Summary: Mountains come in all shapes and sizes. Jesus has a better idea than climbing a mountain. He says you can move a mountain. But sometimes instead of moving the mountain, God moves you.
It’s a true story; only the names have been changed to protect the embarrassed. Little Tommy attended first grade Sunday School faithfully. He loved his teacher, Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith told great Bible stories, and she would always end the story by saying, “And, boys and girls, the MORAL of the story is …” Little Tommy enjoyed learning about the morals of each Bible story. But when Tommy entered second grade, he moved up to another Sunday School class, taught by Mrs. Jones. She told Bible stories, too, but she never ended them by giving the moral of the story. After a few weeks Tommy’s mom asked him how he liked his new Sunday School teacher. Tommy said, “Mrs. Jones is okay. The only problem is that she doesn’t have any morals.”
We’ve been studying the Parables and Miracles of Jesus for over a year now, and I’m glad tat the stories of Jesus do have morals, or applications. As we read these words let’s remember we’re reading about what Jesus did and what He said during the week leading up the cross. The events we studied in the previous passage took place on what we call Palm Sunday. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and His first order of business was to drive out the dishonest merchants who had set up shop there. During this final week, Jesus spent His days in Jerusalem teaching in the Temple courts. Each evening He would walk to Bethany to spend the night. Bethany was about a mile away on the other side of the Mount of Olives. The Bible doesn’t say where He stayed in Bethany, but since Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus lived there, He might have stayed with them. Each morning Jesus and His disciples would walk back over the crest of the Mount of Olives and down into the Kidron valley and then up to the Temple Mount. I’ve made the same walk many times, and it’s a beautiful sight to see Jerusalem as you walk down the Mount of Olives. It was the week of Passover, so the city was full of pilgrims. It’s Monday morning and Jesus is heading back to Jerusalem.
Matthew 21:18-22. “Early in the morning, as he was on his 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. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked. 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.’”
I enjoy reminding you that there is a parable in every miracle and a miracle in every parable. In our passage today, we’re going to briefly examine a miracle that is really a parable—a withered fig tree. And we’re going to devote most of our attention to a miracle, moving a mountain, that is really a parable.
1. THE WITHERED FIG TREE: A parable about fruitfulness
Jesus walked up to a fig tree expecting to enjoy a fig breakfast, but while there were leaves, there was no fruit. Of course, Jesus knew that. So He simply pronounced the unfruitful condition of the tree as being permanent, “You don’t have fruit and you’ll never have fruit.” And the tree shriveled up on the spot.
Radical environmentalists are sometimes called “tree huggers” and this incident makes them see a color other than green. They object, “What did it do to deserve that?” First of all, remember Jesus created everything and it was His right to do whatever He pleased with that tree. And second, Jesus was teaching a valuable object lesson to the disciples. Over the next few days Jesus will be in constant debate with the Jewish religious mafia. Outwardly, they were hyper-righteous, but inwardly they were dead. We know this is the immediately application of this miracle/parable because Jesus gives the moral of the story in Matthew 21:43 where He says plainly, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
Both Jeremiah and Hosea use a fig tree as a symbol for the nation of Israel. In 70 A.D. the fig tree that was Israel was chopped down when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem but the root of that fig tree wasn’t destroyed. In Matthew 24 Jesus was talking about the end of time He said when you see the fig tree putting forth its leaves you know the end is nearing. (Matthew 24:32) We should be paying attention to world events because the fig tree has leaves again. In 1948 Israel became a nation again for the first time since it withered in 70 A.D.