Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Jeremiah, and more specifically, is found in the twenty-fourth chapter. This chapter opens up with a very specific vision from the Lord—a vision that contained within it two baskets of figs. What’s more, is that this wasn’t merely a vision of two baskets of figs, for Jeremiah recounts for us where those two baskets were located, and the condition of the figs within the two baskets. The vision wasn’t simply about two baskets of figs which had the same nature, but were in all reality of two entirely different natures. It’s worth noting that while the central composition of that which was in the two baskets was the same, the condition of what was in the baskets was different. You can have two baskets of figs, but of those figs, they can be of two entirely different natures and conditions. This is an underlying principle that is set forth within Scripture, and is perhaps not better expressed or seen than in the teachings of Jesus. In fact, when you come to the famous Sermon on the Mount, you will find Jesus setting forth incredibly powerful comparisons between different realities. This context begins with the thirteenth verse of the seventh chapter. It’s in this chapter where we find Jesus speaking first of two different gates and two different paths—each path which had a different size gate, a different size path, and even a different size crowd. Within this passage, Jesus set forth two distinct paths, yet each path was neither the same, nor were they identical. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). TWO GATES! TWO WAYS! TWO OUTCOMES! Jesus clearly expressed the reality that there were two distinct paths which were set before His hearers on that day—and not just His hearers of that day, but all those who would read and hear His teachings in the generations to follow. Jesus began this comparison and contrast by first identifying the reality of two paths, but then proceeded to speak of the gates which were set before those paths. Each path had its own gate, and each gate had a different size and appearance than the other. WIDE GATE! BROAD PATH! MANY ENTER! STRAIT GATE! NARROW WAY! FEW ENTER! When setting forth specific comparisons concerning a generation, Jesus began by first revealing and speaking of the path which such individuals ventured upon. What’s more important, is that the path you will find yourself on is directly determined by which gate you allow yourself to walk through. One of the most important realities we must recognize and consider is that everything hinges on which gate we allow ourselves to walk through. Each and every individual has come to the proverbial “fork in the road,” and at that fork in the road, there are two gates which lead to two distinctly different paths. YOUR PATH IS DETERMINED BY YOUR GATE! Do you know and understand that you can control which path you find yourself on simply by choosing which gate you allow yourself to walk through? Do you know that the decision you make at the gate can and will determine which path you will find yourself on? To illustrate this point even further, I must journey to the New Testament book of Acts and recount a specific event that occurred within the lives and ministries of the apostles Peter and John. “Now Peter and John went up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whose they laid daily at the gate of the Temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the Temple; who seeing Peter and John about to go into the Temple asked an alms. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God” (Acts 3:1-9)
Notice that this chapter begins with this “certain man”—a man whose name we do not know—who was lame from birth. This man who had spent his entire life being unable to walk was daily laid at the gate of the Temple. Pause for a moment and consider that reality—the reality of being laid at the gate of the Temple daily in order that you might do the one thing you know best. This certain man was laid at the gate daily so he could ask alms of all those who would pass by and enter the Temple to pray. Notice that this verse opens up with Peter and John going up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer, for I can’t help but wonder how many other men and women went up to the house of the Lord to pray, and passed by this man on their way to pray. I can’t help but imagine how many men and women refused to give any attention to this man, yet they continued on into the Temple of the Lord to pray before the Lord. This man was laid at the gate of the Temple of the Lord daily in order that he might ask alms from those who would enter in to pray. I wonder how many men and women would enter into the Temple to pray, but would not give alms to this man. I CAN PRAY, BUT I CAN’T GIVE! I CAN PRAY, BUT I CAN’T MINISTER! I CAN PRAY, BUT I CAN’T SERVE! Do you know there are men and women who might be good at “praying,” yet they care absolutely nothing about serving or ministering? Do you know there are men and women who might be good at “praying,” yet they are absolutely horrible at giving? Do you know there are men and women who are good at “praying,” yet they care very little about serving the needs of others? This man was laid daily at the gate of the Temple of the Lord which was called Beautiful, yet I would venture to say that place was anything but Beautiful for him. Tell me dear brother, tell me dear sister—are you good at “praying,” yet care absolutely nothing about serving or giving before and unto the Lord? You might go up to the Temple of the Lord, yet you walk by those who are positioned at the entrance of the Temple. What’s more, is I can’t help but wonder how many men and women passed by this man—not once, but twice, for they passed him going in to “pray,” and they passed him a second time coming out from “praying.” We dare not miss the significance or importance of this, for to do so would be to miss something which the Spirit of the Lord would challenge us with. Peter and John came upon this man, Peter demanded his attention focused upon them, and then declared unto him what they didn’t have, but then proclaimed what they did have. This man who had spent countless days, weeks, and perhaps even months at this gate rose up from the place at the gate, and walked in and through the gate. YOUR GATE DETERMINES YOUR PATH! YOUR GATE DETERMINES WHICH WAY YOU FOLLOW!
