Today, let’s take a look at the parable of the Barren Fig Tree and see if we can’t bring some context to some of the accounts that have perplexed me over the years. We will be looking through a few of the Gospel texts, but for starters, let’s turn to Luke 13.
Luke 13:1-9 (ESV) 1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Now, the ESV separates these into two different paragraphs, but for the purpose of this study I believe the two concepts go together. Jesus sets up this parable of the fig tree with a reminder of the call to repentance and the judgement that awaits all who refuse to repent. He clearly teaches that everyone is guilty of sin, not just those who seem to have received punishment while others lived. Jesus exposes the myth that those who die suddenly were being judged by God as special cases of sinfulness or offense, and those who lived where more righteous. The parable that follows this begins with a fig tree that was planted in the master’s vineyard, and for three years it bore no fruit. Judgement is coming to the barren fig tree, for the master is ready to cut it down. However, the vinedresser appeals to the master for grace, allow the tree one more year while special care is taken for the tree, fertilizer will be added. If after the year the tree still bears no fruit, then it shall be cut down. By Grace the fig tree was planted in the garden, and by the master’s Grace that tree was allowed to continue fruitlessness for three years, and by Grace it will be given another year with special attention. Judgement is coming, but by God’s Grace there is time for repentance.
In the Matthew 21, we see the account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We are going to pick up in an awkward spot, so if you are unfamiliar with this passage, please read Matthew 21 in full. Here let us look at what happens when Jesus enters Jerusalem.
Matthew 21:10-32 (ESV)10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them,“Yes; have you never read,
“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”
17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “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. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward hechanged his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
Now, this is a wonderful passage, filled with some extremely tense imagery. Jesus enters Jerusalem and clears out the temple of the money changers and the merchants. He rebukes them for what they have done to the House of the Lord God (for such was the Temple) and ministered to the lame and the blind, performing many wonderful works. The children sang a song of praise Hosanna to the Son of David and the Pharisees were indignant. Fig trees, planted in the Master’s vineyard as teachers and overseers of God’s people, bearing no fruit for a great many years. Jesus leaves Jerusalem and stays the night in Bethany.
When He returns to Jerusalem, He sees the barren fig tree and curses it, and it withers. Often when this passage is taught, the emphasis moves immediately to verses 20-22 to teach the power of prayer and faith and to look at “our potential” as Christians. Let’s not do that today, our focus is on the fig tree. Given our initial parable of the barren fig tree, and the events of the day prior to this morning, we are starting to see that this fig tree is a sign of unbelief. It will not be allowed to live on in selfish unrighteousness, refusing to bear fruit, forever.
Jesus enters the Temple and begins teaching. The chief priests and elders interrupt His teaching to demand that Jesus provide His credentials, by what authority and from whom did He receive said authority to do these things. These men didn’t make these demands the day prior when all where praising God, confessing Jesus as the Messiah (Son of David), or healing the lame and the blind, and they didn’t stop Him from clearing out the merchants and the money changers. No, they were indignant on that day… and then waited for the next day, when Jesus came to teach. Now, notice how Jesus responds. Is He playing coy? Absolutely not. Jesus has never denied that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and He called the Lord God to be His Father. He did so the day prior, and the works He performed were a testimony of His authority to “do these things”. No, Jesus wasn’t playing coy… He was calling out the chief priests and elders, time to inspect the fruit of these trees.
Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV) | A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
You see, the chief priests and elders conferred among themselves and reasoned rightly that their answer would put them at odds with either the Messiah or with the People. For they realized that if they answered that John’s baptism was not of God, the people would revolt against them; however, if they declared John’s baptism was from God, they’d have to answer for their unbelief. They missed 2 major concepts, the first is that the problem was they needed to confess and repent of their unbelief, and the second was that in refusing to answer, they were not safe because any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. However, because these leaders were self-seeking, they were trees planted in the vineyard to display their own greatness in their leaves, but providing no fruit. Time and time again, God has granted to them grace and opportunity to repent. Luke records for us in the book of Acts, chapter 19, that Paul answered this question of John’s baptism to the disciples in Ephesus
Acts 19:1-7 (ESV) | Paul in Ephesus
19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
John baptized with the baptism of repentance. Let us look to John’s baptism, of which Jesus tested the chief priests and elders at the Temple.
Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) | John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Praise God. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Don’t presume that you are safe simply because God planted you in His vineyard (tying this thought in with our parable), for if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, you will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Amen.
As Christians, we must bear the fruit of repentance. This is what taking our crosses daily and denying ourselves looks, when we remember (in active form) that we are sinful beings in need of a Savior. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. There is no “moving beyond the Gospel”, it is an ever present place of rest. It is also our mission, to preach the Gospel to all of creation, so that those who hear the Word of God might obtain Faith, confess their sin, and repent from their sinful ways and trust in Christ Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
John 6:27-29 (ESV)27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
1 John 5:9-11 (ESV)9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Amen. Bear the fruit of repentance, and believe in and confess the Son of God before mankind. Remain in Him, and trust that the Holy Spirit will bear fruit in you as you grow in Him, and you will never be cut away nor cast into the fire. The chief priests, the elders, the Sadducees and Pharisees did not repent, nor did they believe in the Son, and they were cut off.
In the last parable of the 2 sons, we see clearly that all who were lost and came to repentance are like the first son who defied their father, but later obeyed. The second son was the one who professed with his mouth to obey the father, but rejected his authority and commandments and did what was wrong in the end. He represents those chosen by God to be overseers and spiritual leaders who rejected the Law (instead honoring commandments of men that were self-serving) and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 21:31-32 (ESV) 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them,“ Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
The tax collectors and the prostitutes were among those who confessed their sins and repented in John’s baptism, thereby entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. And even after seeing the Gospel reach the lowly sinner, they still did not later change their minds and believe.
May the God the Holy Spirit minister to your hearts today and bring His Word to life and grant you understanding and wisdom and increase your faith. In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
In Christ Jesus,