Uncertainty of Expectations – Devotional Series
On September 22nd, Twitter stopped me in my tracks with this tweet by a preacher, historian, provost & professor at Union School of Theology:
“After living in America for two months, a Christian Iranian couple decided to move back to Iran. The wife told her husband: There’s a satanic lullaby here. All the Christians are sleepy and I’m getting sleepy.” (Dustin Benge)
Sheep Among Wolves VOLUME II is a docudrama released in 2019 by Frontier Alliance International Studio and is the story of the Iranian Awakening.
The eyes of the world are on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and threats of global war. The eyes of the Lord are on the Iranians. Hear the incredible true story of a historic move of God taking place in Iran right now—directly from Iranian believers themselves. Take a look at the trailer below.
“Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.” Romans 12:1-3
Uncertainty of Expectations – “The Fig Tree”
There have been times in life when I come across a Bible passage that I don’t fully understand. For me, its ok because God needs to be beyond my understanding. As believers, it is our up to this point understanding of God and his ways, that strengthens our faith and propels us into the unknown. We obey God and leave the outcome to Him. The passage we are looking at today is one that has puzzled me.
So, let’s dig in….
Matthew, we know, was Jewish and a Tax Collector. Basically, he exploited his own people for personal gain. Jews were living under Roman occupation, Matthew worked for Rome by collecting taxes. Tax collectors kept all the money they extorted over and above the taxes that were due. It’s like your tax preparer saying, “Instead of the $12k you owe the government, you actually owe $15k,” and then pocketing the $3k. No wonder they were hated.
Matthew’s encounter with Jesus was so life changing, that his Gospel is written to the very same people he exploited. He is writing to tell them about Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven. As NT Wright says, this Kingdom does not refer to “heaven as the final post-mortem destination of God’s people, but to the arrival of God’s sovereign, saving, heavenly rule on earth itself as expressed in the Prayer Jesus taught.”
Jesus Curses a Fig Tree – Matthew 21
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.
20 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.”
We are told, Jesus is returning to Jerusalem from Bethany where he spent the night (a distance of approximately 2 miles). He became hungry. The fig tree beside the road indicated it grew there and did not belong to anyone. Jesus went to it, but there were no figs, only leaves. Because they saw leaves, they would have expected it to also have fruit. Jesus cursed the tree, “May you never again bear fruit.” According to Matthew, the tree immediately dried up. This seems to have been the only miracle where Jesus uses his power to destroy something.
We have 3 young adult children who unfortunately inherited our very basic cooking and baking skills. As kids, when they wanted to amaze us, we were treated to…Funfetti – cakes, cupcakes and cookies!
Our middle daughter is married and lives in Northern Ireland. A little over a year ago, however, this picture of her new creation showed up in our family chat which I shared with my lunch group. From this picture, a discussion on figs began. Other than Fig Newtons, my experience with figs was limited and because of that, so was my understanding of the significance of this passage.
Fig production 101
As shared, in the growth cycle of a fig tree, the leaves are a sign of fruit. The fig tree Jesus encountered had the outward appearance of bearing fruit, but it had produced nothing.
This brings me to what I learned about figs…
When a fig tree produces fruit, the fig and fig wasp have a special relationship that is essential to their mutual survival. The fig provides a home for the wasp and the wasp provides the pollen that the fruit needs to ripen.
The female wasp wiggles her way into a very small opening at one end of the fruit. The opening is so small that her wings and parts of her antennae break off as she enters. The wasp will never leave and won’t need her wings again. Laying eggs is the female wasp’s entire purpose in life and she dies after she finishes. The Ecological Society of America notes that the wasp’s body is absorbed by the fig and used for nourishment.
For the Jewish people, the Fig tree held a lot of significance. It is the third tree to be mentioned by name in the Hebrew Bible. The first is the Tree of Life and the second is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In the Garden of Eden, brokenness entered the world with Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. According to the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 70a-b) after disobeying God, Adam and Eve were offered the first step towards spiritual redemption by the provision of fig leaves to cover their nakedness.
In the books of the minor prophets (Joel, Habakkuk and Haggai) we can see warnings to the Israelite nation of how God would bring destruction and failure of crops as part of his judgement against their disobedience. This was illustrated by empty fig trees that were stripped bare and fruitless. It’s almost as if the fig was something of a barometer of the health of the nation – taken away as punishment, and flourishing in times of restoration.
Hamilton fans will recall the line from the song, “One Last Time,” taken from Micah 4: “Everyone will sit under his own vine and fig tree and no one shall make him afraid.” It has been said, George Washington quoted the ‘vine and fig tree’ phrase almost 50 times throughout his life. The fruitful fig tree in Micah describes a time when the Nation of Israel would live in safety, peace and wellbeing under the reign of God.
In Matthew’s chronology, cursing of the Fig Tree immediately follows the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus was effectively denouncing Israel’s worship of God. For the Jews, their religious practices and temple worship had come to serve the national and self-interests of the people rather than serving God. They had a form of religion but not the reality. They knew the right words to say, but their hearts were far from God.
More importantly, this passage serves to foreshadow Jesus laying down his life to spiritually redeem us so we may live in oneness with God. It speaks to the work of the Holy Spirit to reside within our individual and collective soul and nourish us in the ways of God so that we produce true authentic fruit for the Kingdom.
The poor, the oppressed and the marginalized were looking to Jesus to free them from Roman occupation so they could live in this world in safety and comfort under their own vine and fig tree. God’s vantage addresses the source of our brokenness; not to Band-Aid/cover our sin but to obliterate it’s hold by the cross. God’s purpose is to gather people to Himself who live as citizens of His Kingdom, a kingdom not of this world.
“God’s Kingdom is the kingdom of the heart. It is not a structure. He longs for those who say they know Him to demonstrate integrity of character, to hunger and thirst after Christlikeness, to love and obey Him no matter the cost – even if our external kingdoms are destroyed.” Diane Langberg, PhD
Only then will God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The story concludes with the idea of moving a mountain. This was a common way of speaking about doing what from a human perspective is seemingly impossible. In these final verses, faith and prayer are absolutely linked. It is God and only God who governs how mountains are to be moved.
I can’t help but think we have much to learn from our Iranian brothers and sisters for whom the Kingdom of Heaven is so real and tangible that no discomfort, no fear, not even the threat of death can separate them from its reality. What does it take to be part of this Kingdom? You have been given the example…
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus
written by Major Brenda Suarez, the Office of the Territorial Commander, USA East