over it.”[11] He said, “If you’d only known what brings you peace—it’s hidden from your eyes.” And then he says, “The day is going to come when your enemies will surround you. They will not leave one stone on another”[12]—now, here’s the implication—“because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”[13] “Because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” What has he said at the beginning of Mark? “The time [is fulfilled]. … The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”[14] And people are going about their religious activities without any consideration of these things at all.

What Jesus is doing here is an acted parable, an expression of what we refer to as prophetic symbolism. He is using the fig tree to set forth the judgment that is about to fall on Jerusalem.

And just as from a distance this fig tree gave the impression of a fruitfulness that wasn’t there, so these people gave the appearance of being able to satisfy a hunger, but it wasn’t so. You remember that Jesus had already addressed them. We saw this when we studied, in Mark chapter 7, when they had come to him—the Pharisees and teachers of the law—and they were accusing Jesus of not paying particular attention to the ceremonial accretions to the law of God, and how his disciples were eating food with hands that were unclean, and they were not eating and observing the washing of the cups and the pitchers and the kettles. And Jesus says to them, he says, “Guys, come on!” And then he quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. He says, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
 but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
 their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and [you’]re holding on to the traditions of men.”[15] That’s in the background of this.

Now he comes into the very heart of it in the temple in Jerusalem, and what does he find? Chaos where there should be the glory of God, and the holding out of the prospect of living water and fruit that would satisfy, exemplified in a tree that is precocious in its exemplification, but it is absolutely useless in terms of what it has to offer.

And so, in verse 20, “In the morning, as they went along,” they see “the fig tree withered from the roots.” And Peter recalls Jesus’ words, and if you have an NIV in front of you, you will notice that the second half of the sentence, it possesses two exclamation marks: one after the word “look”—“Rabbi, look!” Of course, which it wasn’t there in the original; we’ve added these things to try and help. The translator obviously feels that not only one exclamation mark but two exclamation marks are justifiable: “The fig tree you cursed has withered!” By these exclamation marks, the translator is suggesting that there is an element of surprise in the response of Peter. Maybe they’re right.

In which case, is the element of surprise on account of the fact that it happened? Or is the element of surprise on account of the fact of the speed at which it happened? Because in the natural process of things, growth and decay take time. You don’t plant a tree one night and have a huge, big tree growing in your yard the following morning, do you? And the trees that are disintegrating in your yard are disintegrating rather slowly. They’ve begun to die. They give the evidences of death—there’s no longer leaves up there, and then slowly it comes down, eventually. But you don’t usually get up in the morning and say, “My oh my, look at this! This whole tree is rotten from the roots.” And that’s what they discovered: “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” I just put in my notes, I just wrote down, “Jesus said, ‘Tell me something I don’t know.’”

And for those of you who want to pursue this—I just made a note to myself to come back to it later and not now, because we need to finish—but I made a note to myself to say, I wonder if there’s something here in this process that helps me think through the issue of the age of the universe. Okay? Because as you know, some people will argue for a very, very old universe. Because the scientists have told us, “You can’t have a young earth. It’s gotta be a very old earth. The only way that this thing could get like this…” And you read it every day in the Wall Street, the New York Times; they tell you it’s the 700, 900, 7 million-thousand-billion years since Mr. So-and-So, you know, had done this. And if you’re a sensible person, you look at that, and you go, “Where did they get that from?” And then they say, “Well, you couldn’t be so silly as to believe that the earth is a young earth.” Yes, I could. Why? Because the Creator of the universe has the power to change the program as he chooses.

Now, whether he has or whether he hasn’t, in relation to the dating of the earth, you know, you can go away and think about that all afternoon as you choose. But all the thing that struck me was, the reason it’s so dramatic is because instantaneously the structure and the status of this tree is transformed, not in the natural process of decay but as a result of the supernatural activity of the creator God. So that the same God who made the universe can make it any way he chooses and has the power to make something that is very young look very old, for whatever reason. Unless, of course, you want to make Jesus subject to the natural processes of contemporary science—or whether you would like to have contemporary science bow before the majesty of a God who created, in moments of time, the universe that we now inhabit.

We finish in this way. Jesus makes no attempt to interpret the event. I think you should be a little disappointed by that; I was. Because if there was something in between verse 21 and 22 in which Jesus says, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, of course, and let me tell you why that is, and maybe even a little bit about the age of the earth,” that would be absolutely super. But no, how do I get from 21 to 22? How do I get to “Have faith in God”? We’ll have to leave that for next time. But if we just had this issue of fruit, I say to myself as I’m sitting there—and you’re with me now, hoping that we’re going to finish soon—how are we to apply this? What possible relevance does this have to people who are about to walk out into suburban Cleveland, so far away from fig trees and temples?

