Posted: 8/16/19 at 2:45pm. Column by Ed Jordan.
Last week, while watering the plants in the garden, I took a look at our fig. I found lots of figs, each at different levels of ripeness. I picked two ripe ones and popped one into my mouth.
The fruit burst open, sweet and juicy, with its distinctive flavor. I immediately thought of paradise, of the bliss of having such a luscious fruit available to pick and eat right at my home.
Then my mind went to Jesus, approximately a week before his crucifixion, as he and the disciples were heading from Bethany to Jerusalem to check out the temple about a week before Passover.
As he entered the city, riding on a colt, people lined the path with palm branches, crying out: “Hosanna! (Save us!) Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest.” (Mark 11:9-10 NASB95).
This event is often called the Triumphal Entry, acknowledging the arrival of God’s anointed King. In Jerusalem Jesus dismounted, slipped through the crowd, looked around the temple, and then he and the disciples went back to Bethany for the night.
The next morning, as Jesus and company were getting ready to return to Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree in full leaf, so he went to pick a few figs from the tree.
I can identify with Jesus. It was morning, with a journey ahead, and a couple of figs would give a short burst of sweetness to the day which was going to be the beginning of his last week before being crucified. Sometimes a little taste of heaven, in this case figs, can add a little lift and energy burst to face a challenging day or week.
When Jesus examined the tree, there were no figs on it. Mark’s text says it didn’t have figs, because it wasn’t the season for figs (Mk. 11:13). Jesus then did something that seemed totally out of character for him. He cursed the fruitless fig tree.
Here is what it literally says in Mark 11:14: “And He answered and said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And his disciples were listening.”
There are many different ways people have tried to explain Jesus’ curse on the tree, especially since the text says it was not the season for figs. The clue to what Jesus is doing here is found in the context of what is happening that week, the coming rejection of the Messiah, the coming judgment on the religious system, and to some degree the nation. The next morning the tree had withered from the roots up (Mk. 11:20).
In Luke 13:6-9 Jesus told a parable about a man (God) who had planted a fig tree in his vineyard. The owner came looking for fruit, but even after three years of cultivation, there was no fruit on it. The owner told the caretaker to cut it down. The caretaker pleaded for the owner to give it one more year. If it didn’t produce fruit, then he would cut it down.
So we see that the fruitless fig tree is a visual parable for the spiritual health—or lack thereof—of the nation.
The last three or four years of Jesus’ ministry was spent trying to cultivate the spiritual fig tree, trying to get it to produce fruit. But Jesus ended up weeping over Jerusalem, saying, “Oh Jerusalem, how many times did I try to gather you under my wings, like a hen protects her children; but you were not willing.” (Luke 20:20-21). Jesus mourned because he was the fig tree’s last chance to produce fruit.
God established a people to be his people, to be a sample of heaven, a sample of what it is like to live with God. This torch has been passed to Christians, and now we are the ones who are expected to produce fruit (cf. John 15:1-10), and thereby bring a sweet taste of heaven to Earth.
We are in a hot August season, when fruit and cool water can give people refreshment and energy to make it through to harvest. We have leaves and signs of life. But we also live in tough days when we all have a great need for some sweet samplings of heaven.
Some of us have been Christians for many, many years. No matter how long it’s been, it is always time for believers to provide fruit, a sweet taste of heaven, easily available on low-hanging limbs, so that the spiritually hungry traveling through life can experience God and keep journeying on, towards the paradise of God.
As God looks at your life today, does he find you producing sweet fruit?