Matthew 21:18-23 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered. 20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”
Today's post deals with Jesus' cursing of the fig tree following His triumphal entry and prior to His final public sermon - the Olivet discourse. The events of the cursing of the fig tree and its withering would had happened on Monday and Tuesday of the week leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. Every action that Jesus did conveyed a message to his opponents and followers regarding their own spiritual condition and the only remedy - His pending crucifixion.
I can recall living in Florida and watching orange trees develop their leaves and then anticipating ripe juicy oranges thereafter. Most fruit trees follow this pattern of leaves first - then fruit. However, fig trees are the opposite - producing their fruit early, followed by the emergence of leaves. The Zondervan Bible Encyclopedia notes: "Our Lord condemned a fig tree at Passover tie on Mount Olivet (Mark 11:13; Matt 21:19). The tree should have borne early ripe figs. The Lord would have known whether the tree should have been cropping." The fact that the fig tree should have had fruit and didn't indicates a tree that looked good from a distance, but upon closer inspection indicated a fruitless tree that had nothing to offer anyone.
Jesus' cursing of the fig tree is a miracle performed by Jesus to communicate a point. With a little bit of the characteristics of fig trees before us, we can offer two basic meanings and a final application of this event for our lives today.
1. Outward spiritual behavior does not impress the Lord.
When Jesus was preparing to enter the temple precincts, His denouncement of the fig tree was really a judgment against the Jewish religious system of His day. They had a form of godliness, but denied the power thereof (Compare predictions of what would be the church of our day in 2 Timothy 3:5). Fig trees were used in the Old Testament to signify spiritual and national prosperity. In 1 Kings 4:25 for instance we see this description of King Solomon's reign: "So Judah and Israel lived in safety, every man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon." What should had been bearing spiritual fruit was found wanting by Jesus. His action of cursing the fig tree was in effect pronouncing a curse on outward attempts to perform religious behavior without a heart for God.
2. Salvation from the Lord received by faith, rather than man-made religion done by works, is what makes us pleasing in God's sight.
When we think of the fig tree, its history goes back even earlier - far earlier - before the days of Israel. In Genesis 3:7 we read of what Adam and his wife did after disobeying God: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings."
Throughout history mankind has attempted to sew together "fig-leaf" religions. That is to say, attempts have been made by fallen man to cover the nakedness of his shame and estrangement before God. When we consider Genesis 3 once more, we find that God had provided two coats of skin for our original parents. Their attempts to cover their sin failed. God revealed a covenant of grace to them by way of the first mention of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15 and the provision of skins. Their reception of God's revelation of grace by faith is apparent by the fact God clothed them in the innocence of a substitute on their behalf. Salvation's pattern has always been through the shedding of blood of an innocent substitute on behalf of the guilty; followed by the Spirit's working of the guilty to freely receive God's work by faith.
Sadly, the religion of Judaism had been ripped from its redemptive moorings by the establishment and for many, attempting to please God by performance of ritual precluded many from receiving what God had revealed about salvation in the Old Testament. Salvation in the Old Testament was based on God's promise of a Redeemer. Reception of that revelation by grace through faith was how one was brought into the covenant people of God.
When Jesus came on the scene, He was saying that He was the very Person upon which all the prophecies and pictures of the Old Testament revelation had pointed.
We could point out several more meanings, but for now these two will suffice. As a final point of application for today - have you, dear reader, found yourself appealing to outward behavior as a basis of standing before God? Unless you have confessed with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead - then you do not possess the inward reality of salvation (see Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:8-10). Jesus is the vine, and only those who have been attached to Him by the Holy Spirit in saving faith will bear the fruit of salvation (see John 15:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
Let us not have a Christianity that only looks good from a distance. We are to be those who are ever depending upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit given at saving faith. Let us bear fruit for the Master (Galatians 5:22) and be those who are a blessing to others for Jesus' sake.
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