18 In the morning, when he returned to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the side of the road, he went to it and found nothing at all on it but leaves. Then he said to it, "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they were amazed, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21 Jesus answered them, "Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. 22 Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
Thoughts: This is a reminder of John 15:2- "He cuts off every branch that bears no fruit." The fig tree in Jesus' day was a symbol of Israel. As Jesus was about to die in Jerusalem at the hands of the leading authorities of Israel and Rome, he once more- in a different way- was prophecying the withering or destruction of Israel (in A.D. 70). Historically, when the Church has failed to bear fruit for God, it withers and must be re-made. Today the Church in the West is in a spiral of disbelief and wonders why it has no power or fewer followers/practitioners. The Church needs to bear fruit- the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 6), the fruit of obedience, and the fruit of a bold witness to the power of Christ to change things- and lives.
The overall point, however, is the greatness of the power of God. God can wither trees immediately or cause mountains to be moved. Jesus, was teaching his disciples how to harness the power of God through prayer. The caveat is that prayer must be made in faith- so whatever we pray must submit to God's will. Faith is the switch that turns the power of God on in life. It is what is missing in the skeptical, questioning, doubting Church today.
Prayer: Lord, may my witness be bold and powerful for you. Today, we pray for your Church that it would bear fruit that would be pleasing for you.
John Calvin abridged: Mark and Matthew differ as to when they discovered the withered tree, but it is only that Mark gives more detail. Jesus here uses his human hunger as an opportunity to bring glory to the Father. His point was to show the end that awaits hypocrites, and at the same time to expose the emptiness of their ostentation. This passage is useful in pointing out the power and nature of faith. Faith is a certainty relying on the goodness of God, and does not allow doubt. The true test of faith lies in prayer. Faith leads to prayer, and true prayer is an outpouring of faith. If some say that we do not see mountains being thrown into the sea, the answer is that Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of people, that they should desire anything of their pleasure. The Spirit holds all of our affections by the bridle of the Word of God. Christ demans a firm and undoubting confidence in an answer, and where else is that found other than in the Word of God. Christ promises nothing to his disciples unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God.