As you continue reading the seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel, you will find that Jesus continues this progression of contrasting two distinct realities. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:15-20). Within this particular set of verses, Jesus makes something incredibly clear—the type of tree determines the type of fruit that is brought forth from it. YOUR GATE DETERMINES YOUR PATH! YOUR TREE DETERMINES YOUR FRUIT! What gate are you entering through? What tree are you becoming? Jesus boldly and plainly declared that you cannot receive good fruit from a bad or corrupt tree, and you cannot receive bad fruit from a good tree. The underlying principle is inevitably and invariably this—the type and quality of the tree will determine the type and quality of the fruit that is produced. Jesus declared that “you shall know them by their fruit,” but what is not stated but implied in this passage is that while you will know them by their fruits, you will know what type of tree they are by the fruit they produce! Jesus declared that fruit was the gauge of truly knowing another, but what we must also see is that the type and quality of the fruit will determine what type of tree has produced that fruit. To illustrate this point even further, it’s necessary to journey to the New Testament book of Galatians, which the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. In this passage, the apostle Paul first begins by describing the corrupt and evil tree and its fruit, while next describing the good tree and the good fruit. “Now the works of the flesh [a corrupt tree] are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revealing, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, they they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). These words describe both the corrupt tree, as well as the corrupt, evil and wicked fruit which is produced from that tree. As you continue reading, however, you will notice a different tree producing a different fruit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). The underlying question must not only be around what type of fruit you are producing, but what type of tree you have become and are becoming.
The seventh chapter—and ultimately the Sermon on the Mount itself—concludes with one final comparison which Jesus sets forth. This particular comparison is one of the most widely known comparisons in all of Scripture, for most know about the wise man and the foolish man. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that hearth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand, and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27). YOUR GATE DETERMINES YOUR PATH! YOUR TREE DETERMINES YOUR FRUIT! YOUR FOUNDATION DETERMINES YOUR SECURITY! In this passage, Jesus made one point abundantly and crucially clear—the reality that where you choose to build your house, and what you choose to build your house upon can and will determine whether or not your house will stand in the midst of the storm. What’s quite interesting about this passage is that both the wise man and the foolish man experienced the rain descending, the floods coming, and the winds blowing, yet the comparison was not in the experiencing of the storm. STORMS NEVER REVEAL THE COMPARISON WITHIN OUR LIVES! Notice that the storm didn’t reveal the house, or even the nature of the house, but the foundation of the house. Jesus made absolutely no statement concerning what the house was built and made of, but what the house was built upon. This is important, for more important than the nature and materials of the house we have built is the foundation upon which that house was built. The storm(s) didn’t reveal the nature and condition of the house, but the nature and condition of the foundation. If you want to truly understand the significance and importance of Jesus’ words, it’s not that the foolish man experienced the storm and the wise man didn’t experience the storm—He causes the sun to shine on the just and on the unjust; He causes rain to fall on the just and on the unjust. What’s more, is that wisdom in this passage isn’t expressed based on how the one handled and weathered the storm, but rather the foundation upon which the one had built their house. It isn’t necessarily how you handle or weather a storm that is the key and underlying factor, for it is the foundation upon which you have chosen to build your house that is most important. Notice that Jesus wasn’t concerning with the house itself, or even the materials the house was made up of, but the foundation upon which the houses were built.
