TEXT: Matthew 21:18-22
18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.
19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
20 And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!
21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.
22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
Matthew Henry said, “Faith is the soul, prayer is the body; both together make a complete man for any service. Faith, if it be right, will excite prayer; and prayer is not right, if it do not spring from faith. This is the condition of our receiving—we must ask in prayer, believing.”
Matthew Poole said, “Nothing is too big for true faith to obtain, but that faith must have a promise to lean upon.”
F.B. Meyer said, “We can only believe for a thing when we are in such union with God that his thought and purpose can freely flow into us, suggesting what we should pray for, and leading us to that point in which there is a perfect sympathy and understanding between us and the divine mind. Faith is always the product of such a frame as this.”
We are in a series of messages titled “Praying Through the Bible: A Series on Every Passage and Verse Regarding Prayer in the Bible.” The purpose of this series is to encourage and motivate you to pray to the God of the Bible. We highlighted each of these over 500 verses and passages in the Prayer Motivator Devotional Bible. So far, we have completed 143 messages in this series.
This is message #144 titled, Fake Christians and Fruitful Christians
Our passage today is one with which many of us are familiar. However, while we often focus on the latter part in which Jesus exhorts His disciples to pray in faith so that they can move mountains, we miss the true message Jesus intended to communicate by making an object lesson of the fig tree, and that is what we will look at today.
The Bible reads, “Now in the morning as [Jesus] returned into the city, he hungered. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.”
Jesus was on His way back into Jerusalem. A previous verse in this chapter tells us that although Jesus visited Jerusalem during the day, He lodged in Bethany at night. So, as He was going back into the city, He was hungry and went over to a fig tree that grew by the road expecting to find fruit, but there was no fruit growing on it. So Jesus curses the fig tree and condemns it to never bear fruit again. We are told that the tree withers away quickly and the disciples are amazed by this event.
It seems absurd that Jesus would curse a fig tree for not bearing any fruit. After all, it isn’t the tree’s fault. The Gospel of Mark informs us that it was not even the time of year for figs to be growing. Perhaps the figs that had been on the tree had been picked by others already. Cursing a fig tree for not having any fruit is like kicking a chicken for not producing any eggs. It’s pointless. But in Jesus’ case, there really is a lesson He wants us to learn.
To understand the lesson Jesus is teaching, we must understand the significance of a fig tree in first century Palestine. Fig trees were long seen as symbols of prosperity, pleasure, and security. A flourishing fig tree was a good sign. Old Testament prophets such as Hosea and Jeremiah often used the fig tree as a symbol of Israel. For example, Jeremiah 8:13 states, “I will surely consume [Israel], says the LORD. No grapes shall be on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them.”
The second thing we must understand is the context of Jesus’ action. We recall from this very same passage that Jesus had the previous day gone into the Temple, cleansed it, and rebuked the religious leaders for making the house of prayer a den of thieves. We are also told that Jesus preached in the Temple for several days after that, so Jesus is on His way to continue His teaching when this event with the fig tree takes place.
Jesus uses the image of the fig tree to illustrate the spiritual condition of the nation of Israel at that time: seemingly flourishing, but actually fruitless. There was a lot of religiosity going on in Israel, but there was little to no real spiritual fruit. This spiritual deadness was evident in the majority of Jews rejecting Jesus as the Messiah — which was shown vividly just a few days later when many cried out for Him to be crucified. At one point, Jesus even told the Jews, “If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God.” He went on to say, “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.”
The fig tree is described as “having leaves only.” The leaves made it look like the tree was bearing fruit, but upon closer examination, there was no fruit. Listen to what Richard Lenski states in his commentary: “Jesus was thoroughly disappointed when he found nothing on it save leaves only; not even green, unripe fruit, for this is what ‘leaves only’ means. Jesus would not have blasted this tree if it had had even a little immature fruit. But here this tree with its grand foliage was nothing but empty pretense, and whereas it led one to expect that it might have at least a few figs that were fit to eat, it had absolutely nothing ‘save leaves only!'”
When Jesus said, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever,” He was stating a verdict not just on the tree but also symbolically on the nation of Israel. The Israel that had shown itself to be spiritually deficient would wither away just as the tree did.
C.H. Spurgeon said, “The first Adam came to the fig tree for leaves, but the Second Adam looks for figs.”
R.T. France said, “In this acted-out-parable, Jesus warned of coming judgment upon an unfruitful Israel. It was a way to show God’s disapproval of people who are all leaves and no fruit. ‘The story is clear and simple, and its point obvious, that what counts is not promise but performance.’”
What is the application for us today as twenty-first century believers? The application is this: We ought to not just look spiritually fruitful, but to actually be spiritually fruitful. Appearances can be deceiving. The hustle and bustle of the Temple and all of the people converging on Jerusalem for the Passover made it look like the nation of Israel was truly in line with God’s will. However, throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly pulled back the covers on the religious hypocrisy of the Jews — especially the religious leaders. He called them ‘white-washed tombs’: they looked pretty on the outside but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones. Like the fig tree, they had a lot of leaves, but no actual fruit.
We must consider if our churches today are more like the Temple of the first century instead of what Jesus intended us to be. In the Temple, there was a lot of money being given, a lot of Scripture being read, a lot of sacrifices being made, but none of that was being borne out in the hearts and lives of the people. Do we have a heart that is full of unbelief toward God? Are we just going through the religious motions — looking like we are bearing spiritual fruit, but not actually bearing any?
As we see in this passage, Jesus is highly displeased with mere religiosity. He does not want followers who “act” saved, but followers who are saved. Without genuine faith in Jesus Christ, we may look good before men, but when Jesus looks closely at our lives, He will see that we are spiritually deficient.
Today, we must make the true spiritual condition of our lives a matter of prayer. We must make the true spiritual condition of the church a matter of prayer. Let us repent of being “leafy” Christians. Let us pray for the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we may indeed bear the fruit of the Spirit. Let us pray that when Jesus looks at our lives, He sees real fruit and is pleased with us as His servants.
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Now, if you are with us today, and you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, your first prayer needs to be what we call the Sinner’s Prayer. First, please understand that you are a sinner, just as I am, and that you have broken God’s laws. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.
Romans 10:9 & 13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved… For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
If you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead, and you want to trust Him for your salvation today, please pray with me this simple prayer: Holy Father God, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have done some bad things in my life. For Jesus Christ sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all of my heart that Jesus Christ died for me, was buried, and rose again. Lord Jesus, please come into my heart and save my soul and change my life today. Amen.
If you just trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, I declare to you that based upon the Word of God, you are now saved from Hell and you are on your way to Heaven. Welcome to the family of God! Congratulations on trusting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. You have done the most important thing in life. For more information to help you grow in your newfound faith in Christ, go to Gospel Light Society.com and read “What To Do After You Enter Through the Door”. Jesus Christ said in John 10:9, “I am the door, by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
God loves you. We love you. And may God bless you.