Matthew 21:18-21 (Part 1) – Fig Trees, Pre-Season College Football Rankings, and Proof in The Pudding

Posted: February 27, 2016 in Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 21:18-21 (Part 1)

Jesus Curses a Fig Tree

 

Well, yesterday, I was moved to step into the political frey and much of the commentary of the frontrunner in the Republican Party’s presidential sweepstakes is the fact that the show is good, the advertisement is good, but when you look closely there is nothing. It kind of reminds you of when a college football team starts out the year highly ranked because they “appear” to have what it takes to win the national championship. However, often times, college football teams coming into a football season are judged through the bias of their performance of the previous season. However, it has been proven over and over again that each year each team is different. You cannot judge with full reliability of how a team will be one year based on the previous year. Sometimes, key personnel losses are bigger than you think. Sometimes, talented freshmen do not pan out to be what was expected of them. Sometimes, returning players do not have the same kind of season this year that they had last year. Sometimes, key injuries play a bigger role than expected. Sometimes, with the graduation of team leaders, a team may well be as talented or more talented than the previous year but there is no chemistry on the team because of poor senior leadership. Preseason rankings to me are meaningless in this light. Over the years, I have seen teams ranked highly in preseason that are out of the rankings within a month because when a new season starts you can no longer rely on your pedigree or your past, you must win the one-on-one battles on the field. The football field separates preseason hype from the reality of whether a team has what it takes to win the national championship. Sometimes, a team that no one expected comes out of nowhere to win the national championship. At Clemson, we fondly remember that kind of team in the 1981 season. This was an unranked team in the beginning of the season that ultimately became the champion by season’s end. That team had great defense that would absolutely dominate games and a bruising running game on offense and just enough flash in the passing game to get by. It was a team with great chemistry and the reality of their performance belied the fact that no one gave them a chance to win the title at the beginning of the season. The proof of the mettle of a team is played out on the field not in their preseason hype or the lack thereof. That kind of thought of the proof’s in the pudding is what I think of when I read this passage.

 

There are two blogs that come out of this passage. Today, we will concentrate on this concept of proof and tomorrow we will talk about how the reality of our faith can lead us to achieve great things for the kingdom. But for now, let’s concentrate on vv. 18-19 of this passage and we will look specifically at vv. 20-21 tomorrow:

 

18 Early in the morning as he was on his way back into the city, he was hungry. 19 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.

 

20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

 

21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, 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. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you as for in prayer.”

 

 

Jesus was traveling from Bethany to Jerusalem, less than a mile, and came upon a fig tree. He was hungry and so hoping to find some figs on the tree. A simple incident! But there was no fruit on the tree and so Jesus cursed the tree.

 

According to Allen Ross, in his exposition of this passage at www.bible.org., “It was a little early in the year for the harvest of figs, since this occurred during the holy week, which in 33 A.D. was the last week of March. But Mark tells us that there were leaves on the tree, and fig trees produce leaves and figs about the same time–this was early growth. The early figs are edible, but not as good as the figs that are harvested in June. The point is that the presence of leaves indicates there should be fruit. When Matthew says that he found only leaves, the readers would have known there should have been figs. If this had taken place at the normal time of figs, Jesus could have simply gone to another fig tree. But this was an unusual early growth, and as Jesus was hungry, expected he could pick some fruit from it.”

 

The irony here was not lost on the readers of Matthew’s gospel. They understood the seasons of Palestine. They understood that by late March fig trees should be just beginning to bear fruit. The leaves would be coming out and the fruit starting to grow not far behind. Jesus’ condemnation of the tree was not because the tree fooled him. He is God in the flesh after all. He condemned the tree as a symbolic action. A parable in action right in front of the disciples. Jesus condemned the tree because it was all for show. Its leaves advertised one thing but the reality of the tree has that there was no fruit. What Jesus intended by this parable in real life was that those who make a show of being religious but in fact are spiritually barren will be cursed. In this context it would apply directly to Israel. Israel had failed to be God’s ambassadors to the world. They would be scattered and withered for their not living up to God’s expectations of them. For us as Christ followers, it applies to us throughout all generations.

 

How much fruit do you and I bear in our lives? Do we advertise with the leaves of piety but there is nothing there when you look closely? Galatians 5:6, 22-26 echoes out this real time parable of Jesus. Paul says, in Galatians 5:6b that “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” And in vv. 22-26 he goes to say,

 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

 

These are the evidences of our salvation and our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If we are genuinely Christian – those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and made Him the Lord of their lives – and not just for show, we will exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. If we are genuinely Christian, we seek forgiveness from our God daily and live lives of thanksgiving for saving us from what we know as an eternity separated from God. Genuine Christians know that one sin, just one sin permanently mars us in God’s eye. We know that no matter how much we try to be good just one sin separates us permanently from God forever, not to mention the lifetime of committing sins that we do on a daily basis. We are prisoners condemned to the electric chair with nothing that we can do or say to prevent it….and then Jesus comes along! His death on the cross was not just some random killing of a political revolutionary. It was Him dying on the cross to finish out the Old Testament sacrificial system. He on the cross, as part of God’s redemptive plan, accepted God’s wrath for all the sins of mankind for all time. God poured out it on Him. He suffered the punishment we deserve. He took our place. As a result, when we believe that He is the Son of God, really believe it, we are set free from our death sentence before the righteous Judge. How can you not exhibit soulful joy when you know what you are really, and what you deserve, but yet have been made new and clean before God through Jesus’ death on the cross. Through His resurrection too we have soulful joy knowing that through Jesus we have conquered sin and we have everlasting hope of spending eternity with Jesus. That is the genuine joy of our salvation. How can you not exhibit love to others, basic joy in all situations, willingness to forgive others, willingness to be kind for no other reason than to give glory to our Savior who saved us. Genuine followers of Christ have joy that spills out of their life to the point that they want others to know the same joy of salvation. Our fig trees will by the nature of our salvation and the joy it brings will bring forth fruit and live lives that give glory to God for what He has done in Jesus. Just as the reality of the championship caliber of a football team is played out on the field during the season and not in the preseason rankings, so is our life as a genuine Christ follower. We can say we are Christian very easily but the proof is in the pudding. We can say we are Christians very easily but the litmus test of our faith is fruits of our fig trees. We can say we are Christians very easily but just like preseason ranking for college football teams are nice and all but they are meaningless without playing the games during the season for that is where the truth comes out about the championship caliber of a team. Our life is our season on the football field. Our life is evidence of the changing power of salvation. How is your fig tree? Does it bear fruit? Are you worth your preseason ranking?

 

Dear Father in heaven, let my life be a testament to the cleansing grace of Jesus Christ and the pure joy that I know in my salvation. May I exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in my daily life. May you convict me of the things that I need to change to be more like Jesus. May my life be one that speaks of you. May my life be one that draws people into the same joy of salvation that I know. Amen and Amen.

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