TWO GATES! TWO WAYS! TWO TREES! TWO FOUNDATIONS! What’s more, is that this reality goes all the way back to the garden of Eden in the Old Testament book of Genesis, for while it is true that there were undoubtedly a great number of trees within the garden, there were two specific trees that were pointed out by the Lord—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord presented both trees to Adam after placing him in the garden, and declared unto Adam that he could freely eat of every tree in the garden—including the tree of life—yet he could not eat of the fruit of one particular tree. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if Adam every partook of the fruit of the tree of life while walking in the midst of the garden. Is it possible that the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t the first type of fruit he ate while in the garden. What’s more, is that I am inclined to believe that both Adam and Eve might have partaken of the fruit of the tree of life prior to that day when the serpent beguiled and tempted Eve. What causes me to believe that they had previously partaken of the fruit of the tree of life is actually found in the words which the Lord spoke just prior to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden—“Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, LEST HE PUT FORTH HIS HAND, AND TAKE ALSO OF THE TREE OF LIFE, AND EAT, AND LIVE FOR EVER.” (Genesis 3:22). The reason the Lord expelled Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden was because they had transgressed the command of the Lord in eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but also to bar them from stretching forth their hand [again] to the tree of life. I wonder how many times Adam and Eve stretched forth their hands to the tree of life to partake of the fruit of that tree before that one time when they stretched forth their hand to partake of a different fruit from a different tree. We have been called to stretch forth our hands and to partake of the fruit from the tree of life, yet how many of us choose to stretch forth our hands to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? The Lord had positioned before Adam a choice between life and knowledge, and if we are being honest with ourselves, there are countless men and women who choose knowledge rather than, and even over and above life. When Eve partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she was drawn to that which was “good,” that which was “pleasant,” and that which was “desirable.” Oh that we would pay close attention to this, for there are times within our lives when that which is “good,” when that which is “pleasant,” and even that which is “desirable” isn’t the best option for us to choose. Even wasn’t drawn to that which was evil, but was drawn to that which is good, for this tree wasn’t just a tree that dealt with that which was evil, but that which was good.
If you journey back to the New Testament—specifically the New Testament book of Matthew—you will find Jesus once more setting forth a strong and powerful comparison between two distinct realities. Consider the first comparison that was found within and in the midst of ten virgins. “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:1-13). In verses fourteen through thirty we find another parable concerning the kingdom of heaven and its being likened unto a man who prepared to go away on a long journey and entrusted a specific number of talents to his servants—to the one five talents, to the other two talents, and to the other one talent. When you come to the thirty-first verse of this chapter, you will find once more another comparison—this time between the sheep and the goats. “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats not he left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 5:32-40). In the first parable, the difference between the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins was not that they didn’t each have oil, or even that they weren’t invited to the marriage, but that five brought oil in vessels in addition to their lamps, whereas five didn’t. The difference between the sheep and the goats was simply in what they did unto the least of these, for how they treated the least of these was how they treated the Christ.
When we come to the twenty-fourth chapter of the prophetic book of Jeremiah we find two baskets being set before the Temple of the Lord—each baskets with the same fruit within them. Please don’t miss this, for within each basket wasn’t a different type of fruit, but rather the same type of fruit. Both baskets had figs that were present within them, yet the distinction wasn’t drawn between the type of fruit, but the condition of the fruit. Before moving further into this passage, it’s important that we recognize and understand that oftentimes what is most important is not necessarily the type of fruit, but the quality and the condition of the fruit. Both baskets were set before the Temple of the Lord, and both baskets contained fruit within them, yet there was a clear distinction between the fruit within each basket. It’s worth pointing out that Jeremiah didn’t see the good figs mixed together with the bad figs in the same basket. Jeremiah didn’t see one basket with figs of different qualities and conditions, for such a reality would inevitably have caused the good figs to possibly become evil, become corrupted, and become polluted. The prophet Jeremiah saw two baskets before the Temple of the Lord, yet each basket contained fruit of a different quality. Let me pause for a moment and ask you a question regarding condition and quality. When speaking of the fruit which is produced within and from your life, what is the condition of that fruit? What is the quality of that fruit which is produced from your life? Your life is producing fruit, yet the truth of the matter is not whether or not your life is producing fruit, but what the quality and condition of that fruit is. Jeremiah saw the same fruit within both baskets, yet upon close inspection there was something drastically different between the fruit that was in the baskets. One basket had very good figs, which were like figs that are first ripe, while the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten. It’s worth noting and pointing out that the vision of the two baskets was a prophetic picture concerning the two different types of individuals that were considered to be of the house of Israel. On the one hand, you have the good figs, which were those which would be carried away captive of Judah—those which the Lord sent out of the land of Judah into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. On the other hand, you have the bad figs which was Zedekiah, his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem which remained in that land, and those which dwelt in the land of Egypt. The Lord was clearly drawing a distinction between those whom He had carried away from that land into the land of the Chaldeans and those who remained in the land, and those who dwelt in the land of Egypt.
