Matthew 21:18-19: 18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
Have you ever had a tree like this fig tree? A tree can look beautiful, but for some reason, it never bears the fruit that it should. It only takes up space in your yard. Every year you wait for fruit to form and nothing happens. You finally cut it down and plant another. Jesus looked for fruit on the fig tree and when he found none, he cursed it and it withered in front of the disciples eyes.
This seems like such a rash action on the part of Jesus, but it was not. When John the Baptist preached, he warned people to repent of their sins. “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9). When Jesus saw the money-changers in the temple and when he experienced the unbelief of the Jewish leaders during that Holy Week, he saw hardened hearts and impenitent people. Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson. A fig tree without fruit is not a fig tree. A Christian without fruit is not a Christian, either.
If there is the fruit of repentance in your life, you can thank the Holy Spirit for it. You love God’s Word and treasure it. Your acts of love to your family and neighbors come from a heart that has died to your selfish desires. You are surely not perfect, which is why you are repenting of your sins every single day. You cling to Jesus as the roots of a tree cling to the soil that gives it life.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, always, always send your Spirit into my heart and keep my feet on the path of repentance! Teach me never to take your grace for granted or to become hardened in my sin. Renew my heart every day so that in my life I will bear the fruit of repentance. I ask this in your name. Amen.
Matthew 21:20-22: When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. 21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
What does Jesus teach us about prayer in this section? First and foremost, we can pray with confidence that we will be heard. We should not pray just out of desperation, when all else has failed, when we have no other options. Such prayers from a doubting heart that does not deserve to be heard at all. We pray to God on every occasion because he has invited us to pray and promised to answer our prayers. I can pray when I am sick and when I am well, when I am bankrupt and when I am well provided for, when I am afraid and when I am at peace.
But what about the blank check that Jesus promises to give to his disciples? I have great confidence in my children, who have grown to be responsible adults who listen to the Word of God. I trust the decisions they make in their lives. I do not feel compelled to give them advice or guidance, though I may open my mouth too often to do so. In fact, more and more I find myself asking for their advice instead.
In the same way, Jesus knows your heart, and he knows that you want what God wants. You pray according to God’s will for your life. You don’t ask God to throw a mountain into the sea just to see if it will really happen. You don’t ask to win the jackpot, because you would prefer just your daily bread, which is neither too much or too little. You ask for those things that will work for the good of your faith and your family and God’s kingdom. That’s why Jesus gives you this wonderful promise of prayer.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray not because I must, but because you have invited me into your confidence to pray for whatever I might ask in your name. Give me a heart that prays with confidence and that prays according to your gracious good will. I ask this in your name. Amen.