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He Answered a Tree?
"And seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And He answered and said to it, 'May no one ever eat fruit from you again!' And His disciples were listening." (Mk 11:13-14)
Have you noticed something about this passage? Jesus answered a fig tree. It does not say he spoke to the tree, the word says he answered it. The Greek bears this out. Even those today that hug trees wouldn't necessarily talk to one, let alone think it was talking to them. Yet, here is Jesus answering a fig tree!
You see, the fig tree was speaking. It was declaring something publicly. This tree caught Jesus' attention because, though it was early spring, it was full of leaves. The Lord would not have turned aside if this tree only had tiny sprouts of leaves. Now a fig tree in full leaf should have fruit on it, but this one didn't. That tree, a good friend of mine would say, was "all hat and no cattle!"
What was this doomed tree saying that caught Jesus' ear? Perhaps it was saying "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" (Rev 3:17). The problem is leaves do not impress the Lord; fruit impresses the Lord. Fruit is the very thing the Lord desires out of the earth. "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain" (Jas 5:7).
Jesus tells us who this "farmer" is. In John 15:1, he declares that it is the Father: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." The same Greek word appears in each of these passages. It is translated 'farmer' in one and 'gardener' in the other.
Trees in scripture often are a type of man. For instance: "The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him." (Ps 92:12-15)
Of course, there are many other examples. Yet, this example states clearly that the righteous are like trees and that their flourishing health is a credit to God, not man. And what is the proof that trees are healthy? They produce fruit. "For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush." (Lk 6:43-44)
The most effective way that we may declare "the LORD is upright" is not with our mouth, but by the conduct of our life. Even the world understands that not all speech comes from the mouth. Hence the saying "actions speak louder than words". So, when God changes a scoundrel like me into a righteous man, he receives the credit. Paul said "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells." (Rom 7:18) But he also said "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!" (Phil 4:13) If you really believe this, then start doing "all things", all the good works ordained by God from the foundation of the world for you alone (Eph 2:10).
John the Baptist believed actions speak louder than words, that's why he said: "Bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Lk 3:8-9)
We are quite capable of producing leaves - an outward show - on our own without God. We can impress and attract others, if that is our desire. We can seem so sincere, so earnest, so dedicated, that people will say "What a wonderful person!" But we are utterly incapable of producing the very thing, the only thing, the Lord desires - fruit. For that, we need Christ to abide in our hearts by his spirit - the very thing He has promised to do!
"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples." (Jn 15:4-8)
Let's not merely say it with words, let's prove it with our actions!
© Matthew Schilling December 1995
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