Popularity is a Withering Fig Tree

After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and after driving the moneychangers out of the temple, He left Jerusalem and stayed in Bethany for a time.  On His way back into the city, an odd event occurs where Jesus curses a fig tree so it can never bear fruit again:

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry.  And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.” – Matthew 21:18-19

Today’s post covers why I think He did precisely what He did at this time and place, and also why and how Matthew records it in his gospel in this context.  But first, a couple of concepts for background.  Elsewhere, “Jesus said to [His disciples], ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” (John 4:34).  Also, from the very beginning the will of the Father has been that His creation bear fruit both physically and spiritually. (Genesis 1:22, 1:28).

Although Matthew says Jesus was hungry, He could have easily found food somewhere else or gone without it.  Therefore, Jesus did not make the fig tree wither because He was upset about being hungry.  That would have just been uncontrolled impatience or rage.  He was making a point about something else, which is God’s authority over both nature and man.  The will of the Father is more important than food.  The fig tree was rejecting that authority by not bearing fruit where fruit was needed.[1]

The next event in Matthew’s gospel is “the chief priests and elders of the people” challenging Jesus to prove that He has the authority to do things like chase moneychangers out of the temple and to heal on the Sabbath.[2]  If Jesus was going to disregard the authority of the priests and the elders, they were going to make Him explain, so they ask: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”.  Masterfully, Jesus asks a question of His own: “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?”  In this response, Jesus revealed that the priests and elders were like the fig tree bearing no fruit because they rejected God’s authority.  They knew if they answered: “’From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’”  Believing in John the Baptist would require genuinely placing their faith in the God of heaven, and it is no coincidence that John told them to “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” earlier in Matthew’s book (3:8).

Jesus’ question proved whose authority these religious leaders feared because in verse 26, they reasoned that they couldn’t say John’s baptism came from man, because that would be unpopular.  They were “afraid of the crowd,” who thought John was a prophet.  They were not interested in learning about Jesus by asking Him questions, but in preserving their own position.  Jesus had provided them all they needed to know about His authority, but they would wither like the fig tree because they rejected Him.

In truth, they were already withering, not knowing how to answer a simple question from Jesus.  They had no integrity to stand on and were subject to the whims of the people to keep what little temporary authority they had.  The parable of the tenants continues this idea in Matthew 21:33-43, and again the religious leaders “feared the crowds” who thought Jesus was a prophet in verse 46.  Ironically, the popular view in both verse 26 and 46 was closer to the truth than what the religious leaders were willing to commit to, but they were not interested in truth.  However, they would not publicly reject it because they needed their popularity.

To be continued tomorrow…


[1] In Mark’s gospel, he notes that it was not the season for figs (11:13), but Matthew leaves that detail out since it is not necessary for the point he is making.
[2] The following quotes are from Matthew 21:23-26

A Great Festival in Zimbabwe – History Bit for June 18

Each June 18 in in the African nation of Zimbabwe, a festival is held to remember the service of Bernard Mizeki and his martyrdom on this date in 1896.  As recently as 2005, almost twenty thousand attended the festival at a time when Zimbabwe had massive food shortages and an unemployment rate of 80 percent!

As profiled in the book “Clouds of Witnesses” by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom[1], Mizeki found Christ, was baptized, and became a missionary under the influence of an Anglican order in Cape Town, South Africa.  He planted[2] a one-man mission among the Shona people in an area then known as Theydon, now part of Zimbabwe.  The Shona worshiped a creator-deity they called Mwari and sometimes practiced the killing of twin babies and the murder of those identified as sorcerers by their leaders.

Mizeki befriended Shona Chief Mangwende, learned their language in one year, translated key Biblical texts and Christian creeds, held Anglican services, and sought to reform the practices mentioned above.  He also identified with and invested in the Shona by marrying a Shona woman, teaching children and others to sing, and providing medical care.  His work prospered, and many came to believe.

However, opposition to his work began to grow, especially from those who saw his work as an assault on their culture and authority.  On the night of June 17th, 1896 he was assaulted in front of his home and had a spear driven into his side.  It seems Mizeki’s removal of some “sacred trees” was the last straw.  Then the account gets truly interesting.

Multiple accounts by Africans and Europeans attest to a “great and brilliant white light” and “a noise ‘like many wings of great birds’” around the hut where Mizeki was laid while his friends cared for him, seemingly near death.  There was a “strange red glow” around Mizeki’s hut and afterward his body was gone, never to be seen again. Jean Farrant, who documented witness accounts in her book on Mizeki, says each person must decide what to make of this, but that “something happened that night which to the Africans was beyond explanation, which frightened them very much, and left a deep impression”[3]  This event is still celebrated today, and others have taken up Mizeki’s work.

Soli Deo Gloria!


[1] Noll, Mark A.; Nystrom, Carolyn.  Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia (2011).  This post is drawn from chapter 1.
[2] John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
[3] Farrant, Jean.  Mashonaland Martyr: Bernard Mizeki and the Pioneer Church (1966).  P. 216-22.  Cited in Clouds of Witnesses P. 30.

