Real Fruit or Just Leaves?

| November 14, 2014

fig tree in springtimeMark 11 records a singular event in the ministry of Jesus Christ – the one and only time during His ministry that He ever cursed anything or acted in power to destroy anything.  The account is one for businesses, churches, and ministries to pay attention to.

Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday; and after looking about the Temple, went out to Bethany for the night. The next day, on His return to the city, He saw a fig tree.

And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves… (Mark 11: 13).

This tree with leaves but no fruit prompted an immediate reaction from Jesus: Let no one eat fruit from you ever again. The tree withered and died within a day.

What was it about this fig tree that brought out such a strong and dramatic response?

We read in Mark 11:12 that Jesus was hungry – a part of His partaking of the infirmities of our flesh and blood.  But never once did Jesus act in divine power to relieve Himself of physical suffering.  When the multitude was hungry, He took five loaves and two fish and feed 5,000.  But when He was hungry after 40 days of fasting, He would not command stones to be made bread.

This physical hunger was demonstrative a greater spiritual hunger. Jesus taught His disciples blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; and again My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  Jesus hungered to see men and women made righteous; and He hungered to see the glory and honor of God.

He saw a fig tree full of leaves. A fig tree is a common metaphor in Scripture for the City of Jerusalem, within the vineyard of the Nation of Israel (Isaiah 5, Matthew 21, Luke 13).

Jesus saw this tree “from afar.”  His ministry had been up in the north in Galilee.  Now, He has come south to Jerusalem and to the Temple to see for Himself if there was any fruit there — the fruit for God for which He hungered.

In Mark 11: 11 Jesus entered the temple “and looked around at all things.”  He looked carefully to see if there was any fruit for God there.  Like the fig tree, He found none.  What He did find, however, were leaves – lots and lots of leaves.  The place was full of the show of the religion.

Pharisees prayed, scribes taught the Law, and people went through the familiar routine.  From afar, the tree looked healthy: with a lot going on, there must certainly be fruit.  But on close examination by the Son of God, “He found nothing but leaves” — the fig leaves of religion; and fig leaves have been a poor covering for our nakedness and sin since Eden.

The hypocrisy of that fig tree, full of leaves and barren of fruit, brought out the strongest possible reaction from the Son of God.  Let no one eat fruit from you ever again – and within one day the tree had withered and died.

The show and the business of religion in the Temple brought out the same anger from the Messiah of Israel.  Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.  And within one generation, the Temple was gone and Jerusalem was destroyed.  The fruitless religion had withered from the root, and the ax of the Roman legions cleared away the lifeless trunk.

We are wise to heed this miracle of destruction and parable of disappointment.  There are Christians in business who will promote themselves based on their faith; and there are churches and ministries full of leaves but barren of fruit. They have the trunk of organization, and some have widely extended branches of activity.  They have the leaves of programs and ceremony.  But is when the Son of God comes close, will He find any fruit?

Now, we should not take away the wrong lesson.  Leaves are not bad things; and are actually necessary for the fig tree to be alive.  The tree cannot bear fruit without the leaves.  The fruit on a fig tree is found in the midst of the leaves.

The programs, administration, systems and routine in business and ministry are good and natural and necessary, as the leaves are a natural growth of the tree.  A tree which has leaves can be seen from afar, and it is a good thing for a church to have a name that it is alive.

But a tree is not judged by its leaves; it is judged by its fruit.  Jesus said by their fruits you will know them.

And so, each one of us, each church where we fellowship, and each ministry where we serve, would do well to measure ourselves against this fig tree.  Are we bearing fruit, or are we just sprouting leaves?  Is there holiness and purpose of life, or just “Christian-speak”?  Is there service for others, or does our commitment stop with words?   Do we have leaves that can be seen from afar, and does the Son of God find fruit when He comes for a closer look?

I trust that we will all walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being  fruitful  in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  (Colossians 1: 10)  And so we should strive to do, to the praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Category: Faith

About the Author ()

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Email | Website | Thomas Schetelich is a founding principal in the law firm of Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar. He heads both the firm’s corporate/ business law practice and its personal legal services department. He is an AV rated attorney awarded for highest standards of professional skill and ethical practice. Mr. Schetelich devotes much of his practice to assisting charitable and religious organizations, and is the President of The Christian Professional Network. He is a frequent speaker on Biblical and legal matters throughout the United States.