Text: Mark -14, 20-24
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 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. In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!" "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Why did Jesus kill that tree? Steven Wells, the author of The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, labels this story an absurdity and says, “Jesus kills a fig tree for not bearing figs, even though it was out of season. He did this to show the world just how much "God hates figs.” And then in the next few verses, he adds, Jesus goes on to have his famous "Temple tantrum."
Steve Wells is having a bit of fun but in truth, God does not hate figs. In fact, the evidence suggests that God is fond of them. It’s fruitless trees He cannot stand.
Throughout the Scriptures, trees or vines represent the people of God. A fruitful tree is a sign of blessing. A barren tree is a sign of curse. It is the nature of a fruit tree to bear fruit. And if it does not bear fruit, something is wrong, it needs to be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
In this morning’s lesson, Mark reports that the fig tree was full of leaves, but that it had no fruit. The point is that while there is the appearance of health, the reality is that there is nothing sweet on the branches. The same was true of Israel at the time of Christ. They had the appearance of holiness, but it was a mirage. Therefore, when Jesus cursed the fig tree, he was describing Israel’s spiritual condition. And killing the tree was His way of prefiguring the destruction to come when the Romans would destroy Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Some people question why Jesus thought there might have been figs on the tree since, as Mark explicitly states, it was not the season for figs. There was a famous rationalist philosopher named Bertrand Russell who died in 1970. He wrote a book called Why I’m Not a Christian. He mentions this particular passage about the cursing of the fig tree and he says that a truly divine figure would have known there were no figs on the tree and would not have had to investigate the matter.
Jesus is not an idiot. Like anyone else living in that place and time, He knew when particular fruit trees could be expected to bear fruit. But the details of horticulture aside, maybe Jesus had other reasons for expecting the fig tree to be full of fruit. Keep in mind that He approaches the tree just moments after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed by all the people as the son of David.
The Jewish encyclopedia says the fig tree represents the coming of the messiah. Given the fact that the King of kings has entered the Holy City to take up his throne, why wouldn’t the fig tree’s branches be teeming figs.
Now, you are probably going to think I’m a geek for doing what I’m about to do, but that is just a risk I’m going to have to take. I love fairy tales. And British author, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy intending it to be a sort of fairy tale for adults. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the stories, I’m going to ask you to bear with me. There was once a great city in Middle Earth called Gondor. And this great civilization had once been ruled by a line of mighty and impressive kings. Unfortunately, there had not been a king in Gondor for many generations. Now there stood in the midst of the city, a beautiful white tree. And this tree, the white tree of Gondor, represented the glory of the kingdom. It was the symbol upon their flag. But this ancient tree has stood lifeless and dry and barren where it once bore its beautiful blossoms and fruit. It had been barren during the whole period of time when there was no king in Gondor.
The third of the three books is entitled The Return of the King. And in the story, there was a terrible battle where the forces of wrong were pitted against the forces of right. And then at the end, after the rebellious angels and their armies are defeated, the great warrior Aragorn is revealed to be the rightful son of Gondor and heir to the throne. There is a wedding, a banquet and a coronation. And here is one of those astonishing instances when the film version improves upon the book. For when the king is back in Gondor, the magic white tree is once more in full bloom.
Jesus cursed the fig tree and it withered, but isn’t it also true that the tree has cursed itself? So Jesus was really saying, in effect, “Fine. Have it your way. You won’t bear fruit, be fruitless forever.” Or as the Lord is quoted in the Book of Revelation to say: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still (Rev. 22:11).”
You and I are found in that tree. We are the barren trees. Our lives are not fruitful. We do not bear the sweetness of God. We might have the appearance of godliness, yes, but we have nothing to offer Him but our sins and failures and lies. But I am here to tell you that: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13)." You’ve been died for. I look forward to the day of the king’s return. For on that day there will be a wedding, a banquet, a coronation and you will bloom like a supernova. In Jesus’ name. Amen. Sphere: Related Content