“This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit.” John 15:8
Read Matthew 21:18-22
Now that Jesus has done some spring cleaning in the temple, we move on to the next morning. I have read the story of the fig tree many times. And by “read” I mean, “read without much thought.” It always struck me as an odd story.
At first glance, it may seem a little harsh for Jesus to curse a fig tree because it didn’t bear fruit. I’ve read some commentaries that report that the fig tree wasn’t even in season around this time of the year, so for Jesus to expect some fruit seems almost unfair until I read something that jumped out at me. Wayne Johnson quotes Alfred Edersheim regarding the trees in Palestine. He writes, “In Palestine the fruit appears before the leaves.” [i] Interesting, huh?
So, imagine you are Jesus. It’s the morning. You’re headed to Jerusalem with your friends for another day of teaching. (Maybe you are hoping those pesky merchants are smart enough to stay away from the temple that day.) You’ve got another busy day ahead of you. You decide to eat while you travel. In this day and age, I’m sure we can relate. There isn’t a McDonald’s® on this exit, so you grab something convenient on the road. As you are walking you see a fig tree with leaves (sort of like a modern day billboard for Burger King®). You head toward it because where there are leaves, there should be fruit, right? You get to the tree and notice there is no fruit! “Then He said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’” (v. 19). In Mark 11:21, Peter refers to what Jesus said as a “curse.” The origin of the word used here is kataraomai which means, “curse, doom, imprecate evil upon” (Strong’s G26720). So, Jesus doomed the tree to be fruitless and die! Wow. That’s strong.
To the amazment of the disciples, the tree whithered and died. So, they asked what Jesus already knew they would ask, “How did the fig tree whither so quickly?”(Matthew 21:20) Bless their hearts, they just didn’t get it! They had seen Him feed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. They had witnessed Him walking on water. They had seen Him calm the storms. They had witnessed time and time again God’s mighty hand, but they hadn’t fully grasped that Jesus was not just a man, but God; the King of Kings.
While this story only lasts for a few verses there is a wealth of knowledge that we can gain from it. The commentary in my Bible brings weaves together this story with the overturned tables in the temple(Life Application Study Bible). “Just as the fig tree looked good from a distance but was fruitless on close examination, so the temple looked impressive at first glance, but its sacrifices and other activities were hollow because they were not done to worship God sincerely. If you only have faith without putting it to work in your life, you are like the fig tree that withered and died because it bore no fruit. Genuine faith means bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. “
Don’t you love how God uses the ordinary everyday things to teach us? This time is no exception. The disciples asked how the tree withered so quickly. Jesus could have responded with, “Because I’m God and I said so.” Or, “Are you kidding? Have you not learned anything from the time I’ve spent with you? Really?” Praise the Lord that he doesn’t respond that way! I love that Jesus doesn’t really tell them why it withered but He empowers them by explaining that they have the power to do it too! And He doesn’t stop there! Not only does He tell them they share the same power, but He equips them, “…if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea’, and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” I feel like screaming a big “Amen!”
Now, before we get all crazy and start praying for all kinds of things, let’s remember from this example the power of our prayers. We have the power to curse and the power to build up. We have the power to uplift or the power to destroy. May we never be flippant about the prayers we pray, but may we never doubt that if we are praying for God’s glory, know that He will not disappoint. In fact, it will likely be more glorious than we could’ve ever imagined. Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t subscribe to prosperity gospel. It’s not all name and claim it. There are seasons for everything. There are seasons of pruning; seasons of growth; seasons of happiness; seasons of sadness; seasons for planting; seasons for harvesting; and seasons of abundance. They all serve one purpose and that is to glorify God. We may not see it now, but we will.
God recently revealed to me that this is a year of abundance for me, and what a journey it’s been and it’s only March! I’ve struggled for many years, due mostly out of my inability to get out of my own head and get into God’s Word. What changed? I started making it my top priority to spend time in God’s presence. I sit and pray, or read scripture. Sometimes I even sing. It is the sweetest part of my day and has transformed my life. I begin my day focused on Jesus. We sit and chat. I tell Him, “Good morning, Lord” each day. For those of you that know me, that may not surprise you. For those of you that don’t, let’s just say that I’m a goofy girl. But I’m a goofy girl that loves the Lord. I live each day in the hopes that God will throw me a “bread crumb” because those bread crumbs are more precious to me than gold! It’s humbling and exciting and is absolutely the greatest joy that I’ve experienced.
While I have been blessed with so much this year and know that more is yet to come, my greatest blessing is hearing God speak to me. My favorite thing that He whispered to me is, “Do you see why I couldn’t give you what you wanted? Do you see? You asked for so little and I wanted to give you so much!” How often do we pray for God to fulfill a desire for something that we want and when He doesn’t provide what we think the answer should be, we jump to the conclusion that our prayers have gone unanswered? Child, don’t you see? You ask for so little and He wants to give you so much! God wants to bless us. He wants us to bear fruit because it glorifies Him (John 15:8)! Most of the time, we simply get in the way of the blessings that He wants so much to give us.
While God wants to bless us, it does require some effort on our part. First, we have to be Christians. Second, we have to submit our request to God. Third, we have to check our motives, and fourth, we have to step out in bold faith. It takes bold faith to tell a mountain to go throw itself into the sea. Notice that Jesus says, “IF you have faith and do not doubt…IF you believe” [emphasis mine]. Basically, if we ask for little and expect little that might be exactly what we end up with because “according to your faith it will be done to you” (Matthew 9:29). May we always expect God’s glory to be more than we ever imagined!