Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
– Matthew 21:18-22
“Christ’s single miracle of destruction, the withering of the fig tree, has proved troublesome to some people, but I think its significance is plain enough. The miracle is an acted parable, a symbol of God’s sentence to all that is ‘fruitless’ and specially, no doubt, of the official Judaism of that age.”
– C. S. Lewis, Miracles
First a little context to the story may be required. Jesus has made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He has told His disciples that He is going to Jerusalem to be betrayed and crucified. The day before this happened, He overturned the money collector tables in the temple. He’d left Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany, but on His return to Jerusalem, He sees the fig tree.
There is a lot going through Jesus’ mind at this point. He is preparing His disciples to become Spirit-filled leaders of the church. They must become fruitful. C. S. Lewis’ idea of an acted parable perfectly explains this. Matthew would probably have not included this story if he did not understand that he, Matthew, had been left behind to be fruitful.
Jesus also tells His disciples at this point that they will have unimaginable powers in the name of Jesus.
What is missing? Faith. When this ‘acted parable’ occurred, they had Jesus with them. All that they understood was a little faith in Old Testament prophecy and the certainty of Jesus’ presence. Certainly, as Jesus performed miracles and taught them, their faith was growing, but their faith was in the here-and-now at this point. Only in those 40 days after the resurrection did they start to piece the puzzle together. Only on day 50, at Pentecost, did they see the puzzle semi-complete. Completion of the puzzle involved the acts of faith like the people being healed by lying in the shadow of Peter as he passed, or Philip’s telekinesis after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch.
But this ‘acted parable’ is a reminder for us today that the power of God through the Holy Spirit is still available today. Our problem is that the education system of this world has taught us that miracles are against modern science. The truth, as Eric Metaxas explains in his book, Miracles, is that miracles fall into that realm of being outside science’s ability to explain or measure, not against modern science at all. He uses the example of the Big Bang Theory. Science has evidence that the Big Bang occurred, but to explain what caused the Big Bang requires supposition. In essence, science cannot measure before the Big Bang, thus faith takes over. Was the Big Bang spoken by God or could there have been a number of different beliefs as to the cause? None can be proven; thus the cause of the Big Bang is a belief based on faith in all cases. What cannot happen according to modern science is a reaction to something that had no cause in the first place. Spontaneous combustion and the spontaneous nuclear fission of Californium have a cause in the energy stored within them at their creation.
As for the fig tree lovers out there, that fig tree died, but there were others. We still have fig trees.
As for the believers of today, Jesus is saying that we all must be fruitful. Going through life and just getting by is not an option. Even bid-ridden believers can witness to God’s love. Whether we live to be forty or we live to be ninety, we need to spread the Gospel. Our clocks are ticking. In Genesis 6:3, God declared that the age of man would not exceed 120 years. People like Abraham and Moses were exceptions. A scientist recently discovered that cells that are 120 years old were incapable of reproducing. Thus, death is inevitable at that point.
The point here is that our clocks are ticking. You might show Jesus’ love by helping old ladies across the street, but telling the lady that you love them and God loves them is important also.
Some may not understand the miracle of destroying a fruitless fig tree, but my take on it is that God loves me enough to send His Son to die for me. So, when God tells me to go forth and multiply, He is telling me to spread the word to everyone that the God of Love loves them too. All you have to do is let go of what you are holding in this world and trust totally in Jesus Christ.