Figs or Fury: Matthew 21:18-22 Lochee Baptist Chapel Sermon

David Burchard Exposition 2 Comments

The audio can be found here.

Two weeks ago, Jesus entered His Father’s house. The temple was abuzz—packed with the crowds that had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

But, though there were many men in the temple, it was actually quite empty. Though busy, it was barren.

The temple was empty of true worship. It was barren of the fruit of faith in keeping with repentance.

There were many there. There was much activity. But the activity wasn’t according to the Law from the heart. They’d turned the Father’s house into a den of thieves, and filled it with all sorts of wickedness.

What did Jesus do?

Jesus, the compassionate one, the Good Shepherd, the peacemaker, the man of meekness, the cheek-turner…

He cleared the place out violently, turning tables, driving men out like cattle.

That brings us to this morning’s passage, Matthew 21:18-22.

The main point here fits with what we’ve learned in the Baptist Catechism.

Brethren, what’s the chief end of man? Give me the answer all together.

That’s right. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

These verses in Matthew say the same thing, just using Genesis language.

The point of everything in your life is to be aimed at abundant fruitfulness unto God. Bear fruit, be fruitful, in all things, unto the Lord.

…Or else…

Let’s read Matthew 21:18-22:

Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry. 19Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

20Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?” 21And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. 22“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

In order to see the main point, that we must bear fruit for God or die, we’re going to ask and answer three questions from these verses.

  1. What does Jesus do? We’ll find the answer to that question in verses 18-19.
  2. What does it mean? We’ll still be looking at verses 18-19 for that question.
  3. How do the disciples respond? We’ll find the answer to that question in verses 20-22.

First, what does Jesus do?

Verse 18

“Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city…”

This is the Monday morning after Jesus’ Sunday entry into Jerusalem. So, this is the morning after quite the day.

Entering Zion as the King…

receiving praise from multitudes who would mere days later endorse his murder…

outshining and outworking all the prophets of old in the temple…

That’s a well-spent day.

And Jesus ended it by leaving Jerusalem and going to Bethany to sleep it off. I reckon He probably stayed over at Lazarus, Mary, and Martha’s house.

Now it’s morning and He’s on His way back into Jerusalem.

Still in verse 18:

“He became hungry.”

Now, this isn’t the main point of the passage, but these words tell us a key Christian doctrine.

Jesus is true Man. That means He has a true and complete human nature, body and soul, without any sin.

Now, what, you ask, do these three words, “He became hungry”, have to do with that?

Consider the word, “became”. To become means to undergo some change in state, some change in being.

For example, I was always told that at some point in life, I’d become taller and less terrifyingly ugly. Those folks obviously lied to me. I still look like this.

But if I had become taller, my state of being would have changed from shorter to taller.

Mankind constantly becomes, because, as creatures, we are constantly changing. We become infatuated, happy, grumpy, sad, married, rich, poor, strong, weak, sickly, and dead.

We are becoming beings. We are changing beings.

This isn’t true of God. God is unchanging.

Malachi 3:6 says, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

God doesn’t change. He is perfection.

God doesn’t become. His nature is immutable and impassible. No change. No emotions. He is perfection.

So, for Jesus to “become” in verse 18, it necessarily means that He isn’t just God. He’s also man.

Not God just appearing to be a man. Not some half-God, half-man super blend. He’s really, truly man.

And consider the word “hungry”.

The same truth is shown by the fact that Jesus was hungry.

Man’s gotta eat. Hunger is lack. Men get hungry. God doesn’t. He is the All-Sufficient One.

Jesus was hungry the Monday morning after he slept a night in Bethany. Men get tired and sleep. God doesn’t.

Jesus is not just true God. He is also true Man.

And that’s good news for us today.

As Man, Jesus represents us before God. Jesus, the Son of God, according to His true human nature, lived a life full of obedient submission to God. According to His human nature, He died on the cross as the substitute for all His people. According to His human nature, Jesus plundered the land of the dead. According to His human nature, He’s right now seated on the throne of heaven, ruling the world and interceding for His people.

That’s good news.

Look with me at verse 19.

Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered.

Jesus sees a fig tree by the road to Jerusalem. He’s hungry. So, He goes to the fig tree for fruit.

But, what does He find on the fig tree? Does He find any fruit? No. The tree only bore leaves. It bore nothing to feed the Lord.

How does Jesus respond when He finds no fruit? He curses the fig tree. “You tree which refused to bear fruit for me when I wanted it shall never bear fruit again.”

When this curse was pronounced over the tree, it withered and died.

Before we move to our second big question, “what does all this mean?”, I want you to notice that verse 19 tells us a second key Christian doctrine.

Jesus isn’t just true Man. He’s true God.

As true God, Jesus has the power of life and death at his disposal, by the word of His mouth. What He does here, by the power of the Spirit, according to the will of the Father, is a sign that He is God in the flesh.

He spoke and Lazarus came to life. He speaks and the fig tree dies. Life and death at His command.

True God. True Man. Two natures, unmixed, united in the One Person, the Eternal Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity.

Jesus is true God and that’s good news for us today, because salvation belongs to the Lord.

Our Maker, our God, came to save us. As God, He cannot fail in His work to save us and conquer the world. As God, He’s able to pay for all our sin, to satisfy Himself, and make us right with Himself.

He is our God. Worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what Jesus did. He was hungry. He went to the fig tree looking for fruit. None was there. So, He cursed the fig tree.

Now, for our second big question.

What does it mean?

We see the actions of Jesus. What’s it all about?

The point Jesus is making is this:

The point of our existence in God’s world is fruitfulness unto God. Fruitfulness in all things unto God.

When the God-Man comes looking for fruit, it’d better be there. Or He will destroy you.

This was bad news for the nation of Israel. Jesus, Israel’s God and King, had come.

He came to Jerusalem, the Holy City. He came to the temple. He came to the Jews and their leaders.

And what did He find?

He didn’t find fruit. He didn’t find worshipers in spirit and truth. He didn’t find men of repentance and faith.

He came for it. When He comes, it’s required. And it wasn’t given Him.

So the nation of Israel faced the curse of His wrath.

This parallels what we find in Isaiah 5:1-7.

1Let me sing now for my well-beloved
A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard.
My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill.

2He dug it all around, removed its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
And He built a tower in the middle of it
And also hewed out a wine vat in it;
Then He expected it to produce good grapes,
But it produced only worthless ones.

3“And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
Judge between Me and My vineyard.

God’s vineyard is the house of Israel. He’s cared for and tended his vineyard. In return, God expects to find good grapes. But good grapes were not produced, only worthless ones.

4“What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it?
Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?

5“So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard:
I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed;
I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground.

6“I will lay it waste;
It will not be pruned or hoed,
But briars and thorns will come up.
I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.”

7For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel
And the men of Judah His delightful plant.
Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.

God has every right to expect the fruit of righteousness from His vineyard. There was no such fruit in the house of Israel from the men of Judah—only bad grapes in Jerusalem. So, God rid Himself of the bad vineyard. He laid it waste. He let it be invaded, consumed, and trampled. He caused there to be no rain, only briars and thorns.

He sent the house of Israel into exile.

In His grace, God eventually brought a remnant back to Jerusalem out of exile in Babylon.

But now He has come again, calling for fruit. Again the house of Israel refuses to give Him His due.

And this time, instead of exile, Jesus is going to finish the nation of Israel in His good wrath.

Whereas before He used the Assyrians and Babylonians to bring his judgment, this time He will use the Romans. In 70 AD, He will come with Roman destruction.

The nation that bore only leaves will wither and die under the curse of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is what J.C. Ryle says about the fig tree:

“That withered fig-tree preaches a sermon we shall all do well to hear. That fig-tree, full of leaves, but barren of fruit, was a striking emblem of the Jewish church, when our Lord was upon earth. The Jewish church had everything to make an outward show. It had the temple, the priesthood, the daily service, the yearly feasts, the Old Testament Scriptures, the courses of the Levites, the morning and evening sacrifice. But beneath these goodly leaves, the Jewish church was utterly destitute of fruit. It had no grace, no faith, no love, no humility, no spirituality, no real holiness, no willingness to receive its Messiah.

And, hence, like the fig-tree, the Jewish church was soon to wither away. It was to be stripped of all its outward ornaments, and its members scattered over the face of the earth. Jerusalem was to be destroyed. The temple was to be burned. The daily sacrifice was to be taken away. The tree was to wither away to the very ground. And so it came to pass. Never was there a type so literally fulfilled. In every wandering Jew we see a branch of the fig-tree that was crushed.”

This is the immediate significance of Jesus cursing the fig tree. It’s the immediate application of the main point, that the point of our existence is fruitfulness unto the Lord, and that, when the Lord comes knocking, we’d better be ready to ante up.

Though this event promised destruction for Israel, we’d be fools to not take instruction from it and heed its warning to us.

What nation, what church, what family can last if it does not give fruit to the Lord? Who’s so unique as to be able to escape the wrath of God for rebellion, for insisting on bearing just leaves, bad grapes, and thorns?

Jesus demands our fruitfulness in all things. He requires it from us at all times.

What fruit must we bear as individuals?

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Are you simply a Christian in form? Or are you a living Christian? Are you a Christian indwelt with the Spirit of Christ, heavy-laden with fruit for Christ? Is this what you’re living out of?

Are you walking in faith and repentance?

This is what the Lord requires.

The fruitless who claim His name in this life shall go before Him on the Last Day and hear these words from Jesus:


What fruit must we bear as a local church?

The fruit we bear ought to be the fruit we committed to bear when we each vowed before God to uphold this church’s covenant.

To what have we vowed?

Having been brought by God’s grace to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to surrender ourselves to Him, and having been baptized, in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, we do now, relying on God’s help, solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.

Do you daily repent of your sin? Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you surrendered yourself to Him? Do you rely on Him?

If you say yes to all those questions, would that surprise anyone? Would that be news to anyone?

Is what you claim God has done for you, in this covenant, evident in your life? Do you possess the fruit of genuine faith?

We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Are we doing this? Are you doing this? Are we actively putting away false ways and false beliefs in order to conform to the Spirit-inspired Word of God?

Do we believe that our unity is found in a shared commitment to King Jesus?

Are we praying for this?

We will walk together in brotherly love, care for and watch over each other and faithfully admonish and instruct one another as occasion may require.

Is this true of us? Will it continue to be true of us?

One of the main ways our pastors have called us to carry out this commitment is for us to regularly meet together for one-to-one discipleship. Are we going out of our way to make those meetings happen, out of trust in God and love for one another?

Or do we find any and every excuse to not make it happen?

We will not give up meeting together, nor neglect to pray for ourselves and others.

Are we marked by consistent church attendance, motivated by sincere love and commitment to God and one another? Or do we always happen to be up to something else on the Lord’s Day?

Are we praying together with humble dependence and eager expectation in our Heavenly Father?

We will make every effort to bring up those under our care, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and by a pure and loving example to seek the salvation of our family and friends.

Are you making every effort?

Fathers, are you making sure your family eats together, prays together, reads Scripture together? Are you firmly disciplining your children, or are they free from the fear that births wisdom?

How many days this week have you instructed your children in the catechism?

Are the children of this church learning how the Bible guides their every step in all of life?

We will rejoice at each others’ happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows.

We will seek, by God’s help, to live carefully in the world, resisting ungodliness and worldly lusts, and remembering that we have an obligation to lead a new and holy life.

Is this what we remember? Are we a holy congregation? Are we holy in what we publicly stand for? Are we holy when God alone is watching?

Do you fight worldly lusts by memorizing Scripture? Or do you watch porn?

Are you more regular in prayer or in gossip?

We will work together for the continuance of a faithful Bible-based Gospel ministry in this church, as we participate in its worship, ordinances, discipline, and teach its doctrines.

Are we humble or haughty when we come together to sit under the preaching of the Word? Are we prepared to receive God’s instruction, or are we tired and distracted?

Are we singing to one another from sincere faith and brotherly love? Or do we heartlessly mumble through the words on the screen?

Are we grateful in remembering or bored and cold when we eat from the Lord’s table?

We will contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel worldwide.

Is your giving cheerful and regular? Do you give money to support the expenses of this church? Is that one of the things in your week that makes you happy?

We will, when we move from this place, as soon as possible, unite with some other church where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.

Are the members of Lochee Baptist Chapel walking according to these commitments from the heart?

Is this church covenant just a thing we recite quarterly, or is it a statement of the living fruit this church bears unto the Lord?

His blessing is for the fruitful.

See what Christ has done. See what it meant for Israel. Take heed.

Bear fruit for God. Or else.

At this point, we’ve seen what Jesus does. We’ve seen what it means: both what it meant for Israel and what it means for us.

That brings us to the third and final big question.

How do the disciples respond?

Look with me at verse 20.

Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, “How did the fig tree wither all at once?”

The disciples were amazed at the power of Christ.

Now, I don’t think that they were amazed because they immediately understood the meaning of Jesus’ withering curse.

I find it more likely that Matthew and the others looked back on this event and were given understanding by the Holy Spirit.

I think here you’ve got men who’ve consistently seen the power of Christ for 3 years, yet are still amazed at each display. To their credit, when you spend decades seeing the world work one way, I get it if Jesus blows you away with each sign.

That said, we’ve got an entire Old Testament with lesser men than Jesus doing ridiculous things. And we know God the Father has revealed to the disciples Jesus’ true identity, that He is the Christ, the Son of God.

So, recognize that their question isn’t impressive. “How did the fig-tree wither all at once?”

Well, duh, Jesus cursed it. He holds the power of life and death. He has the authority to pronounce judgment on the fig-tree, on Israel, and on any sinner he chooses.

How does Jesus respond to their question?

Verses 21-22

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen. “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

Jesus’ answer should remind you of what He said to the disciples in Matthew 17.

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive [the demon] out?”20 And He *said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. 21 [But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”]

Jesus is the King with unmatched authority. And what He says, here in Matthew 21, is that He will delegate that authority and power to His apostles.

The fig tree that is Israel has been cursed. It shall wither and die and be gone. But, Jesus isn’t satisfied to leave things barren. He will get His fruit.

In the place of the fruitless nation, Israel, Jesus establishes His kingdom, a kingdom which will bear fruit more and more and more through eternity.

Israel, withered branches, cut off to be burned.

All those who believe, Jew and Gentile, united to Christ through faith, grafted into Jesus, living forever, and bearing fruit in all things unto the King.

Remember two weeks ago? Jesus clears the temple, but it doesn’t stay empty. In the place of those rejected, the lame, the blind, and the children come in faith to give King Jesus praise.

In the place of the faithless nation of Israel, Jesus will establish His church, and He gives His authority to His apostles to lay its foundation.

Through faith in their King, in dependence upon Him in prayer, the apostles will pronounce judgment on faithless Israel, declare the gospel of the kingdom to all who will listen, establish the first local churches, give to them the New Testament Scriptures, and guard them against thorn-bearing false teachers and apostates.

With the power of the King, Christ’s apostles will overthrow the mountain. They’ll do the impossible and turn the world upside down.

And they do.

These men go on to preach judgment upon Jerusalem at Pentecost.

They leave synagogues full of arrogant Jews and go to Gentile dogs who bow to the King.

By the time the apostles have run their course, local churches will exist to the ends of the earth and the Church will possess the full counsel of God.

What does this mean for us?

Just as the apostles depended on Jesus for fruitfulness in their work, we too are dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ to make us fruitful in our lives.

That means we must rely on His Word, given to us by His prophets and His apostles.

The Bible is the food our hearts need to bear fruit.

Because Jesus is King, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only infallible rule for everything we believe and everything we do.

And the first fruit of faith, fed by Christ’s Word, is faithful prayer in Christ’s name.

Prayer is not powerful. Jesus is powerful. To pray believing prayers means to pray trusting in His power and according to His promises and instructions in the Bible.

When we pray believing prayers, we can know that we will indeed receive.

So, what has our God told us this morning?

The point of our lives is to bear fruit for Him.

A fruitful life for God is the only good life. And if we bear fruit for God, it’s only by the grace of God. It’s only because He’s grafted us into Christ, our Savior and King.

If you don’t bear fruit for Christ, know that one day He will come calling for it.

And when you cannot give Him what He demands, HE WILL DAMN YOU TO HELL.

Let’s pray.

Comments 2

  1. David, thank you for posting your sermon. The way you explained the two natures- ‘True God, true Man, two natures, unmixed, united in the One Person, the Eternal Son of God….’-was one of the best ways I’ve heard. I like that you used the words ‘unmixed’ and ‘united’ together to describe this. Also, the point you made, ‘…Jesus is going to finish the nation of Israel in His good wrath,’ was helpful as well because we don’t always hear about the wrath of God and that His wrath had to be satisfied in Christ. It is refreshing to hear warnings about the judgment which is to come and to be reminded that He will execute perfect justice by sending many to hell. Your questions to fathers are appropriate to exhort them to do what God requires of them as heads of their families. How important it is to talk about the responsibility of parents in their God-given roles. I love the way you ended, as well. I can’t imagine that anyone dozed off during this sermon! I appreciate your straightforwardness in preaching the Word of God. Thank you so much, precious brother, for your faithfulness and the exceptional way that you write and preach.

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