Only the title would come to mind this morning. When I googled it, at least two songs appeared, one by Lucy J. Akerman, written in 1858 and the other by William J. Henry, written around 1911. Lucy Akerman’s song was a favourite at the early Moody and Sankey evangelistic meetings and is included in the old hymnbook some are familiar with, Sacred Songs and Solos.

Nothing but leaves! The Spirit grieves
O’er years of wasted life;
O’er sins indulged while conscience slept,
O’er vows and promises unkept,
And reap, from years of strife—
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! No gathered sheaves
Of life’s fair rip’ning grain:
We sow our seeds; lo! tares and weeds,
Words, idle words, for earnest deeds—
Then reap, with toil and pain,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Nothing but leaves! Sad mem’ry weaves
No veil to hide the past;
And as we trace our weary way,
And count each lost and misspent day,
We sadly find at last—
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Ah, who shall thus the Master meet,
And bring but withered leaves?
Ah, who shall, at the Savior’s feet,
Before the awful judgment seat,
Lay down, for golden sheaves,
Nothing but leaves!
Nothing but leaves!

Lucy J. Akerman

The song came to mind this morning as I was reading Mark 11:12-18. The Lord had come to Jerusalem for that last week before His death. On His way to the temple he passed a fig tree. It was a little early in the season for fruit, but the tree flourished with leaves. The fruit usually comes with the leaves, but when He examined the tree more closely all it had was leaves. “Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again’” (Mark 11:14).

It must have seemed harsh to the disciples who heard what He said and saw what happened to the tree (20, 21). But perhaps they understood the lesson when Jesus later entered the temple to discover all kinds of activity, but not of the spiritual kind. “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of robbers’” (15-17). The religious authorities who were watching Jesus would have recognized the quotes in His statement. The first was from Isaiah 56:7 and the second from Jeremiah 7:11.

The first is a promise, the second a condemnation.

Let no foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord and serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’” (Isaiah 56:4-7)

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’—safe to do all these detestable things' Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you” But I have been watching! declared the Lord.

The Lord’s words were a dagger thrust into the heart of a system that deceived people into thinking everything was good when it wasn't. The temple was busy. Things were happening. Lots of “leaves”—but no fruit of righteousness, no “house of prayer for all nations.”

What does my life look like? What does your life look like? Lots of activity without productivity? Lots of leaves without fruit? Does it look good, but have no spiritual substance? Has it morphed into something that started out to look like Jesus, but now looks more like the rest of the world? I don’t want to come to the end of my days and have only leaves to lay at the feet of Jesus. I know how He feels about leaves without fruit—there is a tree near Jerusalem to testify to it.

Paul, writing to the Ephesian church, said: “For you were once darkness, but now are you light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible…Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:8-16).

Solemn, but necessary, reminder.


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