The Fruitless Fig Tree

by Tom Wacaster

Who planted that fig tree “by the way” oh those many years ago? Was it planted in that precise location to satisfy the hunger of some poor stranger? Was it planted to provide shade to some weary traveler? Perhaps it was planted to beautify the pathway, along with many other fig trees in abundance in that part of Judah. I suppose the answer to those questions will have to wait until we see the Lord and inquire as to why He selected that particular tree as an object lesson for those with Him on that Monday morning of the Passion Week.

Think about the fig tree and its fruit for just a moment. The health benefits of figs come from the presence of minerals, vitamins, and fiber contained in the fruit itself. Figs contain a wealth of beneficial nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, potassium, and chlorine. The medical benefits are amazing. They are high in fiber and contribute to regularity. Eating figs regularly has been proven to reduce cholesterol, prevent coronary disease, and helps stimulate the elimination of cancer causing substances. It has also been shown to help prevent breast cancer, and control diabetes. Figs are native to the Middle East and Mediterranean and were held in such high regard by the Greeks that laws were once created to prevent their export. But Jesus would not use the fruit from that particular fig tree because there was no fruit. Therein is the lesson to those who witnessed the curse of the tree, and the withering thereof. This week’s article is not intended to be a lesson on the values of eating figs, or to try to persuade you to go out and buy a package of Fig-Nutons and gorge yourself on some delectable treat of sweet delight. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, He sent a message to His disciples, to the nation of Israel, and to all men. Consider four words that capture the essence of our Lord’s encounter with the fruitless fig tree.

Appearance: The leaves on the tree implied that there was fruit. Fig trees usually put on the fruit before the leaves. So when our Lord saw the leaves He properly assumed there would be fruit as well. Upon closer inspection, however, Jesus learned there was no fruit; the tree was completely barren. The appearance of the tree describes the tree itself, and not so much from the standpoint of the onlooker. One man may find the tree beautiful, another find it ugly, but neither changes the fundamental appearance of the tree itself. Like that fig tree, there are multitudes who appear to be happy, contented, and their lives full of joy, peace, and goodness. They put on a good show, but inwardly they are miserable and sad. I have learned over the years that some people are capable of seeing through the fa├žade, but the vast majority do not possess that ability. Consequently, a person’s appearance may deceive the wisest of men. This is precisely why it is dangerous to judge a person from outward appearances; they can sometimes be very deceiving.

Assumption: This is the second word for our consideration. When I speak of assumption I am speaking of how the tree looks from the perspective of those viewing the tree. I have already pointed out that appearances can be deceiving. On the other hand, the one who is deceived assumed something that simply was not true. I am not assuming that Jesus was deceived; in fact I think He was fully aware that the fig tree had no fruit. Surely He Who could see Nathanial sitting under a fig tree from afar could see the fig tree as well. One danger of making a judgment solely on appearance is that we may observe the goodness of a person, and then assume that he is a good moral individual; and indeed they may very well be of wonderful upright character. This, in turn, has a direct bearing upon our evangelistic zeal. It is an easy step from assuming a person is morally upright to assuming that person is just as “upright” in the sight of God. We must never forget that God does not look at things like we are prone to do. God once told Samuel, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have rejected him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:17). Without the cleansing blood of Jesus, the soul remains stained with sin and all the moral uprightness that might be visible on the outside does nothing to cleanse the sin sick soul.

Application: Here is our third word for consideration. Israel was just like that “fruitless fig tree.” Appearance was deceiving. The temple and sacerdotal system may have looked good. It may have been very appealing to those seeking a superior religion. Its leaders appeared pious and prayerful. On the outside they fasted more than expected, prayed with feigned humility, and gave beyond measure. They were just like the fig tree - leaves that looked good, but a tree that bore no fruit! Fast forward to our generation. Religious organizations abound that appear pious and prayerful. Outwardly they put on quite a show. If you doubt that take some time to watch the pompous platitudes espoused by “tele-evangelists,” with their attractive stage props, lighting, and who love the praise of men. This should not surprise us. The devil never sleeps as he goes about seeking to make error look like truth, and sin look like that which is good for spiritual digestion. We could go one step further and narrow the focus on those who have their names on the church roll, but who find themselves more at home with the world than they do with the righteous. Yes, they appear to be righteous, but that is as far as it goes. The tragedy in all of this is that those who observe such hypocritical “righteousness” of said characters assume that their message and/or their manner of living must be wholesome and worthy of imitation. Without proper investigation, they plunge head long into the error of Balaam, or they walk in the way of Cain, unaware that if the “blind lead the blind, they both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).

Accounting: This is the last word for our consideration. The object lesson in the cursing of the fig tree was a stern warning that national Israel was now cursed. All that remained was for it to completely wither and eventually to be pulled up by the roots and cast into the fire. National Israel was completely destroyed in 70 A.D. The time for reckoning had come, and the fruitless fig tree of the physical and national seed of Abraham came to an end. The same end awaits every single “plant that my heavenly Father hath not planted” (Matt. 15:13). There is a time of accounting awaiting all men (2 Cor. 5:10). The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

The “fruitless fig tree” is an object lesson in guarding against judging according to appearance, or assuming that what you might see is, in reality, the truth of the matter. May we be wise to apply the lesson to our life that all of us may give an accounting on that glorious day when our Lord comes again. Will He find us faithful? Or will He find nothing more than a “fruitless fig tree.”


The Stormy North Side of Jesus

by Tom Wacaster

It has not been all that long ago when being “into Jesus” was the popular thing for teens to embrace. Now, as well as then, Jesus was depicted as some kind of “pale Galilean” (that’s how one English poet described Jesus), gentle, meek, mild-mannered, inoffensive, and bordering on being effeminate. Anyone familiar with the Holy Scriptures, if they are honest with the portrait of our Lord contained on the pages therein, know that such a concept of Jesus is simply out of harmony with what the Bible says about our Lord.

Sometime back I came across this little observation from the days of radio. Most radios have a device by which the low frequencies and high frequencies can be screened out, leaving only those sounds which are appealing to the human ear. The human mind is much like that. We can actually “tune out” those things we do not want to hear, and accept that which is most appealing to us. So, if someone wants to believe that Jesus is mild and never offensive, always kind and never angry, he may unintentionally “filter out” passages that indicate that there is, well, “a stormy north side” of Jesus. This is precisely why Matthew 7:1 has become one of the most popular passages in the Bible, perhaps surpassing the oft quoted words in John 3:16.

I’m not arguing that Jesus is not kind, compassionate, or gentle. I would be a fool to advocate such and would place myself in the category of over reacting to the error mentioned already. Our Lord had deep compassion toward those in need. All one need do is read the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. How about the way Jesus dealt with Zachaeus (Luke 19:10)? Was not that a demonstration of great compassion and patience on the part of our Lord? Indeed it was! But to speak of Jesus as being “mild” leaves an impression that is not exactly true.

J.B. Phillips wrote a book almost a half century ago entitled, ‘Your God Is Too Small.’  I think his observation is pertinent:

Of all the epitaphs that could be applied to Christ this [‘mild,’ TW] seems one of the least appropriate. For what does ‘mild,’ as applied to a person, conjure up in our minds? Surely a picture of someone who wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to the proverbial goose; someone who would let sleeping dogs lie and avoid trouble wherever possible; someone of a placid temperament who is almost a stranger to the passions of red-blooded humanity; someone who is a bit of a nonentity, both uninspired and uninspiring.”

Phillips goes on to say, “Jesus Christ might well be called ‘meek,’ in the sense of being humble and utterly devoted to what He considers right, whatever the personal cost; but ‘mild,’ never!”

Unfortunately the minds of entirely too many have filtered out those things they do not want to believe about Jesus, and have conjured up an image of some kindly teacher Who is more of a ‘pal’ than a Lord.

The New Testament Scriptures are abundant with regard to this “stormy north side” of our Lord. Among them is Matthew 23. I wonder if those who view Jesus as a “pale Galilean” even know this chapter is in the Bible. Here is a sampling of what is contained in that chapter: “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men…Woe to you, ye blind guides…ye fools and blind…for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness…how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?” (Matt. 23:13, 16, 17, 27, 28, 33).

Again, in Matthew 18 Jesus said, “Whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea.”

When Jesus cleansed the Temple in Matthew 21:12-17 it is said that He “cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold the doves; and he said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye make it a den of robbers” (Matt. 21:12-13).

