The wise old sage from Ecclesiastes informs us that there is a time for everything. Jesus teaches us that there is also a purpose for everything. The key is to discover God’s purpose for all things in our life.
If something is not fulfilling its intended purpose, we need to take another look at it. Sometimes it may be best to display kindness in our response when someone strays from their purpose, but there are also times when a controlled harshness is necessary in order to effect change or to teach a lesson that will be remembered and implemented.
After Jesus entered Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Passover, He went to the place with which He was most familiar. “Jesus entered the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, He went to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11).
What did Jesus see as He looked around? He found things in the temple court that should not have been occurring. The outer court of the temple was designated as a place for Gentiles to pray and worship, but it had been taken over by those who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging the government currency for the temple shekel.
It was a convenience for the Israelites who came to worship and a means of financial gain for the merchants and moneychangers. They set up a permanent shop in a prime location that was rent free and heavily trafficked by potential customers. They even had the blessing of the priests to conduct business. The merchants became so comfortable selling their wares that they even brought tables and benches to make their location more permanent.
Jesus said, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:12). The house set aside for prayer had been converted into a place for economic gain.
Opportunists were present in Jesus’ day, and they still exist today. An opportunist is defined as someone who does something for his own gain to the detriment of another.
“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matt. 21:12). “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume Me’” (John 2:17).
Not everyone will accept lessons that others try to teach. Some may be offended or threatened when their ways are being overturned or destroyed. “The chief priests and teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill Him, for they feared Him, because the whole crowd was amazed at His teaching” (Mark 11:18).
Everything Jesus did was for an express purpose. The cursing of the fig tree teaches about the place of prayer in everyday life. Jesus is hungry and reaches for a fig from a fig tree and finds none because the season for ripened figs has not arrived. “Then [Jesus] said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And His disciples heard Him say it” (Mark 11:14).
Why would Jesus curse this fig tree? Whenever Jesus was involved in judgment, whether temple cleansing or fig tree cursing, He also included an important teaching. His hunger was probably not the lesson, for He had fed 5,000 people with very little. Jesus said, “My food is to do God’s will and accomplish His work” (John 4:34). “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt. 21:22).
What was occurring should not have been happening, and what was not occurring should have been happening. Our own life may sometimes follow this same pattern. Paul even indicated he sometimes didn’t do what he should have done and did what he shouldn’t. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15).
There are some questions we should ask ourselves concerning these two biblical lessons. Is there anything in my worship that does not belong or is unfruitful? Is there anything in my individual life that does not belong or is unfruitful? If your answer is “yes” to either of these questions, a good place to begin is to follow Jesus’ instruction to pray.
By Major Keith J. Welch