I do not like figs. Not that I’ve ever tried a real fig. The closest I’ve come is a Fig Newton, and I am not a fan.
When I was a little girl, there was a fig tree in the backyard of one of our rental houses in Peru. That tree produced more figs than we could handle. They would just ripen and fall off the tree and rot on the ground. They were a sticky mess, and I was always stepping on them as I played in the yard.
Unlike me, however, Jesus was very fond of figs.
I was reading Mark 11 this past week, and I came across a verse where Jesus was walking toward Jerusalem the day after the triumphal entry, and He was hungry. The Bible says that He saw a fig tree in the distance, and he went over to it to see if he could find anything on it. He found nothing but leaves. He said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!”
That struck me as almost funny. I sat there and thought about this bizarre story, which has never made sense to me before. I thought, either Jesus really loved figs and was kind of temperamental, or there is more to this story than I understand.
I went with the latter, which required me to dig deeper. When a passage doesn’t make sense to you, keep digging! That’s how you find treasure.
I started by reading study notes on those verses. I learned something about fig trees. At this point in the season, when it was covered in leaves there should have been a lot of fruit on it. There was none. A note in my Bible said, “Jesus’ actions here have symbolic importance signifying the hypocrisy of all who have the appearance that they are bearing fruit, but in fact are not.”
All of those bushy fig leaves covering those branches were hiding the fact that there was no fruit. The study notes went on to say, “It is a visual parable to signify Jesus’ unrequited search for the true fruit of worship, prayer and righteousness.”
The very next thing Jesus did was go to Jerusalem into the temple. The temple was where you would expect to worship God- to encounter God. The temple was a dazzling and beautiful sight. It was the religious center of the nation. Jesus walked in, longing to find prayer and worship. Instead, He found thieves and merchants ripping people off in the house of God. Jesus drove them out. What Jesus found wasn’t worship. It wasn’t prayer. It wasn’t fruit. It was leaves. I looked amazing on the outside, but on the inside it was empty. There was nothing there. Jesus was after reality, not appearance.
That hit me. How much time do I spend fluffing out the leaves on my tree? A verse that came to mind was John 15:5. ” I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me, you can do nothing.”
Real fruit grows from the branches when they are connected to the source of life. I produce REAL fruit only when I abide in Him.
Anything else is not real fruit- not the kind that God seeks. Even my best efforts, while disconnected from Him, while not encountering Him and abiding in Him, are just leaves. They are not fruit at all.
It grieved me to think about how much time in my life I have spent producing leaves. We CANNOT be too busy to encounter God for real. I heard someone say once, “If you don’t have time to get everything done, then leave things undone and cultivate your heart before God.” I will be a far better wife/mother/friend with a heart that is deeply alive and producing fruit than I would ever be with a perfect house, perfect schedule, and perfect facade. He has always been after reality on the inside. Why do we think that we could ever hide behind leaves?
As I meditated on that, I remembered some other people who tried to mask reality behind fig leaves. In Genesis 3:7 it says, “At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness, so they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.”
This brought tears to my eyes. I know that feeling, Adam and Eve. I am well acquainted with shame. We all are.
There they stood, eyes down, souls hurting in shame. Hiding behind leaves. But the leaves could not cover it. So God did that. And something had to die. And there was blood everywhere. And it was horrible…but He covered them. He made them clothing from animal skins.
Now, thousands of years later, here we stood. Eyes downcast, souls hurting in shame. We hid behind leaves of our own making….leaves that could never cover our shame. So God did that. And Jesus had to die. And there was blood everywhere. And it was horrible, but He covered us. He removed our shame and gave us robes of righteousness.
And now we stand, covered in the righteousness of Christ. Our shame is gone. We lift our eyes straight up to the throne of God, and we live our lives before His eyes- exposed and holy, and we will NEVER wear fig leaves again.