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Well once again, everybody, good morning. Good to be with you guys. That was terrible. Good morning. Good morning. Much better, much better. We’ve celebrated our kids and the kids did a great job, but we should also thank the parents who had brought the kids here last couple of weeks so they could practice and then brought ’em here today. So can we take a moment and just say thank you to mom and dad as well? And I’m looking at some of the volunteers who helped make it happen as well. Thank you guys for all the hard work that you did just in getting all of this ready. It was an awesome day, awesome day. You just heard from the kids that today is Palm Sundays this day where they were waving palm branches as Jesus rode into town. And this impromptu parade breaks out. It’s a pretty significant day and it really, it marks the week leading up to then Easter, but it’s not just Palm Sunday.

We’re also in a series today called Empty where we are looking at the empty objects in the final week of Jesus before his death and his resurrection. And we’re discovering as we look at the story of these empty objects, we’re discovering how God brings good news out of the empty each week. And so this week we continue, and what I love about this series is we’re not just talking about the empty objects and stuff, but we’re really just telling the story, just letting the story breathe and speak for itself. Because if you think about it, really it’s the story that changed people’s lives. Millions of people through thousands of years. They just hear the story and it touches them. And that’s kind of how God works, right? It’s interesting. God doesn’t right away come at us with facts and figures and doctrinal bullet points for us to memorize about him.

He comes in the story and it’s the story of God redeeming humanity. And actually in the early church, it was a very oral tradition. They just told the story to one another. And when a story is told, it engages our brain like facts and figures. But then when a story comes in, it floods us with oxytocin and dopamine and endorphins, and our brain is supercharged and flooded to receive story differently. And of course, God would want to engage with us that way. And so we’re just sitting down and letting the story speak for itself. And in this series we’re sitting, so to speak, crisscross at the feet of those who were the eyewitnesses of these stories and letting them just tell the story to us. People like Matthew, mark, John, just listening to the story. And so the story, what else I like about the series is it lets us tell some parts of the story that are somewhat overlooked or unheralded and forgotten because of these big Palm Sunday and Good Friday and stuff like that.

And right after Palm Sunday, the story continues that Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Actually, I like to think about after the parade scene was over and there’s palm branches over the ground, but then there’s palm trees that are all stripped. I mean, if there’s hundreds and thousands of people, they’re all tearing off palm branches. That means there’s just big empty sticks stuck in the ground. It looks like telephone poles outside of Jerusalem. And for a couple of weeks everyone’s like, why are there no palm branches? You got a disease around here, this guy, Jesus. So that’s kind of a funny thing to think about, but that’s not the empty tree that we’re looking at today. It’s coming up a little bit later on. So Jesus rides into Jerusalem and he goes into the heart of the city, the heart of Judaism. He goes to this place called the Temple, and when he gets to the temple, he dismounts from his donkey and he walks in and there’s only certain gates.

And so this huge crowd that’s following him kind of bottlenecks, and they all funnel in through this gate. But when Jesus goes in there, he’s expecting to see, he’s going there to pray, to be with the Father, to be in this place where heaven touches earth and commune with God there. But when he gets there, that’s now what he finds. He doesn’t see people connecting with God. He sees people haggling over prices because Jewish and Roman coins had a graven image of Caesar on them or Herod, and you couldn’t bring a graven image into the temple. And so you had to exchange that coin for a special temple only coin, kind of like if you go to Chuck E Cheese and you get Chuck E cheese coins that are no good anywhere else. Same concept. Same concept, right? And so they’re exchanging these coins, but it’s at exorbitant prices. And then you take those coins and you buy an animal to be sacrificed at the temple. And of course those are also sold at inflated prices. It’s highway robbery, price gouging. And this just infuriates Jesus because he sees this place where man is supposed to be connecting with God, and all man is doing is placing hurdles between man and God and limiting. He sees all this greed and this theft and injustice and it just infuriates him.

And so he walks up to one of these tables where money changers are exchanging money, and he just grabs the table and flips it over and the money just goes scattering the sound of coins just hitting stone and scrambling all throughout the temple there. And then people start shouting, but he’s not done. He walks over to the bench of the people who are selling animals and he picks up the bench and he throws the bench over and it breaks into pieces splintered wood, and then the animals like doves in cages start flapping their wings furiously and the animals start bleeding and crying out in panic. And Jesus is watching just causing this commotion, but nobody stops him because he’s got a crowd of supporters with him. And then above all of this commotion, all of this yelling and shouting, Jesus raises his voice. A few moments earlier, people were raising their voices and shouting the words of the prophets. And Jesus chooses to shout his own words of the prophets in the middle of the temple. And he says, it is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.

