Big Tree No Fruit
BIG TREE, NO FRUIT
Most of you having lived here in Texas for many years understand what this means: “Big Hat, No Cattle.”
- It is an interesting way of describing someone who talks a good game, but can’t back up their talk with any concrete action.
- It has reference to those who gain a reputation as a person who can’t be trusted to follow through on what they are talking about.
Today, here in Matthew 21 we have “Big Tree, No Fruit.”
- And Matthew tells us this story so that we could learn more about Jesus, but he also told us this story so we can learn about ourselves.
- So, let’s study.
Look once again at the story.
- 18 says, “In the morning, when He returned to the city (or Jerusalem), He became hungry.”
- And so He sees a “lone fig tree by the road” and He goes over to it…and the only thing on the tree is its leaves.”
Now, let me tell you something here about a fig tree…I don’t know much…not even sure I would know what a fig tree looks like.
- But from what I understand a fig tree is a unique tree in that the fruit grows with the leaves.
- Most trees you get the leaves then the fruit….the leaves come on and then a few months later the fruit is ready to harvest.
- But not so with a fig tree.
- From what I understand you get the fruit at the same time the leaves come on.
- So, if a fig tree has leaves it is supposed to have fruit.
- But on this tree there is no fruit…it looks good! But there is no fruit.
So, Jesus curses the tree and it dies.
- Now, why does He do this? Is He irritated? Mad?
- Normally when He performs a miracle He heals…He restores…He puts things back in place.
- But here we see Jesus using His divine power to destroy…to cause something to die.
- That seems so out of character.
- It is almost as if He is angry and that bothers people.
- What is Jesus doing? What is His point? Is He just having a temper tantrum?
- What is Jesus trying to teach us?
Well, any time you find a difficult passage and an event like this in the Bible, the thing to do is read what came before the event and what comes after because the passages surrounding it will usually give you an explanation.
- And I think that is exactly what you have here.
- So let’s go back to what took place the day before.
Now the day before, Jesus came into Jerusalem on this little colt of a donkey.
- And when He does all these people shout “Hosanna…Hosanna in the highest.”
- And they treat Him like a King…they spread their garments out before Him…and they cut branches off of trees and spread them out in front of Him.
- And they cry out and call Him, “King!” and “Son of David.”
- They honor Him and praise Him.
- Everything the people said and did looked so good…and sounded so good.
- Just like the fig tree, they gave the appearance of being “fruitful.”
But look what those same people do beginning in verse 12.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem and He enters the temple
- And listen, the temple was the holy place…is should have been a sacred place.
- The Holy of Holies was there.
- It was the one place on earth where you should be able to approach the presence of God…and worship.
And keep in mind what week this is….it is the Passover week.
- There was never a week when more people came…when there was more sacrifices.
- This was the most significant week of the spiritual year for the Jews.
- And when you should have been able to go to that place, during this most significant of weeks, and find God’ people doing what God’s people should do in the presence of God…
- Jesus went and found them fleecing one another…and profiteering.
- They had made the temple a “joke.”
You see, an adult male had to pay a temple tax to enter the temple.
- And he would come with his coins and those who collected the tax would say, “Your coin isn’t acceptable with the image that is on it.”
- So the pilgrim who was paying the tax would have to exchange his coins for money that was considered appropriate.
- But they wouldn’t exchange at a one to one ratio.
- They would charge him an exorbitant fee.
And if you were poor you could offer up a dove for a sacrifice…but apparently those selling the doves were taking advantage of the poor.
So in this one place where people should have been able to come and worship God, people were being fleeced…and cheated.
- In fact, look what Jesus says in verse 13: And He said to them, “It is written, MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER; but you are making it a ROBBERS DEN.”
- It had become a den of thieves!
But the irony is, on the outside it looked good.
- Every one coming to offer sacrifices…and to sing all the songs and chants, and all the priests bustling around in their robes, all the trumpets, all the calls to worship, they all looked so good, and holy and profound.
- Everyone giving the appearance of being so dedicated to God
- But all of it was a façade…it was a lie.
- It was false….there hearts weren’t in it.
- They were phonies.
Listen, when it came to devotion to God…to honoring God…to worshipping God.
- When it came to calling Christ “King”…they were all show…they were all talk.
- They sounded good…they looked good…but there was no substance.
- They were deceptive in appearance.
- In just a few days these same people would demand that Christ be crucified.
So what you have here is the account of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem…which looked so good.
- And this account of the temple…which on the outside looked so good.
