If you are reading through the Gospels of Matthew or Mark this Holy Week, you can’t avoid the story that many Bibles label as “The Cursing of the Fig Tree.”
It’s a story I’ve often skipped over — mostly because I didn’t understand it, but it’s one that has a powerful challenge to each of us.
What is the story of the Fig Tree?
In case you’re not familiar with the story, allow me to give a brief summary.
Context :: Jesus had just entered Jerusalem with shouts and praise from the people there to celebrate Passover.* After entering the city, Jesus goes into the Temple and finds people taking advantage of others, so he overturns the tables and drives out all who were buying and selling in the temple.**
Scripture Passage ::
“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” (Matthew 21:18-19 NIV)
What does the story of the Fig Tree mean?
I know it’s just a tree, but my empathy kicks in big time with each re-reading of the account.
Here is a sweet tree, growing there, not bothering anyone, and Jesus comes along, hungry, as he returned to the city from Bethany where he had stayed the night. He sees the tree from a distance, full of leaves, and walked up to it to eat its fruit.
The closer he got, though, he found nothing! Leaves, but no fruit. So he cursed the tree so that it would never bear fruit again.
My mind speculated –> Wasn’t that unfair? What if that just wasn’t the season of bearing fruit? What did the tree do wrong?
I wondered if maybe Jesus was overreacting until I read in a commentary a while back that normally the leaves and the fruit appear at the same time. There really was a problem with this tree.
The fig tree appeared to be healthy — full of leaves, adequate sun, proper location — but despite these blessings, it failed to yield the one thing it was created to give: fruit.
In this account, Jesus used the fig tree to make a point. It serves as an illustration of the rejection of Israel, a nation that was given every advantage but still remained unfruitful.***
But I wonder how the story of the fig tree applies to us, too.
How the story of the Fig Tree applies to us
We might have every “spiritual” advantage possible. Maybe we were raised by Christian parents. Or have multiple Bibles lining our shelves. Perhaps we go to church — or even serve there!
We might say all the right words and do all the right things. But none of that is what will save us and make us fruitful.
If you’re following along in Clean on the Inside: A Family Devotional for Holy Week, this is a similar idea to what we read about with the “whitewashed tombs.” The Pharisees appeared righteous on the outside: observing the law and keeping up appearances, but inside, they were full of sin! There was no inner transformation. They had not been cleaned on the inside!
We, too, might look good on the outside doing all sorts of religious activities or being a really good person. To the people around us, our leaves might be green and vibrant. But Jesus looks at the heart, and it is the inner transformation through Jesus Christ that produces fruit in our lives.
Apart from Jesus, we can not be saved!
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
We can boast about our leaves all we want, but the fruit that God is looking for comes not from ourselves. It comes from Christ dwelling in us!
The foundation is knowing Jesus as our Savior.
For those of us who have made that choice, who have believed in Jesus as our Savior, I believe there is an application here for us, too. Maybe I’m reading into it a little, but I take this story to heart. There is a little part of me that wonders what type of fruit Jesus would see if He looked at my life.
Does my life appear fruitful from a distance but upon closer inspection reveal a barren life, lacking the fruit God created me to grow?
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.” (John 15:16).
It’s not necessarily about doing more. In fact, for some of us, it will mean doing less. Fruit is not the result of our doing. It is the result of our abiding.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
If we are to bear fruit in our lives, if we are to be more than just a tree with leaves, we must continue to abide in Christ and walk by the Spirit.
“For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22).
Do we engage a living faith, or exhibit dead religion?
Have we stopped at the “Jesus is my Savior” part? Or are we continuing on with Him?
Are we submitting ourselves to Jesus, allowing Him to be the Lord of our lives (rather than our desires, our habits, or any number of other people or things)? Are we continuing to be transformed into the likeness of Christ? Are we abiding in Christ and experiencing the inner transformation that leads to outer fruitfulness?
That is my prayer, that we will be people whose outer actions are a result of inner transformation, people who look to Jesus as our Savior and the Lord of our lives! May we be people who produce good fruit!
Question for you:
Where are you on the “abiding scale” today? Are you struggling with what it means to remain in Christ or walk by the Spirit, or is the Spirit producing fruit in your life?
If you are struggling, how can we pray for you or what questions do you have?
If you are abiding, share what that looks like in your life. How are we to abide in Christ? (And if you’re looking for a tool to help you, this is one of the main reasons why I created the Faithful Life Planner — to help us draw near to Jesus and center our whole lives around Him. Find out more about the Faithful Life Planner here.
* Matthew 21:1-11 // also the focus story on Palm Sunday
** Matthew 21:12-17 and the focus of Day 2 in Clean on the Inside
*** In many other places in the Bible, figs were used as a metaphor for the Jewish people (Jeremiah 24:5, 8; Jeremiah 29:17; Hosea 9:10), and withered trees symbolized God’s judgment (Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 8:13; Hosea 2:12).