“The Fruitless Fig Tree!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (5th Sunday in Lent, April 3, 2022)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“The Fruitless Fig Tree!”
Mark 11:12-14 & 20-22
From now through Easter Sunday, we will be walking with Jesus and His disciples through the last couple week of His earthly life. It is amazing that Jesus was able to pack so much activity into such a short period of time. Next week, being the Holy Week, we will be gathering here on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and of course, Easter morning. But before we get to the Holy Week major events, I would like to reflect this morning on an incident that gets overlooked by most of us, that’s cursing the fruitless fig tree.
Our story took place on Monday morning of Jesus’ Passion Week. Jesus spent Palm Sunday night in Bethany, a little town less than 2 miles from Jerusalem. Monday morning, as Jesus travels from Bethany back to Jerusalem, He spots a fig tree. This particular tree draws Jesus’s attention because it already has a full covering of leaves. Its foliage signals that it should have early figs.
With that expectation, Jesus inspects the tree. He is immediately disappointed; all leaves, no fruit. All expectation, no satisfaction. In a shocking turn, Jesus curses the tree and makes it wither from the roots, never to yield fruit again. People are taken aback by what Jesus did; this seems stunningly out of character for Jesus, the child-welcomer, the compassionate healer, and storm-calmer. This seems baffling. Why would Jesus do that? Mark tells us in chapter 11:13, “When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” Does that mean it wasn’t the fig tree’s fault after all?
Having lived there myself, let me explain this. Fig trees in the Middle East are unusual in that they can produce as many as three rounds of crops in a single year. Yes, you heard this right; three rounds of crops. There is an “early crop” in April/May; there is the “main crop” mid-summer, July/August’ and there is a “late crop” that gets harvested in October/November.
So, a fig tree in full leaf in April, should have been covered with “early fruit.” It was reasonable for Jesus to assume that there would be fruit on the tree when He came to it around Passover time. When the gospel writers say, “it wasn’t the season of figs”, they mean, “it wasn’t main crop’s season.” The word that’s translated “season” here is the Greek “Kairos”. That’s the perfect time to get the sweetest figs. But since this tree had no early fruit, it was a sign that there would be no fruit when the time for harvest arrives.
This fig tree was deceptive because its leaves promised something the tree could not deliver. This tree had nothing to offer and it was therefore useless! As we reflect on this story on this Communion Sunday, I would like to share a couple short lessons:
First: Let’s Beware of Empty Faith
Let’s beware of empty, deceptive and fruitless faith. Mark 11:13 says, “Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, Jesus went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves.” What a sad statement! I am sure that this tree had been given everything it needed to flourish. It sat in a good location. It grew in good soil. It had enjoyed the sunshine and the rain. Still, this tree was not fruitful.
The fig tree represented the nation of Israel back then, and it represents the church today. Israel was just like this fruitless fig tree. They had all the signs of spiritual life and vitality, but they had no fruit. They were keeping the letter of the Law. They were carrying out the Temple ceremonies. They were observing the ancient feasts and the sacrifices. They were religious in every detail, but they had no spiritual fruit. Israel promised all who saw her that she could show them the way to God. Israel had gone to leaf. Israel had no fruit. Israel looked alive, but she was spiritually barren. They had everything they needed for a spiritual bumper crop, but they remained fruitless. Let’s beware of empty and fruitless faith.
Second: Let’s Examine our Hearts Before It’s too Late
As you might imagine, there is another message for us here; we are to examine our lives. When the Lord examines our lives, and He does, what does He see? Does He see us bearing fruit to the glory of God? Or, does He see a tree that has gone to leaf?
Let’s face the truth about ourselves today. Like the nation of Israel in the past, we have been given every spiritual advantage God has to offer. We have His Word, His church and His Spirit. He has blessed us in abundance. There is no excuse for us being a fruitless branch! The Lord is looking for genuine spiritual fruit in our lives. When He finds that fruit, we are blessed. When He does not find it, there is a high price to pay.
Friends, the fig tree cursing is not just about historical Israel. It’s about us. It’s about all the people of God throughout time. The apostle Paul writes to Timothy on 2 Timothy 3:1&5, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days … People will be having a form of godliness but denying its power.” The word “Form” in Greek “μόρφωσιν “morphosin” ~ means the outer form or the appearance, but no substance; only leaves, no fruit. What does the Lord see when He examine our hearts?
Mark 11:12 tells us that “Jesus was hungry.” While Jesus today may not be hungry physically, He is still expecting His Body to bear fruit for the hungry spirits around us. Fruit is always the evidence of genuine discipleship. It is evidence of life within the branch. True disciples always bear fruit for the glory of the Lord. May Jesus find something pleasant in us when He gets near. May our lives reflect genuine faith and a bountiful crop. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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