May no one ever eat fruit from you again. – Vs 14
In reading through the book of Mark, you could almost reach the conclusion that he had some kind of Attention Deficit Disorder. Time after time he begins one story, then suddenly changes gears by beginning another story, only to return to the first story a few sentences later. Chapter 11 is no exception. It marks the beginning of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into the city of Jerusalem. He sends two of His disciples ahead to help prepare for His entrance. They are to locate a colt on which He will ride, in fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Look! Your king is coming to you:
he is legitimate and victorious,
humble and riding on a donkey—
on a young donkey, the foal of a female donkey. – Zechariah 9:9
Mark records that the two disciples found the young donkey and Jesus made His entrance into the city seated on it – with the cheers and shouts of the crowds filling the air. Jesus makes His way into the Temple, "and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late" (Vs 11). The next morning Jesus and His disciples make their way back to Jerusalem from Bethany. On their way, Jesus becomes hungry. Seeing a fig tree full of leaves, He takes a closer look to see if it had any fruit. Discovering the obviously healthy tree to be fruitless, Jesus curses it, saying, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" The only comment Mark makes regarding this event is, "And His disciples were listening." He doesn't say they were puzzled. He doesn't say they were concerned or confused. He simply says they were listening.
This is where Mark's A.D.D. seems to show up. He drops the fig tree story and picks back up with Jesus returning to the Temple. It's interesting that neither Luke or Matthew record the story of the cursing of the fig tree in their accounts. Instead, they give the story of the cleansing of the Temple more priority. But in his record of this passage, Mark deliberately sandwiches the two encounters with the fig tree in between Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Why? What's the point?
I find that it is no coincidence that Jesus cursed the barren fig tree, then made His way to the Temple, where He violently threw out those who were buying and selling, and exchanging money. Jesus' anger was over the fact that this was all being done for profit by the religious authorities. They were in charge of this whole affair, and were lining their pockets with the profit. They had taken the courtyard reserved for Gentile worshipers and turned it into a Super Walmart. You could exchange your currency for the official Temple currency (for an exhorbitant fee). You could have your lamb examined by the priests, only to be told it was unfit for sacrifice. But you were in luck, because you could buy a replacement lamb right there (for an inflated price). In fact, you could buy doves or any other sacrificial animals right there in the courtyard of the Gentiles. And all the while, the religious leaders were making a killing off of the whole thing. That's why Jesus was so upset. They had turned a place of sacrifice, repentance and worship into a place of commerce. They were disguising their greed and sinfulness with a seeming act of righteousness.
“His disciples were listening.”
After cleansing the Temple, Jesus and His disciples return to Bethany for the evening. As they made their way back to Jerusalem in the morning, they encountered the fig tree again, but this time it was withered and dead. In fact, Mark records that it was "withered from the roots up." Peter is the first to speak and points out the dead tree to Jesus. Obviously, Jesus had intended this all along as a teaching moment, revealing to His disciples something they desperately needed to know.
Looking for fruit
You might call this a living parable. Mark links the incident of the fig tree directly to the situation that had occurred on the Temple grounds. Jesus was using the fig tree as a lesson for His disciples. He had come to the fig tree looking for fruit, but found none. Instead He found only leaves. The tree was had every appearance of life, but lacked the very thing for which it existed: fruit. Mark records that it was not the season for figs, so why did Jesus curse it? Mark's point was that it was not the time for ripe figs, but with this variety of fig tree, there should have been small, unripened figs, because budding precedes leafing and small figs should appear before the leaves. But Jesus finds nothing but leaves. There were no buds, no small figs, and therefore no promise of future normal figs. So Jesus curses it. Why? Because the tree, while full of leaves and having all the appearance of being a healthy, fruit-bearing tree, would never produce fruit.
The message is pretty simple. The Jews of Jesus' day had all the appearance of being healthy and whole. They should be producing fruit. They kept the law, they observed the sacred days and sacrificial requirements. Yet something was missing: fruitfulness. They had the pretension of life, but not the substance of life. They looked good on the outside, but lacked internal faith and external fruit.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men. – Mark 7:6-7
Have faith in God
When Peter pointed out the withered fig tree, Jesus simply said, "Have faith in God." What the disciples were going to experience in the coming days was going to require extreme faith. Faith in God, not in man, or in the religious system of their day. They were going to have to trust God. There were going to have to believe Him. To the point that they would be willing to ask Him for the unbelievable. Faith is the key to fruitfulness. They were going to have to trust and believe even in the midst of some very difficult days. But the result would be incredible fruitfulness. So how's your faith today? Are you trusting Him in spite of all that is going on around you? Or do you have all the appearances of spiritual health, but with no fruit to show for it? God is interested in fruit. Fruit is the byproduct of faith. Why not trust Him today? Place your faith in Him and watch Him produce fruit through you?
Father, I want to be fruitful. I don't want to look righteous, but lack the fruit that comes from a life of righteousness. I want my life to be fruitful because I am faith-full! I want to trust You more and me less. Forgive me for looking on the outside too much. For concentrating on appearances instead of the heart. Make me fruitful Father. Amen