Faith and the Fruit of a Fig Tree
With all that is going on in the world, it's hard to focus on the events that led to the crucifixion. For the first time--ever--churches will be shuttered. Family and congregation celebrations postponed. The normal is gone and we struggle to replace what we knew with something new.
Yet, maybe that's what we need. Perhaps focusing on the events of Christ's walk to the cross will turn our attention from the world to the Savior, the perfecter of our faith.
Because isn't that what gives us the ability and endurance to get through troubled times, our faith and trust in Jesus.
Let's go back more than 2000 years. Can you close your eyes and think of the sights, the sounds, the emotions in the air? It's Passover in Jerusalem. Thousands upon thousands of Jews are descending upon the city to visit the temple. Vendors selling food, children playing. It would be difficult to see the whole picture. The closest any of us can come is scripture; following the timeline through the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They leave out some details but each event, each recorded step, each word uttered by Jesus had a purpose.
The beginning of the holy week is Palm Sunday, which I pray you "virtually" celebrated yesterday. Palm Sunday, of course, represents the triumphal return of the King to Jerusalem. The people waving palm branches cried “Hosanna” laying their cloaks on the road making it a softer trek into the city for the King. What it must have been like to watch as Jesus, in very nature God who became a humble, obedient servant ride a donkey through the gates of His beloved city.
But on Monday... After His triumphant entry through the gates, Jesus stayed outside the city overnight. Some say because Jesus was not welcomed by his friends who feared retribution. But He returned the next day, on Monday, to continue His Father’s work.
Can you imagine the determination in his step as He again climbs the hill toward the gates of Jerusalem?
Although He was in very nature God, He was also human. Jesus worked to complete His Father’s will so obediently he forgot to eat that morning. So, even a green unripened fig would be tasty--maybe?
Passing a fig tree, He is disappointed to find no fruit. There were apparently leaves that signify growth, but no fruit. In swift judgment, He curses the tree, and it withers down to a brittle stick in the ground.
This account only takes up five short verses in the telling by Matthew, and at first glance, most of us probably pass right over and move to the end.
Maybe we think this must not apply to our lives or, like me when I first read this passage, what does this mean? We need to keep in mind, Jesus never caused a miracle that did not have a lesson for His disciples or for us. In the parable of the fig tree there is a lesson.
It teaches us two things about our relationship with Jesus.
We Need Fruit
We are to produce fruit from our relationship with Him. Scholars suggest the fig tree represents the Israelites and the curse suggests God’s harsh judgment. God’s people had every outward appearance of religiousness, but no fruit, no evidence of their relationship with God. They were hand-picked by God, protected and provided for in every way, yet they failed to produce.
In John 15:1-2 Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that bears no fruit, He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit, He prunes, that it may bear more fruit."
We are directly connected to Jesus and have every power and provision we need from God. How we use or don’t use this grace will determine God’s judgment.
Is the fruit of the Spirit alive in our lives?
Do we live with love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22) If an examination of our hearts says no, then I hope we can confess our lacking and ask Jesus for help to grow.
We Need Faith
The disciples are amazed at the power of Jesus to perform this miracle. “When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” (verse 20, emphasis mine) Which is odd to me, because they witnessed so many miracles yet continued to wonder how He did what He did. Even more curiously, they did not ask why He cursed the fig tree. Maybe, Jesus’ answer spoke more to the heart of the problem.
Jesus tells them they can do the same thing.
They have the power to wither fig trees as well. If their faith is enough and they do not doubt, not only can they curse a fig tree, they can move a mountain.
Jesus pointed out before that faith can do amazing things. In chapter 17 of Matthew the disciples cannot cast out a demon. Asking Him why, Jesus implies maybe their faith is not big enough. It needs to be at least the size of the smallest seed. With faith even that small we can move mountains.
How big is your faith?
How can we grow our faith? It starts by asking God. Jesus concludes His lesson by telling the disciples all they have to do is ask and trust that God will provide.
“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (v. 22)
Do you need faith? Whatever we need God will give all we have to do is trust. And we can trust Him. He is always faithful, always kind and generous in grace.
A Fig Tree I love the parable of the fig tree. It may get passed over quickly and dismissed as not relevant, but during this week as we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, I hope we can settle on these passages and evaluate our hearts.
Am I producing fruit? Is there evidence of a change in my life as a result of knowing the risen Christ? Is my faith lacking? Do I truly trust God for everything I ask?
If not, then I hope you will stop today and ask God to grow His Spirit in you to live a fruitful life and trust in His faithfulness.
Father God, we praise You, we love You and we thank you for all of the gifts you give us. Whenever we need anything, all we have to do is ask and you are faithful to provide. Plant in us a spirit that produces fruit and a faith that trusts in You alone. Amen.
Looking for a guide to help prepare your heart for Easter? I found this book by C.S. Lewis, Preparing for Easter. It's been an excellent source of reflection.