The Lesson of the Fig Tree

Mystery of the Fruitless Fig Tree

“For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7, NKJV) 

As we approached Palm Sunday we traveled along with Jesus as He entered Jerusalem (click here for April 12 blog). His public ministry had reached its crescendo. The cross loomed before Him. 

Mark tells us that upon His triumphal entry, Jesus went to the temple. What He found provoked righteousness indignation. Rather than His Father’s house being a house of prayer, it had been reduced to a den of robbers. 

Before we leave this scene we want to understand our Lord’s sense of urgency for His people being a house of prayer for the nations. It had to do with expansion of the kingdom of God and the power that was necessary for that mission. That power involved prayer. 

If we pan back from the intense scene of Jesus upsetting the status quo of temple life, we see why it was so imperative that God’s people be faithful to their call. 

After Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to inspect the temple, only to find it not in working order, He left to spend the night in Bethany. On His return to the temple the next day, Jesus paused by a fig tree. Looking for figs, He found none. Mark makes clear the reason why. It was “not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13). Yet Jesus proceeds to curse the fig tree. We are told His disciples heard His words. 

They complete the two-mile trek back to Jerusalem, where Jesus clears the temple and issues an impassioned reminder that His Father’s house is to be a house of prayer for the nations. 

The next day, we return to the fig tree for the rest of the story. Peter exclaims that the fig tree Jesus had cursed had withered. How did Jesus respond? He responded by teaching about prayer. 

So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." (Mark 11:22–24) 

Jesus’ instruction on the temple as a house of prayer is bracketed by an object lesson on the power of prayer. What is the power of prayer? It is the power to move mountains, the power to bear figs even out of season. Prayer is not limited by what is natural but engages the supernatural. 

Prayer acts upon Jesus’ opening statement at the return to the fig tree: “Have faith in God.” He is the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or could even think. 

Jesus’ kingdom mission called for His disciples to carry the gospel into all the nations. The success of that mission required a power found only in God. By God’s design, that power is accessed through prayer. 

If you’d like to learn more about God’s design for prayer, I commend to you my 32-page booklet called Why Do We Pray? (P&R, 2012) 

Digging Deeper

  1. How does faith in God relate to faithfulness in prayer?
  2. What steps can you take to make prayer more integral to your ministry?

Father, forgive me for my prayerlessness. Forgive me for my pride and presumption that decry my absolute need for you in all things, at all times, in every way. Forgive me for neglecting the means that you have placed in my hands and rejecting the call that you have placed upon my head to pursue You for the work of the kingdom. 

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Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.

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