IF YOU HAVE FAITH
Key Verse: 21:21
“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.”
After Jesus wreaked havoc at the temple in order to cleanse it from all the corruption that had consumed it, he left with his disciples in order to spend the night in a nearby town called Bethany. In the morning Jesus and his disciples again started again for the city of Jerusalem. It was a dangerous place for him to return to considering that the religious leaders were waiting for him so as to oppose him again and possibly to arrest him. But he had to return because it was the will of God that Jesus be captured, suffer and then be crucified for the sins of the world. I cannot imagine what might have gone through his mind as he walked back to the city of his suffering. You might imagine how alone he might have felt knowing all that will happen to him there. He would be abandoned by his disciples, and left to suffer the cruelty of sinful men. Don’t ever forget what our Savior did in order to save us. He wasn’t thinking about himself! He thought only about how to attain for us God’s unconditional forgiveness. Jesus is worthy of every honor, praise and devotion we give to him in and through our lives.
Look at verses 18-19. “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.” This was early summer, and the fig tree must’ve looked lush and inviting to Jesus who was hungry. But when he came to pick its fruit, it had a ton of leaves on it but no fruit! At that moment Jesus said to it: “May you never bear fruit again!” No sooner did he utter these words that the tree shriveled up and died. It was early summer, which means that it wasn’t the season for figs yet. Having grown up in the country, Jesus knew this. He knew that the tree wouldn’t be ready yet for bearing fruit. Still, we cannot ignore the fact that he actually went to this tree expecting to find fruit. The question is why! And why was he so upset that the tree was barren enough to curse it never to bear fruit again? Good questions. It almost seems unfair.
It’s obvious that Jesus found the tree useless at a time when he needed to eat from it. Even though it wasn’t the season for fruit, Jesus still found the tree to be totally useless! And so he cursed it. We can surmise what was on his heart and mind. Surely he was thinking about the keepers of the Temple. He was thinking about those whose responsibility was to take care of the church, the shepherds of God’s people— that is, the religious leaders and priests whom God appointed for that very purpose. The temple church was a place where all kinds of people came to worship God, to offer him their sacrifices and to receive his favor. It was a place for them to learn God’s word and to grow in their knowledge of and service to God. It was the Temple keepers’ duty to serve these people with a clear conscience and holy hands. But here’s the problem! While they looked holy and righteous on the outside, they were empty on the inside. Worse yet, they didn’t bear any fruit for God. I think that when Jesus saw the fig tree full of beautiful green leaves on the outside but no fruit to give, it reminded him of how magnificent the Temple and its keepers appeared on the outside— and yet both Temple and keepers were empty, barren and fruitless on the inside.
They bore no fruit to God! God wanted them to preserve the purity and holiness of the Temple they served. In that way they could bear fruit to him in their own lives and in the lives of all who come to God. He wanted them to produce fruit for him in season and out of season, in good time and in bad, whether the opportunity was there or not! And it’s not like they were ignorant of what God’s will. The prophet Ezekiel had warned them time after time: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says”, Ezekiel told them, “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” (Ezekiel 34:2) Jeremiah also warned when he said: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture.” (Jeremiah 23:1) Even John the Baptist repeatedly shouted these words at them: “Produce fruit” he had said over and over! And then he had also told them how to best produce the fruit God wanted. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” he had said. (Luke 3:8) But instead of taking God’s word to heart; instead of turning their hearts to serve God; instead of keeping a spirit of repentance before God— these shepherds served only themselves and their own interests. They worked hard at keeping appearances and failed to keep a humble heart and a fruitful life to God. When Jesus came to the temple, he hoped to find a refuge for those who suffered from sin; he hoped to find those who stood on the word of God; and he hoped to find a place filled with the presence of God. But Jesus only found the place infested with corruption and sin— a place empty of God. When Jesus came upon the fig tree, he saw a reflection of what he saw at the Temple. So he reflected the wrath of God on the Temple church and its keepers. And so he cursed this innocent fig tree never to bear fruit again— a reflection of what God will someday do with unrepentant hearts, and with lives that look spiritual but bear no fruit!
There’s a truth for us to learn here from what Jesus did with the fig tree— a truth about the meaning of life. God created and called every one of us to bear fruit for him. But people still wonder at the meaning of life. Many live and die never knowing why they even lived and died! But it’s treacherous and risky not to know why I live and die, and the meaning and purpose of it all. That kind of ignorance leaves a big hole in my life and in the lives of anyone who doesn’t know. It’s treacherous and risky because when this big hole in one’s life is left unfilled with truth, it attracts every kind of strange idea and ungodly behavior. Those who don’t know why they live, end up filling their hearts with fruitless things— with futile values and beliefs, profane attitudes and viewpoints, and useless philosophies or religions worthless to one’s soul. But the truth is that we live and exist because God willed it, for he gave us life. And he gave it for a purpose that Jesus explains well enough in all his teachings. God gave us life that we might live our lives for him alone. And when we do that, we naturally bear good fruit to God because our lives were meant to do so. And that’s perfectly understandable. Who plants a seed without a purpose? No one! We plant seeds that we might enjoy their fruits, for the same reason God gave us life. And there’s nothing more gratifying than to know this truth deep in my heart. It opens my eyes to the meaning and purpose of my life. And it sets me on the narrow path to live my life entirely dedicated to the Lord, because I know that it is my holy duty and honor to give God the fruits he desired when he gave me life.
But as we live in this world, we also know that bearing fruit isn’t easy. And bearing fruit in season and out of season also isn’t so easy. When God called Abraham to put away his old life and to follow God and promised to make him a great and fruitful tree, surely he wasn’t equipped to bear fruit. Actually he didn’t know how to bear fruit. But when he decided to live by faith God disciplined him to walk in God’s way. One day God asked him to believe something he couldn’t believe— that God would give him a son in his old age by his barren wife! It was an impossible to believe kind of promise. But all God’s discipline had equipped him to believe by faith what God says. And when he believed, his faith bore fruit— it was the birth of a holy nation which gave us the Savior Jesus Christ. Bearing fruit is a matter of believing God’s words and his promises to you. Bearing fruit to God is also acting on his words and promises. And to act on his word certainly requires discipline— the inner discipline to repent, because to act on God’s word often is putting away your own way, your own thoughts and your very own feelings— and making room for those words in your stubborn heart. Christians know God’s will for humility and submission, for love and forgiveness, for the importance of unity and of peace and servantship and sacrifice and self denial and such glorious virtues of the kingdom! Christians know that all these things bear fruit to God, even if they go against the heart’s pride and stubbornness, and especially against the heart’s unholy desires to follow your own way. Yet, acting on these words isn’t easy. It requires repentance and faith; it requires a humble and submissive heart to God. And even when God stretches his hand to lovingly discipline, most Christians, shirk it and are annoyed by it. What kind of fruit might they bear I wonder! Surely it isn’t easy to bear fruit for God in this life. And it is harder yet to bear fruit in season and out of season, because God wants us to bear fruit in spite of our circumstances, in spite of our hurts and pains, in spite of our revulsion at what God really wants us to do. I am sure that Jesus bore the fruit of life for us in his own life, because he didn’t act upon his feelings, nor did he follow his own ways, but obeyed God even when his life was demanded of him. That’s who we must follow.
Listen to what Jesus says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that will last.” (John 15:16) That’s not a figure of speech nor a suggestion! It’s a command to every follower of Christ Jesus. Only ignorant beleivers think they had chosen God rather than the other way round. And when they think that, they think they are in the position to make choices of how and when to serve God. But in life they end up doing things for themselves rather than for God. They live to better themselves, to grow in knowledge, to accomplish whatever their heart desires. Beware of this in your own life! That’s what the Bible calls outright pride and rebellion. The devil has an agenda to keep us fruitless, cursed like the fig tree. As a Christian, I should never strive to better my life or to improve my situation, lest I end up going the wrong way— the way of fruitlessness. But I should strive to surrender to God to do what he would have me do. Believe in your heart that the Lord has chosen you and directs your life, and you will never forget that amazing grace in your life, and you will surely bear fruit for him and his kingdom.
