“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on His way back to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, He went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then He said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19
I’ve always thought this was an odd passage. Have you ever wondered why Jesus was talking to a tree? I have! I also wonder if His disciples questioned it too. “Why is our Master cursing a fig tree!?” It seems like an awfully harsh judgement on a piece of nature, doesn’t it?!
Let’s look a little deeper…
To understand this teaching (which applies to all of us), we must learn a few things about Israelite history…and a quick lesson in agriculture. First of all, this fig tree was an oddity. Normally a fig tree would grow fruit and then leaves so if you were to see leaves on a fig tree, you would expect to see fruit already present. The fruit is green and blends in with the leaves right up until it is almost ripe so Jesus had to come closer to the tree to see that it was fruitless. Regardless of the season, one would not expect to see a fig tree with leaves but no figs. Also, the fig tree was used as a symbol for Israel in the Old Testament scriptures (Hosea 9:10, Jeremiah 24:5). A fruitful fig tree was a symbol of prosperity and security (1 Kings 4:25) to the Israelite people.
In the context of this story, Jesus had just left Jerusalem, where He had entered on a colt and been received and worshipped as their Messiah. This showering of praise and adoration occurs one week before the crowd will aggressively turn around and shout “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13). During the same trip, Jesus goes into the temple and overturns tables, accusing the Jewish people of turning the Lord’s House into a “den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). The time of His death is near and He is letting the Israelite people know that their hearts are away from God. They need to repent and turn back to Him.
When Jesus curses the fig tree, we see another warning to the Israelites. The religious leaders and the nation as a whole appeared to have fruit with all their religious devotion but when you looked closer at their hearts, it was only leaves. They put on a good show and behaved as if their acts were in service to God, but in truth, their acts were in service to their own traditions and rituals…to their pride and to themselves. From a distance, they appear to love God and be living their lives in surrender to Him but when you get close, the lack of fruit is evidence that God is not with them. Their lives lacked love, selflessness, compassion for others, honesty and many other “fruits of the Spirit”. Their deception and misrepresentation of a God-loving heart brought nothing good. God saw and God knew the truth. Jesus used this opportunity to show God’s displeasure of their superficial hearts. He cursed the fig tree and what happened? It withered from the roots up and died.
I know this lesson is sobering, friends. I was reading this story in my Bible not long ago and didn’t understand it so I dug a little deeper and this is what I found. The lesson of the fig tree for all of us is to avoid the appearance of spirituality without having evidence of its fruit in our life. We are not to put on an act and simply talk the talk. God is heartbroken and angered when we do this. We must walk the walk! This may seem daunting but we have hope! The fruit we need to produce stems from a genuine relationship with God. The Holy Spirit stirs up His fruit in our lives as we draw closer to Him. As we develop a real, honest, trusting relationship with God, we will begin to produce evidence of that relationship in our daily lives.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23
A genuine relationship with God will lead to evidence of our salvation. Good deeds cannot save us, only Jesus can. But encountering Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts will bring out great things for His kingdom. It’s just how He works! He loves us enough to save us as we are but He doesn’t want to simply leave us like that! And, to be honest, I’ve lived both ways…I’ve put on the mask of spirituality even though I knew my heart was far from God. I can say without a doubt that having a real, honest, dynamic relationship with God far outweighs any “fun” I was having in secret while putting on my “church face”. Jesus is so much better than anything this world can offer!
As difficult as some of these teachings may be to process, I encourage you to take some time to let it sink in. “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Evaluate your relationship with God. Is His Holy Spirit doing a good work in your heart? Do you see evidence in your life of a deepening walk with Him? It’s available to all of us! Don’t settle for simply an appearance of spirituality or religion. Seek Him and let Him change your heart! It is worth it!!!
Love and blessings,