Bible Passage: Mark 11:1-26
Everything looks great on the outside, but inside you feel stagnate, lifeless, dead. Jonathan Pugh talks about how we become healthy-looking, fruitless trees.
Discussion Question: What’s the greatest hindrance to spiritual maturity?
Before we get into tonight’s discussion. Have you ever known a person who worked a ton, made a ton of money, owned a bunch of stuff but had no savings and no pathway to retirement because they were up to their eyeballs in debt? I’ve known a few people throughout my life that lived that way. When I first go to know them, I thought man, they are rolling in the dough! They have this great job, do all this cool stuff, and own all these cool things! But later I found out they were drowning in debt, with no savings, no pathway at all to retire and literally standing on the brink of financial disaster! On the outside they looked RICH but once you peeled back the layers they were actual in utter poverty and ended up losing everything but a bunch of debt! Now, what’s that have to do with tonight’s conversation?
In our passage this past Sunday Jesus cursed a Fig Tree for looking healthy but having no fruit. Let me read you the passage again,
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
There are a variety of things this action could have highlighted but I believe the main point was to point out the reality of the spiritual life in Israel at the time. This reality was seen even greater during the Passover which is what was happening as Jesus entered Jerusalem. The city would grow to over a million people during this celebration and temple was the center piece of attention. When Jesus went in and started flipping over table and rebuking everybody the place was packed! The vibe in Jerusalem and in the Temple during Passover would look to any outsider to be all about God. A million plus people making sacrifices, offering prayers and singing hymns all over the city! Surely nation of Israel was in a place of spiritual maturity? But just a few days later they crowds were demanding Christ’s crucifixion, so there’s that; which also explains why Jesus was flipping tables over! Despite the fact that there was a ton of energy and a ton of religious stuff going one; the people of Israel by in large were not spiritually mature worshipers of Yahweh. However, from the outside you have never guessed it, because like the Fig Tree that Jesus cursed, if all you saw was that tree from a distance you have thought it was full of fruit, but once you got up close and looked behind all the limbs and leaves there wasn’t any!
So often in our lives we end up looking spiritual, looking spiritually mature, but we aren’t – there’s not fruit, just a bunch of leaves! How does that happen? How do we we end up the spiritual resemblance of the guy who works a ton, makes a ton of money, has a ton of stuff but has no savings, is in debt up to his eye balls and has no pathway to ever retire despite having made tons of money?
Tonight we want to give your 4 Biblical hindrances to spiritual maturity. 4 things that if you don’t address will leave you totally fruitless, no matter how many “spiritual leaves” you may appear to have grown.
Hindrance #1 – Religious Performance versus Intimate Relationship
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:4-10)
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:16-24)
BIG IDEA – ABIDING means to focus on a personal relationship with God to KNOW Him rather than a RELGIOUS relationship whereby you perform a bunch of stuff.
BIG IDEA – Galatians 5 shows the fruit of living a religious life! SIN!
Hindrance #2 – Immediate Gratification versus Long Term Fulfillment
BIG IDEA – Back through the same passages we just looked at to make that point that relationship with God defined by mountain tops rather than a day today walk end up a disaster. Abiding is a steadfast and steady relationship. Paul called us to WALK in the Spirit as opposed to RUN. IN the parable of the seed and the sower the seed that get’s the instant and rapid gratification has no root and dies as soon as the Sun get’s hot! Spirituality that is dependent on and defined by youth camp and a revival will never experience maturity and health. It will look like a tree with a bunch of leaves on it for a season but it will never bear fruit.
Hindrance #3 – Excusing Sin
1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2″Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ 5″For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’–only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. (Jeremiah 7:1-12)
The temple was the heart of the life of Judah. Jeremiah takes his stand at one of the gateways to the temple courtyard, through which large numbers of people were streaming (2), probably coming for one of the great feasts of the year (Ex. 23:14–17). The sermon is thus a highly visible challenge to the official religion and to the practices of the mass of the people. It was an act of great courage (as the account of it in ch. 26 shows).1
“The substance of the sermon is contained in vs 3–11. Jeremiah calls the people to repent, showing that they are in grave danger but that they can still avert it (3). He mocks the empty words of contemporary ritual (4) and shows that true religion consists in act as well as religious performance (5–6; cf. on 5:20–28). The basis for right action is the well-known laws of God, given in the covenant; a number of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:2–17) are alluded to in v 9, bringing together religious (following other gods) and social sins. Because of the lives which the people of Judah are living, their confidence as they stand before God has very poor foundations. A large part of the problem is the false trust which the mere possession of the temple and its rituals inspires. Borrowing from Canaanite ideas, the people had persuaded themselves that this amounted to a kind of guarantee of God’s presence and protection. Jeremiah shows the folly of this by pointing to an uncomfortable precedent (12–15). The shrine at Shiloh, which had been the central sanctuary for all Israel long before Jerusalem, was now no more, the victim, we suppose, of the Philistine wars. If Shiloh could fall, why not Jerusalem? In our day too there is no bastion of church establishment which may consider itself sacrosanct; all are called to a living faithfulness.”2
“Those who came to the Temple had been guilty of stealing, murder, adultery, and false swearing. They had sacrificed to Baal and walked after other gods as well. Yet because they went through the motions of rendering homage to Yahweh, they thought they were safe. What was worse, they thought this hypocritical lifestyle could continue unabated. They had turned the Temple into a refuge for those who had committed criminal acts. That sacred place was nothing but “a den of robbers!” Their spiritual duplicity had not gone unnoticed by Yahweh (7:8–11).”3
“Jeremiah cited two examples which should have refuted the notion that the presence of the Temple guaranteed national survival. First, he urged his auditors to consider the fate of the sacred town of Shiloh. For over three hundred years after Joshua had conquered the land, Shiloh had been the worship center of Israel. In the days of Eli and Samuel that sacred place had been destroyed by the Philistines “because of the wickedness of my people Israel.” Judah had done similar wickedness, and had spurned every effort of God to call them to repentance. God therefore would do to the Temple and to Jerusalem what he had done to Shiloh (7:12–14).”4
Hindrance #4 – Not Being Grounded in the Word
9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10)
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Big IDEA – People can appear to have all kinds of spiritual depth and life but if they are not grounded in God’s Word, if they are not growing with the roots of their spirituality digging into the depth of the knowledge of the Gospel in the Bible then they will look like the fig tree with all the leaves and have no fruit! They can have all the outward presentation of spirituality down but if they are not living off the nutrients in God’s Word they will not bear the fruit of the Spirit and they wither and die.
Illustration – Story told by Lawson of Ravi preaching all the time but never actually preaching the Bible. Appeared to be a man whose relationship with God was not grounded in Scripture and we found out after his death his life was filled with not just sinful sexual immorality but unethical and illegal sexual conduct.
- McConville, J. G. (1994). Jeremiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st-century edition (4th ed., pp. 679–680). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
- McConville, J. G. (1994). Jeremiah. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 680). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
- Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets (p. 211). Joplin, MO: College Press.
- Smith, J. E. (1992). The Major Prophets (p. 212). Joplin, MO: College Press.