The Transfiguration: A Preview of Glory and Delight

Last week I posted about Psalm 36:8, where David thanks God that His people may “drink from the river of your delights.”   Since the word for “delights” is the plural of Eden, these occasional sips God provides us point to a past and future paradise.  These delights strengthen our hope of heaven and strengthen us to live in this world for Him.  Jesus provided such a moment for His disciples in the event known as the Transfiguration, when Jesus took His disciples Peter, James, and John up a mountain for a vision of His future glory.  Matthew records in his gospel that Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”[1]

Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke with Jesus, perhaps representing the law and the prophets of the Old Testament and how it all pointed to Jesus.  Peter wanted to make this moment last, and offered to “make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.[2]  But it was not intended to last long, yet.

The Transfiguration was a preview of heaven, a sneak peek into what eternity will be like, a promise of future blessing under Jesus, the glorified King.  The fulfillment of everything the law and prophets hinted at will be realized.  However, Moses and Elijah soon disappeared, Jesus and His disciples descended from the mountain, and the disciples very soon struggled as we all do, but they persevered as we also must. Pray that God will make eternity real to His people today, even if for only a moment, giving a “drink from the river of your delights” and strengthen us to live for Him.


[1] Matthew 17:2
[2] Matthew 17:4

The Law of the Medes and Persians Has Been Revoked

During the Old Testament book of Daniel, God’s people were in exile in Babylon, and a group of Babylonian officials really wanted to make a point.  They wanted to do this so badly, that it’s recorded several times in just a few verses of the book of Daniel, chapter 6:

Verse 8: “Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.”
Verse 12: “Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.
Verse 15: “Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
Verse 17: “And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.” [bold emphasis mine]

What provoked them to insist on this law that “cannot be revoked”?

They decided Daniel (of the book’s name) needed to be persecuted for successfully contributing to the welfare of Babylon, while humbly giving God the glory for all his gifts, abilities, and success.  He was making them, and their gods, look bad.  It is remarkably similar to the reasons Jesus saw opposition.  Daniel, a Jewish exile, was about to get a big promotion and they wanted to sabotage it.  Knowing Daniel openly prayed three times a day, the officials conspired and convinced the king to sign a law “that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.” (Verse 7).  Either Daniel gives glory to Babylon, or he dies.  Forcing Daniel to change his worship would prove that an unjust law was more important to him than his God.

What did Daniel do in response?  Nothing new.  He continued his standard practice of worship, praying in front of his open windows, probably including prayers for the welfare of Babylon[1].  Verse 10 says Daniel acted “as he had done previously,” which indicates he wasn’t snubbing his nose at his government or its new rule.  His faithfulness was more important to him than an unjust law, even when he didn’t know God would deliver him from the lions.  Daniel didn’t just come to God when he thought he needed God; he knew he needed God at all times.

Therefore, when the officials were provoked, it was an outcome of Daniel’s success and prayer, not Daniel’s intent.  Basic, consistent faithfulness to a higher power can sometimes irritate people, especially lower powers who think their rule “cannot be revoked,” even when it’s not very effective.

Following the law, the king had Daniel thrown into the den of lions, but “God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths.”  Daniel said he was saved because he had faithfully served his God and the king (verse 22), not because he was a provocative protester.

Seeing Daniel delivered by God, King Darius tore up the law that “cannot be revoked,” but even if Daniel had not been rescued from the lions, the laws would still have been revoked.  The kingdom of the Medes and Persians no longer exists.  Likewise at the end of time every law of every Babylon will be no more.  However, God’s promise of blessing for all who will worship Him and seek His will still stands.  On this promise Daniel stood, or rather, kneeled, and served his God and his countrymen, even in exile.

The law of loving service to neighbor will never be revoked, wherever and whenever you live, and even in heaven!  In the words of G.K. Chesterton, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”[2]


[1] Jeremiah 29:7 says: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” referring to Babylon.
[2] Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy (1908).  P. 103.

What You Have Forgotten Today He Can Supply

The Gospel of Mark records two miraculous feedings of multitudes.  The first was mainly a Jewish crowd of about 5,000 in Mark 6:30-44; the second was a mainly Gentile group of about 4,000 in Mark 8:1-9.  These two stories are very well known, but if you read on Mark adds this about Jesus’ disciples in 8:14 – “Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.

On this verse Warren Wiersbe remarks: “It must have grieved Jesus that His hand-picked helpers were so spiritually obtuse. The fact that He had multiplied bread on two occasions and fed over ten thousand people had apparently made little impression on them! Why worry and argue over one loaf of bread when you have Jesus in the boat with you?”[1]

When well-known Bible stories have little impact on us, remember that these disciples knew the story even better than we do – they were there!  Jesus did not give up on them and will not give up on us.

Have you forgotten to trust Jesus with something today?  He desires to be “in the boat with you” in constant fellowship.  Ask Him to take your anxiety and to supply your daily bread.  He never forgets.


[1] Wiersbe, Warren.  Be Diligent (Mark) (1987).  P. 97.