JESUS DID NOT CURSE THE FIG TREE BECAUSE HE WAS IN A BAD MOOD
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out if it had any fruit. When He reached it, He found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for fruit. Then He said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And His disciples heard Him say it. (Mark 11:12-14)
Well, Jesus, I didn’t know that you were also given to bad moods! But wait a minute. Had He ever given evidence of being in a bad mood before? No-o-o-o. So what’s this all about, then? Surely He knew that a fig tree in leaf was an indication that it was not time for fruit. What a capricious action! Was it just an outburst of frustration because He did not get what He wanted or was there something deeper in His action?
My husband used to sing a corruption of an old song, “I talk to the trees, that’s why they put me away.” And here’s Jesus talking to a tree! Perhaps He needed to be put away. After all, He often did very strange things like spitting on the ground and making a mud ball to smear on a blind man’s eyes. Wasn’t he blind enough already without getting mud in his eyes?
But Jesus never said or did anything without a purpose. What could His purpose possibly by speaking to a tree?
One of the rules of interpreting the Bible is called “the law of first mention.” The meaning of something that is mentioned for the first time in Scripture governs its interpretation every other time it is mentioned thereafter. Where, in the Bible, are fig leaves first mentioned? Way back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. We often joke about it, but it was their puny attempt to cover up their disobedience. It did not work and God was not impressed. He had to sacrifice a lamb to provide His own covering for their nakedness.
The fig tree was often used in Scripture as a symbol for Israel. Was God saying that, like the leaves that offered no covering for the first pair, their puny efforts at trying to make right by their rules and rituals offered no solution to their sin. Just as God had provided a lamb for Adam and Eve’s nakedness, so He would provide His Lamb to cover the sin of His people.
Jesus used a perfectly natural situation to drive home the point for His disciples. They, of course, didn’t get the message at first. They were astonished when they saw the dead tree the next day. What on earth happened to it? It had shrivelled up and died for no other reason than that Jesus had spoken to it.
In the morning, as they went along, they found the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. (Mark 11: 20-22).
The plot thickens, as they say. What had Jesus’ reply to do with a dead tree? What was the connection? The fig-leaf covering the first pair used to try to obliterate their sin did not work. They could not fool God with their self-effort. Union with God by faith was the only answer to their plight.
How did Jesus connect the response of the fig tree to His words about prayer? Adam and Eve had destroyed their union with God by their disobedience. They tried to cover it up and pretend it didn’t happen but they could not fool God. What would have happened had they confessed their sin and come clean with God? Instead they played the blame game and were driven from the presence of God to go it alone in the world. They made their own rules and thoroughly messed up their lives and the lives of their descendants.
Was Jesus implying that, once again God would provide a Lamb, Himself, as a covering for the sin of His people? This time His blood, not the skin of the lamb, would not only cover but remove their sin forever, reconnecting them with God and re-establishing their union with the Father. Out of this oneness with God they would be able to fulfil their mandate to rule over the earth. Whatever got in the way of God’s purposes would dry up and disappear as surely as the tree dried up in response to Jesus’ command.
This is the kind of “authority” Jesus intended His people to have – not the “name it and claim it” kind of faith so that we can get everything we want to make our lives cushy and comfortable, but the faith partnership with God which gets rid of the obstacles that hinder the doing of God’s will on earth.
Jesus’ instruction to “speak to the mountain” implies that our union and intimacy with Him will produce such confidence in Him that we allow nothing to interfere with the His desire to reveal His glory through us to the world, not even, or should I say, especially the notion that somehow our pathetic efforts to gain His approval will contribute to His purpose.
The “fig tree” approach to our lives as believers in Jesus will just not work. Self-effort must die just as the fig tree died and give way to the only way in which the life of Jesus in us will make any impression on a rebellious world – the “vine” image.
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. (John 15: 5)
Only intimate union with Him will produce the kind of faith that can remove obstacles with a word. No, Jesus was not having a “bad hair day” when He cursed the fig tree. He was using a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to teach His disciples a profound lesson. Did you get it?
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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