Reading the Word
Matthew 21:18–19 (ESV)
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.
Parallel Text: Mark 11:12-14
Understanding and Applying the Word
Jesus was hungry and went to get fruit from a fig tree. Since the tree had leaves, there should have been fruit as the leaves would have come on after the fruit. However, the tree had only leaves. When Jesus saw this, he cursed the tree and said, “May no fruit ever come from you again!”
The barren fig tree served as an object lesson concerning the nation of Israel (often pictured as a fig tree in the Old Testament) and its empty religion. Just like the tree had leaves and there was an expectation of fruit, Israel had its religious systems, but there was no true spiritual fruit. The appearance was there, but that was all there was. As a result of its fruitlessness, the fig tree suffered judgement and served as a warning to Israel that it would suffer the same.
Religious observance is not a bad thing. Religious observance without true love and devotion towards God and others is a bad thing. Religious practices without love and devotion are just empty practices. They are worthless. A person could go to church, sing all of the songs, give offerings, and volunteer to work in the nursery, but still not bear the fruit of a living and growing faith. Ask yourself: Is your religious practice what you do to earn God’s favor? Or, is your religious practice in response to what God has already done for you in Jesus Christ? One is motivated by love. The other is done out of obligation. Which of these pleases the Lord?
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