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20. The Acted Parable of the Fig Tree

Chapter 20

The Acted Parable of the Fig Tree

Mark 11:12-25 (Matthew 21:18-22)

Eric H. H. Chang

Montreal, 1981

 

Today, we continue our exposition in the Word of God in Mark 11:12-25, to continue learning about what kind of faith God wants His people to have.

The previous passage, verses 1-11, is on the Lord Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we read from verse 12, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.” The Lord Jesus and his disciples had gone out of Jerusalem to go to Bethany, and were on their way from Bethany to Jerusalem. Perhaps, you’ll need to know just a little geography in order to understand this. Bethany was to the east of Jerusalem, and in order to get from Bethany to Jerusalem, you had to come around on the south side of the Mount of Olives, go down the Kidron Valley, and come up into Jerusalem. So the Lord Jesus and his disciples had come out of this village of Bethany, which was on the other side of the Mount Of Olives, and were now walking along this road on the south side of the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem.

Let us continue to read verses 13-16:

13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.

Then the Lord Jesus felt hungry, and seeing this fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find any figs on it. When he found none, as it was not the season for figs, he cursed it.

When he entered the temple in Jerusalem, why did he not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple? The reason was that they used the temple as a short cut. They went through the temple courtyard in order not to have to walk around the temple. They would just treat the temple as a kind of road from which they would walk back and forth with all their merchandise, their water from the well or whatever.

We continue to read verses 17-25:

17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, be­lieve that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” [26 “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” — only in KJV, NKJ, NAS]

That evening, the Lord Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem for Bethany. The next morning, on their way back again to Jerusalem, they saw that the cursed fig tree had withered away to its roots, as in verse 20.

A parabolic miracle: Jesus has power to judge and destroy

Let us now turn our attention to this very important passage, which is very disturbing to many Christians, because it seems to be the only occasion that the Lord Jesus exercised the power God has given him to destroy. All along in the Gospels, we see this power to heal. Power can be used for good to heal, or for judgment, to destroy. The Lord Jesus wants us to understand well that although God sent him to save, he will also come to judge. Let us not forget that.

Here to our astonishment, he exercises God’s power in judgment. With one word, he has destroyed the fig tree and caused it to wither from the roots upward. The Lord Jesus is not always to be imagined as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” as the temple scene here will also remind us. A man who does not have wrath against injustice and evil, is not a man of righteousness. A man who is willing to compromise with anything, even if it is unrighteous, evil, unjust, untrue, is not a man of righteousness. But the anger of a righteous man, which represents the anger of the righteous God is greatly to be feared. And we don’t like to see the Lord Jesus using the power God has given him for destruction.

A “difficult” parable to Bible scholars

We want to look carefully at this parable, which is an acted parable. It is a parable which is emphasized by the very character of this miracle. Or to use the words of another scholar, Louis Marin, a French professor, he calls it quite rightly, “a parabolic miracle.” A parabolic miracle is a miracle which is intended to be a parable; a miracle which is there to teach a powerful lesson.

So difficult do some scholars find this passage—difficult not because of any other reason but because it is so contrary to our feelings—that Professor Edward Schweitzer of Switzerland simply left the whole passage out in his commentary of Matthew! He doesn’t even treat the problem. I just wanted to see what he had to say, but there was nothing at all to be found. Just take a pair of scissors and cut out whatever you don’t like in the Scriptures, or paste it over with something. That is a quick way to solve the problem, but it is not a very effective way.

The problem gets even deeper as you read verse 13, which tells us plainly that the tree got cursed for not bearing fruit, because it was not the season for figs. Now you can understand why Schweitzer decided not to comment on this passage. It would save a lot of problems just not to talk about it at all.

We don’t have much confidence regarding the Lord Jesus’ justice. We feel very upset that when he doesn’t find any fruit on this fig tree that had luscious green leaves, he curses it, and the poor tree withers and dies. But it was not the season of figs. Now you will say, “If Christ Jesus is like this, we don’t have to read the Bible!” How are we to understand this incident? Well, I’m not about to run away from any problem. I’m about to look every problem in the face, and see what it has to say to us.

I. Foundation of faith: Absolute confidence in God

This parable tells you about yourself

I thank God for passages like this in the Bible. One very important thing is that it tells us more about ourselves than it tells us about God. Now this parable is not meant to be diagnostic, but every parable has a diagnostic element to it, to tell you about yourself, or to tell somebody else about himself. When people ask a question, it tells me more about the questioner than about the problem. It immediately reveals his mind. In fact, any statement reveals the person’s mind.

What is interesting about this parable is that you can see how you react to it. You immediately feel it seems so unfair, God should not execute Jesus’ curse of the fig tree. Our reaction is more revealing than what is actually said there. What is our reaction? It shows you that you don’t believe too well deep down that God is just and righteous.

If you truly believe that God is just, you would never believe that they would do anything unrighteous. Do you believe God will do something unrighteous? The answer in the majority of Christians seems to be “yes.” Now if you have that kind of feeling regarding God, how can you have faith at all? Here your faith is already shaken at the very foundation, because you don’t really believe in the justice of God. “Destroy the Canaanites”—this is God’s justice! He causes an earthquake and innocent people are killed. Where is God’s justice? It is unjust that children were killed on the road by some car. But at least we can blame it on the driver. But for an earthquake, we have to blame it on God. God is unjust. He allowed the earthquake to happen, and no one can say He did not allow it to happen. Surely, God is in control of the earthquake; man does not control any earthquake.

This is what I mean by the diagnostic element of the Word of God, and indeed, of every parable. We cannot have faith in God because the very foundation of our faith is insecure. We don’t believe that He is just, at least not in these cases. We might say, “He is 98% just, or maybe 99% just, but we concede He is 1% not so just.” Let’s be honest with ourselves. How can His Christ, Jesus, expect to find figs on the fig tree when it is not the season of figs? And why does he curse the tree? This is plainly ridiculous! I don’t want to listen to this kind of thing anymore. As for me, I don’t have to preach this anymore! This is the end! Well, that is one way.

Now I want to put the challenge to you as bluntly as that. And I want to put it right there in front of you, and let you say, “Jesus is unjust. He is unfair.” Say it in your heart: “Jesus is unjust.” After all, that is what you believe. Don’t pretend you don’t. If you say, “No, he is just, then try and explain it. I’ll have you in a corner in no time at all. When you see an over-religious Christian getting all eloquent, you can say, “Come, sit down a minute. I’m going to read you Mark 11:13-14, and I’m going to take all the steam out of your sails.”

You watch how he just becomes speechless. He doesn’t know what to say, like Professor Edward Schweitzer. Even he decides to cut it out of his commentary. Maybe some malicious fellow inserted this word into Mark to ruin the reputation of the Bible. Maybe it was never there originally. So we just cut the whole passage out. This was done by the devil, sowing the darnel (weeds or tares in the various versions of the Bible) among the wheat of the Bible. So we can throw out the darnel and forget about the whole thing!

To doubt God’s justice will shake the foundation of our faith

How can we have faith in God when we are shaken at the very foundations of our faith, and doubt God’s justice? Will God or His Christ do anything unjust? Answer it please! Very honestly in your mind, will God or Christ do anything unjust? Will they do something unrighteous? Or do you think that because God is God, He is the law to Himself? If He wanted to do something unrighteous, He is free to do it. You and I are not God, so you cannot do it and I cannot do it, but God is God. If He wants to do evil, it is up to Him because He is the definition of the law. It is like, a citizen gets hanged for committing murder, but if the king commits murder, he gets away with it because he is the king. You cannot quarrel with the king, who is a law unto himself. What God defines as right is right. If He says murder is right, then it is right. If He says murder is wrong, then it is wrong. It is up to Him to say so. And if He decides to say, “Murder is wrong for you, but it is right for Me,” then that is fine too, because He is God, and who can argue with Him? Now if that is your concept of God, then face it.

Let us be very honest with ourselves because you cannot build faith on a foundation like this, when you are not sure whether God is just or not just. We want to build faith, and faith must have a solid foundation. Maybe you will say, “I don’t understand this passage. I am not sure about God’s justice. I think that most of the time God does what is right. Occasionally, He might do some things which I have to admit are unjust, but maybe there is another explanation.” All this shows that we are rather insecure. The degree of confidence we have in God, will vary from person to person.

Now if I am absolutely confident that God will never do anything that is unjust, as I should be, no passage will worry me. He will never do anything that is wrong. And so although I say, I may not understand what the explanation of the passage is at this moment, I will nevertheless say I am absolutely sure that God’s character is holy; and because He is holy, He will never do anything unholy.

No absolute confidence in God—no effective prayer

But it is so strange how quickly we become unsure of ourselves. More seriously, we are unsure of God and His Christ. How can I have faith in God when I cannot even settle so basic a question as this in my mind? You must settle it once and for all in your mind, “Is God just or is He not just?”, because when you go on further, you have no foundation to build your faith. So long as you halt between two opinions, you’ll have doubt. And if you have doubt, you cannot pray effectively. If you cannot pray effectively, you cannot ask God for anything. Therefore, you’ll get nothing spiritually.

Therefore, look at verse 23:

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”

Where is the man who does not doubt? If you search into the roots of your so-called “faith”, how much doubt is really hidden there? And this hidden doubt is what is frightening. That is why I want to confront you with it right now. I want to have it exposed.

Make up your mind. If God is God, then serve Him. If God is not real, then forget it! Even if He is real but He is unjust, forget it as well! Who wants to serve a God that is unrighteous and unjust, who does things according to His own definition of righteousness? What kind of holiness is this? If I can pull out the bounds of righteousness whenever I want to, or narrow it whenever it suits me, that is not holiness. Do you have an unshakable confidence in the righteousness of God? Do you doubt or don’t you doubt? Be very honest. You must settle this question. Unless you do so, all talk about faith is in vain.

Now I want to confront you with the stark problem of doubt, because you may not have the means of solving it. This problem is not insoluble, and we don’t have to back down. There are very good reasons that we can look at. But I don’t want our faith to be built on our own power to reason, because there are always going to be problems in this world that your puny mind, and my puny mind cannot solve. If we build our faith upon our capacity to reason, then how pitiful is our condition! All of those problems have solutions. They can all be solved, but we may not be able to deal with these problems, because we don’t have the training, the knowledge, or even the logical capacity to grapple with this type of problem. If you insist on building your faith upon your ability to reason, or on the amount of knowledge you have, then alas, you are going to be doubting all the time! It is because you have not settled one fundamental issue about the character of God: Is He just or is He not?

My God is absolutely righteous!

I am determined that we face this problem honestly. Over the years of knowing God, I have come to one definite conclusion: God is absolutely righteous. I may not understand His dealings, but I can say with Abraham, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25) He will certainly do right even if we cannot understand it for the moment. I must have the confidence God will always do what is right. He will never do what is unrighteous. He will never do what is evil. I may not understand; I don’t know what things go from eternity to eternity; I don’t have the mass of information necessary to judge any particular situation; I don’t know why an earthquake may kill an infant who did no wrong. What I do know is that infant will be treated with absolute justice in eternity.

My God will not do anything wrong. He will not do anything false. He will see to it that justice will be done. I don’t know why the gangster in New York can live in luxury, and have five or six limousines at his disposal, why he owns endless amounts of property, while the righteous man is struggling to support a large family. That is not justice. I may not be able to answer these questions, or I may be able to answer them. But it doesn’t matter whether I can or cannot answer these questions. This should not be the point. The point is whether I have absolute confidence in the character of God.

The Bible tells us sin has corrupted the whole structure of society, therefore injustices do occur. In fact, Romans 8:19-22 tells us that even earthquakes have their origin in the sin of man; that man’s sin affects not only the function of this world, but it also affects the functioning of the entire universe. Sin is not a localized event, and it doesn’t affect human beings only. For example, pollution affects the animals; it affects the trees in obvious ways; and in less obvious ways, it affects the entire functioning of the world system.

Now you may know, and you may not know that Scripture taught these things, but if your faith is based on your knowledge, clearly, every time you don’t understand anything, you are going to doubt God. That shows the foundation of your faith is like jello, that every time something shakes it, it is shaking all over the place. How can you build faith on this? You and I must make up our minds whether God is just or not just.

Be absolutely honest, if God is not just, even though He is the living God, we don’t want to serve Him; we don’t want to be Christians. Who wants to serve an unjust God? Do I serve Him just because He is powerful? Let Him exterminate me then. I would rather be crushed out of existence. I don’t want to serve God if He is unjust, unholy, unright­eous! The only reason I serve God is that by God’s grace, I do have an unshakable confidence that God is holy, that God is just.

Now we return to this passage. You may or may not have the information to handle a passage like this, so what do you do? Jesus cursed the fig tree for having no figs when it is “not the season for figs,” and can you still say, “I have an unshakable faith in the justice of God, whom Jesus represents”? Your faith in the justice of God is put to the acid test.

Indeed, it’s an acid test. What should we do about this? Can you still say, “I am certain that even if I don’t understand why, I know that the Lord Jesus has a reason”? We don’t like that kind of answer, do we? We are all intellectuals, who don’t accept this kind of woolly reply. We will say, “All my intellectual training revolts against that. You either make it clear to me, or I don’t believe in it. For me, reason is the measure of all things.” There we go again! We build our faith on our puny capacity to reason. We put our whole confidence upon our limited knowledge. Well, how do we see the matter? I really want to face you with this powerful dilemma before I begin to analyze the meaning of this.

Look again at this passage, and I find that the solution to this passage is not all that difficult. In fact, I am surprised that there is much problem with it at all. Where is the problem? I want to show you that it is perfectly easy to understand, but I don’t want you to build your faith on that analysis. You must build your faith on God, not on the explanation. That is my first point. Whether there is an explanation or not, it should not affect our decision concerning the character of God. There is an explanation to everything although we may not know it.

II. Why does Jesus curse this particular fig tree when it is not the time for figs?

Now I can proceed to the second part—I will show you that there is nothing all that difficult to understand, or even anything that unrea­sonable. Let us put the question the other way round. Why did the Lord Jesus come to this particular fig tree and not to all those other fig trees all over the hill on the Mount of Olives? Since he was hungry, and none of the fig trees were producing any fruit at the time, as it was not the time for figs, why not curse them all? Why did he select this particular tree to curse? If you know the answer to that, you have got the answer to the whole matter. It is not difficult to understand.

Soon after a fig tree is in leaf, it will have fruit

Now in order to understand something about this passage, I also had to read up quite a lot about figs. I suppose I can go and plant figs by now! I learned that a fig tree produces no blossoms, as you may know. In Chinese, we call it “无花果树”, which means a tree that produces its fruit without flowers. Soon after it has leaves, it will have fruit.

I also learned that there are many varieties of figs, and that some varieties of figs have fruit for ten months of the year. Did Mark not see what kind of confusion it would produce for having said that there was no fruit and then go on to say it was not the season for fruit? He saw no problem at all. When you look at it again, you will see no problem at all, at least I don’t see any problem. Do you think that Mark would not have immediately sensed the obvious difficulty, if he had said that there was no fruit, but it was not the season of fruit? What did he expect the readers to think after reading a sentence like this?

Clearly for Mark, there was no problem. That sentence explicitly explains why the Lord Jesus dealt with this particular tree and not with all other trees. Why do I say this? Once you know something about the nature of fig trees, namely, that the fruit follows very soon after the leaves come out, then you will realize why the Lord Jesus came to this tree. This particular tree was already in leaf, therefore the Lord Jesus expected to find some fruit on it. The other fig trees had no leaves. He did not curse all the other fig trees, because they did not promise to offer any fruit. It was not the season for figs.

This fig tree in a warmer atmosphere had leaves

I also consulted a specialist on agriculture, and he points out in his book concerning figs and fruit bearing, that depending upon the location of certain fig trees, and depending upon the kind of fertilization that they got, certain fig trees would bloom very much earlier than others. This is no surprising knowledge to those of us who do have some fruit trees. We have some plum trees and an apple tree in our garden, and we noticed that the plum trees don’t bloom at the same time. In fact, one plum tree bloomed several months ahead of the other one last year. There can be a great gap in time, between the blooming of different trees of the same type of fruit. This depends on the fertilizers that we put in; it depends on its location—whether the tree gets more sun or less sun, whether it is facing the warm south and has the hill to the back of it, or whether it is facing north and has a much colder atmosphere.

You may have watched the news on television, or heard it over the radio about two months ago, that there was such a sudden increase in temperature in Calgary, that it was like spring, and the whole nature suddenly began to bloom. So, in the middle of winter, the trees began to bloom because of the warmth.

Now remember the geographical location of this particular fig tree. It was on the south side of the Mount of Olives, protected against the north by the Mount of Olives itself. It got all the warmth and the sunshine on the south side of the hill. Hence it is not too surprising that this tree was actually in leaf earlier than some of the other trees.

Upon understanding this point, we return to consider that Mark had said that it was not the season of figs, but this particular tree was already putting forth leaves, so the sentence was simply to explain, why the Lord Jesus did not deal with all the trees which were not bringing forth fruit, but with this particular tree, which was showing promise of having fruit on it because of the abundance of leaves.

So there is an explanation. It is not incomprehensible at all, if only we spend a little time to study the agriculture of fig trees. The agricultural expert finds no problem, but the theologian knowing nothing about figs found a lot of problems. You can see that, if you build your faith upon your non-existent knowledge about fig trees or fruit trees in general, as in the case of the theologian, you will be utterly puzzled, and not under­stand the Lord Jesus. Whereas if you consult the agricultural expert, who has knowledge of the fruits in Palestine and finds no problem with Mark 11:13 at all, the meaning is so easy to understand. Do you see how insecure is your confidence in the Lord Jesus, if you build your faith upon knowledge, because there is so much you don’t know?

The fruitless fig tree represents the spiritually fruitless Israel

Let us look at this passage still further because we must not miss the parabolic element. It is, as we said right at the beginning, an acted parable. And to miss the point of the parable is exceedingly foolish.

Now we reserve for ourselves the right to cut down a fruit tree that we so choose, so long as it belongs to us. Yet when the Lord Jesus cuts down a fruit tree, there is a lot of noise about it. The Lord Jesus has much less right than us presumably, if he decides to destroy a fruit tree to teach a very important parable. Let us try to understand the parabolic meaning of this. What does the Lord Jesus want to teach by this?

First, anyone with even a basically superficial knowledge of Scripture would know that the fig tree was an emblem of Israel. The Lord Jesus used the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree in Luke 13:6-9 to emphasize that the fig tree, which is taking everything and giving nothing in return, represented Israel. Did the vinedresser put nutrients into the ground to fertilize this fig tree, which soaks up everything, but produces no fruit? This is so characteristic of the Israelites at the time—spiritually barren, yet willing to accept every blessing that God cared to bestow upon them.

It is like so many Christians who say, “God, give me this, and God, give me that.” They want to take anything that God has to give but return nothing to God. There is no fruit, no spiritual evidence of life in them. So, the fig tree is an emblem of this very spiritual fruitlessness of the nation of Israel.

Cleansing the temple happens between the cursing and dying of the fig tree

Hence, note the astonishing appropriateness of the timing of the cleansing of the temple. Notice that the cursing of the fig tree is divided into two sections, with the cleansing of the temple in verses 15-19, inserted in between. The Lord Jesus cursed the fig tree on his way into Jerusalem in verse 14, then he left in the evening. On the next day, when he was going back again to Jerusalem, the disciples “saw the fig tree withered away to its roots” in verse 20. Now that is by no means a matter of chance. That is part of the beautiful structure of the timing, in which Christ does things. He wanted his disciples to get a lesson deeply impressed upon their minds.

This was the Passover season, and what happens during that time? Crowds of pilgrims were coming from all over Israel into Jerusalem to worship at the temple at the Passover, this special religious feast of the Jews. And the scene in Jerusalem, and in the temple was hustle and bustle, crowds and activity. The temple was crowded with worshippers from everywhere.

Of course, the money changers were doing a really good business there. If you wanted to put your offering into the temple, you had to use Tyrian coinage; you could not use Roman coinage. Why? There were images on the Roman coin which the Jews regarded as idolatrous figures, so this kind of money was not accepted in the temple. Therefore you had to change whatever Roman money you had into Tyrian coinage to be used in the temple. Also, there were pilgrims from all over Israel and other parts of the world, and they needed to change their money too. So as the money changers changed money, they made a profit on every transaction, making good money in the temple.

Then you had to offer sacrifices in the temple. You did not bring your sheep or your goat from Italy, or Egypt, or Syria or from some­where. You would bring your money and buy your sacrificial animal on the spot. So what happens when you get into the temple? You will hear the sheep bleating, the pigeons cooing, and all kinds of animal sounds. It is like a market!

The cursed fig tree, full of leaves, is like the Temple, full of religious activity

What does this scene—full of religious activity, of pilgrims coming in and pilgrims going out—tell you? There is no lack of religion—all full of leaves. Everything is religious activity, but where is the spiritual fruit? Nowhere to be found! The Lord Jesus just clears them all out, reminding them that God said, “My house was meant to be a house of prayer, and what have you done? You have turned the house of prayer into a den of thieves.”

Look at the scene there in the temple, all this outward religious activity, but what is deep down? Prayer has been replaced by commerce, by stark materialism.

And there were those who thought godliness as a means of making some money too: “Do you want to worship God? Then you have got to do business with me.” All this superfluous religion, all this outward activity is what God already condemned in Isaiah 1:11-20, “Who required of you all this slaughtering of animals? Who required all these sacrifices and offerings from you? I want righteousness, I want holiness. I want spiritual reality!” But the nation of Israel was once more back to those days of Isaiah; back to what it was before the destruction of the temple; back to the days when they were about to fall into the exile and be taken away.

The tree was going to be cut down just as the prophet John the Baptist said, “The axe is already laid to the root of the tree” (Mt. 3:10; Lk. 3:9). God has already lined up His axe so that at the next blow, it will strike into the tree and cut it down, as it said in the parable in Luke 13:6-9. The three years were up, it was time for the fig tree to be cut down. Even the picture of that parable is accurate to the detail. The Lord God said, “Cut that tree down!” Jesus, the vinedresser in the parable, asks for one more year, and God gave one more year. Israel got one last year to repent, but of course, they would not repent. So now they would be cut down.

Jesus looks to find a living faith in God’s people, not religion

The exceedingly powerful spiritual lesson of this parable is: Jesus shows us that His God and Father is looking for faith. He doesn’t want your religious activity. He wants to look into your heart and see if there is a living faith there. And if He doesn’t see faith there, He doesn’t care how religious you are; He doesn’t care how big your Bible is; He doesn’t care how many times you go to church in a week; He doesn’t want to hear all the right, pious, evangelical lingo you know how to say.

The Lord Jesus looked at Israel, and he could not find a living faith there. They all had lots of leaves, but there was no spiritual fruit inside. What is this fruit that he is looking for? The fruit is faith. He represents God, who is forever looking for this very fruit of faith among His people. In Luke 18:1-8, the Lord Jesus is teaching a parable about prayer. Prayer is the expression of genuine faith. God’s justice and righteousness that we talked about is also in this parable. But notice how Jesus concludes this parable in verse 8:

“I tell you, He (God) will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith?”

God is the God of righteousness, and He will vindicate those who have faith, but will Christ find faith when he comes again?

Now the key word is “find”. The Greek word for “find” in Luke 18:8, is exactly the same as the Greek word for “find” in this passage here in Mark 11:13a, “And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it.”

The same Greek word for “find” also occurs once in each verse in Luke 13:6-7, a total of two times. The Lord Jesus told this parable:

“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none.’”

What is God looking for? Will His Christ find faith when he comes? There is no way that you can please God without faith, because if you have a lot of religion without faith, you will be cut down by God. Understand this well. Don’t think yourself to be righteous because of your religion. God has no patience for any type of religion. He looks for genuine faith in the heart. Ask yourself this question, and understand that the parable is spoken not only to Israel, but also to every one of us who are the new Israel, the church.

When Christ comes again, he is going to look for faith. When he does not find the faith, remember the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 11:21,

“If God did not spare the natural branches but cut them down, neither will He spare you.”

If He did not spare the fig tree of Israel, don’t be so foolish as to think that He will spare the fig tree of the church. God is the God of absolute justice and righteousness. He will not treat one person one way, and another person in another way in terms of justice. If Israel got cut down, foolish are the Christians who think that they will not be cut down, on any kind of doctrine or dogma they suppose themselves to hold. Paul says in Romans 11:21 very honestly, if God cut Israel down, neither will He spare you, if you don’t bring forth fruit.

Do not replace faith with outward appearances of religion

Think well on it, brothers and sisters. Don’t be deceived by the outward appearances of religion, not even the outward appearances of religion in your own life. Don’t think that you are a good Christian, because you read your Bible a lot. Don’t think you are a good Christian because you do your quiet time every morning. Don’t deceive yourself by your religion. Rather, ask yourself more honestly, “Do I have genuine faith in God in my heart?” Your salvation hangs on that. We are saved by faith not by religion. But faith is something that is genuinely found deep down in the heart, which expresses itself in an utter confidence in commitment to God.

But there are Christians who are like the fig tree with lots of leaves. When you look at them, you think: “Oh, they must be outstanding Christians! Look at how active they are in the church! Look at how well they preach!” And we think that they are wonderful Christians because they preach well, because they talk so well. Don’t think on those lines.

Many Christians are like the turtle we have at home. A brother gave my child a little turtle, and I have since had the chance to observe the character of turtles. I know something about fig trees and something about turtles now. My knowledge is increasing in the areas of agriculture and zoology!

I thought to myself, “How Christians are like turtles!” Why do I say that? Throughout the day, the turtle doesn’t take too much notice of your existence. But in the evening when it starts getting hungry, it gets interested in you. Up to that point when it is not hungry, it has no use for you. You can walk back and forth, but it hardly bats an eye to look at you. Only when it gets hungry, you’ll begin to get interesting, because the turtle knows that you are the source of food. In other words, it is only interested in you when it needs you. When it doesn’t need you, you don’t have to exist.

To me, that is an excellent picture of what Christians are like. We are only interested in God, or in the church, when we find they can meet my need at this particular time. We never think in terms of giving something to others. We are always thinking in terms of what we can get. When that preacher is preaching, we think, “His preaching is so empty or is rubbish. I don’t want to waste my time going to his church.” We don’t think that we go to church to help brothers and sisters. Maybe somebody there needs me today. Maybe I can cheer somebody up. Maybe I can give somebody some consolation. Maybe I can give somebody some joy. Maybe somebody needs to be lifted up. I will go to church for that.”

Did you think like that when you came to church today? Let us be honest, as honesty is so essential to faith. Or do we go to church because we think, “My last spiritual meal was one week ago. Now I am in need for refill, so I am coming to church for the refill.”

The “full of leaves” Christian is fruitless: all take and no give

Look at a fruit tree. Does the fruit tree eat its own fruit? No, the fruit is “all give” to other people, not for the tree itself. The tree cannot eat its own fruit. But the leaves are for the tree itself. So it is better to have more leaves and less fruit, as far as the tree is concerned, because the more leaves you have, the greater is your capacity for photosynthesis, whereby the tree gets more nourishment. So we become the kind of Christian that is all take and no give. What kind of a tree is a fruitless fruit tree?

Beware! So much of religion, like the religion of Israel, is simply for ourselves. Was all the hustle and bustle in the temple for the glory of God? Was it for the blessing of somebody else? No, of course, it was for themselves! “It’s all for me. I worship in the temple (I come to church), so that God can bless me some more.” Oh, brothers and sisters, when do we think of others? Our life is so self-centered. May God have pity upon us! It is so essential for us to be changed!

Three steps of faith

1. Be clearly convinced that God is just, holy and always right

Finally, let us come to the understanding of the nature of faith. You can see by now, that in order to exercise faith, the whole direction of our life has to change from an outward religious-orientated type of Christianity to a deep, inward commitment to God. Until that time, you cannot exercise faith.

The first step is: make a clear decision on what God is like. Without that, we cannot make a commitment to Him. I will not commit myself to God, whom I am not sure is absolutely righteous and just. I settle once and for all that I would not build my faith on my puny knowledge and understanding, but I build my faith on the unshakable, unchangeable character of God, namely, that He is holy, He is love, and that He is just. But when I have settled that issue, I have only taken one step to faith. That is not yet enough.

2. Let God change you: from externally active to spiritually deep

I must be determined to take the next step of faith, and let God change the whole direction of my life, from doing all for show, doing all for the sake of religious activities, for the sake of satisfying my own selfish, religious, and emotional desires, as in all human beings. Henceforth, I do not increase my leaves but my fruit, that I may live to bring blessing, to communicate God’s life to others. My whole direction of life must change from the external to the internal, from the carnal to the spiritual. Oh, that is a powerful change!

This is what the Bible calls “regeneration,” to be “born again.” The whole direction of your life changes. This is impossible without faith. This can only be done by faith. It is a step of faith whereby I say, “I cannot do it, but God, You can change the whole direction of my life to become like the Lord Jesus.” That is the step of faith.

3. Have deep commitment of faith in God.

When we have taken these two steps, we are ready to go on to the third step, to which the Lord Jesus challenged his disciples. What is the third step? In Mark 11:22, Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.” That fig tree is the symbol of an Israel that has no faith. But as for you, you must have faith in God. Let your life, your Christianity be spiritual, deep within.

Then he continues in verse 23,

“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”

Now I have expounded on what it means to remove the mountains, and the plucking up of the mulberry tree, so we will concentrate only upon the character of faith. When the foundations are well-laid, there is a powerful certainty about faith.

Today, we talk a lot about assurance in the churches; there is a true assurance and a false assurance. If you build your life on a false assurance, you will certainly be swept away like the house on the sand. You must build your faith on an inward assurance that comes from the deep commitment of faith.

God has exposed Himself to be tested by us

And the Lord Jesus goes on to say in Mk. 11:24,

“Therefore I tell you whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.”

Now if anyone wants to prove whether or not God is the living God, God has exposed Himself to be tested by us. Jesus challenges you in saying, “If you have the faith to follow these words of mine, to ask God for whatever you want, and not doubt that it has been granted to you, it will be yours.”

This is marvelous! I have said many times, if God is not the living God, don’t believe in Him. Don’t waste your time believing in fables, mythology and other such nonsense. We have no time for superstitions. We must have the certainty. Is God true or is He false? If He is false, don’t go to church again; don’t listen to this preaching anymore. The Lord Jesus says, “This is the truth. If you have faith to ask God and not doubt, your request will be fulfilled.”

Then you will say, “Is it not dangerous for Jesus to make a statement like this?” We will all be claiming, “I want a car. I want this house—this big one, not the small one. And I believe I got it!” So the house is mine. And I look at that beautiful car there and say, “By faith, I claim it! I don’t doubt one moment!” Then that car will be mine! Such magic is wonderful! I came to church to learn magic!

Would the Lord Jesus’ teaching not be misused? No, because we have already gone through the first two steps of faith. A person whose direction of life God has changed, a person who has become truly spiritual, is not going to ask for houses and cars for himself. To think like this is not to understand the Lord Jesus’ teaching.

The change of direction in our life means that we live for the glory of God to the blessing of others, not for ourselves. If that is the case, we will certainly not be asking for these things. If I need to claim a car or a house for somebody else who needs it, I will surely get it. But if I do these things simply for myself, it will not do at all. The fact is, you cannot misuse the Scriptures. You cannot fool around with the Word of God. You cannot exploit God to make Him like some “spiritual grandfather”, who you ask for lollipops and ice-cream cones, or whatever you want. No!

So, understand that when we have become truly spiritual, we will ask for things which are according to God’s will, because we are moving in the same direction as He is moving, and you will see His power. I have proved it, again and again, that God does it!

God’s power, used to judge and destroy, brings blessing

Finally, let me just give one illustration of how God’s power can also be used for destruction so that it brings blessing. Actually, we have several instances of this in the Bible, for example, when a servant of God exercises church discipline. In 1 Corinthians 5:5 for example, the apostle Paul committed this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. God’s power comes in to destroy the man like destroying the fig tree, so that in the process of the destruction, he may repent and be saved. The apostle Paul says plainly, “…for the destruction of his flesh that his soul may be saved in the Day of Judgment.”

God’s power, I beg of you to understand, can and will be exercised in judgment. That person in 1 Corinthians 5, who committed incest, will be physically destroyed by the power of God, so that he would repent; he would know that he is dealing with the living God.

Or take Acts 13:11, for example, when the apostle Paul again, exercised the power of God to destroy. He was confronted by a magician, who tried to prevent Sergius Paulus, the governor from turning to God. The apostle Paul struck the man blind with these words: “Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” God’s power can be exercised in judgment.

Brother Guy Bevington’s testimony

I have mentioned to you before, that servant of God called Guy Bevington. In his testimony, he constantly refers to this verse, Mark 11:24,

“Therefore I tell you whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.”

He is one who constantly believed that God had given it to him. He claimed it, and he got it without exception. As he comes to the close of his testimony, he says that in all his life of serving God, and he was by that time 74 years old, never once did God fail to grant what he had asked for, because he had prayed spiritually. His book called, Remarkable Miracles, is full of incidents of miracles. I close with one instance of how he exercised the power of God to destroy, since this is the character of this particular parable. Interestingly enough, in that whole book, that is the only incident of the power of God being used to destroy, for the blessing of man.

He was staying as the guest of a newly-wed, young Christian couple, who had bought six acres of farming land with all the money they had, and with some help from others. But they were extremely poor, and had great difficulty in managing this farm. Now the whole field should be plowed so that the winter cold would kill the worms. But since the man’s two horses were lame, he could not turn over the soil. The result was that worms infested the whole ground, such that if you put your hand into the soil and scooped it up, every handful of soil was wriggling with worms, which were eating away the crop of corn that he had sown. Consequently, he was faced with ruin, bankruptcy and disaster.

Brother Bevington overheard this man talking with his brother about this disaster that he was facing. So, he intervened and said to this man, “Do you believe that God can help you in your time of disaster?” The man replied, “Well, I guess He could, but I don’t know if He wants to.” Brother Bevington said, “Do you think that God can destroy those worms in your field?” “Well,” again the man said, “I suppose He could, but I don’t know if He wants to.”

You see, that is the great problem. We don’t have the certainty of the will of God when we have not yet entered into the complete change in direction of our lives—that second step of faith that I mentioned.

So, Brother Bevington had to spend a whole day trying to build their faith up in God. They were not sure whether God would do this or not. They were not sure of God at all. Through the teaching of Brother Bevington, they had begun to have greater confidence in God by the next day. Then when he saw that their faith was arriving at the stage where they were about to trust in God, he said, “Let’s go out into the middle of the field, six acres of it, and ask God to destroy these worms that are eating away the crop.”

So they stood in the center of the field, knelt down and began to pray that God will destroy those worms. Then they asked Brother Bevington, “Do you have the certainty that God will answer?” And he said, “Yes, I am absolutely certain He will answer.” So they continued to pray, and he prayed hard. He was really praying for them, not for himself, that God would bring them through to the place of faith.

After some time of prayer, the wife began to say, “Oh, glory! Glory!” He knew she was coming through now. Then he had to wait for the husband to come through. And after a while, the husband was saying, “Amen! Amen!” Ah! Both had come through! And so he could now take hold of the Word of God, where two or three of you agreed on any one thing, it shall be done for you.

Brother Bevington thanked God, got up, scooped up some soil from the ground, and counted 10 worms in that, but all 10 were dead! God had killed all the worms during that time of prayer! The wife scooped up another handful of soil and counted the worms, 7, all dead! The husband took up another scoop of soil, counted the worms, 8, all dead!

After a while, the man’s brother, who was engaged in the conversat­ion earlier on, came back from town, and urged this man to hire a team of horses to plow up the field. And Brother Bevington waited to hear whether the husband and wife would say anything. But they were so timid they dared not say anything. Then this man said, “Just now as I came in, I scooped up the soil and counted 9 worms in your soil.” The husband said nothing, and the wife said nothing. You see, their faith was still uncertain.

Brother Bevington said to the man, “Every one of those worms that you saw in the soil just now were dead.” But that man did not believe it, because he had not stopped long enough to see if they were alive or not. He did not believe it! Such is Brother Bevington’s confidence in God that he said to this man, “You go out there and look. I will give you a penny for every live worm you can find anywhere in this field of six acres.”

Now a penny, or one cent was a lot of money in the 1920s. A penny today is less. And if every scoop of it had say 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 worms in it, that means for every handful, he would get perhaps up to 10 cents. How rich would Brother Bevington have to be to pay him, when he had gone through the whole field of six acres! Do you have that kind of certainty in God? Do you have that confidence?

So the man’s brother jumped for joy and grabbed the biggest basket he could find, to put all the worms in, and rushed into the field. The sister went upstairs to look from the window, to see how many live worms he was going to bring in.

And Brother Bevington said, “The man went through the field onto the other end and he never came back. He could not find a live worm anywhere to claim his one cent for each one of them.” Never doubt! Brother Bevington says, “My God has said it. I have fulfilled His conditions, and He will do it!” So wonderful indeed is God!

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church