And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not [yet]. And Jesus answered and said unto it, no man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And his disciples heard [it]. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. - Mark 11:12-16 & 20
In the above, we have a difficult passage for some
to handle. Some would have us believe that Jesus' human side was coming
out, and that His hunger caused Him to lash out at the fig tree in anger
due to disappointment. And this to a tree which could not be expected to
produce since it was not time to do so. This is not true, else Jesus would
have had sin, which we know is not the case. What we see is a spiritual
truth revealed by a natural event if we look to the scripture for the clues
to its application.
In the scripture there are many spiritual truths that are hidden in obscurity. By this I mean that when one looks at some of the events which are mentioned with little detail, they seem to have no reason for being in the Bible. In fact, upon first reading, they seem to cause confusion in our minds as there seems to be no explanation for why they are there. There seems to be no way of determining what God wants us to learn from the account. Such was the case in regards to this passage in my mind for many years. But recently the Lord enabled me to see the spiritual truth He was trying to get across when I studied the entire chapter closely. In order to understand the significance of these few verses, we must look to the whole passage in which this excerpt is located and get the context of the entire series of events.
The first thing we must do is look at the key to the specific incident, and that is, "He was hungry" [verse 12]. All that happened in these verses was initiated by this fact. The tree would not have been dealt with as harshly had this not been the case, as Jesus would likely not have even approached it.
In the physical sense Jesus' hunger was simply due to the fact that it was a new day and He was hungry after walking a long distance. But that the incident is recorded in scripture demonstrates it has a deeper significance than the historical event. Jesus was likely hungry on many other occasions which are not written about.
In order to get a better view of the spiritual application let us look at what happened in the previous verses. Look at verses 8-11, for the incidents which set up the fig tree event. Keep in mind, as we go, that Jesus was always more interested in the spiritual than in the physical.
The first several verses of this chapter reveal that Jesus had been in Jerusalem, the city of God, among those who claim to be God's people. While there He had observed the worship and praise of these folks.
The first group, seen in verses 8-10, has said the right words, and seemed to practice the right things, as evidenced by the way they received Jesus. But their worship was ignorant worship. It was out of the misguided belief that Jesus would set up a physical kingdom on the earth and deliver them from Roman rule. Their worship was outside the temple, (God's house,) in the worldly realm; it was fleshly and self-serving. It was empty lip-service. Indeed, we find this same group of folks a short time later participating in the crucifixion since their expectations had not been satisfied.
The second group, in verse 11, was in the House of God, but had corrupted the place by making it a place of merchandise. We could speak to the significance of this at length, but will not do so here. We will merely state that Jesus' hunger for observing true worship was not satisfied in either place. It is significant that verse 11 states that 'He looked round about on all things,' and then it tells us that He simply left. This, then, is His condition as He leaves Jerusalem; He is dissatisfied and unfulfilled.
The next significant fact in seeing the spiritual side of this event is in what type of tree is in the account. It is a fig tree, which has reference in the scripture to the people of God. This is evidenced by Hosea 9:10, which reads, '...I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time...,' Matthew 24:32-33, which says, 'Now learn a parable of the fig tree; when his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer [is] nigh; So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, you know that it is nigh...,' (see also Mark 13:28-31,) and Luke 13:6-9, which tells us, 'He spake also this parable; A certain [man] had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung [it]: and if it bear fruit, [well]: and if not, [then] after that thou shalt cut it down.' God has placed a mystery for the people of God to dig out in this obscure event which has only a few verses dealing with it, yet it is a great truth if you and I will receive and believe it!
Jesus is said to have seen this tree a great way off, which indicates that it had a different appearance than the other trees, including other fig trees. By the way, the place where this event took place was called Bethany, which means 'house of dates' It is figs from which dates are made. Therefore we know that many fig trees must have been there. The inference is that the particular fig tree which He saw was advertising, in effect, with its leaves that it should have fruit on it. Jesus would have known that the time of figs was not, and would not have approached the tree had it not been out of the ordinary for even leaves to be there. The significance of this is that many profess to be God's people through their actions and appearance on the outside, but, like this tree, it is all show. There is no substance to the outward manifestation. We could apply this to the multitudes of individuals who have made false and empty professions which fill the churches today, and it would be a valid application of the truth. But in this article I want to deal with those who are genuinely saved, who also can be pointed to from this passage. When I say there is no substance to their outward manifestation regarding folks who are genuinely saved, I don't suggest that their salvation experience is lacking in any way. It is simply that their salvation is not producing fruit in the particular area which this booklet will deal with.
The phrase, 'the time of figs was not [yet],' is what may give many a difficult time, and if we are not careful in the precise application of scripture, we can certainly get into trouble here. The phrase seems to give justification to the tree for having no figs. After all if the season, or timing was not conducive to producing, and if producing went contrary to the nature of the tree, how could Jesus expect to find fruit there and do what He did? The answer lies in what the fruit represents, and what God expects from His people.
First let us look at what the fruit represents. We need only read Hebrews 13:15, and we begin to see the truth come into view. It tells us in this verse that praise is the fruit of the lips of a Christian. It is our figs, if you will.
Notice in Isaiah 61:3, that we are told that one of the expectations of the people of God is 'that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.' We see from this verse several important truths that can be associated with what we are dealing with here.
One truth is that the people of God are meant to bring glory to God. This may be done by living righteously, as specifically implied in the verse. But if we look at Hebrews 13:5, which we have already shown tells us that praise is the fruit of our lips, and if we then look at Hebrews 12:11, which says that chastening yields fruit, we can see that praise is also a way to bring God glory. To see how this operates, let us see the way God works in us to produce this praise which in turn brings Him glory.
Verse 3 of Isaiah says that we are 'the planting of the LORD.' This corresponds to the parable in Luke 13 which we spoke of previously, and Hebrews chapter 12 which speaks of chastening. This is the 'digging and dunging' that causes the fruit tree to produce fruit. God first works in us to produce salvation, and then continues to work to produce fruit. Hebrews calls it 'the peaceable fruit of righteousness.' Now, while righteousness could be seen as a fruit itself, if we see it as a tree as was stated in Isaiah, we see that it also produces a fruit in return.
Look at it this way; an apple is a fruit, but it also becomes a tree if its seed is planted and the seed germinates. This tree then produces more apples which may become trees also. The spiritual application is this: the Christian is like a tree which God plants in a spiritual sense. He works in that tree through many things, chastening being one of the ways. This leads to righteousness for sure, but the phrase '...it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness..' implies that righteousness also has a fruit - it is praise!
Fruit trees are often referred to as 'ornamental trees.' Just as fruit adorns a fruit tree, praise is that which adorns the righteous Christian and is precious in the sight of God. We are told that 'praise is comely for the upright [Psalm 33:1].' This means the saint looks good to God when praising. Praise is fitting for the saints of God.
God is also said to be one who inhabits the praise of His people [Psalm 22:3], and if they are not praising, then He is frustrated and restricted in His place of habitation. While the charismatic crowd has abused this truth, this is no excuse for others to dismiss the validity of it. It is true that God literally indwells the believer whether we are praising or not, God wants to be walking among His people. But most of them have relegated Him to heaven and its confines or the limited confines of the heart. Their life's verse seems to be, "But the LORD [is] in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him [Habakkuk 2:20]." God wants a large area of habitation, and praise provides this for Him. Praise among the congregation gives God an enlarged area to move around in.
Second, let us see what God expects from His people, and we will learn a great secret to having a fulfilling relationship with God, for both Him and us. And we will be on the way to greater success with receiving from God those things He has for us.
The word 'haply' in verse 13, does not mean 'by chance,' as some might think. It is the word that means 'as a result of,' or 'therefore.' In other words, as a result of leaves being on the tree, Jesus did not merely hope to find fruit on the tree, but because of the leaves, He had reason to expect to find fruit on it.
At this point some might argue that this was not reasonable of Him as the time for the production of figs was not yet. But we have seen that leaves were not to be expected either, else it would not have attracted His attention from afar. However, since leaves were there, there was reason to expect to find figs as well.
The spiritual application of this is that God wants us to praise Him out of season, as well as in season. Notice that Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 4:2, that he was to be ready to preach both in season and out of season. We also see the tree of life in Revelation which produces fruit all year long, showing that in spiritual things, there is to be constant pro-ductivity. This reinforces the truth that there ought never to be a time when Christians have reason to hold back praise. We are to be praising at all times.
