Summary: Jesus wants fruit. Faith and prayer are supplied to us through him for this purpose.
The final week of Jesus’ life begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem among cries of Hosana and blessing. This chapter begins on Sunday of that week and takes us through part of Tuesday as Jesus begins to force the hand of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Jesus knows what will happen here. He has been moving toward this for a long time. The King of Israel enters the capital city humble and riding a donkey’s colt. He is the Son of God entering the temple of God, his Father, to cleanse it and reclaim it from the hands of those who were supposed to be producing its fruit.
In the midst of this is a little incident that Jesus uses to teach some lessons on fruit and prayer.
It was the day after the great welcome he had received on Sunday. Hosana in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! That was yesterday. This was Monday morning and Jesus is hungry as they take the 3 mile or so hike from Bethany back into Jerusalem. There in the distance, he sees it. It’s a fig tree. It’s lush green and covered in leaves and looks like there just might be breakfast in there somewhere. Mark says that it was not the time for figs. Several commentators have argued that this being March or April means that it was not the time for fig harvest, so that figs should have been on that tree, even if they were not yet ripe. They hadn’t been picked yet, because it was early, or not the time for figs. But when Jesus comes to the fig tree, there aren’t even any unripe figs on it, only leaves. It is all leaves and no lunch. It looks good from a distance, but on closer inspection, it is all good looks and no fruit. Jesus is not impressed with the leaves. He is looking for breakfast. What fruit are fig trees supposed to produce? Figs. What is this one producing? Leaves. What does Jesus have to say about this? “May no one ever eat from you again.”
That was the end of the line for this fig tree. Even trees listen to Jesus when he speaks. The next time we meet this fig tree it is dried up from the roots. Peter says, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed is withered away!” That was Tuesday morning.
What else is happening in Jesus life during this time? Do the gospel writers put this event in here because there is nothing else newsworthy to tell? Of course not! Jesus is here in Jerusalem facing the final days before the cross. The Passover is at hand. Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb of God has come to lay down his life for us all. Jesus is here with his disciples and he is teaching them just as he is teaching others. It appears from all the gospel accounts that Jesus is especially teaching these chosen disciples. They will be the ones to whom this gospel message is entrusted. They will be the ones who will bear the fruit of the kingdom in the days to come. Jesus prepares them for this. He has spoken of bearing fruit before. Now he demonstrates clearly what happens to those who are fruitless. Leaves are not enough. Looks are not enough. An attractive appearance that hides an unproductive performance is not enough. Jesus comes looking for fruit. He always has. He always will. The Lord wants and expects fruit. What will he find when he comes to look at our lives? What will he say when he sees what we are producing?
Listen to a story Jesus told in Luke. Luke 13: 6 And He began telling this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any.
7 "And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ’Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’
8 "And he answered and said to him, ’Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;
9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’"
Jesus expects fruit. John the Baptist said it too: Matt 3: 8 "Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance;
10 "And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Then Jesus said the same thing: Matthew 7: 19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Now none of us here wants to be cut down and thrown into the fire. So what do we do to bear fruit?