LENTEN DEVOTION: The Fig Tree by Johann Ernst von Holst

Morning and Evening Devotions for the Holy Season of Lent

The Fig Tree by Johann Ernst von Holst

From The Crucified Is My Love

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry.  And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves.  And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!”  And the fig tree withered at once.  When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?”  And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:18-22)

After the Lord had made his entry into Jerusalem, cleansed the temple, spoken powerful words to the people, and healed the blind and the lame (conscious all the time of the wrath of his enemies), he returned in the evening to peaceful Bethany.  The next morning he returned to the royal city.  His soul was filled with sorrowful thoughts as he walked with his disciples through the fig grove of Bethphage, and the pinnacles of the lost city rose again before his eyes.  Most of the crowd who had hailed him on Psalm Sunday were pilgrims coming to the festival; the citizens of Jerusalem itself were mostly hostile to the Lord, under the influence of their stubborn leaders.

Now, as he was hungry, he looked for fruit on a fig tree.  Finding no fruit upon it but only leaves, he immediately caused it to wither with his word of authority.  That was a symbolic action, by means of which he wanted to teach his disciples a profound lesson.  The cursed fig tree was a picture of the terrible fate that would befall his people, the city of Jerusalem, which had been planted in God’s garden.  Since this people, in spite of God’s kindness and patience, and in spite of outward religious services and sacrifices, still did not bring forth the fruits of repentance and of faith, it had to fall under judgment.

In the same way today the Lord will not be satisfied with the mere leafy decoration of Christian forms, beautiful services, pious words and feelings.  He desires above all the good fruits of a spiritual life: repentance and faith, loving obedience to God in action and in suffering, self-denying love to our neighbor, and conscientious faithfulness in our Earthly and Heavenly calling.  But where do we find these fruits?  How many Christian churches have already fallen under the same curse of withering because they lacked these fruits!  In how many countries and communities are there warning signs of God’s judgment because at the time of their visitation they did not consider what served their peace!

But to those who feel struck by God’s judgment, who do not complain of their enemies or their fate but lament over their own sins and faithfully hold out in living trust in God – to such, God the Lord gives a comforting promise.  In his strength they too shall do what he did to the fig tree.  By holding firmly together in faith and prayer, they shall succeed in making the enemy’s powers that oppose God wither and die away, so that they are no longer able to harm the Lord’s little flock.  Yes, in the power of faith the faithful shall move mountains – the mountains of their worries and needs but most of all the mountains of sin – and cast them into the sea of grace.  Whoever holds firmly and faithfully to the promise and is loyal in the discipleship of Christ will experience the fulfillment of this promise.

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