And if you think I’m being excessive and over the top, it’s kind of the point.

It gets real quiet, kind of like a dozen here. And there’s this crowd that’s kind of forms a semicircle around him as they’re watching him and he’s standing in the middle chests, heaving, breathing heavy, his eyes dilated, forehead glistening with sweat, he’s angry, and it’s a few pregnant moments of silence like this. And then someone breaks the tension. A cripple man comes crawling forward and seizes this opportunity and asks Jesus to heal him. And even in his anger, Jesus kind of snaps out of it, reaches his hand forward, touches the man and heals him, and then someone leads a blind man to him and asks for healing and Jesus heals him. And every healing, the crowd cheers. And every time the crowd cheers, the crowd grows. And soon there are Jewish religious leaders, skeptics, mingled in throughout the crowd and they’re standing on their toes, looking over the heads in front of them, looking down their noses, trying to see what Jesus is doing, and then mutter to one another, scoffing at him. This is not how the Messiah would act. He’s desecrating God’s temple. He’s touching unclean people and they ask Jesus a few questions to try to trap him in his words, and he evades them and ends up making them look stupid.

And the sun starts to set behind the walls of the temple, and evening is drawing close. And so Jesus and his disciples, it’s unsafe for them to stay in Jerusalem because they could be arrested. These religious leaders want to kill him. They decide to leave town. They leave through the gates of Jerusalem, they go down this what’s called the Kidron Valley, and then they climb up this mount of olives that’s just outside the city. And then they kind of make this two mile journey through a village called Bethany or Bethpage, and then eventually end up at a village called Bethany where they stay at the stone cottage of this man called Simon the leper. He’s not a leper anymore, he was. And they have dinner, they finish eating and they kind of turn in for the night. Their minds racing with the events of the day, the parade, the confrontation with the money changers, the healings, the debates. There’s a long day. The next morning when the sun rises, they rise and they do whatever good faithful Jew does. They start their morning off with a prayer blessing the Lord, and then they repeat the words of the Shema hero, Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one. And they remind themselves of that as they go about their day.

But there’s no breakfast at Simon’s house. They’ve eaten ’em out of house and home. And 12 guys shacking up in a house will tend to clean your cupboards and they’re hungry. They need to get breakfast. And so they head towards Jerusalem to get something to eat. And it’s still very early. There’s maybe some birds singing, but it’s very early, so they’re not having a whole lot of conversation as they walk. The only sound you hear is the sound of sandals scraping against rocks and dirt as they make their way back up the hill towards Jerusalem. But then suddenly Jesus stops and the group stops with him and he steps off the road to the side of the road and walks over to a fig tree. Figs are like the most common food in the region. It’s called the common food of the common man. It’s full of iron and potassium and it’s widely accessible in the region grows everywhere. For us, we don’t really eat a lot of figs unless we load it up with sugar. And if you want to buy figs, you got to go to a specialty grocery store like Horrocks.

Some of y’all are thinking we should go to Horrocks after church, tell ’em we sent you.

But these figs are a little bit smaller than a golf ball. It’s actually kind of interesting to think about how a fig grows, like a lot of flowering fruit trees, it starts with flowers and the petals fall off, and then what remains is this small hard seed, and then it’s actually pollinated with wasps and they burrow into the seed. And then there’s just this amazing orchestration like, give me a break. All of this, all of this is required to make a fig because the tree then uses the nutrients from the wasps along with soil and water and air and sunlight. It’s crazy. And begins to pump these seeds full of nutrients and the seeds start to expand and get bloated. And then when it gets large enough, it releases a gas called ethanol and it releases this gas and it discolors the seed and turns it purple softens it makes it ripe to eat. It’s remarkable. This happens in millions of trees all over the world all the time. But when Jesus walks up to this fig tree, he kind of reaches his hand through the branches and he’s like looking and hear the sound of leaves rustling, and he grabs another branch and looks

