Fourth Week in Lent - Lessons from a Fig Tree
This is the Fourth Sunday in Lent
Lent is a season that is not typically celebrated in many Evangelical churches
However, it’s something that I’d like to start celebrating
Lent is a period of 40 days, not counting Sundays, before Easter. It starts on what we know as Ash Wednesday and goes until just before Easter
The 40 days of Lent coincide with the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the wilderness after His baptism
During Lenten season we are asked to focus on prayer, penance (asking forgiveness for our sins), repentance (turning away from our sins), almsgiving (giving to those in need), and self denial (fasting).
I’ve entitled my message today “Lessons from a Fig Tree”
Our passage for today is found in Matthew 21 starting at verse 18
Matthew 21:18-22 Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 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. 20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked. 21 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. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
Kind of an interesting story!
There are two parts to this story that have related, yet separate messages
Let’s take a look at the first part
Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 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.
Ok, so what’s going on here?
First of all we need to take a look at the setting
This event takes place just a couple days before Jesus was arrested and crucified
The day before this Jesus came riding into Jerusalem in what we call Palm Sunday
He had chased all the money changers and merchants out of the temple, and after that had gone to the nearby town of Bethany for the night
Most likely he stayed with his friend Lazarus, who He had raised from the dead, and Lazarus’ two sisters Mary and Martha
The next morning Jesus is heading back to Jerusalem and became hungry
Let me stop right here for a moment
Think about this fact - Jesus was hungry
For some of you that might not seem like a big deal, after all every one of us gets hungry
But I will openly admit that for the longest time in the early days of my faith journey I never really thought about the fact that when Jesus was on the earth He was fully human
He experienced every emotion and feeling that we do
Jesus got hungry, Jesus got cold, Jesus was happy, angry, sad, lonely, etc just like the rest of us
Jesus burped, passed gas, and went to the bathroom just like every other human on the planet
The Bible tells us that Jesus had brothers and sister, and I am certain He got annoyed with them at times just like every other sibling on the planet
It brings me comfort to know that my God experienced the same range of feelings, emotions, and temptations that I do
Yes society has changed significantly, but human nature really hasn’t
So, anyway, Jesus was hungry and noticed that off in the distance was a fig tree
This fig tree was along a public road instead of a farmer’s field or person’s yard, so that automatically made it a tree that anyone could legally eat from
Jesus notices that there are leaves on the fig tree so He goes up to get something to eat
To us this wouldn’t seem like a big deal because we don’t have fig trees here in north central Pennsylvania
In fact, I had never even seen a fig tree until I went to Albania back in 2011
To be completely honest, my only experience with eating figs has been fig newton cookies so I really don’t even know what a fig tastes like!
I say this to point out that in our particular culture we don’t know a lot about figs and fig trees at all
However fig trees are incredibly common in Israel, so they are something that Jesus would have been very familiar with
Here’s an interesting fact about fig trees - the fruit of a fig tree begins to grow before the leaves do
So, if you see a fig tree with leaves, it is safe to assume that there are also figs on the tree
In Israel figs typically are not ready to be picked until late May or June
This story was taking place in the month of April
How do I know this? Because Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the passover, and that happened in April
So, Jesus was probably surprised to see a fig tree with leaves, because it was not the season fo it yet
Jesus, being hungry and seeing the leaves on the fig tree, naturally assumes that there are figs on the tree so He goes up to it to get something to eat
However there are no figs on the tree - so what does Jesus do?
Then he said to it, "May you never bear fruit again!" Immediately the tree withered.
Woah! Looks like Jesus got a little hangry there didn’t He?
Is this what is happening though? Did Jesus cause the tree to wither and die because He was mad?
Maybe - after all, getting angry is not a sin
Sin comes when we do not handle our anger properly
Causing a tree to wither is certainly attention getting, but it’s not a sin so maybe Jesus did this simply because He was mad
If that’s the case this is another thing that brings me comfort!
Why do I say that?
Because I’ve done a lot of dumb things when I have been angry
I’ve said things that I would normally never say
I’ve done things that I normally would never do
Anger can make us stupid!
Again, Jesus did not sin, and I am not suggesting that what Jesus did was stupid, but I can certainly understand reacting in anger like Jesus did
It gives me hope that I can be angry and not sin, just like Jesus was
So did Jesus react in anger?
Honestly, although it’s possible I don’t think He did
I think that there was a deeper lesson that Jesus was trying to communicate
What was that lesson?
Jesus was constantly calling out the religious leaders of His day
In fact, the religious leaders are the only ones that you ever hear Jesus speaking harshly with
One time Jesus called them “white washed tombs”
Jesus also compared the religious leaders to a cup that was only washed on the outside, but the inside was still dirty
Jesus carries on this line of thought with the lesson from the fig tree
The fig tree looked good from a distance
In fact, not only did it look good it looked superior because there were leaves on it well before there should have been
However, when Jesus got close to the tree He made the discovery that even though the tree looked good from a distance, on closer examination there was no fruit
What was thought to be a superior tree was actually not only inferior, but worthless because there was no fruit at all
Sadly, the world has no shortage of people that are just like this tree
We look really good from a distance, but a close examination shows that things are not like they should be
I call this the “social media effect”
Ever notice that when you look at most people’s social media pages that everything looks great?
