Are You a Withered Old Tree?


Last week I was asked why Jesus, this loving guy who was the Messiah that would save all who would believe in Him, would, in His anger, curse a fig tree and cause it to wither. I want to spend some time looking at this. It is what comes next in our study of Matthew and I think we will discover that Christ did not sin in His anger, but instead taught something that is deep and meaningful for our lives. Imagine for a moment that God designed us for a specific purpose and desires that we pursue and achieve that purpose (He did). What might God’s thought be if we did not accomplish that purpose? What if we chose not to live for the reason that God created for us? What is God’s ultimate response to those who do not bear good fruit?




The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple complex, and He healed them. When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that He did and the children shouting in the temple complex, “ Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus told them. “Have you never read:

You have prepared praise

from the mouths of children and nursing infants?”

Then He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.

Early in the morning, as He was returning to the city, He was hungry. Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He went up to it and found nothing on it except leaves. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” At once the fig tree withered.

When the disciples saw it, they were amazed and said, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?”

Jesus answered them, “ I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done. And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.[1]


Something I notice about Jesus, here, is that He provides for people while the Chief Priests only judge. Jesus was in the Temple complex healing people. Because He was healing people, serving them and providing for them, children began to praise Him there in the temple complex. The chief priests in this temple complex became angry. After all, who wants to see children praising a human person in God’s house? Children were calling Jesus the Son of David, which is an idiom that means Messiah and they were doing so in a place where the Jews worshipped God. This might be equivalent to someone coming into one of our churches today, healing people and then allowing the children in our church to worship him or her as god. This would not be okay!

The chief priests question this, “Are you actually going to let these children call you God while you are in this place of worship?” Here the one they called “Son of David” replied by quoting a Psalm written by King David in which he worshipped God for His sovereignty:


I will thank the Lord for His righteousness;

I will sing about the name of Yahweh the Most High.

Yahweh, our Lord,

how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth!

You have covered the heavens with Your majesty.

Because of Your adversaries,

You have established a stronghold

from the mouths of children and nursing infants

to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I observe Your heavens,

the work of Your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which You set in place,

what is man that You remember him,

the son of man that You look after him?

You made him little less than God

and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him lord over the works of Your hands;

You put everything under his feet:

all the sheep and oxen,

as well as the animals in the wild,

the birds of the sky,

and the fish of the sea

that pass through the currents of the seas.

Yahweh, our Lord,

how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth.[2]


One of the most interesting things here is that Jesus quoted a Psalm that specifically refers to God the Father as Sovereign and Jesus quotes it to defend the children’s act of worship toward Him. Essentially, Jesus is saying: Not only am I the Son of David, but I am God. If this is not true about Jesus, then either He was crazy or simply lied as He taught. Those who claim that Jesus was just a good teacher actually ignore what Jesus taught, because He taught that He was the Messiah and that the Messiah was one with God. If we think about it, there really is no other way that a Messiah can offer redemption to all people; because no person can offer redemption from God. Ironically enough, this is Islam’s greatest problem. Most Muslims believe that God is the only one able to give eternal life. In fact, they insist that God did not need a Son because He is all-sufficient. At the same time, being a Muslim means declaring submission to both Allah and Muhammad as Allah’s prophet. In speech, they (along with people from other religions) declare that God is all sufficient, but the Biblical Christian faith is the only faith that claims God actually showed His all-sufficiency in the person of Christ.


After this, we see a scene in which a fig tree failed to provide and Jesus cursed it. The context here in Matthew is so interesting. First of all, Jesus claimed that it was okay for the children to worship Him as God. Then, He proved His authority over nature. There is also an allegory built into Jesus’ action here. The tree was designed to provide people’s needs, but it failed to do so. Jesus cursed it and it died. Notice before this, in Matthew 15, we read that every plant that God does not plant will be uprooted. God’s people have the purpose of serving people and providing for people. It is through Israel that the Savior of all people would come. It is through the Church that the Gospel is shared in love and with forgiveness for all people. If we do not strive to serve and provide for people in this way, we will be uprooted. If we do not produce fruit (provide people with the message of the Gospel), then we are cursed like the fig tree.

Here I must be clear that I do not believe we will lose our salvation if we have been given it. But I do believe that if we have a relationship with God we will produce fruit as a product of that relationship. If we are not bearing fruit, we should wonder if we have truly come to know Christ, or if, like the chief priest here, we have not known God and will one day be uprooted. The task of sharing eternal life with people seems like a huge task! For Jesus’ disciples, the call was to reach the Jews. For us, it is to reach this community.

If Christ came to save the lost, we fail to follow Him if we do not reach out with the love and forgiveness that He has for people. So many times we can be timid when we think about sharing the Gospel with others. When I think about this, I notice that Jesus taught his disciples that they had power for the purpose of serving others. “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

When we have faith in Christ to save us, we are not only given salvation but we are given great power. Judging from the context here, this power that we are given (even to move mountains in Christ’s name) is given so that we might use it to serve others. So we love, forgive and serve others in Christ’s name always telling people of the eternal life that they can have in Christ. Let us be trees that produce good fruit! So many people are wasting their lives away not producing good fruit. Let us be the people who serve God rightly.

[1] Matthew 21:14-21 (HCSB)

[2] Psalm 8 (HCSB)

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