Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 3 2013 - Mark 11:1-25 – Nothing but leaves

In this morning's reading we come across the strange incident of Jesus' judgment on a fig tree. On his way into Jerusalem, Jesus is hungry and goes over to seek fruit from a fig tree which is in leaf. But not finding any fruit on it he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again" (Mark 11:14). The following morning, when they again pass the spot, the disciples notice that the tree has withered from the roots (11:20).

This seems to be a very strange incident, particularly as Mark tells us that it was not the season for figs. Why would Jesus pass such harsh judgment upon an unfortunate fig tree? It seems almost like a case of bad temper; it seems so out of character.

We should note the way that this incident is recorded in Mark. Between Jesus' words of judgment upon the fig tree and the disciples' discovery that it has withered we read of Jesus cleansing of the Temple. The two incidents are closely connected and we should interpret the one in terms of the other.

Jesus' actions in the temple are a fulfilment of Malachi 3:1-2, "'Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,' says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?" Jesus is the Lord come to his Temple; the Lord come in judgment upon his people. His actions that day in the Temple anticipate a greater judgment to come when the Temple and Jerusalem will be destroyed.

Jesus' judgment upon the fig tree is a prophetic enactment; it is symbolic of the judgment which is shortly to fall on a fruitless people. It proclaims the same message as is taught in the parable of the wicked tenants (12:1-12). This incident is recorded that it might be a challenge and warning to us also. The hymn by Lucy Akerman, written in the middle of the nineteenth century expresses it quaintly:

Nothing but leaves? The Spirit grieves
O'er years of wasted life;
O'er sins indulged while conscience slept,
O'er vows and promises unkept,
And reap, from years of strife,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! No gathered sheaves
Of life's fair rip'ning grain:
We sow our seeds; lo! tares and weeds,
Words, idle words, for earnest deeds.
Then reap, with toil and pain,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! Sad mem'ry weaves
No veil to hide the past;
And as we trace our weary way,
And count each lost and misspent day,
We sadly find at last,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Ah, who shall thus the Master meet,
And bring but withered leaves?
Ah, who shall, at the Saviour's feet,
Before the awful judgment seat,
Lay down, for golden sheaves,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

What an indictment of our lives if, having professed to follow Jesus, nothing of his character, nothing of his beauty, nothing of his compassionate and loving devotion to the needs of others, can be discovered in our lives – nothing but fruitless show. Rather, let this be our prayer and continual passion:

Make my life a bright outshining
  Of thy life, that all may see
Thine own resurrection power
  Mightily put forth in me;
Ever let my heart become
  Yet more consciously thy home.

Mar 3 2019 - Psalm 23 – The Lord our shepherd

David had been a shepherd boy, looking after his father's sheep. He had led them to places where there was green pasture for them to feed on. He had sought out streams of fresh water for them in a dry land. He had protected them from wild animals that threatened them, from the paw of the bear and of the lion; he had risked his life to keep his sheep from harm.

His experience in caring for sheep had set him thinking – perhaps even composing this psalm while at watch on the mountainside one night. He had realised that just as he cared for, protected and provided for his sheep so also, in a far more wonderful way, God cared for and looked after him. What an amazing thought is expressed in these simple words, "The Lord is my shepherd." David has come to see that the creator of the universe cared intimately for him and was concerned about the detailed circumstances of his life. He is loved by God.

But this beautiful and much loved psalm was intended to be used by all of God's people in their worship; it is not a private psalm. It speaks of God's wonderful care for each one of us. It reminds us that God's care of us extends into every day of our lives to the day of our death and then beyond: we will "dwell in the house of the Lord forever." David had come to realise that God's tender care of those he has made his own never comes to an end. We need not be afraid of anything but can confidently rest in God's care of us in life and in death.

Notice how this psalm speaks of the Lord, our Shepherd, leading us: "He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." In the Middle East, a shepherd would lead his sheep. He would not drive them along in front of him, let alone send a dog to round them up. The shepherd would call to his sheep and lead them in the way he wanted them to go; they, in turn, would recognise his voice and follow him. They would not need to go anywhere that the shepherd had not gone before them.

But not only is the Lord our Shepherd who goes before us, his goodness and mercy also follow us all the days of our life. We are surrounded by the protective hand of the Lord who will enable us to triumph over all that threatens us.

The psalm points us to the Lord Jesus who spoke of himself as the Good Shepherd. He cares for us and has loved us so much that he laid down his life for us that we might be saved from death. And not only did he die for us, he is also raised from the dead for us and lives for ever as the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He calls us to follow him. He leads us in paths of righteousness and refreshes or restores our souls. He protects us from all those powers that threaten us so that nothing will separate us from the love of God our Father in Christ Jesus. He fills us with joy in his presence. His goodness and love never leave us; they pursue us all the days of our life. He is the Great Shepherd who ensures that not one of those who have been given into his care will be lost.

And he calls us to follow him; to walk the path he has walked. We are to care for one another as he cares for us. He calls us also to have compassion upon a world of people who are like sheep without a shepherd. He calls us to join him in seeking those who are lost and urging them to return to the one who alone can be the Shepherd of their souls.

Father God, thank you for this wonderful psalm. Thank you especially for the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Great Shepherd of the sheep. Help me always to hear his voice and follow him. Refresh my soul today and lead me in paths of righteousness for your name's sake. Deliver me from all evil. Comfort me with your presence and lead me to glory.

Peter Misselbrook