Matthew 21:18-22 (NIV) Early in the morning, as he 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, “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. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Far from cursing this fig tree out of mere hunger or moodiness, Jesus was actually making a powerful point that had nothing to do with the tree, and everything to do with His encounter with the chief priests and teachers of the law the day before.
Many in Jerusalem, including all of those there for the Passover, were hungry for a real relationship with God, and looked to those leaders not only for direction on how to accomplish that, but for an example of how it looked in the real world. After all, who were the best people to look to for than that these men who taught the Scriptures, and who were able to enter the actual presence of God?
But, as Jesus knew well, these men had nothing to offer those hungry souls but empty platitudes and the sayings of rabbis long dead. They looked good on the outside, they had an impressive display of leaves, but there was no fruit from their lives to feed those hungry souls.
When Jesus cursed the fruitless fig tree, it was a symbol of God’s curse falling on those Jewish leaders whose fruitless lives actually erected a barrier between the hearts of seekers and God’s heart. And the withering of the fig tree demonstrated the ultimate effectiveness of Jesus words of denouncement. This was no mere statement of frustration, but a powerful denouncement from the very heart of God, delivered by Jesus’ lips.
The disciples would understand all of this later but right then their attention was riveted on the tree. They were at a loss to understand how mere words could have that kind of effect.
Jesus took the opportunity to explain to them a bit about faith. Real faith isn’t worked up from within the human heart. It always originates in a promise or command from God. In this case, Jesus knew God’s heart, and pronounced His words. That is faith. And the tree withered on the spot as a result of Jesus knowledge that His/God’s words would have the effect that God wanted. When God makes a promise to someone and they act on that promise, that is faith. And when God issues a command, even if it is to order a mountain to throw itself into the sea, and that command is obeyed, that is true faith, and the very mountain will be moved.
Father, two requests come to mind as I read these words. First, help my life to be genuinely fruitful, not just a show of barren leaves on the outside. May those who long for a real relationship with You be able to come to me, and find not just words and theology, but a real living example of life in Your kingdom. Second, help me to have real mountain-moving faith. Help me to hear Your heart, to listen to Your voice, so that I can move and act in perfect accord with Your promises and commands, and so that Your will, even as far as mighty miracles, can be accomplished through me. Amen.