But what does it mean to praise when praise is not in season? Does it mean there are times when God is not worthy of our praise? Certainly not. God is always worthy of our praise. Out of season is merely a time when fruit would not normally be expected to be seen due to conditions not being favorable to its production.
With regards to praise we could say it means even in hard times, or times of trial, and we would be telling the truth. But that might be the subject of another booklet. We will limit our comments to the context of the passage. Here it means especially that we are to praise God before He works. Anyone can be thankful after the fact, but God wants an individual to glorify Him beforehand.
Look at verse 23, of the text, which refers back to the same fig tree incident and the spiritual application of it. Jesus ties the event to prayer, and says one must believe what he is saying while he is saying it for it to be productive. That is, one must consider the act done, though it has not yet transpired. Is this not fruit out of season?
In addition to the fact that God has an expectation for our praise even before He works, there is also to be an expectation on our part which is the motivation of our praise. Jesus said we must expect our words to bring forth a result which we speak in advance! This would certainly end a lot of prayers in which we say, "Lord, have your will and way" in this or that situation! Most prayers offered by professing Christians are merely generic phrases which can never be pointed to as the specific one which moved God to act in a certain way. Neither can they bring embarrass-ment later when someone says the outcome was contrary to what was prayed.
Notice in verses 23 & 24 of the text, Jesus says that when a saint of God prays, he must believe the prayer will be answered according to the request while he is yet speaking if he is to receive it! There must be more than a desire to receive, there must be a certain expectation. Let me say here that this does not mean that we are always to be presuming that we will get the answer that we would like to have. We will only have this kind of faith if we are certain our prayer is within the scope of God's will, or if we have heard from God regarding the specific area we are praying about.
A good example of this truth is Abraham, as seen in Romans 4:17-20. We are told that Abraham's faith was in the fact that God told him specifically that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham was confident in God's faithfulness, and was therefore able to give glory (i.e. praise) to Him though he never actually saw the total fulfillment of the promise. We are told in Hebrews 11:17-19, that Abraham was willing to kill Isaac believing that God would raise him from the dead because the promise depended on Isaac having children. He actually thought he was going to have to do the act, and saw the resurrection as having been done as a result.
Looking again to Romans 4:17, it is significant to note the phrase 'who...calleth those things which be not as though they were.' This is the equivalent of Jesus' words telling the disciples that they had to pray as if the thing being prayed about was already done. Because we serve a God who has spoken all that is to happen before the foundation of the world, we can have confidence that what we speak will come to pass if it is within the confines of His determined purpose and declaration.
Let me, at this point, give the reader a practical illustration of the truth:
As Baptists, we are certain that all those who are saved will make it to heaven. We call this eternal security, or perseverance of the saints. All of us who are saved, then, can praise God right now for our certain entrance into heaven! If you are saved, take a moment and say, "God, I want to praise You for my certain entrance into heaven!" It won't hurt a bit, and God will get glory out of this sacrifice of praise, the fruit of your lips. You may even get blessed by it!
On the other hand, we could point to the apostle Paul, who was not able to praise God for deliverance when asking Him to remove his thorn in the flesh, because he had no faith that it would be done. Instead, He asked God three times to remove it, with no success. However, God spoke to him and clearly told him why the thorn was there. It was so that the power of God could rest on Paul. Paul then began to be thankful and even glory in his infirmities. He could praise God having certain confidence that God would work mighty miracles wherever he went before he ever arrived. (See II Corinthians 12:7-12).
Even though we cannot always be assured that we will have our desired request, we can always praise God for the fact that He will hear us when we pray, and that we will receive an answer. We can also confidently praise Him because we know that whatever God gives us will be for the best. It would be foolish to always be expecting God to answer our prayers in a way that we want Him to, especially since we don't have perfect knowledge of all things as He does.
The reader may wish to say, "God, I want to praise You for the fact that You are always going to hear me when I pray!" Again, this will be fruit offered to God, and you may be on your way to enjoying feeding God's desire for praise.
