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Why kill a fig tree?

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Today I would like to look at Jesus’ only recorded destructive miracle – it is the rather odd account of Jesus cursing a fig tree, which withers and dies, and He then tells His disciples that they could do the same and throw a mountain into the sea if they had faith.

What is all going on here? What is the connection between killing a fig tree and throwing a mountain into the sea? And why would you throw a mountain into the sea anyway… what is all this about? And does this hold any relevance for us today? Can it show us something about how we are to confront arguably the greatest issue facing us today… an issue that is tearing our community, and the church in particular, apart. And that issue is COVID-19, and more specifically our approach to it as a Christian community.

This is going to be quite a lengthy talk, so if you would like to receive a transcript you can download it straight away by clicking on the link in the description box below.

Let’s first read the account as recorded in Matthew 21 and verses 19 through 22:

In the morning, as Jesus was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

When the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Matthew 21:19-22

There is a lot going on in this story, so let’s work through this step by step.

WALKING TO JERUSALEM

This strange event occurs in the days leading up to the Passover – the final Passover during which our Saviour was crucified.

At the time Jesus is staying in Bethany and walking daily to Jerusalem. If we look at a map we will see that Bethany lies about 2 miles, or 3.2 kilometres to the south east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

The Mount of Olives is not a single mountain. Rather it is a ridge with three main peaks that lies just to the east of the city of Jerusalem. This ridge acts as a watershed and its eastern side, where we find Bethany, is the start of the Judean Wilderness – a very dry, harsh, inhospitable and unforgiving terrain.

The thing that struck me when we visited Jerusalem was the stark contrast in landscape between the eastern and western slopes of the Mount of Olives. On the western side there were olive, fig, and pomegranate trees and lots of soothing greenery… yet only a very short distance away, just over the crest of the ridge was the rocky and barren moonscape of the Judean wilderness.

So let’s try and visualise the scene as Jesus walks to Jerusalem.

Going to the Temple in Jerusalem was a pilgrimage that men were required to undertake three times a year. If you didn’t live near Jerusalem, say you lived in the north of the country near the Sea of Galilee, a highly popular route would take you through the Judean Wilderness and you would approach the city from the east, just like we see Jesus doing.

During the final stage of their journey the pilgrims would ascend the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives and the object of their pilgrimage would come into view – the magnificent site of the Temple, the symbol of their hope as a nation, that beacon which held out much promise.

Here we see a connection between the Temple and the fig tree in our story.

CONNECTING THE TEMPLE WITH THE FIG TREE

Having hiked through the harsh Judean Wilderness, and ascending the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives the site of a fig tree would have been a welcome one to the pilgrim. It signalled the end of the wilderness phase of their journey and held out the hope of refreshment.

Now in our story the fig tree has no fruit, only leaves.

The timing of the account, just days before Passover, tells us that this is Spring. The parallel passage of this account, found in Mark 11, tells us that it was not the season for figs. So what is going on here? If it isn’t the season for figs isn’t it then a bit harsh to curse a tree for not having any fruit?

THE TWO CROPS OF THE FIG TREE

A fig tree can have two crops. 

The early crop in Spring produces small fruit that has an acidic flavour. This is followed by the main crop in summer, which is the season for figs, producing plump, sweet and juicy figs.

As our account occurs in the Spring Jesus would not have been expecting the juicy and tasty plump figs. Rather He would have been expecting to find some of the early figs. But He found the tree lacking. It had triggered a false hope. Even though it was fully leafed out it had no fruit, and was therefore unable to satisfy His physical hunger. Its initial appearance had been deceptive.

Early figs and leadership

So how does this relate to the Temple, and what is so special about the early figs, what do they represent?

The early fig references the leadership of Israel.

In Hosea 9:10 we read:

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers.

Hosea 9:10

In a patriarchal society, such as ancient Israel, the fathers are the leaders.

Just as Jesus finds the fig tree lacking in fruit, He finds the leadership of the Temple lacking. Just as the fig tree is in full leaf so the leadership of the Temple appears to serve God with their lips and appearance but their hearts are far from Him – they are like a fully leafed out tree, but bear no fruit.

The Temple of Jesus’ day held out a false and empty hope to the people of God. Instead of the religious leaders and priests being the representatives of God to the people, and representing the people back to God, these leaders had compromised with the Roman authorities of the day. They used their position for their own personal gain – stealing from the people, not only their personal possessions, but more importantly their hope.

