The word hypocrite is an interesting word. If you trace its use in the Bible you find it appears 31 times; 11 times in the Old Testament, and 20 times in the New Testament. If you search deeper in the New Testament you discover that the word “hypocrite” only appears in the four Gospels, and 15 of those times are in the book of Matthew. Looking closer you see that the word hypocrite appears seven times in just one chapter: Matthew chapter 23. But the most interesting thing about the word hypocrite is that the only person in the New Testament who ever used the word was Jesus Christ.
There is something very unique about the Lord Jesus, something about His character that tends to be overlooked by many people. The Lord Jesus is acutely aware of, and very much opposed to, unreality. He is especially attuned to any pretentiousness or acting. Once when He was hungry, He saw a fig tree off in the distance that had leaves on it. So He walked over to the tree and looked for figs, but there were no figs, so He cursed that fig tree: “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And that tree died.
I always felt sorry for the poor fig tree; especially when the Bible says that it was not the season for figs. It sounds unreasonable, doesn’t it? Why would Jesus expect to find fruit on the fig tree when it wasn’t even the season for figs?
It wasn’t until many years later when I came across a little book on Bible manners and customs that I understood why Jesus cursed the fig tree. In that part of the world, and with that kind of fig tree, the leaves and the fruit appear at the same time. So here was this fig tree full of leaves. Possibly the only fig tree that had leaves. That is why Jesus picked that one to go looking for fruit. Its leaves were announcing: “Hey look at me! I’ve got leaves, even out of season!” So Jesus says, “It isn’t the season for figs, but I see your leaves, so I’m expecting fruit and will come and check you out.” That was bad news for the fig tree, because pretentiousness gets a very strong response from the Lord Jesus. He would not just let it pass. That tree was a hypocritical fig tree; lots of leaves, an outward show, but it was all pretense. It was a charade. It provided hungry people with false hope! Do you see why He cursed it? That is the kind of thing that Jesus will not tolerate.
The tragedy of this story is what the unfruitful fig tree represents. If you study the parables of Jesus, then you know that the unfruitful fig tree represents Israel – particularly Jerusalem – supposedly the “city of the great King,” waving palm branches and crying out “Hosanna!” but the whole thing is a farce. Those same people shouting, “Hosanna!” would be shouting, “Crucify Him!” just a few days later. There were lots of leaves: the Temple, the priesthood, the teachers of the Law, the Torah; but no fruit. Jesus said “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” (Mt. 21:43).
If you spend time living with someone or working with someone, you begin to take on some of their attributes and mannerisms. Their values tend to rub off on you. And when you live and work with the King of Kings, when you walk with Him day in and day out, when you spend time reading His words and doing what He wants you to, you start to develop a deep history with God. You begin to get a sense of how He sees things, and how He feels about things. You begin to get beyond the words of the Bible and touch something of the Spirit behind what is said. That means Christ is being fully formed in you. That is a sign of spiritual maturity. “Grow in the grace, and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
If you are growing in grace, and getting to really know the Lord and His heart, then when you see an unfruitful fig tree with leaves on it, you don’t just shrug your shoulders. You find yourself doing the same thing Jesus did: “Ah, look; here is a fig tree with leaves. I’m going to check it out and see if it has any figs on it.” You begin to catch yourself responding to things the same way Jesus responded to them. And you realize that you are being stirred from within, and this stirring has nothing to do with you or how you feel. It has to do with the Spirit of Jesus expressing something of His nature, heart and character through you.
You think, “How wonderful; Jesus expressing Himself through me! That’s what I want.” Really? Is that what you really want? Then are you prepared to be grieved by the things that grieve Him? He is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3). Are you ready to weep over the things He weeps over? Jesus wept. He was angered at the hardness of their hearts. Are you willing to speak up and speak out about the same things He does?