There is another reason we should praise God in advance, even if we were not admonished to and expected to. I believe we would all agree that an individual is more likely to be motivated to do something for a person who appreciates what is done for them than for those who take it for granted. In the same way, God is quick to give abundant blessings to those who are appreciative of all that He does.
Let us look at what Jesus said in John 11:41, just prior to raising Lazarus from the dead. He said, "I thank thee that thou hast heard me..." This does not refer to God having heard Him in the past, because He clarifies by stating that He knows God always heard Him. Here He is saying the same thing as talked about in Isaiah 65:24, where it says, "...before they call I will answer..." Jesus glorified God the Father by proclaiming that He knew God heard Him whenever He prayed, and that He would send an answer this time just as He always did. This was active faith. Notice that Jesus was glorifying God by doing this. He goes on to say that the reason He prayed was for the benefit of those who were listening to Him. What Jesus was doing was meant to produce confidence in God among those who were at the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus was, in essence, bragging on God to help their unbelief.
At least one of the reasons that the world today is not drawn to the things of God, is that there is little testifying being done by those who claim they love the Lord and what He has done, and is doing for them. If more praising were going on, the lost would surely be more likely to believe that salvation was something worth having. This would especially be true if we were praising God for things not yet done, but which we expect to see! There is more joy evidenced by the professing saints of God over sporting events in our day than over the things of God. Indeed, many who are supposedly saved are more likely to brag on and praise their favorite team or player than their Saviour! They will even boast how bad the opponent will be beaten before the event takes place, and maybe even before the season begins!! The reader ought to be able to see the analogy here. What does the average church member expect God to do in their individual life or in the ministry of their church? Do we have as much confidence in the God of heaven as in the heroes of the basketball court, gridiron, or ball field?
Notice that Jesus not only had confidence that He was heard, but He gave thanks when He prayed. Philippians 4:6, admonishes us to 'be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving' let our requests be made known unto God. Colossians 4:2, says to 'continue in prayer and watch in the same with thanksgiving.' The word 'with' means 'in addition to,' or 'along-side of.' There are at least two tremendous truths to be learned from this.
First, is that thankfulness is a form of praise. Thanking someone shows that they have done something worthy of note for another. It is a good thing which has evoked a response from the recipient, and it speaks well of the giver's character. Praising God can take the form of a simple, "Thank You God," for what-ever it may be that He does for one. When offered along with our request, it is like frosting on cake; like hot fudge on ice cream; like gravy on mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving is a motivator to God, and an active indi-cation of our appreciation for God and His actions toward us.
Second, when a Christian is thankful and praises God for receiving before it is done, God sees that as true faith and not only responds to it, but God is actually nourished by this act. It is a fruit that we produce which feeds Him! Let the idol worshippers bring literal fruit to their fake gods who can only receive them spiritually, but let us give our God spiritual fruit which He consumes literally!! Just as God consumed the sacrifice of Elijah on Mount Carmel, He will do the same with the fruit of our lips; our sacrifice of praise.
Just as our prayers are said to be 'odours' (literally 'incense') in Revelation 5:8, and the sacrifices in the Old Testament were a 'sweet smelling savour' to God, our praise has a spiritual 'taste' to God.
The Scripture invites men to 'taste' the Lord in Psalm 34:8, and we are said to be blessed if we 'hunger and thirst' after righteousness according to Matthew 5:6. It is not out of line to say, then, that God can feed on our praise in a spiritual sense. It satisfies a real spiritual hunger that He has.
There has been much emphasis placed on Christians 'dining' on the things of God, but little or no preaching, teaching, or inviting of Christians to 'feed God.' No wonder He is frustrated and hungry in this day and time!
As I said above, God is moved by those who are appreciative of His actions toward them. But lest some think that being appreciative is a passive thing, and that vocally praising and giving thanks is not necessary, let me say that one may be appreciative and be silent. But just as James says our faith is demonstrated through our works, so our appreciation becomes evident and is reinforced when we praise.
Are you not more pleased when someone vocalizes their feelings over some act you have performed for them than when they passively receive them? God is the same way. He gets excited when we tell Him and all those around us what we are feeling in our hearts. The Scripture says, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." This means that if the heart gets full enough, it will cause outward words.
