The necessity of fruitfulness
The Necessity for Fruitfulness (Mark 11:12-14, 19-22)
Sometimes it is necessary to act out a message rather than to speak it. When words have not made the proper impression, deeds may leave an unforgettable lesson. The Old Testament prophets acted out their message when words no longer worked (Jer. 13:1-11; Ezek. 3:1-11). On the last Monday of His public ministry, Jesus withered a fruitless fig tree. He did so to make dramatic His judgment on a fruitless people. Our Lord hopes for fruitfulness, but He judges a fruitless people.
Our Lord Expects Fruitfulness From His Disciples
Like Jesus' spoken parables, this dramatic act moves on two levels, physical and spiritual. Physically, Jesus hungered for food. The reason may have been His early rising for prayer (Mark 1:35). He had used His strength in a night of spiritual wrestling. He may have had a scanty, hurried breakfast, as he hurried to Jerusalem and His work of cleansing the temple. The reality of this hunger shows His humanity in the midst of His divinity. The same human Lord who could hunger for breakfast a moment later can wither a tree with a word in His divinity.
Spiritually, Jesus hungers for fruit on the part of His people. The expectation of God has always been for fruit. He planted His people as a vineyard in order to bear fruit (Isa. 5). Then He expected fruit from Israel. Now He expects fruit from His church. That fruit is expressed in character at the level of being (Gal. 5:19-22). That fruit is expressed in conduct at the level of acting (Matt. 23:23). He expects that fruit from every individual branch or believer (John 15).
Our Lord Judges Fruitlessness in His Disciples
Our Lord observes the profession of fruitfulness. On the physical level, Jesus saw the full foliage of a single fig tree on the roadside. The key to the entire story rests on a single fact: figs appear before or along with leaves on such trees. The leaves were a promise of the fruit. Spiritually, this was the condition of Israel. The temple, priesthood, sacrificial system, and whole way of life presented the picture of a holy people. But just beneath the surface, there was no reality behind the ritual. The same can be true today behind the life of a church or an individual Christian.
Our Lord observes the absence of fruit. On inspection, Jesus found that the tree was pretentious but barren. It was a tree of promise without performance. Ultimately, the discerning eye of Jesus detects the presence or absence of authentic fruit in the life of every disciple. Jude spoke of members of the church that are "clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees without fruit and uprooted—twice dead" (v. 12).
Our Lord confirms a fruitless condition. This is the last of the eighteen miracles recorded in Mark. It is the only totally destructive miracle of Jesus. One should note that He performed His only totally destructive miracle on a mere tree, not on a human being. This was not a fit of anger on Jesus' part. It was a deliberate act to leave a dramatic reminder that fruitlessness can expect His judgment. He simply confirmed the tree in the condition that already existed. This ultimately happened to Israel in the judgment that came under Rome in A.D. 70. It can happen to any church that leaves its first love (Rev. 2:5). Ultimately it is the judgment of a fruitless believer (John 15:6).
There is a prevention for fruitlessness. It is a life of faith and prayer (11:22-25). Watching out for life's inwardness and reality of the spiritual is the prevention of spiritual barrenness.