A worthless tree

“Early in the morning, as Jesus 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” (Matthew 21:18-19 NIV).

This incident may seem a bit strange and quite harsh to us. It was early morning and Jesus was travelling back to Jerusalem with his disciples. He was hungry – after all, it was breakfast time. They saw a fig tree and went over to it, but there were no figs on it. So Jesus, basically, cursed the tree: “May you never bear fruit again!” Why did Jesus do this?

If we lived in an area where there are fig trees, this would probably make more sense to us. These fig trees produced leaves when they had fruit that was ripe. This incident took place in the spring and normally fig trees did not have fruit on them yet. Yet this fig tree looked like it should have fruit on it – the leaves were there. Yet, when they went up to the tree, there was nothing: no figs whatsoever. It was a deceptive tree.

Some have suggested that this incident was a live-action parable, with the tree representing the Jewish nation of Jesus’ day. They looked to be a healthy tree, with all the signs of life – the sacrifices were being offered in the temple and people were worshiping God. But all was not well – there was no fruit. As a nation, they were not producing fruit in their lives.

Later in this chapter Jesus told a parable about a landowner trying to collect the fruit he was owed from tenants taking care of his vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41). He sent servants to collect what was due and they were beaten, killed, and stoned. Finally he sent his son, thinking they would respect him, but instead they killed him, too, thinking they could then control the vineyard. The landowner then got rid of the original tenants and rented the vineyard to others who would give him his share of the fruit.

Did this not well represent the Jews? God had sent prophets to his people throughout their history, the last being John. Some were beaten, some stoned, and some (including John) were killed. God finally sent his son – and Jesus was within a few days of being publicly executed. What would happen? God would take his kingdom, represented by the vineyard, from the Jews and give it to another group who would produce fruit – the Gentiles.

Although this can be seen to be historical and what happened to the Jews and the good news of Jesus finally being proclaimed to Gentiles, there is a more personal application that we need to make.

Are we producing fruit for God? Are our lives producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)? Are we being led by the Spirit or are our lives producing the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). If we aren’t producing the Spirit’s fruit, we have a warning: “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).

Let us not be a worthless Christian but one who is producing the fruit of Spirit. Let us not just look like we are faithful Christians, like the fig tree which looked like it had fruit, but actually be producing God’s fruit in our lives.

What kind of fruit are our lives producing?

Readings for last week (I noticed I got the wrong readings listed! My apologies!):
24 July – Matthew 15
25 July – Matthew 16
26 July – Matthew 17
27 July – Matthew 18
28 July – Matthew 19

Readings for next week:
31 July – Matthew 20
1 August – Matthew 21
2 August – Matthew 22:1-22
3 August – Matthew 22:23-46
4 August – Matthew 23

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Jon Galloway

After graduating from Freed-Hardeman College and teaching school for three years, as well as preaching for small congregations in West Tennessee, Jon & Arlene moved back to her home of Glasgow, Scotland. Since 1985 Jon has been involved in evangelistic work in the Glasgow area, currently serving the congregation in East Kilbride. They have three grown children. Besides writing 'Bible Bytes', Jon is also one of the editors of the "Christian Worker," a news magazine for congregations in the UK, and is a teacher and governor for the British Bible School.

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