Why in the world would Jesus curse a fig tree? The son of God who created all things, who knows all things, and who can do all things curses a fig tree because it did not bear fruit. Some scholar’s believe Jesus was throwing a temper tantrum. The God of the universe was hungry. He walked up to a promising fig tree and then zap it for failing to provide food on command. We can easily imagine Jesus acting like our hungry toddlers who start screaming because they had to wait five minutes for their food.
But this view of narrative recorded in Mark 11:12-21 is not accurate. We know Jesus cannot throw a sinful temper tantrum because he is sinless. I John 1;5 clearly states,
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Nothing in the Mark 11:12-20 or the parallel passage in Mathew 21 indicate that Jesus is angry at the tree.
Moreover, Jesus had every reason to expect to find fruit on the fig tree. Before a fig tree blooms, it produces small baby fruit. Any fig tree full of leaves could reasonably be expected to contain fruit. Jesus is not anticipating the impossible. Rather, he and his disciples approach the tree with the reasonable expectation of finding fruit. The reality of the tree’s fruitlessness reveals that Jesus is up to something. He is not denying his deity by going ballistic on an unsuspecting plant.
Jesus curses the fig tree for the benefit of his disciples and for us. He employees the tree because he wants us to worship him in spirit and in truth. He wants us not to trust in the appearance of godliness but in the fruit of godliness.
We read in Mark 11:14 and 21
And he said to it “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” His disciples heard it…And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi look! The fig tree that your cursed has withered.”
Jesus used the fig tree, a frequent symbol of judgement, to reveal that God will judge all who practice empty worship. Right after Jesus curses the fig tree, he walks into the temple and begins turning over tables. Jesus was displeased with the showy religiosity of the Jews. They Jews were so busy getting ready for and making sacrifices they had ended all prayer and worship in the court of the gentiles. Instead of using the space to worship God, they were using it for profit. Christ condemned them, saying. “Is it not written my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Christ selected the Jews to be his people so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed. He selected them, gave them the law, entrusted them with the sacrificial system so that they could proclaim the judgement and mercy of God to the world. But instead of calling the world to follow the one true God, the Jews were consumed with selfish gain. They were using the things of God to make much of themselves. Like the fig tree, they appeared full of life. Yet they lacked all the fruit of true repentance.
Instead of judging the Romans, Jesus comes back into Jerusalem on the Tuesday after the triumphal entry to condemned the Jews. He comes to condemn the religious people who were offering empty worship to God. Jesus is not interested in the worldly kingdoms around us. He is not primarily concerned with our cultural icons and with our politicians. He is concerned with the people of God. He is concerned with rooting out all who claim Christ without truly worshiping Him.
True faith consists of more than your program attendance. It consists of more than serving through building houses, than singing solos, and than giving large sums of money. True faith consists of loving God with our heart soul mind and strength. True faith consists of hearing and responding to the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. True faith is defined by fruit.
Anyone can impress someone for a brief amount of time. We can play the church game. We can do all kinds of things to appear godly without worshiping God. We can go to Bible Drill and memorize sixty plus verses without obeying the Scriptures. We can volunteer to bring meals to the sick and not love Jesus. We can help serve in the nursery and not love our neighbors. We can offer to sing a solo and be consumed with self-worship. We can even make a rather noticeable donation to our local church and be driven by pride. We can do all these good things and more to impresses our parents so that we can look forward to a great Christmas, to win over our girlfriend, to earn favor with God so that our kids get into a good college, to earn a contract from a fellow church member, or to get the little extra push for our upcoming city-council election. We can all do big, nice and flashy things for God without every repenting of our sins. We can appear to be godly for a time without every truly worshiping Christ.
Do not present this empty worship to God. He is not impressed. He curses all who practice such religion. He cursed the fig tree, he turned over the money tables, and he will condemn all who think that can please God with empty worship. God is not a man like us. He cannot be bought or manipulated.
We should offer God true worship. We should surrender our whole life too him. We should memorize, give and serve. But when God and others examine our lives they need to find more than the showy leaves. They should find hearts that daily grow in their understanding of the Word. They should find children who once lied all the time reguarlly telling the truth. They should find the unkind daily becoming more hospitable. They should find that the prideful are daily becoming humble. All who worship God should be fully affected by the gospel. True worship makes much of God and radically changes us.
If we offer God empty worship, we are cursed. God is never fooled. Thankfully, we still have time. Our children still have time. Christ became the curse for us (Gal. 3:13). If we will repent our sin and trust in him for our salvation, he will redeem us. He will die in our place. The judge is also the redeemer. There is great hope for all who lived cursed lives.
What about you? Is your empty worship?