30th May 2023
Read (Matthew 21v18-22)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
The day after Jesus cleansed the temple He made His way back to Jerusalem and in a little glimpse of Christ's humanity, Matthew tells us that the Lord was hungry (v18). Jesus saw a fig tree that was in leaf and despite it not being the right time of the year for figs (Mark 11v13), when a fig tree was in leaf there should have been some fruit.
Nevertheless when the Lord examined the fig tree He found only leaves and nothing to fill a hungry belly (v19). The Lord's response at first glance strikes us as petulant frustration as He said “May no fruit ever come from you again!” (v19b). The fig tree responded to the Creator's voice by withering at once.
Is this a rare moment of weakness in Jesus? Did His hunger cause Him to lose control and condemn a poor fig tree to death? By no means! Call to mind what Jesus did the day before - He entered the glorious temple and cleared it out. Everything about the temple spoke of vibrancy and life, there were people, commerce, noise and sacrifice. The temple was in full bloom and yet bore no fruit. Christ's act of cursing the fig tree was hugely symbolic. It signified that a great change was coming to national Israel and the temple in Jerusalem.
The disciples marvelled at the actions of Christ and wondered “How did the fig tree wither at once?” (v20). It withered at once because Jesus was the One in whom and for whom the fig tree was created. Christ is the Lord of all creation and if He tells a fig tree to wither or a mountain to be moved, then it will be so. But remarkably Jesus told His disciples “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (v21-22).
These verses have known much controversy over the years. At first glance it seems that the Lord is teaching us that we too will exercise the mighty power of Jesus - we will be able to cause fig trees to wither and mountains to crumble into the sea. Is this what the victorious Christian life looks like? Have faith and all things will jump at your voice? No. Christ does not turn us into "little gods" who exercise a "word of faith" bending this world to our will.
Instead we remember the context of these verses. The fig tree points to national Israel and her temple which gave the impression of life but bore no fruit. How can "this mountain" be moved? Only by faith in Jesus. He causes the dead to be raised to spiritual life. He causes good fruit to grow where previously there was only pomp and ceremony. He speaks a word and suddenly our own problems don't seem so mountainous.
Brothers and sisters, prayer is not a means by which we get whatever we want, when we want it. Prayer is a means of grace whereby the Lord grows us up in the faith. It is the mark of a growing Christian who once produced no fruit but now flourishes by the grace of God. There are many obstacles to vibrant Christian life - spiritual deadness, apathy, division, dissension and many more. These mountains can only be moved by the one who calls upon the Lord by faith. May it be so, lest we be found spiritually dead when He comes.
Q59 Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly Sabbath? From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath; and the first day of the week, ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian Sabbath.