Well, we need to remind ourselves of one of the principles with which we began, which was that we need to make sure that we interpret a difficult passage in light of all of Scripture. Therefore, we should sit at our Bibles and think for a minute, Is there anywhere in the Bible that we have, really, an application of this? Because what you have in this dramatic instance is this great drama, this great warning, of impending judgment. It is symbolized—prophetically symbolized—in the destruction of this tree instantaneously. Then if you think about that for a little while, you say to yourself, “Yeah, I think there is somewhere that we can go.” And where would that be? Well, it would be to Romans chapter 11.

And in Romans chapter 11, Paul is teaching concerning the remnant of Israel, concerning the purposes of God in putting together a people of his very own. He is giving instruction to the gentiles, so that we might understand our place: that we are grafted in to something that God has already begun to do, that God has not changed his plan, he’s not changed his mind, he doesn’t operate on two different systems. We have the privilege of being included in the company of those that are marked under the banner of Abraham, who “believed God, and it was credited to him [for] righteousness.”[16] And Paul says, “If … branches have been broken off,” as they have—and this is verse 17—“if some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot”—namely, gentile believers—“have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you [find yourself boasting], consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” If you get this, he says, “You will [then] say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off”—notice—“[by] unbelief, and you stand by faith.”[17]

Now, that helps us, ’cause our next word is faith, isn’t it? Jesus says, “Let me tell you, if you got faith…” That’s where we’re going: “They were broken off because of unbelief … you stand by faith.” Here’s the exhortation: “Do[n’t] be arrogant, [instead] be afraid.”[18] Why would we be afraid? Verse 21: “For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.” “If he entered into judgment for the unbelief of those whom he had called as a people to himself,” says Paul, “don’t think for a moment that he will not operate in the same way in relationship to you.”

We need to make sure that we interpret a difficult passage in light of all of Scripture.

Then you would say to yourself, “Well, that makes me think of John’s Gospel. That makes me think of Jesus saying, ‘I am the vine; [and] you are the branches.’[19] That makes me think of his statement, ‘He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.’”[20]

Jesus comes to the center of religious life, as represented in the temple, looking for prayerfulness and looking for fruitfulness, and he discovers neither. The barren fig tree, emblematic of a ceremonial, religious legalism that created the notion of satisfying the hungry heart—but when the people got up to it, there was nothing there to satisfy. And for some of us, that is all that we’ve known of our consideration of the Bible: Rules. Regulations. The idea that if I do this, God will do this. A kind of quid pro quo. And we’ve come again and again, only to find hunger in our hearts. Some of us have actually decided to embrace that as a form of religion. And the warning of Paul is a warning we must face: “If he didn’t spare the natural branches” on account of unbelief, “he will not spare you either.”

Next time, we come to the necessity of faith, the necessity of forgiveness. But for now, we end with the challenge of fruitfulness.

Father, thank you that your Word demands the best of us—that at its very core, when we stand back from it, it’s just a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, that when we stand up close to it and we examine the details, there is much to challenge, there is so much that makes demands upon our thinking. So for those of us who just want to feel something, it all just seems a little elaborate, a little too remote.

And I pray that you would help us to understand that this message of the Bible is actually historical; that these things really took place. That it is rational; that it actually makes sense. And that it is empirical, inasmuch as we can put it to the test; that we can actually “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[21] So accomplish your purposes, we pray.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be the abiding portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.

[1] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Mark, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, ed. C. F. D. Moule (1959; repr., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 354.

[2] Acts 8:30–31 (NIV 1984).

[3] Mark 10:25 (paraphrased).

[4] John 10:9 (KJV).

[5] Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19 (NIV 1984).

[6] Mark 13:2 (NIV 1984).

[7] Luke 19:41 (NIV 1984).

[8] Luke 13:34–35; 19:42–43 (paraphrased).

[9] Zechariah 9:9 (NIV 1984).

[10] Hosea 9:10 (NIV 1984).

[11] Luke 19:41 (NIV 1984).

[12] Luke 19:42–44 (paraphrased).

[13] Luke 19:44 (NIV 1984).

[14] Mark 1:15 (NIV 1984).

[15] Mark 7:6–8 (NIV 1984).

[16] Galatians 3:6 (NIV 1984).

[17] Romans 11:17–20 (NIV 1984).

[18] Romans 11:20 (NIV 1984).

[19] John 15:5 (NIV 1984).

[20] John 15:2 (NIV 1984).

[21] Psalm 34:8 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.