– Bear Fruit!
& Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ The Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 12 May 2013
And after taking His leave of them, He exited out of the city into Bethany and camped out there.
Now in the morning, as He went back up into the city, He was hungry,
and when He saw one fig tree on the way, He got on it, yet found nothing in it
– except leaves only. Then He said to it, “Let there never be fruit from you
forever!” And quickly the fig tree withered.
Then, once the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How’d the fig tree
wither [so] quickly?”
So, in answer, Jesus said to them, “Really, I’m telling y’all that if you
happen to hold faith and are not doubting, not only will y’all do the fig tree
thing, but even if y’all shall say to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and be
thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.”
21:22 and when you
believe, y’all will receive all of whatever things y’all might ask for in that
21:17 And after taking His leave of them, He exited out of
the city into Bethany and camped out there.
εξω της πολεως
- In the last sermon,
I mentioned that the pride of the religious leaders, the fickleness of the
followers, and their complicity in excluding from the worship of God those
who were weak and small were reasons Jesus left the city.
- Of course,
there were logistical reasons as well: most of the accommodations in Jerusalem w ere full with all the visitors coming in for Passover, and Bethany was only a mile or two away.
- The Greek word I
translated “camped out” (“lodged” in most English versions) is based on
the word for a “courtyard” – It means there wasn’t a bedroom for Jesus and
all His disciples where they were staying, so they slept outside
in the courtyard.
- It’s possible
this courtyard was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of
Olives (Gethsemane means “olive oil press”), and it may have been in the
location of Bethphage, where Matthew says Jesus was the night
before, and since this location was on the outskirts of Bethany, I
wonder if all these location names could be referring to the same place.
Maybe this was some agricultural property which belonged to Lazarus and which
he offered for Jesus’ use. Just a guess.
21:18 Now in the morning, as He went back up into the city,
He was hungry,
εις την πολιν επεινασεν
21:19 and when He saw one fig tree on the way, He got on it,
yet found nothing in it – except leaves only. Then He said to it, “Let there
never be fruit from you forever!” And quickly the fig tree withered.
μιαν επι της ‘οδου
ηλθεν επ’ αυτην
και ουδεν εὗρεν
εν αυτη ει μη
και λεγει αυτη
Μηκετι εκ σου
εις τον αιωνα
- So on Tuesday
morning, the third day of holy week, when Jesus walked back up to the
temple, McDonalds wasn’t open yet, so instead of an Egg McMuffin, Jesus
was looking to pick some fruit off of a tree for breakfast. (Remember, the
area He stayed in was called Bethphage, which means “fig house” - Lk.
21:37, so figs were on the menu.)
- The Greek
preposition (epi) indicates
literally that He got onto the tree, so maybe He actually climbed
up into the tree a bit to search its highest branches. However, in His
thorough search, He finds not a single piece of fruit.
- Mark’s parallel
account mentions that it wasn’t the season for figs (11:13), however,
these fig trees did bear small amounts of fruit in the spring
before the actual fig harvest time in the fall. I’m given to understand
that if the tree had leaves, it would normally have fruit,
even at this time of year, so Jesus had reason to expect to get breakfast
from that tree because it had leaves.
why did Jesus curse the tree?
We might be tempted to say that it is out of character for Jesus to curse
anything – wasn’t He always doing good and supporting life and health?
Wasn’t that a bit severe? Well, we must remember that as God, He has the
right to curse or bless anything (and any person) He created, depending on
nothing more than His own pleasure and purpose in it.
- So, what purpose
did Jesus have in this? It appears that Jesus was creating a metaphor – a
symbol that would gather together into one image the lessons He wanted His
disciples to learn that day. He wanted them to have a vivid picture of
God’s wrath against spiritual fruitlessness.
- Just like that tree
that looked to be in good health with all its leaves, so the Jews in
Jerusalem looked like God’s people with their outward observation
of the laws of Moses, but just like the tree which had no fruit, so most
of the people – especially their leaders – were not offering to Jesus the
“sacrifice of praise to God, which is, the fruit of lips that give thanks
to His name” (Heb. 13:15). They did not recognize Jesus for who He was
and honor Him when they had the chance; instead they sought to kill Him,
saying, “His blood be upon us and our children.”
- And about 40
years later, God’s judgment came down on the Jewish church and state when
they were obliterated by the Roman army – “not one stone left upon
another” (Lk. 19:44).
- Such fruitlesness
wasn’t unique to the Jews, however; God warns us in the New
Testament book of Jude about this happening in the church today: “[C]ontend
earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long
beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the
grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord,
Jesus Christ… These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts
when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds
without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly
dead, uprooted…” (Jude 1:3-4 & 12, NASB)
- The punishment God
often metes out to people who associate with Christianity and yet do not
bear fruit, is to remove them from prominence.
God uses this kind of language to warn the church at Ephesus: Rev. 2:5 “Therefore
remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did
at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your
lampstand out of its place…” (KJV)
- Now, there is another
reason, I think, that Jesus cursed the fig tree, and that was to model to
His disciples the place for miracles in judgment.
- Earlier in their
training, the disciples wanted to call down fire and brimstone on a city
of Samaritans for rejecting Jesus (Luke 9:54). The disciples weren’t
mature enough to handle the power of judgment at that point.
- But now that
Jesus has seen His disciples get it right in their worship and witness
during Palm Sunday, He puts them through a “graduate-school-level class”
- John Chrysostom
wrote concerning this, “it was needful that He should afford them a
demonstrative proof of His power to take vengeance also, that both
the disciples might learn, and the Jews…”
- This will later
give Peter the confidence to decree the miraculous death of Ananias and
Saphira in Acts 6.
- God can and does
intervene at times to bring judgment when the wicked are not expecting
it, and God can do amazing wonders,
- like the time, at
the end of Acts 12, where the angel of the Lord struck King Herod in the
middle of a pompous speech,
- or in more recent
times when the owner of an abortion clinic I picketed was suddenly
overtaken by cancer and died, so the clinic was sold and turned into a
pro-life women’s clinic!
- The imprecatory
Psalms are there for our use, but should not be used lightly.
- It takes a wise
and gracious person who is in tune with God’s timing to recognize when
is the right time for judgment. But Jesus, by this act of withering the
fig tree, lets us know that there are times when it is appropriate.
- At this point, I
think we need to take a little rabbit trail, because when we compare the
accounts of the four gospels, we run into a problem with the chronology of
events: Mark 11 seems to have Jesus cursing the fig tree on the same the
day that He drove the merchants out of the temple, but Matthew seems to
have the cursing of the fig tree on the next day.
- Does this mean that
the Bible is in error here? No, because there are at least three
explanations for this apparent discrepancy:
- Mark might not have
been trying to relate the story in exact chronological order. Nowhere
does he say that this was his goal. John Calvin, in his commentary on the
Gospels, suggests that the apparent discrepancy is due to the fact that Mark
went back in time to fill in details.
- On the other hand,
it could have been Matthew who did not arrange His account in strict
chronological order. A.T. Robertson, in his Harmony of the Gospels, sets the healing of the blind
and lame and the verbal exchange with the chief priests and scribes on
Monday evening, and the fig tree incident and the clearing of the temple
market on Tuesday, and that seems to be the popular opinion of Bible
- On the other
hand, it’s always possible that Jesus could have driven vendors and
couriers out of the temple two days in a row.
- So, there are
enough reasonable alternative explanations to logically reject the claim
that this is an error.
- It seems that in
God’s providence, it was not important for us to know for certain which
day the fig tree was cursed. What is important is that Jesus did this
action and what He said about it:
21:20 Then, once the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying,
“How’d the fig tree wither [so] quickly?”
21:21 So, in answer, Jesus said to them, “Really, I’m telling
y’all that if you happen to hold faith and are not doubting, not only will
y’all do the fig tree thing, but even if y’all shall say to this mountain, ‘Be
lifted up and be thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.”
δε ‘ο Ιησους
Αμην λεγω ‘υμιν
πιστιν και μη
καν τω ορει
τουτω ειπητε Αρθητι
- The disciples
had heard Jesus curse the fig tree (Mark 11:14b), and they seem to be
amazed at how it had shriveled up and died at a mere word from Jesus – and
that so quickly.
- In answer to
their question of how He did it, Jesus says that faith is the
- And let me
explain from the Greek wording, to “have faith” is not the same “having”
as in “I have a cold” or “I have a piece of trash to throw
away.” No, it means to hold on to, to keep alive. “Having
faith” is more than walking the aisle once and more than just owning a
baptismal certificate; it is a life of hanging onto and nurturing
trust in Jesus.
- “Holding faith” is
contrasted with “not doubting” in the next phrase:
- This runs
parallel to James’ thought (1:5-8), “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him
ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will
be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting,
for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and
tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive
anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his
- However these two
passages where this Greek word is translated “doubt” are exceptional.
Usually this word is translated “judge” instead of “doubt:”
used the word earlier in 16:3 for “discerning” the weather;
- It’s used by Paul
in 1 Cor. (6:5) to speak of “acting as a judge” in a court case,
- And James (2:4)
uses it to speak of rich and poor people “discriminating” against each
the etymology of this Greek word, the picture presented by “not
doubting” is not so much that of loosing grip on a truth,
but rather that of bringing a truth into question and setting
yourself up as a judge over God, trying to judge for yourself
what should or should not be.
Henry suggested it could be translated, “If you have faith and dispute
- In this
sense, faith is submission to God to go with His word on
any given subject without bucking His authority.
- Now can you see why
God would do whatever a person with an attitude like that prayed
for? This person who trusts Jesus and submits to Him is not
trying to judge for himself and control things and use
God to do what he or she wants, but rather they want God’s will to
be done, and, when they know what God wants, they pray for that.
- Jesus’ answer also
tells us something else: He apparently
doesn’t think that the miracle was any big deal.
- God’s power is
unlimited! The fig tree thing was nothing! Why, He would move a mountain
- To dump the
Mount of Olives into the Dead Sea would be quite a feat, but something of
that nature did happen on November 27, in the year 974, when a group of
Christians prayed in Cairo, Egypt. I told that story in my sermon on
Matthew 17:20, where Jesus says that if we have faith no bigger than a
mustard seed we can move a mountain. In the case of those Egyptian
Christians, God supernaturally broke Mount Mokattam and moved it from the
middle of Cairo to the East side of the old city where it is today.
- However, the phrase
“move a mountain” was apparently also a common figure of speech among the
Jews of Jesus’ day, which meant to “solve a big problem,” so it should be
taken to mean that any problem can be effectively dealt with
through trusting God and asking Him to act.
speaking, the disciples faced a problem the size of a mountain after
Jesus ascended into heaven. How on earth would they convert the Jews on
that hill of Jerusalem to faith in Jesus – much less spread the gospel to
the whole world? Yet, as they relied on God’s power, they did indeed see
many come to faith in Christ, and not only moved a mountain, they “turned
the world upside down”! (Acts 17:6)
- Do you
believe that your biggest problems are no big problem for God?
21:22 and when you believe, y’all will receive all of
whatever things y’all might ask for in that prayer.
παντα ‘οσα [ε]αν
αιτησητε εν τη προσευχη
- What an amazing statement! Jesus is offering to
share the mind-boggling power of God with us, saying we can potentially
ask for anything! And no part of the prayer will be left unanswered. The
Greek wording emphasizes that each and every thing asked for
– without exception – will come to pass. Let
this promise build up your faith!
- Of course, the usual caveat is in place that this
believing and receiving must be done out of a context of faithful
submission to God. “Prayer is not right if it does not spring from faith” (Matthew
Henry). We’re not talking about prayer
that springs from greed or selfishness.
- “To have faith in
God means precisely the assurance and expectation from God of whatever we
need… we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him
(Eph. 3:12… [but] Christ does not give men a free rein in their prayers to
ask whatever their own fancy suggests. He places prayers after the rule of
faith, which is bound to mean that the Spirit controls all our instincts
by the Word of God and keeps us well in hand. Firm and unhesitating trust
in prayer is Christ’s demand.” ~John Calvin
- Mark 11:24 “Therefore I say to you, all things
for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they
will be granted you” (NASB).
- Praying with faith in Jesus characterizes those
who are fruitful in God’s kingdom.
God wants us to bear fruit
- A desire for fruit is not some random idea that
just popped up one day in Jesus’ mind and then went away; it’s important.
- We’ve already seen John the Baptizer’s message
in Matthew chapter 3: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance… for
every branch that does not bear good fruit will be severed off and
- And Jesus also, in Matthew 7, spoke of knowing
people by their fruit. Good trees bear good fruit; bad
trees bear rotten fruit and those bad trees will be cut down and burned.
