Posted on June 9, 2020 by Catey Stover in Freedom Fighters
The Bible tells of a very unique event that occurs in the final week of Jesus’ life. It is sandwiched in with His triumphal entry and His clearing the Temple of the bazaar it had become. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ And immediately the fig tree withered up.” Mark tells us it ‘withered from the root up,’ meaning the root remained to sprout a new tree again. The problem with the fig tree was this, the fruit of the fig tree appears before the leaves, and trees that retain their leaves from the previous season also hold ‘early fruit.’ So when Jesus went over expecting to find this early fruit and only found leaves, he cursed it because it was not living up to its design. I know that seems harsh, but that has been the warning for all God’s creation since the start, ‘obey the perfect word of God, live the way you were intended to, or you shall surely die.’
So why is the focus put on this insignificant fig tree among all the culminating events of Jesus’ ministry? Consider what Jesus has found when entering Jerusalem, this city which Old Testament prophets refer to as the ‘fig tree God has planted in His vineyard’ (Judges9:8–15; Isa. 3:14; 5:1–7; Jer. 12:10; Ezek. 17:2–10; 19:10–14). As any Israelite who was familiar with farming and the law, the first fruits of the harvest belong to God (Ex. 23:19; Neh. 10:35–37). This design helps conceptualize their relationship to God: as his own special planting, they are to yield spiritual fruit as His covenant people (Ps. 1:3; Jer. 17:8–10). Israel’s fruitfulness (literal or otherwise) is not the basis of their relationship with God, for it is God who gives fruitfulness (Deut. 7:13; 28:4). (Lanier) But the lack of fruit that Jesus finds when He enters the Temple and sees a ‘Den of thieves,’ is evidence that they have not lived up to their covenant agreement, and have rejected God’s sovereignty and blessing. Therefore, no early spiritual fruit. What Jesus did find was lots of ‘leaves’ or a pretense of religion that denied Holy power. There was the big parade for what they desired as freedom from oppression. Still, it had nothing to do with being loving people who displayed the Spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There was a lot of activity in the Temple, busy lives, and many programs… but no righteousness exhibited in believers bearing the fruit of obedience to God’s Word or promises. It’s funny how we think our religious stuff pleases God. Still, from His perspective, He is not interested in our pious activity, our trying harder, or even what religion we claim. God cares about our being like Jesus, trusting Him deeply, and living in unfeigned dependence on Him.
The fruit of a life laid down as a living sacrifice is not displayed in what we do, it is evidenced by who we are… believers. Jesus said they will know ‘you are my disciples’ by your love” (John 13:35) and, “the fruit of love is born by obedient people of God’s Word” (John 14:15). This show of Israel’s lack of spiritual fruit is vividly played out as Jesus furnishes the sign of God’s curse for their rebellion (Deut. 11:17).
When Jesus enters Jerusalem in Kingly fashion, it was the expected time for God’s people to yield the fruit which would bless the world per the Abrahamic Covenant; these would be the early figs (Isa. 27:6). Several times the prophets describe God as examining Israel for “early figs” as a sign of spiritual fruitfulness (Mic. 7:1; Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10–17)—but he finds “no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” So in two exiles (Assyrian and Babylonian), God pours out the curse of barrenness (Hos. 9:16), and Israel becomes a rotten fig (Jer. 29:17). (Lanier) Now, as the Son of the Vineyard owner, Jesus comes to receive the ‘first fruits.’ “But when the tenant farmers (Israel) saw His Son coming (Jesus), they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.” (Matthew 21:38-39 NLT) Having exposed their true condition, Jesus then affirms the kingdom would be taken from Israel for a while and given to those producing the fruit which God or ‘the Vinedresser’ intends.
But all is not lost, remember the root remains. God promises to one day replant Israel and produce healthy figs from her again (Joel 2:22; Amos 9:14; Mic. 4:4; Zech. 8:12; Ezek. 36:8, Romans 9-11).
Matthew tells us, “The disciples were amazed when they saw the fig tree wither and asked, “How did it die so quickly?” But when Jesus responds, he switches gears and tells them how to pray. Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this, for whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (Matthew 21:18-22, 18:18-19 NLT)
The point is this; when our lives are laid down in the same manner that Jesus went to the cross, having humbly crucified our desires, willfulness, selfish ambition, and rights, we will be raised again as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. In this sense, we are like the fig tree, planted, and now ready to grow and bear fruit. When are lives are resurrected, beginning to grow in this new relationship, we will no longer be our own; we are bought with the price Christ paid with His life. We now live by faith in His Word, and our thinking is renewed by the work of the Spirit (Romans 12:1-3). Having been raised up in this new birth, we will bear fruit that is like Jesus, faithfulness, kindness, obedience, and love. And what we seek in prayer will be in accordance with His will, driven by love for God and for our neighbor. And we will witness amazing answers to prayer that will glorify God’s name, just as when Jesus prayed.
The showy religious stuff is easy to perform, just as many plants produce leaves. But living a life that bears the fruit of God’s work in and through our lives requires we change, and put off, or die to our self-centered willfulness. Honestly, very few people live this way… we really don’t want to give up control of our lives, even if it’s to the very One who created us in His image and loves us more than we love ourselves. This ‘change’ requires we enter into the ark of Jesus’ crucifixion, which represents our obedience to God’s Word, resulting in the crucifixion of our desires and rights. In the ark of God’s salvation, we rest in His provision in every aspect of our lives, with unfeigned dependence. And then on the day of His design, we will land in His eternal presence, and enter boldly into the ‘New Jerusalem’ of our Savior and Lord.. to live with Him forever. ‘What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see, when I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand and leads me into the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day that will be.’
*lyric – Jim Hill
Written by David Brown: David Brown is a husband, father, grandfather, Pastor with a Masters of Religious Studies and a Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Religions. Dave is the Associate Pastor of Pemberton’s First Baptist Church.
Think About This: “I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.” -Charles Spurgeon
This Week’s Verse to Memorize: 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go [c]therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” [d]Amen. –Matthew 28:18-20
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the doctrinal and theological views held by America’s Keswick.