Now let’s make some practical application. It is not surprising that Jesus gathered about Himself men who manifested the same mixture of qualities as He Himself demonstrated - men who were compassionate, yet bold, sensitive, courageous, and willing to enter into the fray when truth was at stake. If we would be a disciple of Jesus Christ we, too, must see in Jesus His wonderful compassion, but as well, His stormy north side. If we fail to see both sides of our Lord, we will not be able to present to the world a proper portrait of our Lord. Yes, Jesus is kind, but we must never forget that He also has a “stormy north side.”

Our Lord's Triumphant Entry

by Tom Wacaster

Five years ago, on April 30th, 2013, the first Dutch King in more than 123 years was inaugurated with great pomp and ceremony. It would appear that no expense was spared. Pictures portray an event fitting for, well, fitting for a king. The entire Kingly family was dressed in the finest of apparel. Guests from France, Britain, Spain, Denmark, Morocco, Sweden, and Japan were all present, just to name a few. From the arrival of the vast array of kings, princes, queens, and dignitaries of every sort, to the crowning of King Willem-Alexander, the attention of the world was, for a brief moment, focused on events taking place in the Netherlands.

Almost 2,000 years ago, a relatively unknown peasant from the obscure Roman territory of Israel made His way from Bethpage into the city of Jerusalem. There were no dignitaries present from foreign nations; no kings, queens, or heads of state who watched Him as He crossed the Kedron valley and entered into the city of Jerusalem. The only political authorities who might have been present eyed Him with hatred, planning and plotting His death, even as the multitude heaped loud Hosannas unto “he who cometh in the name of the Lord.”

The triumphant entry of our Lord is one of the few events in our Lord’s life that was recorded by all four of the gospels (Matt. 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:35-44, John 12:12-15), and if you were to count the total number of words used by all four writers to describe that event, it would amount to less than 300 words. Yet those few words speak volumes about our Lord and His triumphant entry into the very city where He would, within just a few short days, be rejected by those who praised Him, and then crucified at the hands of lawless and wicked men.

In order to fully appreciate our Lord’s triumphant entry, it must be viewed through the mind of a nation whose expectation was for a Messiah that would be a temporal prince; one who would lift up the banner and sword against the Romans and restore their lost nationality. They had attempted to make our Lord King when they witnessed the feeding of the 5,000, and they sought then to make Him their long sought after deliverer. But Jesus would have none of it! I don’t think the multitudes ever lost sight of that desire and expectation. So when Jesus publicly, and intentionally, mounted the foal of an ass and made His way into the city, the hope of the multitude was renewed, and they cried with great enthusiasm, “Lord SAVE!” I have no doubt that at that moment many had faith in Jesus as a deliverer, but not with a spiritual faith that Jesus demanded of His followers. Their desire was for someone, somebody, to lift up the banner and sound the trump for battle, and lead the people out of their oppression. It is that background that helps me see why the crowd was so zealous, so enthusiastic, and so aroused that Sunday when Jesus entered the city. Take a closer look with me at our Lord’s triumphant entry and see with the eye of faith the meaning of this occasion, and exactly why Jesus’ entry was public rather than private.

First our Lord’s triumphant entry demonstrated His COURAGE. Jesus was fully aware of what awaited Him in the city. Though initially welcomed by the masses, beneath the surface was a boiling caldron of hatred on the part of the Jewish leaders. The leaders of Israel had sworn to destroy Him. Jesus had a price on His head. Many a man would have considered it the better part of valor to slip into the city under cover of darkness, using the back streets so as to conceal their presence. On various occasions Jesus had instructed His disciples to remain silent regarding the Lord’s mission. Now it was His “hour,” and the time had come for Him to declare His Kingship, and to do so openly. William Barclay put it like this: “Here he begins the last act with a flinging down of the gauntlet, a deliberate challenge to the authorities to do their worst” (Barclay, Daily Bible Studies). It would take a courageous King to lead Israel out of bondage once again. It would take greater courage for the King of kings to willfully lay down His life for deliverance from spiritual bondage.

