If you travel overseas, you quickly discover that knock-off brands are big business. You can find Cheddar Cheese Guppies instead of Goldfish crackers; Crust toothpaste; and Arm & Hatchet Baking Soda. You will see several varieties of NIKE sportswear—KNIE, NKIE, and NEKI. There are even more varieties of KFC Chicken—FBC; KFG; KLG; and MFC. On one trip to Moscow or Kiev, I saw a Kentucky Beirut Chicken store. There is Bucksstar, Sunbucks, and Stars & Bucks Coffee stores.
Some people are cheap imitations as well. When we lived in Texas, we referred to someone who talked a good line but didn’t follow through as “all hat, no cattle.” Others look extremely busy but accomplish so little. Churches can fill their calendars and schedules with a multitude of good ministries and activities and yet make so little impact in the community.
In Mark 11:12-25, Jesus passes judgment on the nation of Israel for settling for cheap substitutes. They settled for appearance without substance and activity without worship. This is illustrated through two enacted parables as Jesus pronounces judgment on the fig tree (12-14, 20-21) and the temple (15-17). Since both represent Israel, Jesus is ultimately pronouncing God’s judgment on the nation.
The day after his entrance into Jerusalem (11:1-11), Jesus is returning to the city. He sees a fig tree in full bloom (12-13). It is filled with leaves but no fruit. Normally, the fig tree would produce small, edible green buds in March. By April, the time of the Passover, all the leaves would appear. The full fruit would come later in June. The presence of leaves indicated that fruit was present. However, that was not the case and Jesus condemned the tree to a fruitless existence (14).
How many times do we settle for the appearance of success? We may have money, the right address, a nice house, new cars, material possessions, the perfect family, status, and the respect of our neighbors and coworkers. From an outward perspective, we have it all. But is there any fruit in our lives? Do we demonstrate godly character? Is our faith deepening? Are our prayers being answered? Are people coming to Christ through our testimony? Is our service effective? Are we making an impact in the community? Rather than settling for the outward appearance of success, Jesus expects us to be fruitful in every season.
Jesus entered Jerusalem and proceeded to the temple (15). He found the temple filled with commercial ventures—exchanging money, selling animals and supplies—as well as those using the temple as a shortcut through the city. Jesus drove the merchants out and wouldn’t allow people to pass through carrying their products (15-16). He reminded the people that the temple was to be a place where everyone could worship regardless of their ethnicity (17).
We can be guilty of the same violations today. We can fill our lives with seemingly good activities—work, school, soccer practice, Sunday School, caring for parents, serving on a board or committee, bowling, serving in Awana or Celebrate Recovery—and yet never have any time to worship or listen for God’s voice. We can easily substitute activity for worship.
As Jesus and the disciples left the city, Peter was surprised the see the fig tree Jesus condemned had withered from the roots up (20-21). Jesus reminded them to have faith in God (22) because he can do what is humanly impossible (23). The prayer offered in faith can overcome insurmountable odds (24).
Don’t settle for appearance without substance or activity without worship. Instead, center your life on Jesus Christ. A life centered on Christ can have a deep and lasting impact.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 6, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.