Perhaps you've taken this for granted, or maybe you haven't even thought about it, but my question for you today is--Was Jesus nice?
Movies that involve time travel hold no appeal for me. However, as I mentioned in our last Morning Briefing, to understand what is being said in Scripture, we need to read it with both the historical and religious context in mind.
Jesus has told his disciples he is going to die—just how soon, they do not know. But upon entering Jerusalem, they are living Jesus’ last few days. Mark devotes a full six chapters to these six days of the Savior’s life in which we learn a lot about Jesus. Jesus, described as meek and mild… but was he nice? Is meekness weakness? I am afraid we perceive it to be so.
The cheering crowds singing out Jesus’ praises on Sunday trigger the Jewish religious leaders to find any way they might destroy the rabbi from Nazareth. The things Jesus does, the things he says in the several days before his enemies succeed take on special significance I believe.
Hmmm…was Jesus nice? No. I do not think he was. Oh sure, he was kind, compassionate, empathetic and tender, but nice? What was Jesus like as a person? How would he have scored on a personality profile test?
I think so many of us see Jesus as calm, cool and collected. ‘He strides through life as the one calm character among a cast of flustered extras. Nothing rattles him. He dispenses wisdom in flat, measured tones….whereas the Gospels present a man who has such charisma that people will sit three days straight, without food, just to hear his riveting words.’1 Not even Ronald Reagan evoked such a response.
Jesus was not nice in Mark chapter 11 as he curses the fig tree, causing it to wither and die, and once again angrily clears the Temple, driving out those who turned it into a ‘den of thieves’.
Let’s take a look at bold, uncompromising Jesus as he crosses the Kidron Valley, heading up the ravine to the Temple. He is hungry, (there is something arresting about this simple statement of fact), so he is looking around for something to eat—a bunch of grapes to pluck, just something.
Mark writes, “He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.”2
What in the world--why would he do such a thing? Why it wasn’t even the time of year that figs should be on the tree! True, but a little study uncovers ‘in that part of the world there is an early edible but smaller fig that grows at this springtime of the year. That smaller edible fruit shows up on the fig tree, that first fruit of the fig a harbinger of a fuller crop that is going to come later in the summer. If there are no early figs, there will be no latter figs.’3 God will always be interested in fruitfulness.
Hmmm… a little more study and we learn that the Jewish scriptures often used the fig tree to symbolize the nation of Israel—a nation that Jesus knew was about to be punished for her rebellion against God, Jerusalem destroyed in A.D. 70 and her people scattered throughout the world. That is, until a regathering occurred in the early 20th century, and Israel became a nation again in 19484.
Turns out a fig tree can also represent followers of Jesus Christ. God is not interested in us looking good on the outside, like the leafed-out tree that looked good from afar but bore no fruit. God will always be interested in our character, obedience in doing the right thing, serving others and leading them to Him.
This is a wonderful illustration of Jesus’ character by C.S. Lewis, with Aslan the Lion, representative of Jesus:
"“Is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”"5
Jesus is not nice, nor is he safe, but he is good.
Listen, please: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9sE5kEnitqE
In the footsteps of Jesus, gospel of Mark, #35
1 – The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey, p.88
2 - Mark 11.12-14
3 – Mark 11 commentary, Skip Heitzig
4 – Isaiah 11.11-12
5 - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis