My favourite actor is Jimmy Stewart. In a career spanning 60 years, he received 5 nominations for best actor in the academy awards and won an Oscar for his performance in “The Philadelphia Story”. He also starred in my favourite movie of all time, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. Knowing my obsession with the actor my wife bought me a signed photograph of Jimmy. It was hung proudly in our house. However, as the years passed the picture started to fade and discolour. Unfortunately, I came to the disappointing conclusion that it was likely that this picture was a fake and at best it was a photocopy of an original.
Many things in life can masquerade as real but fail upon closer inspection. Jesus deals with this type of discrepancy in an alarming incident recorded by Matthew in his Gospel. After spending the night back in Bethany, Jesus and his disciples set off early morning towards Jerusalem again. Drawn to a fig tree blooming with leaves he stopped for a snack to find no fruit then strangely he curses the tree.
After all, Passover was not exactly the season for figs. So, why would Jesus curse one for not bearing fruit? The question seems perplexing. Bible Teacher F. F. Bruce explains, small edible knobs, or taqsh in Arabic, appear with the leaves and fall off before the actual fruit develops. If the leaves appear unaccompanied by taqsh, there will be no figs that year. So, it was evident to our Lord that for all its beautiful foliage, it was a fruitless and a hopeless tree’.
Fruitfulness is a continual expectation throughout scripture. In Psalm 1 a person whose ‘delight is in the law of the LORD.. 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.’
As Jesus heads back to Jerusalem, to celebrate Passover with God’s people in God’s city through which the whole earth should have been blessed, he is greeted with a façade of fruitfulness in the same way he had been greeted by a façade of spirituality the day before in the temple. Rituals were taking place, sacrifices were being offered, scripture was being read, but it was all a sham because delight in God had been replaced by pleasure in profit.
Later in Holy Week in his last meal with his followers, John, Jesus’ closest friend on earth, records a parable taught in regards to the tending of a vine to create fruitfulness.
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. – John 15:4-5
In his teaching, Jesus makes it clear to those listening that the fruit growing as a result of ‘abiding in him’ is love. He says that we will grow to ‘love one another as I have loved you” (v12). Jesus then makes a startling promise:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. – John 15:16.
Echoing his encouragement to his disciples, following the cursing of the fig tree, if they truly abide and delight in God and not merely go through lifeless rituals living a sham, they will bear the fruit of heaven, ‘And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’
Father forgive me for the times I have given an outward show that I am following you but in reality my heart is detached from you. I come back to you today and say I am sorry. Plant me again into your love, let me draw life and nourishment from you again. Prune away the parts of me that do not bear the fruit of love and faith in my life. Let my life glorify you but the heavenly fruit it gives.
More From This Series
View the other Devotionals in our “For the Joy” series