The next appearance of the phrase under study occurs in Matthew 21 (After Jesus threw-out the money-changers in the temple):
“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. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked. Jesus replied, ‘ITYTT, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.’” (vv. 18-22)
In these moments, Jesus seems to live between two dimensions: one in the supernatural world, where He speaks to all things living, and one in the natural world, bringing the power of Heaven to earth. Mark records the story’s timing as being prior to the cleansing of the temple, with the disciples taking notice of the withered tree the following day (read Mark 11:12-25). In Matthew’s account the two events (cleansing of the temple and the withering of the fig tree) are melded together in time. To understand the event, it is important to know its setting: Jesus had just entered into Jerusalem upon a donkey where the people honored Him as a prophet by spreading their cloaks and laying palm branches on the street while praising Him as the Son of David (read Matthew 21:1-11). Jesus then entered the temple and drove out the money-changers (vv. 12-13). Witnessing these events, the chief priests and pharisees were nevertheless indignant toward Him (v.15)
This brief biblical episode is symbolic of God’s judgment upon fruitlessness - be it found in the emptiness of religious formalism or in the lives of those claiming to have a personal relationship of Christ and have nothing to show for it. The cleansing of the temple and the withering of the fig tree are both actions taken by Christ to reveal His displeasure with unfruitful living. The fruits of the spirit should, at the very least, be evidenced in the lives of Believers: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (read Galatians 5:22-23). Jesus, however, also taught on the fruit of discipleship: disciples making other disciples - the principle of reproduction. Jesus emphasized this precept at The Last Supper, when they gathered in the upper room prior to His betrayal in The Garden of Eden. It was there Jesus brought back the picture of the cursed fig tree when He shared these thoughts with the disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8)
Jesus wants us to take fruit-bearing seriously… so serious, that we are willing to stake our eternal destiny upon the evidence of it in our lives. Yes, faith in Christ may be our ‘ticket’ into Heaven, though some will make it in as if through flames (read 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). This passage is confronting us with the question: If you were on trial for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you? The real evidence is found in the fruit of one’s walk: how God has used one’s life to connect God’s heart to others’ hearts.
Reproduction is built into every fiber of earth. It is necessary for life to continue… and God included the same dynamic into our spiritual lives. Connecting hearts to the heart of God is not only proof of how genuine one’s faith is, it is also the mandate found in our commissioning as ambassadors for Christ’s Kingdom: to make disciples (read Matthew 28:19).
So… what can we take away from this look into a judged fig tree? First, there can be no fruit when we live in unbelief. An unbelieving heart must be the number one reason why most people claiming to be Christians do not share their faith - they do not believe their lives and words will have any impact upon a sinner’s heart. We must hold out the Word of Truth to this lost world and share our stories of redemption, believing God will anoint our efforts with His supernatural power. It is God’s Word that will speak to those who have never had their hearts quickened by grace (read Romans 10:14-17).
Secondly, any hope of a future joy of life is lost without being fruitful. Just as Jesus judged the money-changers and the fig tree, so He will use the same standard in judging the productivity of our lives. We must live intentionally to make a difference in this world, wherever we are, whenever God engineers our lives to intersect the lives of others. Do not allow judgment to paralyze you with fear of eternity; instead, let it empower you to bringing faith into the arena of conversation with those who may only hear of Christ through your lips. One first step you could take, which I have seen practiced by a dear friend, is to pray for your server before a meal when dining out. Ask your server if there is anything you could offer to God in ‘intercessional’ prayer on their behalf.
Finally, there is assurance of victorious living to those who believe… and pray believing. Those prayers of faith empower the Believer to step out in sharing Christ with others. Start asking God for the souls of those around you! Pray believing, and God will give you the opportunity and the joy of witnessing a soul entering into covenant relationship with Christ! (v.22)
You’re the only Jesus some will ever see… or hear… The eternal truth in this passage will be found in the lives of those who appear before the throne of God as evidence of your “all-in” efforts to connect hearts to the heart of God.
Have a blessed day…