Second, our Lord’s triumphant entry verified His CLAIM. The disciples of the Lord were fully aware of His claim to be the Messiah. There were others who had confessed the name of Jesus, and who had acknowledged privately (and some publically) that Jesus was the Christ. But the time had come for Jesus to make the claim openly. This He did when, like the prophets of old, He demonstrated it with what we sometimes call an “object lesson.” Jeremiah, that great prophet of old to whom some likened Jesus (Matt. 16:15-16), placed a yoke about his neck to demonstrate the impending yoke that Babylon would put upon the neck of Judah. In the style of the prophets, our Lord verified His claim as Messiah by this amazing public display in the presence of friend and foe alike. Had Jesus slipped in unawares, His arrest, mock trial, conviction, and crucifixion may have gone completely unnoticed by the multitudes. There would have been no “Hosanna’s,” no public recognition, no fulfillment of the prophecies associated with this occasion. This was the moment to which Jesus had been steadily moving. He rode on the foal of an ass rather than a stallion. His triumphant entry was that of a King Whose Kingdom was to be one of peace and not military might.

Finally, our Lord’s triumphant entry was a CALL to all men. This would be the last opportunity for the nation to accept Him. But alas He was fully aware of the pending rejection, and so Luke tells us that He “wept over” the city as He crossed the Kedron valley into the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). This is one of only three occasions where it is said that Jesus wept (cf. John 11:35 and Hebrews 5:7). The multitude demonstrated great enthusiasm as they shouted, “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matt. 21:9). That enthusiasm would give way to anger within a few short days, and their call for praises that Sunday would soon give way to calls for His crucifixion the following Friday. In those few minutes, perhaps hours, Jesus declared His Kingship, and with that declaration, extended heaven’s call to all men. He still calls today, not from the road into Jerusalem, but from a hill called Calvary. “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Augustus Toplady is credited with the following observation: “When Christ entered into Jerusalem the people spread garments in the way: when He enters into our hearts, we pull off our own righteousness, and not only lay it under Christ’s feet but even trample upon it ourselves.”

Let us exemplify our Lord’s courage, uphold His claim, and heed His call. To do otherwise will bar us from heaven’s gate, and entry into the New Jerusalem where our Lord awaits His faithful children.

From Jericho to Jerusalem

 by Tom Wacaster

Take a minute to read the story of the two blind men whom Jesus healed on His final trip to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:29-34). There is a remarkable beauty in this story, and if we are not careful we will miss it. Was it Matthew’s intention to record just one more miracle among so many others? Why this one? Why here in a passage that has just focused our attention on the pending “cup” that Jesus must drink? Let me take a minute and set the stage for this miracle. Before we look at the men, let’s take a look at our King. Keep in mind that He was headed to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Around Him were the disciples, faithful yet lacking in understanding of all that was occurring, but still loyal. We see the “great multitude” that followed Him; all making their way toward the Holy City for the triumphant entry in a few short weeks. Along the way they encounter these two blind men. These men are sitting by the way! Sitting, begging, listening, hoping. How long had they been blind? How long had they been dependent upon others for the crumbs that might be thrown their way? Matthew does not tell us; he only tells us that when they were aware that Jesus was drawing nigh, they cried out. Yet in their desperation, the multitude rebuked them. The more these two men cried, the more the crowd rebuked them; and the blind men cried all the more: “Lord, have mercy on us, thou son of David” (vs. 30-31). How easy it would have been for Jesus to pass by these two men, consumed in His own thoughts, with His face toward Jerusalem. Instead, Jesus stops, “and stood still, and called them” (vs. 32). I do not think this miracle was placed here arbitrarily. In this moment of compassion our Lord, our King if you will, corrected the false notion that the disciples had of the Kingdom, as well as their mistaken idea of what true greatness in that Kingdom consists. True greatness is not found in some administrative position in some great corporation. It is not honor bestowed because of some special ability or achievement for which you are recognized. Dear reader, if you want to see what true greatness is, spend some time on this little road outside of Jericho, and watch a King stop in the midst of His busy schedule, and demonstrate true compassion to two men who were in great need.

What about us? In our busy schedule, with errands to run, schedules to keep, and meetings to attend, how do we compare to our King; a King Who never forgot the importance of caring for others. The late Roy Orbison produced a holiday melody many years ago that touched the hearts of so many. I want to lift one stanza out of that song for your consideration. Imagine now yourself on that Jericho Road, with a busy day, and an even more busy week before you. And now you come across two beggars; not indigents, not lazy bums, but two men in genuine need. What do you do?

Should you stop? Better not, much too busy!

You’re in a hurry, my how time does fly.

In the distance the ringing of laughter,

And in the midst of the laughter he cries!

If we are not careful we will read the story of these two blind men and view it as just one more miracle. But when we take the story in its context, what an amazing portrait of our Lord emerges on the canvas of life for our serious and sobering consideration.