Fig Tree Series, Part 2: Bearing Real Fruit
“On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He was hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if He would find anything on it. But He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “No one will ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening [to what He said].” (Mark 11: 12-14, AMP)
I hope the theme of last week’s devotion is still ringing in your mind. It sure is in mine, and it’s the lens I’m beginning to read and see everything through: God is so intentional. He wastes nothing. Everything has an eternal, Kingdom-situated meaning.
So let’s revisit the fig tree and dig deeper. Jesus was hungry after spending the night in Bethany, and
saw a fig tree in leaf. He gets to the tree, sees no fruit, and curses the tree to never bear fruit again. Maybe, to you, it seems irrational. “Wow, Jesus, I get that you were hungry, but did you have to curse the whole tree just because it didn’t have a snack?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “If it wasn’t the season for figs, then why didn’t He curb His enthusiasm? After all, if He knew figs weren’t in season– being God and all– then why didn’t He keep his expectations low?”
And if you’re like me, a know-nothing when it comes to fig trees, you wouldn’t have guessed that fig trees only bear leaves when the tree is fruitful. In fact, some fig trees bear fruit before the leaves bloom. So back in Jesus’ day, a leafy fig tree was basically a guarantee for fruit. In short, the tree gave the appearance of fruit, while in all reality, it was fruitless.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (John 15: 4-6, NASB)
And here’s where the eternal perspective comes in: Jesus taught the disciples through the above analogy in the gospel of John. He equated himself to the vine, and the Church to the branches, each individual Christian is its own branch. If we as the branches stay close to the vine, which is Jesus, we will bear fruit because the branches receive the necessary elements to create fruit from the vine. If the branch is apart from the vine, it cannot make fruit by itself; in the same way, we cannot be healthy Christians with good thoughts, attitudes, desires, and actions, if we are not steadily abiding in the only One who can transform us from sinful creatures to righteous, Kingdom-minded Christians.
So when Jesus, who is on the road to the cross, sees this tree that gives the appearance of fruit but bears none, He becomes angry. Just like He said in John, if anyone does not abide in Jesus– therefore he bears no fruit– must be cut off from the vine and the rest of the branches to be dried up, gathered, and burned. Does that sound like an overreaction? It shouldn’t, because the truth is this: if we are lukewarm Christians, that is, if we say we are followers of Jesus and say we want to see His Kingdom come, but we never bear any fruit, we will be judged for it. The Lord is clear in Matthew 7, lukewarm Christians or members of the Church that don’t actually live in the way we are commanded to will be turned away because Jesus never really knew them.
So this fig tree stood as a reminder of what Jesus was there to do. First, He was specifically in Jerusalem to evaluate the temple. A few short verses before the fig tree, it says that Jesus went to the temple the day before to “look carefully at everything” (Mark 11:11). And just after the fig tree, He will return to the temple to clear it out. He was there to clear out religious people stuck in their fruitless ways– to wake them up and make it clear that God wouldn’t stand for empty worship and superficial prayers.
Second, He knew He was there to die so that His people could be brought closer to God without a blood sacrifice or a ritual to cleanse their sins. He was going to be the final atonement for us. He had no time to waste on a Church that was inconvenienced by the pruning that is necessary to bear even more fruit. So what did He do? He curse the fig tree so that it would wither– so that it couldn’t fool anyone again.
Today, use this as a reminder that we have to constantly be on guard that we don’t become spiritually apathetic to our purpose. We were created to worship, adore, and bear fruit for God. The second we let go of that and allow ourselves to slip into religion, we will find ourselves in a dangerous position. Stir yourself up. Don’t allow yourself to become the kind of Christian that only shows up on a Sunday, lifting your hand and bowing your head for show, and never adhering to or living in the way you know you should for the rest of the week. Don’t be an InstaChristian, showing off your religious leaves on social media, but never transforming your life into a branch that bears fruit in your private life.
We need to realize that yes, there was a practical application to Jesus’ anger– He was hungry and the tree faked Him out– but there is also an eternal application where Jesus saw this same complacency in the hearts of His people. And as much as it must pain the Creator to curse and wither His creation– whether tree or man– He must do it to protect the overall health of the Church and His people. If Jesus will not let a fig tree get away with fruitlessness, why would He allow us to?
Search your hearts today, friends. And if there is any fruitlessness in your life, stir yourself up. Fall in love again. Do what you must to turn back and draw near to the vine. Remember: the branches don’t have to work and strive to create fruit. They can’t. The only way for them to be fruitful is to draw near to the vine. It’s the same for us. We must turn and transform ourselves into someone that looks more like Jesus by drawing near and allowing Him to lead us into life change.
Dear Lord, Search my heart today. Show me the places where I have allowed myself to become religious and fruitless. I don’t want to be like the fig tree that superficially grows leaves for the world to be impressed with my shallow faith. I want to be someone who is deeply rooted in you; someone who knows your face and follows your lead. Take any desire out of my heart to bear fruit for the sake of bearing fruit. Help me to be your child, grafted into your grace, and let the fruit in my life be the product of being near to you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen