Friday, July 25, 2014

The Withered Fig Tree

Matthew 21:18-32

“Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.” (Matthew 21:118-19)

After his triumphal entry and cleansing the temple, Jesus had gone to Bethany to spend the night.  The next morning on his way to Jerusalem he was hungry and went out of his way to a fig tree he saw at a distance.   Though the tree had healthy leaves and it was time for figs to have been well developed there were no figs on the tree.  

“And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away!” (Matthew 21:20)

According to Mark 11:20, they went the same way the following morning.   “And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.”  It wasn’t just the leaves which had dried up.  The very bark was dried out and the tree was obviously dead.  The disciples had never seen a tree dry up so fast.  Jesus used the event to teach the disciples several lessons, but Matthew only records one of them. 

“Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.  And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” (Matthew 21:21-22)

If they had faith and no doubt, they would not only be able to dry up a fig tree, but to move an entire mountain just by speaking to it, and anything they asked in prayer would be received.  Literally, they would have the same power Jesus possessed.

“And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matthew 21:23)

The chief priests and leaders were waiting for Jesus, still upset by the people’s adulation of him and fearing that they were going to lose their power.  They demanded to know what his authority was and where he had gotten it.   They were prepared to challenge any claim he made.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.   The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” (Matthew 21:24-25a)

Instead of telling them where he received authority and giving them a chance to challenge him, Jesus asked them where they thought John had gotten his power.  If they would answer his question he would answer theirs.

“And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?   But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet.  And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell.

And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:25b-27)

John had publically proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.   If they acknowledged John as a prophet from God, then their question made them look stupid.  On the other hand, the people were convinced John was a prophet from God and would take offence if they said he wasn’t so they refused to answer, claiming they weren’t sure.  Clearly they were not going to accept anything Jesus said so refused to answer their question as well.  Instead, he told a short parable to get them thinking. 

“But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard.  He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.  And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not.  Whether of them twain did the will of his father?

 They say unto him, The first.” (Matthew 21:28-31a)

A father asked his sons to go work in his field.  One of them initially said no, but later changed his mind and did as he was asked.  The other promised to go but never did.  Jesus asked which one did as his father asked and they responded that it was the first, who had at first refused. 

“Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” (Matthew 21:31b-32)

The scribes and Pharisees made a big deal about serving God but when John came preaching and teaching how to please God they refused.  The publicans they despised as traitors for serving the Roman government, and the prostitutes who made no claim to serve God listened and acted on his sayings.  Even when they saw the results, the scribes and Pharisees refused to listen.   As a result, they would not receive the rewards but the Publicans and prostitutes they despised would.

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