There may be those who say that it goes contrary to their nature to praise God out loud. This may be so, but Jesus seemed to be expecting the fig tree to act contrary to its nature also (remember the time of figs was not). That is why praise is said to be a sacrifice. The word sacrifice surely means an offering, but it carries with it a connotation of giving up, or giving over. And it also implies a cost. One must be willing to give up and go contrary to their way and conform to God's way if they expect to see their desires fulfilled. This is true in salvation and so it must follow in our walk with God thereafter. One who will not yield to God's way will be like the fig tree and wither from the roots. We were called and saved to praise and glorify God. It is to satisfy God to be sure, but it is also to strengthen and sustain us. It is our spirit's necessary food!
In closing let us look at the 'cursing' of the fig tree, lest one be misled and think I am using 'scare tactics' to try and intimidate folks into praising, or that I believe God will punish them for not praising Him by chastening them, taking away their salvation, or some such thing. This is in no way stated or implied in the spiritual application, nor is it my intent to do so.
Though Jesus did cause the tree to die, and in that sense it was a curse, the spiritual application is best seen as a law which has certain consequences associated with it. Remember physical events are not exact parallels, but are meant to teach a spiritual truth.
To see an illustration of this, let us look at Deuteronomy 11:26, and the words of Moses to the children of Israel. Moses set before them a 'blessing and a curse,' which was in effect, a spiritual law. Like a physical law, such as gravity, a spiritual law carries with it certain effects and consequences. The blessing would be as a result of obedience and the curse would simply be the natural consequence of disobedience. When the children of Israel were walking in the confines of the blessing side of the law, they enjoyed the fruit of their obedience. Though this may have, at times, meant blessing through Divine intervention, it also meant that things naturally went better when they obeyed. When they got out of obedience, the 'curse,' was often merely the natural consequences which followed their disobedience.
It is like when one walks in the confines of the law of gravity. While doing so they enjoy the blessings associated with obedience to that law. However, let one go to the top of a fifty story building and defy the law by stepping off, the curse that would follow would be simply a natural result of that disobedience; i.e. a plunge to destruction. In the same way, when the Jews walked according to the law regarding foods they ate, most of the blessing was simply that they were less likely to get disease because they avoided foods which were unclean, or unhealthy. They ate foods less likely to harm them.
Jesus' statement could be taken to mean, "As a result of your present condition, no man will ever eat of your fruit." So it is with the failure to obey the law to praise. Failure to praise simply results in one's spiritual condition withering from the root. As a result, neither they, nor any other will enjoy any fruit from their life. There are many saints who have never experienced the fulness of salvation, but rather are living a dry and barren Christian life because their roots are not being supplied with the spiritual nutrients which praise yields. And just as tragic as this, there are many who could be enjoying a fuller life by partaking of the fruit produced by others, who will never be able to do so unless some digging and dunging takes place and the fruit of praise is produced.
Praise not only feeds God, it can lift the spirits of a hurting saint, cause a lost person's curiosity to be stirred regarding the things of God, stir a preacher to preach with greater power and enthusiasm, just to name a few of the benefits derived from it.
The parable of the fig tree in which the dresser desires that the fig tree be given another chance is a sure indication that God does not want any to miss out on the chance to produce fruit by learning the truths set forth in this booklet. I believe that this is also the reason that God has shown me the significance of the record given in our text and has moved me to print this booklet. God wants to give His children the means to enjoy the fulness of salvation themselves, to share that fulness with other believers, and to give God a spiritual meal that He will be pleased to receive. God wants His people to allow the dresser, the Holy Spirit, to work in our hearts and lives to help us produce an abundant supply of the fruit of praise. In return, the head and the whole body will benefit and become stronger when the fruit comes in, whether it be in season or out of season.
I would encourage the people of God to put into practice what I have set forth and see if it does not produce a greater sense of fulfillment in their lives. And as we all allow the dresser to dig around in that area, He will likely be able to help us produce some additional fruit; the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness & temperance.
I want to thank the reader for taking the time to read this booklet. It is my prayer that God will cause you to see the importance of putting into practice what has been set forth, and that if you are faithful to do so, you are blessed as a result.
- J. M. Grapp
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