Why Jesus cursed the barren fig tree

Let me apologize in advance if what follows isn’t very entertaining.

“In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ And immediately the fig tree withered up. The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’” (Matthew 21:18-20 NLT)

We are masters of missing the point. Jesus talked a lot about the responsibility of God’s people to bear the fruit of the Kingdom — and the consequences of refusing. When Jesus cursed the fruitless tree, and it immediately withered, it should have been a moment for the fear of Almighty God to fall on the disciples. Instead, they focused on the miracle and wanted Jesus to explain how he did it (meaning, “Is this something you could teach us to do?”).

The fig tree was cursed and they wanted to know how he did it, instead of why.

And when we hear this section of Matthew 21 taught today, we focus on the teaching Jesus had to do because the disciples were missing the point — and in the process we doubly miss the point ourselves — that if you have faith, you can pray for anything and receive it. (v.22)

In matters of religion, we want to know how the religion can benefit us, when we should be focused on matters of faith and how we can give God the glory he is due. We want the entertainer and his show, not the truth-teller. We want to be fed, not to bear fruit for a hungry Jesus.

Just in this one chapter: Jesus cleared the Temple’s Court of the Gentiles because it had been turned into a marketplace, instead of being a place where the nations could come to worship. (vv.12-13) Jesus told a parable about sons who disobeyed their father’s command to work in his vineyard. (vv.28-31) And Jesus told a longer story about the danger of refusing to produce for God the harvest he deserves. (vv.33-41)

The point of being a branch is not what the vine can do for you; the point is bearing the fruit you were created to produce. The point of being God’s people is bringing to the Father the lost children he saved you to rescue.

And the point of cursing the fig tree was so disobedient sons and selfish vineyard workers would hear the warning of Matthew 21:43 — “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.”

God’s mission in the world is to restore his beloved creation to the perfect peace he originally created it to enjoy. God’s people are the ones who pursue his mission and multiply disciples for Jesus. Even Abraham’s children will find the Kingdom taken from them if they refuse to produce the proper fruit.

Let those who have ears, hear.

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About Mark Kelly

Jesus follower, Bible reader, husband/father/son/brother/uncle, rider, hiker, snapshooter
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