Temple Inc. was like a fully leafed out tree with no fruit. Through cursing the fig tree Jesus pronounces judgement on the Temple leadership. They had not fulfilled their mandate, and needed to be taken out.

But what next?

Recentering the relationship

The Temple represented the connection between God and the people. It was the place where heaven and earth met. Where do we now go to meet with God?

By cursing the fig tree Jesus pronounced judgement on the Temple and its leadership. In doing so He recenters the relationship. The Temple is bypassed and worship is now focused on the lordship of Jesus. Worship is no longer centred on a place but is recentered on a relationship with God.

We see this recentering occurring in Mark’s version of the story. When Peter marvels at the sight of the withered fig tree saying:

“Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”

Jesus answers simply:

“Have faith in God.”

Have faith in God… not in the institution.

How does this apply to us today?

Jesus continues His narrative in Matthew 21:21 by saying:

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.”

Matthew 21:21

Now we will address the interesting subject of throwing mountains into the sea in our next episode. But I just want to say this… many believe that the mountain is just another metaphor for the Temple. However it is something quite different… so stay tuned.

Two functions resulting from a recentered relationship

For now I want to focus on the directive that Jesus has given here. Notice that it has two elements. He says that if we, as His disciples, have faith and do not doubt we will:

  1. Do what has been done to the fig tree, and
  2. Be able to cast the mountain into the sea.

This indicates to me a function that we, as believers and followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, need to fulfil today.

COVID-19 AND A LOST OPPORUNTIY

If we look at our world today it has become evident that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest opportunity for evangelism in our lifetime. And unfortunately the church, collectively as a whole, has not fulfilled her mandate.

Instead of being a beacon of hope, calling the people to repentance and proclaiming the saving Lordship of our Saviour Jesus Christ, she has been largely silent. Her doors have been closed.

In the absence of hope and faith, fear takes root.

Whilst the doors of churches remained closed for worship and seeking the face of God, they opened to become mass vaccination centres – thereby adopting and promoting the propaganda of the State that the only way out of this crisis is through vaccination.

By doing so the church has shown its true colours. Just like the leadership of the Temple in the first century stole from the people and removed their hope through compromise with the authority of Rome, so the church today has done the same thing through her compromise with the state.

The first vaccine that received approval in Australia, the UK and the European Union was the Astra Zeneca vaccine. This vaccine incorporates cells derived from the kidneys of a murdered innocent unborn human being.

This is nothing short of a modern version of Molech worship. Just as the ancients sacrificed their children to the god Molech in order to secure their health, prosperity and security we in the modern world are doing the exact same thing.

We are vaccinating for the purpose of securing our health, our prosperity and our security. We are vaccinating so that we can return to a life “as normal”.

Failure in church leadership

When we therefore saw cathedrals open their doors to administer these vaccines they revealed their true colours. These are no longer houses dedicated to the worship of the Almighty God. Rather, through a failure in church leadership, they have been allowed to become modern day temples to the god Molech.

The light in the church has gone out. She is no longer a beacon of hope and light to the world. Instead she has buckled. She no longer believes and has faith in the power of the gospel message.

Now some of you hearing this may now be very angry with me. You may be saying… what are we to do? Do you really think that we can avoid this pandemic if we throw out the vaccines and pray?

Friends, I do believe that prayer is the answer. I refuse to accept the narrative of the state which declares that the only way out is through vaccination. I refuse to be intimidated by the message of fear that is being delivered 24/7 by our news media.

A personal responisibilty

We, as believers of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, possess life. We have hope, and also an incredible responsibility to share this message.

Will this be easy? Does this mean that all we need to do is turn to God in prayer and the pandemic will magically disappear?

No, that is not what I am saying. We as a people have collectively rejected the Word of God. We have made our bed and we must lie in it. But we now stand at a crossroad and each of us needs to make a choice which path to take.

Each of us needs to make this choice prayerfully.

Do we continue to lie in the bed we have made? Do we continue in our collective rejection of the authority and power of the Word of God and the risen Christ? Do we continue to collectively believe in the strength and knowledge of man to lead the way? Do we continue to be collectively ruled by fear?

Or do we rise up, having seen the light and knowing that we posses life? Are our lives giving expression to the fact that Jesus is our King, that we will worship Him alone and no other?

As the fig tree withered and died judgement was pronounced on the Temple. Today the church has been found wanting and is judged… a sifting is happening.

May we pray to our Almighty God that He grants each of us the faith and strength to be both salt and light to our people, our country and the world.

Stay tuned for the next episode where we will explore what it means to throw a mountain into the sea.

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