The Deceptive Fig Tree
THE DECEPTIVE FIG TREE
This passage that was read, the story of the fig tree, is one of the most troubling passages in reference to Jesus that you will find.
- It is a troubling miracle because it involves a destructive act and that is not like Jesus.
- Usually when Jesus works a miracle He heals. He restores. He puts back into place.
- But here we see Jesus using His divine power to destroy…to cause something to die.
- And that seems out of character.
- It is almost as if He is angry and that bothers us.
And another reason it is troubling is because, not only does He seem angry, but He seems unjust in His anger, because Mark himself says in verse 13, ” it wasn’t the season for figs.”
- So it seems that Jesus gets mad at a tree for not doing what it is not supposed to do yet?
So this is a troubling miracle. 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 came after.
- Usually the passages surrounding it will give you an explanation.
- And I think that is exactly what you have here.
- I think it is significant that this fig tree story is sandwiched in between the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem….and His driving the moneychangers out of the temple.
But before we look at those events lets first consider the tree.
- To begin, let me tell you just a little bit of what I understand about fig trees.
- A fig tree is unique in that the fruit grows with the leaves.
- With 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.
- And by the time the tree is fully covered with leaves the fruit is ripe and ready to eat.
- So when Jesus sees this fig tree in full leaf…it should have also had ripe fruit.
Now, notice that Mark says that it was not the “season for figs.”
- Apparently this tree had leafed out early…and by leafing out early it was showing that it was superior, different, special when compared to all the other fig trees.
At any rate, from a distance Jesus spots it, it has leaves early, it is early in the morning and it is going to be a long day.
- And He says to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the tree and let’s get something to eat.”
- They get there…and the fig tree is a
- It has a great appearance…but no fruit.
And so in verse 14 He curses the tree.
- And if you will look at verse 20 you will see that this phony fig tree “withered from the roots up.”
Now, you have this story of this deceptive looking, fruitless fig tree sandwiched in between the story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem…and His driving the money changers out of the temple.
- What is Jesus trying to teach us?
- Well, to help us understand why…and to help us understand what Jesus is trying to teach through this fig tree, let’s go back to what happened 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 15.
- Jesus comes to Jerusalem and He enters the temple
- 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 were 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.”
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.
If you came to offer a sacrifice, the temple officials would take your animal that you brought to sacrifice and they would find something wrong with it.
- And they would say, “It is not good enough.”
- But then they would sell you a similar animal at 5 times the going rate.
- And then put your animal back in their pen and sell it to someone else.
So in this one place where people should have been able to come and worship God, people were being fleeced and they were leaving saying, “If they will cheat me like that I am not coming back.”
Not only that, in verse 16, they had turned the court of the Gentiles into a short cut.
- A quick way to get from one side of the city to the other was through the court of the Gentiles.
- So people were walking through there with all kinds of goods and merchandise and doing business.
- And all of these things are happening in the one place that the Gentiles should have been able to come and find the presence of God.
- It was like the prophet said: They had made this house of prayer for all the nations a den of robbers.
But the irony is, on the outside it looked good.
- Every one coming to offer sacrifices…and 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.
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 right in the middle of these two accounts 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 this story of the fig tree is, it 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 it reflects the judgment that is going to come on them.
When it came to the nation of Israel, God was the planter and they were His special tree.
- God tells us that in several passages; Isaiah 61: 3; 60: 21; Hosea 9: 13
- 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.
- In fact, they weren’t too interested in what God wanted at all.
So God sent His prophets, His servants to work His field, and to prune His tree and to groom it.
- But they rejected the prophets.
So God sent His own Son to come and demand that His tree 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 judgment 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. Look at 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 70AD., through the Roman Emperor Titus and His army, God does just that.
- He destroys Jerusalem, the temple, and the Jewish system.
Back to Mark 11.
Jesus’ actions in regard to this fig tree, shows what is going to befall the Jewish nation…and it also shows His utter disgust for people who practice religion without substance.
- People who seem to have 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 that is the primary lesson for us today; If we do the same thing as a congregation of God’s people…or as individuals…He will do the same to us.
- If we do what they were doing He will be and already is disgusted with us too.
- 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.
- And when we call Christ “Lord” it needs to show in our lives…because our Lord doesn’t want a bunch of phonies.
So look now at verse 20.
- The disciples have just seen Jesus cleanse the temple…they have just seen how the fake the people really were…
- And now it is evening and they are leaving the city…and they pass by the fig tree that appeared so good but really wasn’t…
- And they notice that the fig tree is “withered from the roots up.”
- And in verse 21 Peter remembers what Christ had said in reference to this tree and he speaks to Christ and says, “Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.”
And look at Jesus’ response.
- It is a simple response…and yet it is something that the Jews had failed in.
- Look what He says in verse 22: “Have faith in God.”
- This is a command. Without faith it is impossible to please Him. Faith is not an option.
- Jesus says, “Have faith in God…trust in Him…believe in Him…have confidence in Him.
- And it is not to be a superficial, shallow, no substance faith.
- Don’t be like these Jews and have a faith that is all show on the outside with nothing on the inside.
Look at the character of this faith. Look at verses 22-23.
- Jesus says, “Have faith in God.”
Now, look what Jesus says next: 23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you.
- Now, I do not fully understand what Jesus says here and I can tell you from my study that there are all kinds of different ideas on what Jesus is saying here.
- But the one thing I can understand about what Jesus says here is He is describing a faith in God that is unwavering, one that does not doubt, one that fully trusts in God no matter what.
- He is describing a faith that draws one near to God…a faith that depends on God.
And notice now the condition of faith. Vs. 25-26.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your transgressions. 26[“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]
- One of the most difficult things that God has commanded us to do is forgive.
- Especially when someone does something to us that cuts our hearts right out.
- And yet, God wants us to have a faith in Him that is obedient…and therefore forgives.
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.
- They learned that all show…and all talk doesn’t cut it with Christ.
- They learned that faith without substance will be cursed.
Today, there are a lot of churches where there is a lot of foliage.
- They have all these activities…all these rituals…
- And everyone is busy…going and doing…
- But that is all there is…just a lot of leaves and no fruit.
Are we that way? Are you that way? If so, let’s repent.
© Sunset Ridge Church of Christ 2023