I have to admit that there is a bit of irony in this passage of Scripture, for the Lord actually seemed to speak of the captivity of those that were carried away from the land of Judah and into the land of the Chaldeans as being a good thing. The Lord seemed to suggest that the removal of men and women from the city of Jerusalem, and from the land of Judah was actually for their good, and for their benefit, rather than their hurt or harm. I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t actually the Lord who carried away all those who were removed from the land of Judah and from the city of Jerusalem. We spend so much time focusing on the fact that Nebuchadnezzar carried away Judah and Jerusalem captive, and brought them into the land of the Chaldeans, yet this passage seems to suggest that captivity was actually a vehicle to transport His people, and an instrument to protect and preserve His people. WHEN CAPTIVITY LEADS TO YOUR GOOD! WHEN BEING CARRIED AWAY IS TO YOUR BENEFIT! I can’t help but wonder if the captivity of those in Judah and Jerusalem wasn’t a divine act of mercy, for through their captivity the Lord was actually preserving and protecting them. Bringing men and women out of Jerusalem and into Babylon—while it was judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah—was actually a divine act of mercy toward and upon His people, for they would be preserved and protected in the midst of their captivity. While it is true that they would spend seventy years in captivity in the land of the Chaldeans, those seventy years were also seventy years of preservation and protection. The Lord Himself permitted the captivity to take place within the land of Judah, and within the city of Jerusalem, yet that captivity was actually a mode and means of protecting and preserving His people. It would be through their removal from Jerusalem the Lord would actually spare them from famine, from pestilence and the sword. CAPTIVITY PRESERVED AND PROTECTED FROM FAMINE! CAPTIVITY PRESERVED AND PROTECTED FROM PESTILENCE! CAPTIVITY PRESERVED AND PROTECTED FROM THE SWORD! It was true that a great number of them were carried away and carried as captives into the land of the Chaldeans, yet was it Nebuchadnezzar carrying them away, or the Lord carrying them on wings of eagles to protect and preserve them. Is it possible that captivity was actually the vehicle and instrument the Lord would use to preserve a people in another land in order to bring them back? How many times do we view our own “captivity” experience, or our own “carried away” experience in a negative context, yet it is actually the vehicle whereby the Lord protects and preserves us?
Notice what the Lord speaks of concerning the good figs—those whom He had carried, and those He would carry forth from the land of Judah. “Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them and heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 23:5-7). I WILL ACKNOWLEDGE! I HAVE SENT OUT! I WILL SET MINE EYES UPON THEM! I WILL BRIN GTHEM AGAIN! I WILL BUILD THEM! I WILL PLANT THEM! I WILL GIVE THEM AN HEART TO KNOW ME! I WILL BE THEIR GOD! It’s actually quite interesting to think that they were carried away to be brought back after their period of preservation was complete. They were removed from the land so the land could lay fallow and enjoy her sabbath rests, and when the appointed time came the Lord would bring them back. While at the time all they could see was captivity, the Lord had already placed before them the means to bring them back—the means to preserve them in the midst of captivity, and to return them to their land. You’re viewing your situation and circumstances as that which is designed to destroy and crush you, yet it is actually means to preserve and protect you. The Lord is—even in the midst of your captivity—preserving and protecting you so He can bring you back. What’s more, is that through captivity the Lord is actually preserving and protecting you from famine, from pestilence, and from the sword. THE LORD HAS REMOVED YOU FROM JERUSALEM TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT YOU FROM THAT WHICH WOULD DESTROY YOU! THE LORD HAS REMOVED YOU FROM JERUSALEM TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT YOU FROM THE SWORD! THE LORD HAS REMOVED YOU FROM JERUSALEM TO PRESERVE AND PROTECT YOU FROM FAMINE AND PESTILENCE! Please get this deep within your spirit, for the Lord has to remove you from that place—even that place of the throne and the altar—in order that He might preserve and protect you from that which would destroy you. The Lord removed a people from the land of Judah and from the city of Jerusalem to spare them from the sword which would devour and consume, and from the famine and the pestilence which would strike them down. It was not Nebuchadnezzar which carried the people of Judah away, but the Lord who carried them on eagle’s wings to preserve and protect them. You have your eyes on Nebuchadnezzar, on captivity, and on the land, yet the Lord wants to shift your focus to the preservation and protection. You see only captivity, yet the Lord wants you to look back and see what He spared you from—spared from the sword, spared from the pestilence, and spared from famine. Oh that we would allow this word to get down into the very depths of our heart and spirit, and that we would rejoice in the carrying away and in the captivity knowing and seeing the preservation and the protection.