February 28, 2018
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: Matthew 21:18-22
“ONLY JESUS COULD CHALLENGE US TO MOVE MOUNTAINS!”
Matthew 21:18-22 (NIV 1984) “Early in the morning, as He was on his way back to the city, He was hungry. 19Seeing 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. 20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, 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. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
I’d like you to try to think of all the different miracles that Jesus did. The first one was to change water into wine. There were many more. He did healing miracles causing the blind to see, the lame, to walk, the deaf to hear, the leprous to be cured. He did feeding miracles, providing food for thousands of hungry people though they only had a few loaves or fish. He brought people back to life, Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, Jairus’ daughter. He cast out demons and walked on water to calm fearful disciples. All of Jesus’ miracles prove He is the Son of God and did good to help people. And then there is this one, the cursing of the fig tree. In this miracle Jesus made a fig tree wither and die. What good is there in that? What is the meaning of this? With the Holy Spirit’s help we see a needed lesson on faith.
This happened during Holy Week. It’s Passover week in Jerusalem. Jesus, loving His disciples to the end continues to teach them even though His earthly end is very near. So far the disciples have seen Jesus welcomed triumphantly as king. They have seen him cleanse the Temple of those who were distracting other from worship. They would see their religious leaders, those considered the most spiritual and holy, those who looked the most religious and seemed to care most about what God said, question Jesus and challenge him. They needed a lesson about the true nature of saving faith. And a fig tree provided it. “Early in the morning, as He was on his way back to the city, He was hungry. 19Seeing 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.”
Poor fig tree! That might be our first reaction. Every other miracle Jesus helps someone but here He kills the fig tree. Ah but Jesus is helping someone. The disciples. Us. And don’t feel sorry for the fig tree. All creation exists to serve its Creator. The non human created world seems to understand better than people its purpose. And just like Passover lambs and sin offerings in Old Testament times were honored to be pictures that pointed to Jesus. This fig tree gets the honor of serving the Savior in His role as Savior. This isn’t the first time we’ve run into a fig tree. Jesus used one in a parable in Luke 13. Do you remember? Let me refresh you. “Then He told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
The lesson of the fig tree is clear. The owner expects fruit. If it is not fruitful it loses its place. But Jesus is not talking about trees but people. If someone really is a believer, a member of Jesus’ church, it will show. There will be fruits of faith, evidence of a life changed by Christ. Anyone who claims to believe but has no actions that flow from faith is not a believer. Faith without deeds is dead. No faith at all. What did that look like in Jesus’ day? The Pharisees. The chief priests. The teachers of the law. They talked religion all the time but they rejected what their religion proclaimed, the Savior Jesus, and so their lives were marked by a singular lack of love for people and souls. What might it look like today? We come to church, at least once in a while, or only do it so we don’t get in trouble. We speak God speak and pray with our mouths but then go home to curse our spouse, sass our parents and post filthy words on Facebook. Question. When is a fig tree not a fig tree? Answer. When it has no figs. When is a believer not a believer? When there is no evidence. No fruits of faith. And just like the fig tree that had no figs withered and died at Jesus’ judgment those who look like believers but are not can expect the same sentence of eternal death come Judgment Day. Jesus’ miracle helps us because it forces us to examine our own lives. Do actions match words? Is there a desire to obey Christ’s commands? The owner expects fruit.
And thanks be to God we can produce it! “When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, 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. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” I’m not sure I get it. The disciples have seen Jesus walk on water, raise the dead and heal all kinds of serious conditions and they are amazed that a tree could wither so quickly! I guess we aren’t the only ones who are slow to learn, huh? You notice Jesus doesn’t answer the question how but rather helps the disciples to see what a connection to Jesus can do. See faith itself actually does nothing. It’s what you have faith in that matters. I can trust my ability to dunk a basketball all I want but if I don’t have springs in my legs (which I don’t) my faith can’t do anything. But our faith is in Jesus who can do so much more than dry up useless fig trees. Jesus can move mountains and greater things than that. Only Jesus can challenge us to ask Him to move mountains. But like with the fig tree moving mountains isn’t really the point. Seriously what good gets accomplished by moving mountains around? There is a lot of good that can be accomplished through faith in Jesus. You can for instance forgive. You can let go of that mountain of hurt and pain another has caused you and give it to Jesus so you stop hurting people in your lives. Have you asked Him to help you? You can overcome addictive sins which can seem like impossible to climb mountains, sins like pornography, alcohol or drug abuse. You’re connected to Jesus. Have you asked Him?
Brothers and sisters, today is not a today to look back with regret at all the things in your life you wish you would have done differently. Every past sin that has shaped your present, every squandered opportunity to do good that you left undone, every unkind word and act has been fully paid for by the miracle Jesus did on the cross, a miracle only Jesus could do. Today is a day to look ahead and to realize that your Lord Jesus is challenging you to use Him for your present and your future. Only Jesus could challenge us to move mountains because only Jesus has the power to back it up. And you are connected to Jesus. Amen!