And he can’t find any figs. It’s a barren fig tree. It is unfruitful, it is bearing no fruit. And he takes the branch and he kind of tosses aside and he turns around and he raises his voice Yet again, may you never bear fruit again. And he starts to walk away. When somebody’s having a bad day and they’re doing the dishes later on in the day, and then they’re taking the Tupperware and they just start thrashing it around and you’re like, oh gosh, this is not about the Tupperware, is it? Right? It’s exactly what’s going on here. This is hangry Jesus, like thrashing tough around what is really going on here, right? What is this about? This is so uncharacteristic for Jesus for two days now. He’s just angry and turning over money, change of tables and cursing fig trees. This is the Jesus that doesn’t fit in our box. He’s untamed undomesticated by us. I mean he’s God. He’s going to do what he wants. And this is one of those moments where we’re just like, I don’t have you figured out. And then impossibly, after he curses the fig tree, the biographer of Jesus, Matthew who’s there as an eyewitness, he writes

That the tree begins to crack and the sound of cracking wood and wilting leaves and all of a sudden this tree starts to wither and die instantly. And the disciples are aghast. They’ve seen miracles before. They’ve seen especially miracles with the natural world. They’ve seen Jesus turn water to wine, walk on water, calm a storm, multiply bread. They’ve seen him do that kind of stuff. But this is the first recorded miracle where Jesus uses his powers to destroy strange. And the disciples tell him, look, the fig tree you just cursed is withered. But he offers no explanation. He just walks away and they’re like, I guess we’re going to Jerusalem again. And they follow him and they just are left kind of wrestling with the question, what does this mean? And they start thinking about fig trees. Their mind has to be racing with the idea of fig trees. Wait a minute, okay,

Adam and Eve, God used fig leaves to cover them. Maybe he’s taken it or the prophets would talk about how when times are good, everyone will have their own fig tree to sit beneath. And when times are bad, all the fig trees will be destroyed. Maybe this is something, I don’t know, maybe their mind goes back to John the Baptist who talked about when the Christ comes, it’s like the axe is at the root of the tree. And every tree that does not bear fruit, he will cut down and throw into the fire. No idea. What does he mean? I don’t know. And some of you are here today and you just need to hear this. This is the only thing you need to hear. You’ve got questions for God, and you haven’t heard an answer yet. I know it’s hard to live in the question, but you’re in good company. Faith is living in the question. Then three days later, three days later, it’s the Passover meal. They’re staying upstairs in this house in the middle of Jerusalem celebrating the Passover meal, very important meal in Jewish faith. And they’ve had the bread, they’ve eaten lamb, they’ve drank the wine, and they drank some wine and they drank some wine. I mean, there’s a lot of wine in this meal, a lot of cups of blessing.

And then at the end of the meal, Jesus is starting to give his disciples his farewell words. This is his last words before his arrest, trial and execution. So these words matter. These words, what I’m saying is really important, and they pray together and then he starts teaching them. And while he’s teaching him, he finally closes the loop on this idea of bearing fruit, and he brings up this language of bearing fruit yet again. He’s like, guys, my father is the gardener, and he cuts off every branch in me. He says like, I’m the vine. You’re the branches. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit. There’s that word again. While every branch that does bear fruits, he prunes ouch so that it will become even more fruitful. But you cannot bear fruit unless you remain in me. And then he says this, this is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my students, my followers, my disciples. You didn’t choose me. I chose you and appointed you to go bear fruit. Fruit that will last eternal fruit and it suddenly starts to make sense. This whole thing about the fig tree and why he cursed the fig tree that was bearing no fruits.

The fruit is not for the tree. The fruit is to feed others.

And you are planted where you are that you might bear fruit so that others may live. Lemme say that again. You are planted where you are so that you might bear fruit so that others may live so much of this Christian life. We’re like, oh, okay, I’m going to church. Check box school did my offering, check box sang a song check box in this like this, me, me, me, me. It’s all for me. And what did I get out of church this day and what did I get out of this Bible study and my prayer life and my faith, it’s very private and personal to me. It’s me, me, me, no.

This Christian life becoming like Jesus, growing in the word, growing in prayer, growing in giving, growing in service, growing to become like Jesus is so that you might bear fruit so that others may live. So you glorify God and they look at you and they’re like, oh. And that they also receive faith, that they may taste the fruit and believe Martin Luther was talking about this one time and he’s like, if it was just about us praying and reading and worshiping, then it would be better for God to take us home the moment we believed. But he’s left us here that we might share our faith with those who have yet to believe. And that’s it. It’s fruit and this fruit is faith in Jesus, and you are to bear fruit so that others will come to faith. That’s the story of the empty fig tree and why Jesus got so angry by unfruitfulness. And in fact, it’s unfruitfulness that Jesus came in the first place and a few hours after he said this, he goes to another cursed tree, another tree that is dead across where he dies for our unfruitfulness and by his death bears new life, new fruit, that when we taste this fruit, we live forever. And the fruit is faith in Jesus alone. That’s it. When you place your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, you will not die. That’s what he says.

