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“Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.” (Mark 11:13-14)
First, let us take note of a fig tree in Palestine that the blossoms or the budding fruit appear before the leaves. If one was at a distance from a fig tree and saw that it was filled with leaves that one would assume that there would also be figs on the tree. It is also important to say that the fig tree produces an early fig called breba figs before the leaves appear entirely. We read in Mark’s gospel, “Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf.” The fig tree had leaves on it even though it was not the harvest season. Jesus, from a distance and hungry, was hoping that there would also be some figs.
When Jesus arrived at the tree, He found no fruit on the tree. It was odd and a curious thing to find since there should have been at least breba figs. Jesus, throughout His ministry, always took advantage of the surroundings to teach His disciples a lesson. In this case, a fruitless tree was a perfect visual aid.
Looking back into past centuries, the Hebrew nation was set apart from the pagan nations of the world. God chose them as His people, and He had a special purpose for them as a nation to accomplish. They were to become a priesthood. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) The Israelite people were the firstborn of their God Jehovah. “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” (Exodus 4:22)
God’s people were held in bondage to the Egyptian people under the rule of their Pharaoh. They were slaves and being used to build mighty structures in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh was harsh towards God’s people, and they cried out to their God for deliverance. Moses, who had been educated by the Egyptians, fled to the land of Midian. God now called him to return to Egypt and lead His people out to the Promised Land given to Abraham. Moses, along with his older brother Aaron went to the Pharaoh and demanded that he let the Israelite people go. “And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:1)
By the power of God, Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to go and then changed his mind and trapped them at the Red Sea. It appeared that the Israelite people would be returned to bondage in the hands of Pharaoh. But under the instruction of God, Moses stood by the waters of the Red Sea and stretched out his hands. “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.” (Exodus 14:21)
The Lord God led His people through the wilderness and cared for them by His providence. The Lord gave them the law that they should know the way to live in righteousness. The Lord delivered the Promised Land into their hand, defeating their enemies. Yet over the centuries, the Israelite people rebelled against God, and the Prophet Isaiah made this observation. “An ox knows its owner, And a donkey its master’s manger, But Israel does not know, My people do not understand.” (Isaiah 1:3)
The Lord sent Judges to reign them back in from their wickedness. He sent kings to rule them righteously. And the Lord sent Prophets to give them the Words of God to pull them back into being the nation of priests that they were called to be. Still, they continued to live in a wicked way opposing what God had said to them, opposing the Law that He had given for them to live by, and they became as corrupt and wicked as the nations around them. As the Prophet, Isaiah spoke the rebuke of the Lord. “Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it And also hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. “I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.” (Isaiah 5:1-7)
There were times in their history that the Jewish nation would turn back and serve their God, but throughout the course of their history, they were on a gradual degenerative slide downward. Throughout the Scriptures, the promise of a Messiah was their longing. On the day of His appearing, they were living under the iron rule of the Roman Empire. The New Testament Prophet John the Baptist went out from the wilderness crying. “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.” (Luke 3:4)
The Son of God who came to seek and save the lost, who went about doing good, who preached love, and who came to testify to the truth of God’s Word. Jesus, who stood in the synagogue of His Father’s people and stated His mission for them. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
The Babe of Bethlehem, who was born to die for the sins of the world that men might find salvation, was rejected by His people, God’s people, and at the culmination of His visit to the holy city Jerusalem, His own people put Him to death on the tree of shame. When He looked out upon the people He loved, “They kept on calling out, saying, “Crucify, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21)
The symbolism of our text is a fruitless fig tree, and when Jesus and His disciples passed by that tree in the afternoon, it was withered from the roots up. “As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.” (Mark 11:20) A fruitless withered tree is worth nothing but to be cut down. “My God will cast them away Because they have not listened to Him; And they will be wanderers among the nations.” (Hosea 9:17)
God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel, had become worthless in the manner of sacred things. Their Messiah had come, and they rejected Him and nailed Him to the cross. They had missed the hour of their visitation. “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19:43-44)
The Jewish nation’s destruction did come just a Jesus had told them it would. In 70AD, the Roman armies came, and they destroyed the city of Jerusalem. Not a stone was left standing in the Temple. And the Romans torched the city with fire, and the nation was dispersed. “But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire.” (Matthew 22:7)
The fig tree that did not bear fruit was cut off and withered. As the Jewish nation, its punishment was complete. “As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.” (Mark 11:20)
The lesson that Jesus was teaching to His disciple was that His followers must bear fruit for the Kingdom. His curse of the fig tree was a deliberate and instructive warning that His disciple must abide in Him to bear fruit, or they will be taken away. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
Thomas N Kirkpatrick
Durant Baptist Church of Durant, March 24, 2016
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