Friends on the journey: I am writing this post from India, where I am spending two weeks traveling to three different cities as the guest of India Arts Movement. I am speaking at three conferences and also facilitating workshops for people who are working in the arts here in India. It is a wonderful time, but it has made it hard for me to find time to also sit down and do my normal Bible study! Today, during a break in one of the conferences, I am delighted to pick up where I left off. Thanks for journeying with me!
Your word, oh Lord, is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. Open my eyes now, so I may see and behold beautiful things in your law. Illuminate the reading of your word, so that I may have understanding. And give me a heart to obey you, in all I do.
Today, I’m picking up where I left off last in Mark 11, verses 12-25:
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
(Mark 11:12-25 ESV)
This is a very, very strange passage to me. Jesus was hungry, so he went to a fig tree in hopes of finding some fruit to eat. However, “it was not the season for figs,” so there was no fruit to be found. Jesus cursed the tree, and the next day, the tree was “withered away to its roots.” This tree would never bear fruit again.
I struggle to understand this. To me, this does not seem like an offense. The tree was just doing what was natural for the tree—it was not the season for fruit! The tree was obeying the natural order of things, yet Jesus cursed it for that. How can this tree be held responsible for not bearing fruit, when it was not the season for fruit? I wonder.
Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples go to the temple, where they find people making business ventures out of worship practice. In his anger, Jesus “began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.”
Both of these scenarios—the scene in the temple and the cursing of the fig tree—are really about prayer. When Jesus drove out the money changers, he didn’t just kick them out—he told them why he was kicking them out:
And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when Jesus’s disciples asked him about the fig tree, he used it as a metaphor for prayer:
“Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
There are two things that come to my mind as I read these verses.
First, Jesus is serious about fruit:
Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:2-8 ESV)
Second, Jesus is serious about prayer. In each of these passages—Mark 11 and John 15—as well as so many other places in scripture, Jesus emphasizes the importance of prayer. We are to pray, with faith, and watch God “move mountains.”
The truth is, fruit-bearing, in a spiritual sense, is directly correlated to prayer. If we are prayerless people, we will also soon be fruitless people. Prayer and meditation on God’s word are what keeps us plugged in to God. As one of my favorite passages reminds us:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1-3 ESV)
Is the fruit of the gospel evident in my life? It’s an important question. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:21-22). If I am devoted to prayer, good fruit will follow. If I am devoted to meditating on God’s word, good fruit will follow. If there is no fruit, or if the vines of my life seem to be “dry,” this is a call to prayer. There is no other water that will nourish my soul. Prayer alone nourishes the soil of our hearts, and prayer alone makes good fruit possible.