So like any movie or a story you go watch or a movie you watch, story you read, you get done with it, and you get in the car and you drive home from Oppenheimer and you talk about it and you try to figure out how that story intersects with your story.

And so let’s do that. This is a story. I could tie it up in a nice neat box and tell you this is what it means, but I don’t want to tell you what to think. I want to teach you how to think as well be critical thinkers. So think about this story for yourself. I asked this last week with the story of the empty jar. We’re asking it again this week with the story of the empty fig tree. When you hear the story of the empty fig tree, how does it apply to you? How do you respond to the story of the empty fig tree? How does the story of the empty fig tree apply to you?

How do You Respond to the Story of the Empty Fig Tree?

Maybe you’re convicted by your unfruitfulness, your unfaithfulness. Maybe you’re encouraged because the image of a fig tree, it’s got hundreds and if not thousands of figs growing off of it, and you’re just constantly bearing fruit and just waiting for someone to come. Taste it, be faithful. Don’t give up. Keep bearing fruits. That’s the story for you. Or maybe you hear this and you’re just overwhelmed by the thought of Jesus taking on the cursed tree for us and you’re just so grateful for his death and resurrection. How do you not the person next to you, not the person behind you, how do you respond to the story of the empty fig tree? How does the story of the empty fig tree apply to you? Take a couple moments, turn to the person next to you and talk about the story.

Love the discussion. I love the discussion. I’m like blown away by the insights. I’m not even going to share what they said because it’s personal to them, but just deep insights like, wow, you guys are next level. It’s very good regardless of if the story encourages you, challenges you, convicts you, however you respond to the story of the empty fig tree. The next step for all of us, it’s the same because next week is an opportunity to bear fruit. My friends, inside your bulletin, you should have received a card. In the top it says you are invited to Easter, your Sunday. Well, you’re invited, but you’re given this card to give to someone else to invite them.

Don’t say they’re not for them, especially if you keep bearing figs over and over and over, and they keep ghosting you and keep saying, no, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Just keep inviting. Don’t say they’re no for them. And when you ask them, don’t be like, Hey, I know you’re kind of busy like Easter and you’ve got the Easter eggs and mimosas, but you can just invite them with a question mark. Hey, you want to come to Easter Sunday with me and hand ’em the card? Don’t say they’re no for them. Put a question mark on it and see what they say. It’s that easy. And to someone you know are the closest they will ever come to experiencing Jesus. And it is the most important day of history and most important day of the year, it’s the linchpin moment. It’s the hinge moment.

It’s the reason we believe this resurrection. So I just encourage you to invite them. Most people, because it’s Easter, it’s just like Christmas. There’s something in the air they know we should probably be thinking about this. And so just reach out to the people in your life. Please, as we wrap up today, my friends, I feel like we should pray and then we’ll get in kind of the rest of the day. But a story like this, there’s just a lot to pray about. So I think that’s the best thing for us to do right now. Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your son Jesus to coming to be our king here at Palm Sunday. And then everything he went through as he went towards the cross, his resurrection from the tomb, thank you. I pray for any person in here who does not yet believe God.

And I pray that you would give them the gift of faith that this year would be a special year for them because they believe that Jesus rose from the dead for their salvation and eternal life. And God, I pray about the people in our lives that you want to reach. I ask by your Holy Spirit, you would come right now and just lay on our hearts. Who is it, Lord? Who is it that you want each of us individually to reach out to? And would you just press them on our hearts? And as you do, Lord, give us the courage to speak and the words to say is we invite them and God prepare their hearts to accept our invitation. This is what we ask because they ask as ours and the answer is yours.

And Lord, I pray for people in this room horror in a season of questioning you. And I just pray that you would strengthen their faith like you’ve strengthened the faith of so many others who have had questions while they follow you. I pray for any of us that are struggling with our unfruitfulness, that you would convict us, but as you convict us, you would forgive us and enable us to try again. And for any of us being encouraged, God, we thank you for this word today. When we don’t know what to pray, we just pray the words your Son taught us to pray. So we join our voices together saying, our Father, who arts in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen. Amen and amen.