GNB 144

November 2, 2022


“Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.” (Mark 11.13,14)


Is there such a thing as ornamental Christianity and Christ followers? In light of the story recorded by Mark from Peter’s teaching concerning the “fruitless fig tree,” we might have to say “yes.” In what sounds like a harsh judgment on a poor fig tree is actually ripe with meaning and application for those who proclaim to “walk by faith and not by sight.” I would refer to Hebrews 11.1 at this point which teaches “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and thus the evidence of things not seen.” What is it that we are not seeing while what we see is that Jesus does nothing without purpose and meaning and nothing which would betray His nature and character as a “loving God and committed savior.” Is there a hint that the reality of judgment which tends to lean on the concept of discernment is sometimes harsh, difficult and troubling to accept as truth. What if we could go back to that moment when Jesus stood under the branches of the fig tree and look at it for ourselves hearing His words. What is it we would see and thus hear as Jesus declared, “Let no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

First, let us acknowledge that Jesus did not say the fig tree never bore fruit. He said with certainty, “No one will ever eat fruit from you AGAIN.” This means that the tree, in Jesus’ discernment, had borne fruit and perhaps had done so for many years. But, in this season, the blessing of fulfilling its created purpose had come to an end.

Second, there is a difference between a fig tree and a sycamore-fig tree. Most every fig tree I have seen has a plethora of branches. There are branches extending from the trunk low to the ground all the way to the top. They are long branches sweeping out and away much like our arms when small children and grandchildren come running up to us. In the backyard of the house I grew up in, we had a sycamore tree. It, too, had long sweeping branches but not nearly so low to the ground. It was a good tree for climbing, as Zaccheus could well attest. But, it did not bear fruit to eat. It did bear what looked like fruit but it was large seed pods; we called them sycamore balls. You couldn’t eat them but you sure could throw them.

Third, Mark is clear in reminding us that “it was not yet the season for figs.” Such phrasing alludes to “not yet the season for harvesting figs.” It did not mean that the tree did not have fruit. It could mean simply that it was not yet the season to harvest ripened figs. If that was the case, we would see the transition stages of development from flower to fruit. I remember an apple tree in our backyard. Yes, we had a number and variety of trees. I remember getting excited about eating an apple from “my” tree. It takes a couple of years growth and maturity to bear fruit that is edible. After a couple of years, I had great expectations as I saw bulbs forming where the flower had once been. I watched them as they transformed from bulb to fruit and then fruit to edible apple. By the time for harvesting, there were a few hard green apples. That was it. After that, the tree only produced bulbs which should have become fruit but never did. It was a beautiful tree but not a fruit-bearing one. It gave the appearance of fruitfulness but it failed to live up to its potential. Eventually my father cut the tree down and built a storage shed in its place.

I wonder if you can see the transition of meaning and purpose in the stages I laid out above. As Jesus neared the end of His earthly ministry it was time to teach the truly hard lessons of life to His disciples. If we took the time to look back across their lives, even that of Judas of Kerioth, we would see lives that once had been fruitful in their own right but had now become less fruitful and productive. I could give you a picture of each one with particular situations to demonstrate it but there is a reason why Jesus started calling disciples with fishermen. The key understanding of this transition was “fishers of fish and now fishers of people.” The four fishermen had toiled all night, as was the practice of fishing in those days, and come out with empty nets. Fishing was their livelihood and hope of a successful year of fishing was dimming. Such defeat leads even us to question our purpose and our future. I have no doubt the same was true for Peter, Andrew, James and John. But, each disciple had his own story of near-potential or potential unrealized. However, when they were grafted into the life and ministry of Jesus, that all changed. And through three years of on-the-job training, what was not fruitful was pruned away in order to foster greater fruitfulness and greater growth.

Something similar could be said about the Temple and its leadership of the nation of Israel. That same day, Jesus would shock the world, His disciples and the Temple leadership with a demonstration of righteous indignation. He took a whip used to herd animals and cracked it loudly as to gain the attention of everyone. He began to overturn the tables of the moneychangers who worked for the Temple leadership and scattered the “sacrificial animal” vendors who peddled “ornamental salvation and forgiveness.” It was chaos. In the midst of sparrows and doves circling overheard and sheep, lambs and goats running wildly throughout the Temple plaza, there was Jesus standing with a whip in one hand and an empty money box in the other. His eyes were crystalline blue and laser focused. No one dare approach Him. That little boy of twelve who set on the far steps of the Temple and taught as a rabbi was now a man of thirty-three who appeared to be more of a rabble-rouser than rabbi. And then came the “mike drop” declaration spoken with such clarity there would be no misunderstanding. He said “Shame on you who have turned My Father’s House into a den of thieves and robbers.” The echo of His voice was so stunning you could have heard a pin drop despite the din that filled the courtyard. And we know the teaching which also said “The enemy comes only to steal, kill and destroy.” That very place and those very people who were blessed by God to extend their arms around God’s children as a hen gathers her brood under her wing, were now hawks and vultures feeding off the innocent and the pretenders. What was intended to be “a House of Praying” had been transformed into a “House of Those Preyed Upon.” From a distance, the business of the Temple as the very seat of the righteousness of God looked fruitful and productive. But, up close and personal, it was exposed to serve only the whim of human beings seeking to make a profit from the business of God. It was nearing the time of “fruit bearing” as Passover would lead to Pentecost. But, there was nothing spiritually fruitful about it either in cultivation or in harvest.

And then there is that last evidence which the disciples observed as they followed Jesus out of Jerusalem and back to Bethany. Be clear on this, they were not cheering, high fiving and giving “attaboys.” They were looking over their shoulders, covering their heads and whispering to each other in fearful tones. I can imagine they were asking “Do you see anyone?” or “Are they coming?” or “What has He done now?” Most of all, I believe they were asking “What is going to happen now?” Some may have had high hopes of insurrection and rebellion thinking Jesus was now going to bear the fruit of liberation and throw off the enemy of Rome and the fruitless Temple leadership. The Zionist in them was stirred. Some may have been struck with utter fear for their own lives. It was one thing for Jesus to stir up the dust in the Temple with a sweep of His righteous hand; He was the Son of God, afterall. But, did He have to put them at risk, too? Everyone, even Jesus, had their thoughts on the matter. And then there was that tree. You would have thought it had been cut down at the root and cast into the fire. In just those few hours, what had once been a thriving tree full of possibility was now a withered and dried up remnant of itself. It was truly fruitless and had no life in it. It had lost its will and spirit to live. And I believe that Jesus could have easily brought the tree back to life. He could have breathed a word of revival and arboreal resurrection into it. But, I have a feeling that withered fig tree was serving the same purpose as the Pillar of Salt which was Lot’s wife. The point had come in their lives when they couldn’t look back at what was. The “good old days” had come to an end and the lie that they were “good old days” was fully exposed. Those days did not bear the fruit of righteousness. But, a new season was coming. Jesus had planted the seeds of new life, the soil had now been tilled and cultivated and the new was about to bear the fruit of righteousness which would bring glory to God. Yes, and Jesus would have to be the evidence that death had no control over true life. Ornamental spirituality bore no next generation. Only that which was born out of the “fruit of the Spirit” would ever do.


May Your Word of truth be heard and applied to our very lives today as to who we are in Christ and what we are to do in His name. The time has come to decide for ourselves whom we shall serve and at what cost. The price for our freedom and blessing has been paid. The seed of true life has been planted and sprung up to new life bearing the fruit of faith, hope and love. Graft us into the vine of righteousness so that future generations will know of Your excellent mercy. AMEN.

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