The Scriptorium

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

It's not about fig trees or moving mountains. Matthew 21.20-22

Matthew 21: The End of the Beginning (4)

Pray Psalm 63.1, 2
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

Sing Psalm 63.1, 2.
(Nun Danken: Now Thank We All Our God)
O God, You are my God, and earnestly I seek You!
My soul thirsts and my flesh in weariness now greets You!
Thus I would see Your face, with glory and pow’r arrayed,
In this Your holy place – Your beauty here displayed.

Matthew 21.1-22; meditate on verses 20-22.

1. On what were the disciples focusing?

2. What did Jesus want them to learn?

The disciples were impressed. We would have been, too, I suppose. We’re not used to seeing the natural order of things so abruptly altered. They couldn’t help but wonder among themselves, “How’d He do that?”

Remember, the tree withered immediately (v. 19). They watched it wilt, shrivel, and die, right before their eyes. What kind of answer were they expecting? Certainly nothing scientific. Maybe they had no idea what Jesus would say in response?

Jesus did not rebuke them for asking. But He answered a question they may not have been asking. They asked about the withering of a tree; Jesus responded about the exercise of faith and the power of prayer.

Jesus’ answer says, in brief, that faith and prayer can overturn the natural order of things. Think about that. Jesus used the example of the fig tree and of throwing a mountain into the sea as a hyperbole for the power of faith and prayer. If we really believed that God wanted those things to happen, and prayed earnestly and faithfully for them to be so, they would.

But that’s not where God’s agenda runs, so don’t waste your time on requests that Jesus meant as symbols of where prayer really can have power. Lost people who aren’t just indifferent to the Lord, but hostile? Prayer can change their hearts (Saul of Tarsus). Insuperable obstacles standing in the way of ministry progress, chaining us to the status quo? God can free us from them and help us move through them (Peter, released from prison). Relationships broken? Prayer can heal (Paul and John Mark). Forced to move to a new area? God can use it to advance His Kingdom (the people scattered from Jerusalem in Acts 8-11).

The more we pray now and at all times, and the more we exercise our faith in obedience to God’s Word, the greater will be our readiness to move in directions of God’s design in our Personal Mission Fields. If we only had faith (v. 21), we would pray for God to do in and through us things exceedingly, abundantly beyond what we’ve ever dared to ask or think (Eph. 3.20).

He is at work in you, to will and do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2.13). Fig trees and mountains are not the point. Faith, prayer, and obedience are. How is God leading you today?

1. What can you do to improve your use of prayer?

2. How does having faith and not doubting (v. 21) relate to your work in your Personal Mission Field?

3. What does it mean to ask in prayer, believing? What does Jesus promise if we will?

This passage shows also that the true test of faith lies in prayer. If it be objected, that those prayers are never heard, that mountains should be thrown into the sea, the answer is easy. Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire any thing at their pleasure, when he places prayer after the rule of faith; for in this way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Matthew 21.21

I believe, Lord; help my lingering unbelief, so that as I pray I…

Pray Psalm 63.3-11.
What challenges are you facing today? Pray now and throughout the day for God to give you strength and wisdom to overcome those challenges for His glory.

Sing Psalm 63.3-11.
Psalm 63.3-11 (Nun Danken: Now Thank We All Our God)
Your steadfast love, O Lord, than life is better to me.
So I will praise Your Name, and bless You, Lord, most truly.
My soul is richly blest; to You my hands I raise,
and open now my mouth to offer joyful praise.

By night, Lord, fill my mind with pleasant meditation;
for You have been my help as ‘neath Your wings I station.
My soul clings, Lord, to You; I rest in Your Right Hand;
may all who seek my life in Your displeasure stand.

Unto the sword’s strong pow’r let our foes be delivered!
Pursue them to devour their mortal lives forever!
In God will we rejoice and glory in His grace;
but all who live by lies shall perish from His face.

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore