Just a Scenic View?
Author: Yan Wing
Translator: Kaylee Ho
As I was traveling in Galilee, the northern part of Israel, the landscape of fig trees greatly surprised me. Fig trees are huge and tall and full of lush branches. Their leaves, shaped like maple leaves, as big as a hand palm, reminded me of our first ancestors who used the fig leaves to cover their naked bodies in the Garden of Eden as they felt shameful about their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). I also recalled that there were a few potted fig trees that were planted in summertime and could be harvested in early fall in my hometown. These ripe figs are purple like grapes and small like pigeon eggs but sweet like honey, similar to the ones in our supermarkets here. The fig trees that produce fist-like fruits in the Holy Land are two to four meters high. Most of these gigantic figs are made into various specialty fig foods that you can see in many stores at Tel Aviv airport, labeled “Taste Israel”.
There are two types of fig trees: wild and cultivated. Wild fig trees which are called “male fig trees” by the locals do not bear fruits though they look huge and strong. Cultivated fig trees bear fruits that can be harvested in fall. When Jesus came out of Bethany, he was hungry and saw a luxuriant fig tree that seemed to bear fruits in the distance but found no fruits at a closeup. He was disappointed and cursed the tree. Of course, Jesus knew that it was not the harvest season and He must be speaking in a metaphor. This is like a Christian who looks luxuriant on the outside as a pretty “scenic view” but bears no fruits.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3 ESV). People plant fruit trees to harvest fruits. Fig trees grow inverted flowers (which have no blossoms on the outside but inside the pods) yet they bear fruits. If a fruit tree does not bear fruits, the farmer will cut it down so it does not occupy the soil (Luke 13:7) A fruit tree that doesn’t produce fruits is only a scenic view.
Every Christian is like a fig tree planted in a vineyard, where the owner must be looking for fruits. First, the Christian should bear the fruit of repentance and life (Luke 3:8; Romans 6:22), and then the fruit of sanctification and the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23). Finally, he must bear a harvest of “people” (Matthew 4:19, Luke 5:10, Romans 1:13). If these “fruits” are not found, the disappointed owner would do nothing else but to cut it down (Luke 13:6 -9).
As we look around our church, one of the most spectacular scenes is to have people like luxuriant trees bearing no fruits. They can decorate facades, fill up seats, perform ceremonial rites at worship, and serve as leaders. Well-known elders and zealous deacons are likened to scenic flowers and leaves or a very dazzling Christmas tree full of different ornaments, bearing no real fruits. The psalmist said that “the tree shall bear fruit in due season, and the leaves shall not wither.” A fruit tree without fruit does not live up to its name, and its leaves will also wither.
The fig tree is likened to a Christian. People want to pick fruits instead of simply staring at leaves or flowers. To bear fruit, one must work hard. Apart from being born again and being saved and being justified by faith, believers do not need to pay any price. However, whether it is the fruit of sanctification or the fruit of winning lost souls, they must make an effort and pay the cost before they can reap. Idleness will never bear fruit (2 Peter 1:8).
Fruit trees that do not bear fruit are not only to be cursed, but also to be cut down and burned. But thanks be to God for His abundant love, and the gardener intercedes: “Lord, as long as it is called this year, let me plant, dig up the soil around me and add fertilizer; and if it bears fruit later, it will be fine, otherwise, cut it down.” (Luke 13:8, 9) Although the axe was kept under the axeman, the owner had not found fruit on the tree and the axe is already at the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10).
“Every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). Let us strive to bear good fruit before the sword and axe come down.