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Mark 11:12-14; 20-21
THE FRUITLESS FIG TREE
Intro: We are walking with Jesus and His disciples through the last week of His earthly life. It is amazing that Jesus was able to pack so much activity into a seven day period of time. He accomplished much during those seven days and not a single moment was wasted by our Lord.
In this message, we are going to look at an event that occurred early on Monday morning of our Lord’s Passion Week. This single event was designed to teach us about the judgment of God that was coming on the nation of Israel. They had rejected their Messiah and they were about to pay a terrible price.
While this text speaks primarily to Israel, there is also a word of warning here for all people. The Lord Jesus wants us all to know that He is examining our lives. He wants us to know that He is looking for genuine spiritual fruit in our lives. When He finds that fruit, we are blessed. When He does not find it, there is a high price to pay.
Let’s follow Jesus and His disciples through these verses today. I want to preach about The Fruitless Fig Tree. I want you to see with me The Lord’s Desire; The Lord’s Disappointment; The Lord’s Declaration and The Lord’s Demonstration. Let’s consider these thoughts together. Let’s also be sure that we hear His message to our hearts. It is an important message that we cannot afford to miss.
I. v. 12 THE LORD’S DESIRE
· As Jesus and His men travel from Bethany back into Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus becomes hungry. This simple truth has little to do with the message I want to preach today, but it is a truth that needs to be explored for a few moments.
· When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of that little donkey, the Bible said, of that donkey, “the Lord hath need of him,” Mark 11:3. As I mentioned then, it amazes me that the Lord could ever need anything. After all, He is God. He is the Creator. He is the Lord of Glory.
Yet, when Jesus was born in to this world, He laid aside His heavenly glory for a time to live in this world as a man. The One Who made all things became dependent upon the things He had made. The paradox of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus Christ is summed up in the words of Paul in 2 Cor. 8:9, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”
Ø The Creator became a helpless infant, dependent upon His mother for everything.
Ø He owned all things, yet He possessed nothing. He created the stars, yet He had nowhere to lay His Own head, Matt. 8:20.
Ø He fashioned everything there is out of nothing, yet He had to borrow a boat from which to preach His Gospel.
Ø He created every drop of water that exists in the world, yet He cried “I thirst” as He was dying on the cross, John 19:28.
Ø He created every tree, but He died on a borrowed cross.
Ø He created every rock, but He had to borrow a tomb in which to be buried.
Ø He used the clouds as His chariots, Psa. 104:3, yet He had to borrow a donkey on which to ride.
· All of these things are clear evidence of His humanity. When Jesus was born into this world, He remained fully God, but He became fully man, Phil. 2:5-8. This is seen in many areas of His life. Consider the following:
Ø Jesus experienced hunger – Mark 11:12 (Ill. Psa. 50:12)
Ø Jesus experienced thirst – John 19:28 (Ill. Isa. 40:12)
Ø Jesus experienced weariness – John 4:6; Mark 4:38 (Ill. Psa. 121:4)
Ø Jesus experienced pain – Matt. 27:35; Isa. 52:14; Isa. 53:4-6 (Ill. Psa. 2:4)
Ø Jesus experienced rejection – John 1:11; John 7:3-5 (Ill. Gen. 1:26)
Ø Jesus experienced loneliness – Matt. 26:56 (Ill. Pro. 15:3; Heb. 13:5)
Ø Jesus experienced poverty – Matt. 8:20 (Ill. Psa. 50:10-12)
· There is more that could be said about His human experience. But, we need to remember that He endured all He did so that He might identify with us. He did everything He did so that He might go to the cross and die for His people, 2 Cor. 5:21. He did all that He did so that He could experience life from our perspective and extend compassion and help to His people, Heb. 4:15-16.
· I praise God that Jesus became a man so that we might have a Redeemer and a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother!
