Posts Tagged atonement

The fig tree and cleansing the Temple

This is going to be one of my more speculative thoughts. I am by no means a scriptorian, nor am I even conversant in Old Testament sacrificial practices. This is just something that connected in my mind.

In Mark chapter 11, verses 12-26 (and Matthew 21), Jesus and his disciples walk by a fig tree, which He condemns for producing no fruit and curses it. When they return by it, the tree has withered.

12 And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry:

13 And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.

14 And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.
. . .
21 And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

22 And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

. . . then goes on to talk about the power that can do seemingly impossible things.

In the middle of this, verses 15-19, Jesus clears the moneychangers and those who sell animals to be sacrificed out of the Temple grounds:

15 ¶And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

16 And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

It seems to me that the miracle of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple must be related, one surrounding the other, so it got me to thinking. What do fig trees have to do with the commanded practice of animal sacrifice?

One of the most remarkable uses of fig leaves in the Scriptures is in the Garden of Eden. In trying to cover their mistakes, Eve and Adam fashion aprons out of fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). They did not yet know that there would be a Savior who would cover us all, that they didn’t need to try to cover themselves but only needed to repent of what they had done.

What does this have to do with animal sacrifice? The details of what animals should be sacrificed for what sins is well detailed in Leviticus 1-7. It’s been law for many hundreds of years. This, I believe, results in two problems by the time of Christ.

The business of selling animals for sacrifice and changing money to money that is acceptable for use in the Temple has become a lucrative trade. This oppressive trade was at least tolerated by the Priests whose job it was to perform the sacrifices and keep the Temple grounds free of commercial traffic.

More importantly, the commandments for animal sacrifice (well beyond the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb foreshadowing the sacrifice of The Lamb of God exampled by Adam and Abel) were an attempt by the Israelites to cover their own sins. Like Adam and Eve, this was an attempt to cover their own sins rather than look forward to Christ. Animal sacrifice had become the Israelites’ fig leaves.

But weren’t these details given by God? Why would He give them something wrong? I believe this is another instance where the Israelites didn’t want to live the higher laws and asked for something more specific. A single sacrifice for everything doesn’t seem like enough? Fine, here’s something more complicated to help you feel better.

To me, this is the importance of the withering of the fig tree. No more trying to cover yourselves with your fig leaves of animal sacrifice. Get back to the basic, higher laws. Look to Christ and live.

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The Apostle Peter having a really bad day

While recently reading in Luke, chapter 22, I was particularly struck by verse 40, where Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples, about to begin the process of taking upon Himself the sins of the world:

And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.

Temptation? They are in a garden at night; what temptation do they need to work so hard to fight?

Then I remembered what was happening. Jesus was about to embark on the hardest journey anyone can go on, the one absolutely necessary to allow us to return home to our Heavenly Parents. What happened the last time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen (Mark 8:31-33)?

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.

33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.

Peter was there to witness the thing he feared most, the thing he most wanted to deny could ever happen. Peter had to witness his Savior, his God, take on the sins of the world, suffer, and die.

The temptation was to try and stop it from happening.

This certainly would be the greatest temptation Peter and those with him would face. This wasn’t a simple, “help us with some vague temptation”, this was a “He’s right over there, suffering, soon to go to his death, and I need to let it happen.” What an impossible task!

I’ve had prayers in the pit of despair, praying with such energy that you are physically drained. I can’t imagine how much effort it would have taken to stay there and pray that you will not interfere in this case. I find it no wonder that they fell asleep, not from boredom, but from exhaustion.

Even then, Peter couldn’t completely escape from the temptation. Remember, Jesus had already told them what would happen, even dropping the bombshell earlier in the evening that one of their own they had trusted, worked with, and loved would be the betrayer. Yet when the mob comes for Jesus, Peter lashes out and cuts off an ear (John 18:10). Jesus calms the situation, but Peter knows he succumbed to temptation.

Unfortunately, Peter’s bad day only gets worse. While he is witnessing the trials and accusations, he is accused, three times, of being His disciple. Instead of being able to boldly give his own life, as he said he would, Peter denies he knew Jesus each time, at the end being reminded of the prophecy he’d just passed off as impossible earlier in the evening.

I’ve often heard people wonder how could Peter do such things, when he’d been the strongest of the Twelve. How could “The Rock” the Church would be built upon when Jesus was gone be so weak? I don’t know of anyone who could have done as well as Peter did. He didn’t just have a witness of Jesus as we may have, he knew Him personally, worked, prayed, cried, laughed with Him. I don’t know how many hours of weeping it took for Peter to be able to get back on his feet and try to continue with life, but there is no doubt; Peter had a bad day.

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The Iron Rod

In a prophetic dream by Lehi and Nephi in the Book of Mormon, there is a depiction of our journey through life returning to the presence of God. This includes a building full of jeering people, a river of sin, mists of darkness, and forbidden paths which try to take us out of the progression, the end represented by the Tree of Life.

To help everyone get from where they are to the Tree of Life, there is a “strait and narrow path”, bordered by an Iron Rod. In the dream, the Iron Rod was the means for anyone to reach the Tree of Life, but people had to choose to use it, ignore the words of the jeering people, and not let go and risk loss.

The tendency at this point is to see an absolutely straight path, with an absolutely straight rod, with no turns, making a bee line to the Tree of Life. We think that anyone who has deviated from the absolute course we think exists from point A to point B must be in apostacy, setting up the path we believe we are on as the best and absolute. This image of absolute rigidness and direction is what I believe is in error.

First, the word used is “strait”, not “straight”. It means “narrow” and “strict” – it is not an indication of direction. We are given nothing on how the path gets from one point to another, if it goes around hills or other landscape features (though none are given), only that it does lead to the Tree.

In the interpretation of the dream, the Iron Rod is interpreted as “. . . the word of God, which led . . . to the tree of life . . .”(1Ne.11:22) The “Word of God” is also another name given for Jesus The Christ (John 1:1). He was with God in the beginning, and by Him was all God commanded fulfilled.

So next time you sing the Hymn “The Iron Rod” or read about this in the Scriptures, or even feel like you’re not doing as well as you’d like, rather than thinking about an impersonal, solid rod, that couldn’t care if you used it or not, think of the Savior, hand outstretched, waiting for you to simply take His hand, so He can help you on your way to that distant, and seemingly impossibly hard to reach, Tree of Life at the end of our journey. It doesn’t matter where we are, seemingly far away from the main path, feeling like we’re only inches from the path, or even in the great and spacious building, He is there, mere inches away, hand outstretched, desperately hoping we will simply take His hand.

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Naked and not ashamed

No, I’m not a nudist. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked “and were not ashamed [Gen 2:25].” I want to put forward the idea that whether or not Adam and Eve had on clothes, they were naked because they were not covered by the Atonement of Christ.

When they sinned (by partaking of the forbidden fruit);

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.[Gen 3:7]

In other words, they now knew they were not covered (by the Atonement), and tried to cover their own sins. Both tried to excuse what they did by blaming someone else.

After being sent away from Eden, and after Adam had shown repentance by obeying the commandment to pray, Adam and Eve were told of how they were now covered by the Atonement:

And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.[Moses 5:9]

When we sin, we cannot cover ourselves, no matter how many fig leaves, or excuses, we gather to try. Only because of the Atonement, through repentance, can we be covered by Christ.

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