- Jesus also touched on fruitfulness in the
Parable of the Sower and the Seed and in the upcoming Parable of the
Tenants in the Vineyard.
- Here we see Jesus cursing fruitlessness, using
the fruitless fig tree as a picture of His coming judgment against the
fruitlessness of the unbelieving Jews.
- Fruitfulness is an
important, continuing theme in God’s word, so we had better be bearing
- So, what kind of fruit are we
supposed to come out with, and how do we do it? I see
three kinds of fruit that the Bible mentions in the New Testament:
- The first kind of fruit is our belief in Jesus
that He is the one God sent to save us from our rebellion against God by
paying the price of death for our sins and making us right with God.
- Ephesians 2 tells us that our faith is itself a
gift from God, but when we recognize Jesus for who He is as God, our
Savior, and our Master, the faith that we hold onto, and the praises and
prayers that come from out hearts as we walk in relationship with Him are a
kind of fruit.
- Hebrews 13:15 Through Him then, let us
continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit
of lips that give thanks to His name.
- HOW do you do this? John 15:4-5 “Abide in
Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides
in the vine, so neither can
you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he
who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart
from Me you can do nothing.”
- This “abiding” in Jesus is another way of saying
what Jesus said in v.21 about “having faith” – holding onto and nurturing
trust in Him.
- God delights in seeing us bear the fruit of faith
expressed in praise and prayer to Him! But there is more. When our
relationship with God has been made right, it creates all sorts of other
good attitudes and actions which flow out of us as our hearts are
transformed by the Holy Spirit working in us:
2) Love/Godly Character
Apostle Paul wrote often about this in his epistles:
- Galatians 5:22-23 … the fruit of the Spirit
is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
- Ephesians 5:9 …the fruit of the Light is
in all goodness and righteousness and truth
- Philippians 1:9-11 And this I pray, that your love
may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all
discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in
order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having
been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the
glory and praise of God.
- Do you see from these verses
how knowing God/holding faith results in the fruit of love and righteous
deeds? That, in turn, bears the fruit of peace:
- James 3:17-18 But the wisdom from above is first
pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits,
unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness
is sown in peace by those who make peace.
- However, sometimes God has to
do unpleasant things to us in order to cultivate this kind of righteous,
godly character. But when His acts of discipline come, keep holding on to
faith, and look forward to the fruit it will yield, as it says in
Hebrews 12:11, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but
sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields
the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
- So one kind of fruit is our faith which praises
and thanks Him, and we get that by abiding in Christ. Another kind of
fruit is our own Godly character which is characterized by love towards
others and good deeds, and we get that by letting God’s Spirit discipline
and transform us. The third kind of
fruit is outside of ourselves:
3) Disciples (esp. children)
- In the Bible, parents were told to “be fruitful
and multiply” (Genesis 1:28), and a child is called the “fruit” of his
mother’s womb (Luke 1:42).
- If we look at the whole context of the Bible, we
see that God was not just talking about physically manufacturing babies, He
was talking about the whole process of raising children in partnership
with Him to bear the fruits of faith and righteousness.
- This principle goes beyond physical procreation
to include anything we do that encoruages other people toward faith and
- In John 4:35-39, when
the people in the Samaritan village heard the testimony of the woman at
the well and began believing that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus said that
He was “harvesting fruit.”
- And in Romans 1:11-15, Paul talks about wanting
to get some “fruit” through “preaching the Gospel” in the city of Rome.
- Paul also says in Philippians 1:22-25, “But if I
live in the flesh, this will be fruitful labor for me… for your
progress and joy in the faith” Other
people’s faith is fruit!
- Now this circles back around to the topic of
prayer. How do we bear the fruit of getting other people to believe in
- We don’t have the power to generate our own
faith in God, much less someone else’s faith, so what we have to
do is pass along God’s words from the Bible and pray to God that the seed
of the word will bear the fruit of faith in the lives of others.
- I think that the command “go” paired with the
command to “bear fruit” in John 15:16 is related to the Great Commission
of Matthew 28:19, where Jesus pairs the command to “go” with the command
to “make disciples.” In John 15:16, Jesus says that prayers offered in
this context of seeking to make disciples, whatever you ask along those
lines will be given to you!
- John 15:16 “You did not choose Me but I chose
you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so
that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.”