II. v. 12-13 THE LORD’S
· The text tells that Jesus is hungry. As He walks Jesus sees a “fig tree afar off”. The tree is in full leaf, so Jesus goes to it hoping to find some figs to eat. When He comes to the tree, He finds nothing but leaves. Then the text tells us that “the time of figs was not yet”. In order to understand what is happening here, need to examine these verses a little closer.
· Fig trees were and are very common in Israel. The common fig, which is mentioned over 60 times in the Bible, is one of the most important trees in the Word of God.
Ø It is first mentioned in Gen. 3:7, when Adam and Eve used its broad leaves to make aprons to cover their nakedness.
Ø Figs were a vital part of the Middle Eastern diet. The fruit was sweet to the taste, Jud. 9:11.
Ø The first ripe figs were especially valued, Jer. 24:2; Hos. 9:10.
Ø Fig trees were valued for their shade. It was a sign of peace and prosperity to sit in the shade of a fig tree, 1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4.
Ø It was under a fig tree that Jesus first saw Nathanael, John 1:48.
Ø Good figs were used a picture of obedient believers, Jer. 24:2-3; while rotten figs were used a picture of wicked men, Jer. 24:2-8.
Ø The fig tree was used by the Old Testament prophets as a sign of judgment, Isa. 34:4; Jer. 29:17; Hos. 2:12, 9:10; Joel 1:7; Micah 7:1.
Ø The fig tree was used as a symbol of the nation of Israel, Jer. 8:13, 29:17; Hos. 9:10, 16; Joel 1:7; Micah 7:1-6.
That is a brief sample of what the Bible has to say about the fig tree.
When I think of figs, I think of the fig bushes I have seen all my life. They grow big, but low to the ground. The fig tree in view here is not a bush, it is a tree. These fig trees can grow to a height of 20 – 30 feet with a trunk some three feet in diameter. The spread of a fig tree’s branches can be 25 – 30 feet. In other words, fig trees can grow very, very large.
Fig trees are unusual in that they can produce as many as three crops in a single year. The first crop is produced on the old wood. Early in the year, green knobs or buds appear at the end of the branches. They are called paggim and while this fruit is not as juicy and rich as the later fruit it is still quite edible.
After the paggim appear, the fig tree will begin to grow its leaves and new growth. The fig tree is unique in that it can be in full fruit, full leave and full bloom all at the same time. The first crop becomes ripe in June, the second in September and sometimes, there is a third crop in December.
Since the fruit grows as the tree produces its leaves, it was reasonable for Jesus to assume that there would be fruit on the tree when He came to it. Yet, when He searched the tree, He found it was all leaves; there was no fruit to be found. This fig tree was deceptive because its leaves promised something the tree could not deliver. The leaves promised fruit, but there was none. There was nothing wrong with the soil. There was nothing wrong with the sap. There was simply no fruit.
This tree had been given everything it needed to foolish. It sat in a good location. It grew in good soil. It had enjoyed the sunshine and the rain. Still, this tree was not fruitful.
A fig tree in full leaf in April should have been covered with early fruit. Since this tree had no early fruit, it was a sign that there would be no sweet fruit when the time for harvest arrived. This tree had nothing to offer and it was therefore useless! This tree was fit for nothing but to be cut down and fed to the fire.
· When we consider this text, we must take it in its context. In verse 1-11, Jesus had just presented Himself to Israel as her King. He had publically declared His identity and Israel would ultimately reject their King.
Israel was just like this fruitless fig tree. They had all the signs of spiritual life, but they had no fruit. They were keeping the letter of the Law. They were carrying out the Temple ceremonies. They were observing the ancient feasts and the sacrifices. They were religious in every detail, but they had no spiritual fruit.
Israel promised all who saw her that she could show them the way to God. In reality, she could only show them the way to religious bondage and the way to Hell. Israel had gone to leaf. Israel had no fruit. Israel looked alive, but she was spiritually barren.