Yes, we all know people who are incredibly passive aggressive in social media or people who are constantly whining and complaining
But for most people, when you look at their Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever other social media site they post on what do you see?
Filtered pictures that slim, smooth, and hide our imperfections
We see vacation pictures, pictures of our meals, and pictures of us working out - often posted to either make us look better or make others feel a little jealous
We see smiles and happiness and a “everything is perfect in my world” facade
And I was purposeful in using the word facade because that’s exactly what it is - a facade
It’s not real
Nobody has a perfect life
The problem with putting up a facade is this - I tend to compare my reality with your facade
When I do that it’s easy for me to then make the assumption that God loves you more than He loves me
The assumption that there is something fundamentally wrong with me because I don’t have the perfect marriage, the perfect children, the perfect job, or the perfect life that I see on people’s social media facade
It can easily make me feel that my life totally stinks, when in reality it doesn’t
Let me clarify a couple things before I go on
I don’t think there is anything wrong with social media in and of itself
How we USE social media can be wrong, but social media itself certainly isn’t
I use social media extensively
I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat every day - multiple times a day in fact
I post pictures of my family, my vacations, and even the occasional workout or meal
The only thing I don’t normally do is use picture filters because everyone already knows I’m ugly!
Here’s the other thing - it’s not just social media, we do this in every other aspect of our lives as well
You could be having an absolutely terrible day, yet when someone says “Hi, how are you?” How do you respond?
Most people will say some version of “good” or “great”
Rarely are we honest, and if we are the people that asked how we were doing tend to find an excuse to run off!
This is something that is especially bad in a lot of the Christian world
For whatever reason the culture in the typical church is a “praise God, follow Jesus and everything will be perfect” environment
I only have one thing to say about that - Stop it!
We need to be real!
We need to be honest!
I’m sick and tired of preachers, church leaders, and christians in general putting on phony facades
We will accomplish far more in our culture by being real and honest
I’ll be the first to say that I am far from perfect
Most of you have heard me say multiple times that I am just a screwed up preacher trying to help screwed up people follow Jesus!
I am living proof of God’s grace and mercy, because if God can put a guy like me behind a pulpit then He can do anything with anyone
We will reach far more people by being honest and real about our problems, fears, and struggles than we ever would by faking it
I have never been the man that I should be, but thank God I am not the man I used to be!
I am not perfect, but then again, my goal is progress, not perfection
With the help of God and other people I am slowly becoming the man I should be - but I will never reach that goal if I am not real and honest
I don’t ever want to be like the fig tree - looking amazing on the outside but worthless on the inside
And with God’s help and the fellowship of other believers I don’t have to be!
There is more to this story
20 When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. "How did the fig tree wither so quickly?" they asked. 21 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. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer."
Jesus had another lesson for His disciples - a lesson on faith
The disciples were absolutely amazed that the fig tree withered up after Jesus effectively cursed it
What was Jesus’ reply?
“You were impressed by that? That was nothing! If you have faith and don’t doubt you can do far more amazing things than that!”
Yes, this is a lesson on faith, but I think it goes deeper than what we think it does
You’ve heard me say this many times, but it’s always a good reminder
Scripture says that Jesus did everything He did on this earth - all the miracles, signs, and wonders - as fully human through the power of the Holy Spirit
Yes, Jesus is God - however when Jesus came to earth He willingly laid aside His deity and live His life here as fully human
This is why Jesus needed the Baptism in the Holy Spirit that He experienced when John the Baptist baptized Him in the Jordan
This is why Jesus spent so much time in prayer
Everything He did was through the power of the Holy Spirit - the same Holy Spirit that lives in you and me!
Jesus is telling His disciples that they could do what He did
And what did Jesus do?
He cursed an unproductive fig tree and it withered
Jesus was so in touch with God, was so filled with the Holy Spirit, had such an anointing of the Spirit of God on Him that when He cursed the fig tree - possibly because He was hangry - that it withered and died!
We have no idea about the power that we carry around with us every day!
The spiritual power that we have access to
Jesus said that if we ask in faith it will be done!
Of course, this requires that close, intimate walk with God, and when you are walking that close to God you tend not to ask for dumb things or selfish things
So, what do I want you to take away from today’s message?
First - Be real
Don’t put up a facade and pretend that life is different than what it really is
Be real and honest about your fears, failures, doubts, and struggles
I firmly believe that being real is one of the best ways to bring people to Jesus
Secondly - Live a life of faith
Know who you are
Know the power that you carry around with you
Build that relationship with God and draw as close to Him as you can
That will grow your faith, and then watch the miracles that happen!