Samples from Seminary – Sunday School and Fig Trees

Normally I draw from things that I learned at seminary when I write posts for this blog, however, this summer I plan to write a couple of posts on the Passion Week. Why the Passion Week in the middle of summer? This summer I have the privilege of teaching Sunday School, and we are going through the week of Jesus Christ’s final suffering and death. For the next few posts, I plan to draw from the material that I have taught to my class of sixth graders.

In this first post, I want to relay what I learned about fig trees while preparing for a lesson. Why fig trees? As Mark 11:12-14 records, on Monday morning of the Passion Week–the next morning after Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem riding on a donkey–Jesus Christ cursed a fig tree because it had leaves, but no fruit.

Personally, I can remember reading this history and wondering: why did Jesus curse this fig tree? After all, most trees are full of leaves before they bear fruit. Well, it turns out that fig trees are slightly different.

Fig trees produce two crops of fruit each year: an early crop and a late crop. Importantly, in early spring, the first crop of figs develops at the same time as the leaves begin to grow. In fact, according to one commentator, the figs sometimes even come before any leaves. Thus, the fact that this tree had leaves on it should have indicated that it also had the first crop of figs as well.

But did Jesus curse this fig tree simply because it should have had fruit on it? No. Rather Jesus cursed this tree because it served as a symbol of the nation of Israel. Just as the tree looked like it should have fruit on it, so Israel looked like a nation that served the Lord. Thus, while Israel appeared to worship and serve God, their acts of offering sacrifices, keeping feasts, and visiting the temple amounted to nothing more than the leaves on a barren fig tree. It was nothing more than an outward show.

What was missing? For the fig tree, the fig fruit was missing. For Israel, the fruits of repentance and heart-felt worship were missing. Religion had become nothing more than outward display.

Now, how about us?  Are we also missing fruit due to an emphasis on the external? If so, then our calling is to repent, knowing that God views a broken heart as a most precious fruit.

Matt Kortus

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