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October 12 Today’s Reading: Mark 11-12
“Nothing but Leaves”
Nothing in all the world is so disgusting to the Son of God and so surely damning to our souls as fruitless religion. As our Lord and His disciples walked along, they saw a fig tree. It stood out from all the others because, though the time of figs had not yet come, this fig tree was in full foliage. The other trees were just beginning to shoot forth their buds; but this one was large, spreading its full foliage of leaves, and waving in the wind, as if to say, “Look at me!” But when our Lord walked with His disciples over to the tree to gather some figs, He found “nothing but leaves,” and immediately pronounced a curse upon the tree; and by sun up the next morning, it had withered in death from its roots (v. 20). Without question, this event is full of spiritual meaning. It is a parable as full of instruction for our souls as any of our Lord’s spoken parables.
This barren, cursed, withered fig tree certainly represents apostate Judaism. The Jews, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, all were rich in leaves. They possessed more leaves than anyone. Ceremony, creed, history, doctrine, show, tradition, and reputation they had in great abundance. And they did not mind calling attention to their beautiful leaves. But they were utterly destitute of faith toward God. They had no fruit. Therefore, that nation and their religion has been specifically cursed of God and forever abandoned (Matthew 23:38)
This barren fig tree represents every apostate church and religious denomination in the world. I am talking now about churches which claim to be Christian, which claim to believe in and defend the Book, the blood, and the blessed hope, — Churches which wear the name of Christ, but have departed from the doctrine of Christ. If I could get their attention, I would say to every man, woman, and child in such churches, — “Escape for your life! Flee from Babylon. Get out of Sodom. The curse of God is in that place you think is the house of God.” The greatest missionary field in the world today is the professed church of God. Where can you find a church today where the Word of God is faithfully preached, the glory of God is paramount, the will of God rules, and the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed? Robert Hawker rightly observed, “Deceiving by the appearance of large full leaves of a profession without fruit, in the end (they) will be found dried up from the roots, with the curse of a broken law falling everlastingly upon them, untaken away by Christ.”
Above all else, this barren fig tree represents religious hypocrisy: carnal, half-hearted, hypocritical professors of Christianity. Let all who are content with a name that they live, though they are dead, see their faces in this mirror! Their fine, showy, impressive leaves, those things that impress them so much with themselves, mean nothing to God almighty. They stink in His nostrils! Their religion is their damning delusion! They may have great experiences, but no experience of grace. They may have a rich history, but no holiness. They may enjoy religious excitement and displays of emotion; but they possess neither righteousness nor expiation. Their doctrine may be precise; but it is precisely dead. Their religion may be rich in ceremonial tradition; but it is poor in comfort and truth. It is useless religion, because it is fruitless religion. It does not produce faith in Christ, hope in Christ, or love for Christ.
In light of this barren fig tree let us make our calling and election sure. Baptism, church membership, religious ceremony, doctrinal orthodoxy, and deep religious emotions are not synonyms for Christianity! They are just leaves, nothing but leaves. They will no more cover the nakedness of our souls from God’s all-seeing eye in the Day of Judgment than Adam’s fig leaves covered his nakedness in the garden. Christianity is faith in Christ alone!
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) If Christ is in you, if Christ is in me, if He is dwelling in us by His Holy Spirit, if He is the life that is in us, He brings forth fruit, even the fruit of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5:22-23).
I would rather stand before God in the Day of Judgment guilty of any crime known to man than stand before that bar of His august majesty guilty of self-righteousness and hypocrisy! If you die without Christ, your religion will sink your soul into the lowest hell! Your religion will be your greatest curse! The Son of God has pronounced His curse upon the barren fig tree and barren, fig-leaf religion!