Look at verse 20. “When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.” They couldn’t believe what they saw just happened. The luscious fig tree, tall and beautiful like a green hill, suddenly dying up to the roots! Not a leaf stayed green. Not a branch remained that wasn’t shriveled, like something out of a horror story. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” Why did they say this, when then had obviously seen that Jesus had done time and again? Did they forget the feeding of the five thousand, the blind receiving sight, the lame walk, the dead raised? Not really! But it’s not so had to imagine why they might have been surprised at this. Perhaps they began to think about their own weaknesses and human limitations. A word from Jesus dried up the fig tree. But, what about their own weaknesses? Maybe they wanted to be powerful like Jesus, spiritual like Jesus. Maybe they wanted to shake the mountains, and drain rivers— maybe. Maybe they wanted to teach the Bible and hundreds of people to repent and believe in Christ. Maybe they wanted to command demons to depart with a word. Who knows that they may have wanted to experience the power of God in a special way! But their reality was so different from their heart’s desires! The reality was that they couldn’t even wake up early enough to pray and reflect on God’s word before the busy day ahead of them. The reality was that they couldn’t be gracious and loving towards friends and family even when they wanted to. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” I think they wanted to be like Jesus who commanded things and they obeyed. If only they could command their bodies to rise up early enough to pray and receive the grace they need to properly serve God!
The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ action. And they knew their own human weaknesses and limitations. Jesus knew their weaknesses and understood their frustrations. But in no way did Jesus think of them as useless or helpless or even powerless. Jesus was absolutely certain that as long as it was God who called them, they had the power to do anything God ordained them to do. You should remember this truth in your own life as well! Jesus knew that their hearts wanted to do what he did. He knew how much they wanted to overcome themselves and do things for God. He knew they wanted to be spiritual. And so he helped them to achieve what they desired.
Look at verse 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.’” Jesus knew them well enough. He knew that they often spoke of faith but didn’t know how to practically experience it. And so he taught them that what they were lacking wasn’t spiritual power, nor did they lack some special grace that God hadn’t yet given them. What they were lacking was simply faith! Only faith! Jesus wanted them to have faith— to experience faith. And he wanted them to simply apply faith to every thing in their lives, even if it were to move a mountain! What are some of the mountains in believer’s lives? I don’t know, maybe at times, even college studies or even graduation seems like a mountain impossible to move. At times, having some material security seems like a mountain hard to move beyond the drudgery of day to day work. At times, fulfilling the convictions one has from God seems like a immovable mountain. And these mountains, whatever they are, become a hindrance to serving God or bearing fruit for his glory. But Jesus never thought that such things are the problem. He shows us clearly that the problem is always faith, only faith. With faith, he says, you and I can move any mountain in our lives. With faith, you can challenge yourself to believe and accept all that God says. With faith, you can challenge others to overcome the mountains in their own lives. And faith help us to go beyond our situations and circumstances and surpass the hindrances that keep us limited and unfruitful. Jesus teaches his disciples and us that all we really need is faith depending on God in prayer.
It was a short time till Jesus would be crucified. They felt helpless and powerless. Even after Jesus rose from the dead, they still didn’t believe they could move mountains, although Jesus told them they could. How could they even move a foot when one is stuck in fear, let alone move a mountain. This kind of maturity usually takes time. But the truth is, a truth for them and for us to know and believe, is that it was a matter of time until they were actually doing what they thought they could never do. He promised them the Holy Spirit, and he gave him to us. In the same way, he promised all the power of faith to move mountains if they believed. I think that they started out wanting to believe. And then they tried to believe. And finally they began to believe. they wanted to believe. They tried to believe. Then they began to actually believe every promise, and every word he had ever told them. These weak and useless men and women moved not only the mountain but they moved the world with their faith. They endured hardship with their faith. They rejoiced in their troubles and suffering with their faith. With faith, they became God’s great workers in his kingdom. And they passed on to us this precious faith as well. And God calls us to believe that what he did through them, he will do through us. So we should make up our minds and set our hearts on growing in faith. Challenge whatever situation or circumstance that keeps you pressed and hindered by faith. Believe the impossible in your life and in the lives of those God has called. It’s what Jesus has taught us to believe. Read verses 21-22. “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.’” Let’s believe this.