20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
(Mark 11:20-25 NIV)
As we finish up this in-depth look at the “story-within-a-story” of the fig tree and the Temple, let’s take a quick look back at the context. Jesus saw a fig tree that looked beautiful from a distance but on closer examination had no fruit. The tree was symbolic of the nation of Israel, that looked religious on the outside, but had no spiritual fruit of changed lives and desire to live for God.
One day after Jesus cursed the fig tree, Jesus and His disciples walked by the tree again. The tree was withered from the roots up. The disciples had been paying attention the day before and noticed the change in the tree that next morning. Peter said something to Jesus, as he was astonished that the fig tree was already dead.
We begin our look at Jesus’ reply to Peter as our starting point today. Jesus used Peter’s remark about the withered fig tree as a teachable moment with His disciples.
Jesus begins with the basis for this remarkable change in the fig tree. In verse 22, Jesus says the change is due to faith in God. It’s not blind faith, or faith in faith, or faith in human wisdom or power.
A common phrase in Jesus’ day was to call a teacher a “mountain mover”. The rabbinical tradition was to be a good listener and be able to ask good questions. Sometimes the issue was external, and the rabbi could help the student figure out a way around the barrier. Many times the issue was internal, and the rabbi would help the student unlock and remove the mental barriers that prevented the student from moving forward.
Jesus played off this common phrase of being a “mountain mover” as He taught His disciples. Standing on the Mount of Olives, Jesus and His disciples could see the Dead Sea in the distance. Jesus said that with faith in God, the entire mountain that they were standing on could be uprooted and thrown into the Dead Sea.
So what does this type of faith look like? What is involved? Let’s look at the details:
- Our faith must be in God alone.
As mentioned above, this must not be blind faith with no object of faith. It’s not faith in faith (a circular definition that goes nowhere), nor is it faith in our own wisdom or power.
- Our faith is to be expressed to God in prayer.
Are we willing to take our issues and troubles to God, to talk to Him about them?
Are we willing to search God’s Word for what He has to say about the issue?
Are we willing to hear and accept His answer, even if it’s the opposite of what we had hoped?
Are we willing to look at our motives, asking the “why do I want this” question?
If the answer to any one of these questions is a “no”, then we are not seeking God’s will, but our own instead.
- Our prayers are to be ones of expectation.
We are to pray in faith, not in doubt.
God’s provision is not a safety net, but our only hope and source of power.
- Our prayers are to be ones of love.
While it’s tempting to think that everything in life is about us, Jesus reminded His disciples (and us) that prayer is not isolated or standalone but in a community. And since we’re sinners, we sin and need to both forgive and be forgiven by others. As such, Jesus says that we must forgive others just as our heavenly Father has forgiven us. God’s central attribute or characteristic is love; in order for God to hear and respond to our prayers, our heart must be aligned with His in love.
May we walk in faith and love, as Jesus taught in today’s passage.