- And following right after those two events you have this story of a fig tree, that looked so good…and yet all three were “deceptive in appearance” and were “fruitless.”
And what you have here in this story of the fig tree is what is called an “enacted parable”.
- It is an acted out parable that reflects what these people were like…but more than that it reflects what the Jewish nation was like…and the judgment that is going to come on them.
And that is why Jesus curses the tree and it withers and dies.
This fig tree represented the Jews and the nation of Israel…and what God promised would happen. And Jews understood that.
- In Isaiah 61:3, God’s people are called, “trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah.”
- In Isaiah 60:21 they are called, “the branch of God’s planting, the work of His hands, that He may be glorified.”
- In Hosea 9:13 God says that He saw their fathers as “the earliest fruit on the fig tree.”
When it came to the nation of Israel, God was the planter and they were his special tree.
- And God had placed her in a good field.
- And He had told her to be a light to the nations and to take His glory and share it with the world.
- But Israel had rejected that mission.
- They did not bear the fruit God wanted them to bear.
So God sent His prophets, His servants to work His field, and to clean it and weed it.
- But they rejected the prophets.
So God sent His own son to come and demand that His vine should bear fruit.
- But they rejected the Son.
- And what does the one who owns the field do when the servants and the Son have been killed?
- He comes in judgment on those who have done this.
And that is what this story is saying.
- The time for Israel’s judgement has come.
- Israel is guilty of two crimes.
- She is guilty of no production. She has not produced the fruit that God has asked of her.
- She is guilty of the crime of false profession.
- She has given the impression on the outside that she belongs to God and has done what God has asked of her.
- But the truth of the matter is, she was all show and no substance.
- And in fact, Israel was as bad as those around her who had rejected God too.
John the Baptizer had predicted this day. Turn to Matthew 3:7-10.
- John had stood at the Jordan River and the people were coming out to Him.
- And look what John says to the scribes and Pharisees who were near by.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
When it came to pleasing God, they thought all they had to do was go to the temple 3 times a year.
- Or they thought they were pleasing to God because of their heritage.
But that isn’t what impresses God.
- God wants to see His people bearing the fruit that He wants them to bear.
- And He wants them to be what they appear to be…and what they are supposed to be.
Because these people weren’t, God would destroy their nation.
- And in 70 AD., through the Roman Emperor Titus and His army, God does just that.
- He destroys Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish system.
Go back to Matthew 21. Jesus’ actions in regard to this fig tree, shows His utter disgust for people who practice religion without substance.
- People who paint all the leaves on the outside…but who deliver no fruit on the inside.
These Jews had forgotten who God was.
- He is a sacred, holy God…
- A God who is worthy of sincere, heart felt worship, and honor.
- And because they didn’t worship Him in sincerity.
- Because their actions were just superficial…and phony…God brought them to judgment.
And today, if we do the same thing as a congregation of God’s people…or as individuals…He will do the same to us.
- We need to keep God holy….and when we approach Him we need to approach Him with reverence…and honor.
- And we should never show any disrespect for Him.
- And folks, when we come in here…and sing these songs…and say our prayers…and hear his word…we need to take care in how we do those things.
- Our Lord doesn’t want a bunch of phonies.
So look now at the end of verse 20 and 21: And at once the fig tree withered. 20 And seeing this, the disciples marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered and said to them…
- The disciples…the 12…the following is directed to them.
- A lot of people want to apply what Jesus says here to us today…and when what they ask for doesn’t happen…they are devastated and are tempted to abandon their faith in God altogether.
Jesus is speaking to His disciples…back in chapter 10 He had given them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and sickness.
- But there were times when they struggled with that.
- In chapter 14 they couldn’t feed the 5000.
- Peter walked on the water and then began to sink.
- In chapter 17 a man brought his demon possessed son to them and they couldn’t heal him.
- The disciples were struggling with their faith…and so look at what Jesus says to them in vs. 21: “Truly I say to you (the disciples), if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen. 22 “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
Even though what Jesus says here is directed to the 12 disciples, it still teaches us the importance of a strong faith in God…one that does not doubt…one that fully trusts in God and one that agrees with His will.
Jesus taught His disciples a very important lesson with this fig tree.
- They learned that He isn’t satisfied with appearance alone.
- They learned that He doesn’t want a bunch of phonies…and liars.
- He doesn’t want a TREE with No Fruit.
- He wants disciples that are disciples not only on the outside but on the inside as well.
© Sunset Ridge Church of Christ 2023