Israel had been given every advantage that could be afforded to a people. They had received the personal attention and redemption of Almighty God. They had been planted in a good land. They had the Word of God, the prophets of God and the Temple of God. They had everything they needed for a spiritual bumper crop, but they remained fruitless.
Israel had no fruit now and there would be none in the future. They were useless spiritually and fit for nothing but the fire of judgment.
· As you might imagine, there is a message here for us. When the Lord examines our lives, and He does, what does He see? Does He see us bearing fruit to the glory of God? Or, does He see a tree that has gone to leaf?
Let’s face the truth today. We have been given every spiritual advantage God has to offer. We have His Word, His church and His Spirit. He has blessed us in abundance. There is no excuse for us being a fruitless branch!
We have all the appearances of life. We use the right Bible, sing the right songs, preach the right message and walk the right path. When people look at this church, they can see our leaves. We have a reputation in the community. They say we are a bunch of “holy rollers”. They say that we are “bapticostals”. They see our leaves, but is there any fruit?
Are we really in love with Jesus? Are we really in love with one another? Is He the centerpiece of all we do? Is there real commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, or do we merely give Him lip service? Is Calvary Baptist Church all leaf? Or, do we have fruit that honors the Lord?
· What about in your individual life? Are you all leaves, or do you have fruit? Let’s take a minute to examine ourselves before the Lord. Ask yourselves the following questions.
Ø Is Jesus really the first priority in your life, or is His will, His worship and His work just an afterthought?
Ø Do you have all the trappings of religion and salvation, but no real commitment to God?
Ø Do you shout, testify and pretend to worship while you hold things in your hearts against others?
Ø Do you look and act saved at church but live like the devil everywhere else?
Ø Do you plan your life around all the things you want to do but don’t see the need to plan around the Lord’s work?
Ø Do you have any real fruit in your life?
· Fruit is always the evidence of genuine salvation. When a person is saved by God’s grace, they will bear fruit for His glory! (Ill. John 15:5 – The fruit on the vine is evidence of life within the branch. As the branch yields to the vine and as the vine lives through the branch, fruit happens.) What kind of fruit?
Ø A changed life – 2 Cor. 5:17
Ø A vibrant witness – Acts 1:8
Ø The evidence of inward life – Gal. 5:19-23
· Not everyone bears the same amount of fruit, John 15:1-8. But, everyone who is saved bears some fruit! In truth, every life, saved or lost, bears some sort of fruit, but only those in a right relationship with God will bear His fruit, Matt. 7:18.
· When we are all leaf and no fruit we are living in spiritual hypocrisy. We are fit for nothing but judgment.
· So, what does Jesus see when He looks at your life?
III. v. 14 THE LORD’S DECLARATION
· Because the fig tree was barren when it promised fruit, the Lord Jesus pronounced a curse upon it. He declared that it was to be fruitless forever. Some people read this and reach the conclusion that Jesus operated in rash anger here. The phrase at the end of verse 13, “for the time of figs was not yet come,” leads them to conclude that Jesus was expecting something from the tree that the tree could not do. We have already discussed that matter. If there were leaves on the tree, there should have been fruit as well. Jesus cursed the tree for its hypocrisy. The lack of fruit was not the reason for the curse. It was the pretense of the leaves! The tree was making promises it could not deliver!
· Again, this is a picture of the nation of Israel. Because they promised life but only delivered bondage and dead religion, they were cursed as well. We know from the historical record that Israel was judged for their rejection of the Lord Jesus. They paid a high price for their hypocrisy. They were destroyed by Rome in 70 AD and the population that survived were scattered around the world. Their nation ceased to exist for nearly 1,900 years. The nation of Israel was reborn in 1948, but they still stand under God’s judgment to this day. One day, when Jesus returns in glory, the curse will be lifted and Israel will flourish again. But for now, they are paying a high price for their deception and their hypocrisy.
· I would just remind you that the same scenario can be played out in our lives today. When we have the appearance of life, but bear no fruit, we can expect a visit from the Lord. Verse 13 tells us that the fig tree was “afar off”. Jesus made an effort to go to that tree and He will come to examine the fruit in our lives as well.
If we are hypocritical and do not bear fruit as He desires us to, He might just set us aside as well. This was Paul’s fear, 1 Cor. 9:27. This is also the promise of the husbandman to the branches in His vineyard, John 15:2. If we make a pretense of religion by flaunting our leaves, but have no fruit, He will judge us too!
That verse deserves a little closer examination. When the Lord sees a fruitless branch, He “taketh it away”. This does not mean that He cuts this branch out of the vine. It does mean that He begins to work in that branch to make it fruitful. He “lifts it up, and trains it to grow like He intends it to grow.” Did you notice that “every branch” receives this attention?
When the Lord finds a branch that will not yield to His efforts to train it and to make it fruitful, that branch will experience the work of the vine dresser on a deeper and more painful level. John 15:6 says, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” This does not mean that the branch is cut out of the vine. It does mean that it is trimmed back in an attempt to force it to be fruitful.
All of this reminds us that those who know the Lord are expected to be fruitful branches. When we are not fruitful, we can expect the personal attention of the Vine Dresser in our lives. He will come to us with chastisement to teach and train us to become more fruitful for His glory, Heb. 12:5-11; Rev. 3:19.
· The Lord also works on the fruitful branch in order to help it become more fruitful, John 15:2. His desire is that we bear “fruit”, John 15:2; “more fruit”, John 15:2, and “much fruit”, John 15:5. If we yield to Him, His work and His will in our lives, we will be fruitful branches for His glory!
· Here is what we need to see today. The Lord is looking for fruit. If He finds it in our lives, He will bless us and cause us to be even more fruitful. If He does not find fruit in our lives, He will take whatever steps are necessary to make us fruitful. The question is, what will it take to bring you to a place of fruitfulness? What will the Lord have to do in your life to cause His fruit to appear? These are questions worth considering today!
IV. v. 20-21 THE LORD’S
· The disciples heard Jesus when He cursed the fig tree, v. 14. The next day, as they passed by, they saw that the fig tree was “dried up from the roots”. Peter called the Lord’s attention to the miracle. These men could see that the Lord had worked a miracle and that this miracle had a special lesson to teach. This miracle was a clear demonstration of the Lord’s sovereignty over all things, including nature.
· Usually, when a tree “dries up”, it does so from the top down. The root system will be the last part of the tree to die. Not this tree! Jesus cursed it and it died from the roots up. It is a picture of total destruction!
· Again, this tree is a picture of Israel. They had been judged by the Lord for their hypocrisy and their rejection of the Messiah. They were destroyed from the root up.
Here was the message of John the Baptist to Israel, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire,” Matt. 3:10. Israel had not always been that way. There had been a time when they were fruitful and honoring to the Lord. Now, they are in rejection and hypocrisy and their fate is sealed. They are cursed and they will be destroyed.
· I would just remind everyone in this room today that the same God Who can take a lost sinner, save his soul and bless his life, is the same God Who will judge that life if necessary.
If we will honor Him, obey Him and serve Him, He will bless us in wonderful ways. If we refuse to honor, obey and serve Him, He will bring His chastisement into our lives. The same Lord Who can fill us and use us can also leave us dry and empty. He has the power to bless us and He has the power to curse us, which depends upon ability to bear fruit for His glory!
Conc: The disciples saw what happened and took it to heart. At least, some of them did! One of their number, Judas Iscariot, was like Israel. He was all leaf and no fruit. He preached, healed and cast out devils, but it was all leaf! There was no reality in what he did, it was all hypocrisy! He did not know the Lord. Be sure you know Him! If you don’t, run to Jesus and be saved today!
Take this message to heart you that do believe. The Lord is looking for fruit in the lives of His people. The Lord is looking for fruit in His church. When He examines us, does He find what He seeks? Or, does He see all leaf and no fruit? What do you need to do today!