Tonight we will study verses 1-22. If you can, please read these verses before we begin.
In verse 5 of our reading tonight, there is a prophecy quoted from Zechariah 9:9 where the King (Jesus) comes to the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) riding on a donkey. Why a donkey? Because Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart and humble in spirit. It is a good example to follow.
When Jesus came to Jerusalem, it was very significant. Jerusalem was the central city and capital of Israel and was held sacred in Jewish tradition as the chosen place of God for His chosen people, the Jews. Jesus’ arrival there is important because it connects the old law and the new law.
Under the old law and in the Old Testament, the Jews were God’s only chosen people and they were to sacrifice animals for their sins, with many restrictions and rules to follow. The new law that was to come under Jesus Christ contains outright forgiveness of sins through God’s grace based on Jesus’ upcoming crucifixion. The Jews knew of Old Testament prophecies that reference a Messiah to come, but when Jesus humbly rode into the city on a lowly donkey, kicked merchants out of the temple and challenged the status quo with parables, the spiritual leadership in Jerusalem did not accept Him. They were looking for more of an earthly king, not the spiritual one that Jesus was.
Jesus was not focused on pleasing the Jewish spiritual elite of Jerusalem in the Pharisees, Sadducees and the Scribes. Jesus was focused on completing the will of God in heaven. Jesus saw far past their influence and instead focused on doing the will of God. This is why it was so easy for Him to flip the tables and chairs of those in the temple changing money and selling doves to be sacrificed. Jesus was revealing this practice as a perversion of the old law. He knew that the hearts of the spiritual elite in Jerusalem were not truly seeking God. He wanted to expose their hypocrisy and the charade of godliness. Jesus knew their hearts, that they were only seeking themselves.
This idea is borne out in verses 18-22 with the withering of the fig tree: in this passage, the fig tree is Jerusalem. The fig tree that Jesus saw by the road would have been full of leaves and would have also had a small, edible fruit at that time of year (Jewish Passover), but it was empty. Jesus was hungry and wanted the fruit but was disappointed to see that it had none. So Jesus performs a miracle on the tree that it shall never bear fruit again. The fig tree is Jerusalem because like the tree, Jerusalem appeared to be fruitful as the capital city of God’s chosen people, but upon close inspection, the people in Jerusalem did not bear any fruit for God. They looked and talked well, but they were of little use to God and did not praise and glorify Him as they should.
Despite this miracle, Jesus uses the withered fig tree as an example to show the disciples how powerful faith and prayer can be. Because of this, the withered fig tree offers us two lessons:
1. Appearing godly does not make us godly; it is our actions, obedience and sincerity of heart that do
2. Faith and prayer can do more for us than we can imagine; we need only to believe
Having spent enough time on the first lesson tonight, let us close on the second. I ask myself if I ever put limits on what I think that God can do. Is there something in my life that is too hopeless? Is there a situation that worries me that I have tried and tried to change, but nothing has happened? God can and will help us, but we must obey, believe and pray. God wants you to be happy. He sacrificed His own Son so that we could have the forgiveness of our sins. If we know that God did this for us, we cannot put limits on what else He would do for us now.
Tonight, I urge you to pray and to believe!