Sermon title: FAITH TO MOVE MOUNTAINS
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, August 4, 2019
The Gospel passage we’re looking at this morning
tells of an unusual episode
where our Lord Jesus
cursed a fig tree
and caused it to wither and die.
Matthew and Mark both record this incident,
but Luke and John don’t include mention of it in their Gospels.
Mark has the most to say on it,
so, we’ll focus on his account in Mark Chapter 11.
We’re still looking at Christ’s final week on earth—
the week leading up to his going to the cross.
In fact, we’re looking again
at Jesus’ first full day in Jerusalem that week—
the day he cleansed the Temple
and drove out the moneychangers
and those who were selling animals,
and then the events of the next morning—
the day after he disrupted the Temple.
Our Lord’s ministry
was centered in Galilee—
which today would be northern Israel
and the northern part of the West Bank.
But during the week before
the annual Passover celebration,
Jews from all over began showing up at Jerusalem
to celebrate the festival there.
And Jesus, too, and his disciples
made their way down to the Holy City
a week ahead of Passover Day.
They entered the city briefly,
and then went out to spend the night
at lodgings in Bethany—
a town or small city
on the slope of the Mount of Olives,
right next to Jerusalem.
We talked already
about how the Lord went into Jerusalem’s Holy Temple
the next day,
and cleansed the Temple—
driving out the unscrupulous merchants
and dishonest money-changers.
But there was another incident that occurred
that same day,
and we read about it
beginning in Mark 11, Verse 12.
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany,
Jesus was hungry.
13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf,
he went to find out if it had any fruit.
When he reached it,
he found nothing but leaves,
because it was not the season for figs.
14 Then he said to the tree,
"May no one ever eat fruit from you again."
And his disciples heard him say it.
Then Mark goes on
to talk about how Jesus cleansed the Temple.
Our Lord would have known ahead of time
that there were no figs.
At John 16:30 the disciples admitted to Jesus,
“Now we can see that you know all things.”
Or, as another translation puts it,
“Now we understand that you know everything.”
So, Jesus would have known
that this fig tree had no figs
even before he walked up to it.
Besides, as we read in Mark’s account,
“it was not the season for figs.”
So, why did Jesus go up to the tree
looking for figs
and then curse it
when he found none?
He must have done this on purpose,
as a visual illustration
to teach some lesson.
But, in this case, he does not explain to the disciples
what that lesson might be.
At least, Matthew and Mark don’t record any explanation.
Jesus goes on to enter the Temple,
to throw out the money-changers
and to overturn the tables
of the unscrupulous merchants
who were selling birds and animals for sacrifice.
And then Mark says, in Verse 19,
19 When evening came, they went out of the city.
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!"
Peter was astounded,
because, in the normal course of events,
a healthy tree covered with leaves
as that one was
would not wither and die that quickly.
We don’t know for sure
why our Lord did this to the tree,
because the Gospel writers don’t tell us.
But we do know
that it was a graphic demonstration
of Christ’s power to destroy—miraculously.
All of his previous miracles,
up to this point in time,
had been miracles of healing or blessing.
They ranged from turning water into wine,
to calming the waves of a raging sea,
to raising Lazarus from the dead after 4 days in the grave.
But now Jesus commanded destruction,
and the object of his curse
immediately died and withered away.
James 4:12 says that God is able “to save and to destroy,”
and the curse on the fig tree illustrated the latter.
Some commentators see this as a warning to hypocrites—
even in the Church.
The fig tree was covered with leaves
and appeared to be productive.
In a way, that’s like a hypocrite, who appears to be a believer,
but doesn’t bear any Christian fruit in his life.
So, this incident with the fig tree
may have been one way
for the Lord to indicate
how he will deal with hypocrites.
Many commentators also see the incident
with the fig tree
as a picture
of how our Lord found the Jewish nation
when he visited.
Instead of finding a nation producing the fruit of good works,
as you would expect the Chosen People to be,
he found a nation led by hypocritical religious leaders.
The leaders refused to listen to John the Baptist,
when he called them to repentance.
And they refused to listen to Christ.
That nation was then cursed
and soon thereafter destroyed.
Legions of the Roman Empire
and deported the Jewish people,
selling them into slavery in distant lands.
But there was also another lesson
to be drawn from what Jesus did to the fig tree.
And this lesson is spelled out in the Gospel accounts.
Matthew says at Matthew 21:20,
21:20 When the disciples saw it,
they marveled, saying,
"How did the fig tree immediately wither away?"
They had heard Jesus curse the tree,
but they couldn’t believe their eyes
that it had withered away so fast.
Matthew tells us,
21:21 Jesus answered them,
"Most certainly I tell you,
if you have faith, and don't doubt,
you will not only do
what was done to the fig tree,
but even if you told this mountain,
'Be taken up and cast into the sea,'
it would be done.
Going back to Mark’s account
that we read in our Responsive Reading,
we read at Mark 11:22,
22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered.
23 "I tell you the truth,
if anyone says to this mountain,
'Go, throw yourself into the sea,'
and does not doubt in his heart
but believes that what he says will happen,
it will be done for him.
24 Therefore I tell you,
whatever you ask for in prayer,
believe that you have received it,
and it will be yours.
Is your faith strong enough to move mountains?
I have to admit
that I’ve never yet done
what it would take
a construction company’s earth movers
months to do
and cast a mountain into the sea
But, Jesus didn’t really want us to try that, anyway.
Our prayers should be in God’s will.
He doesn’t want us
to be showing off,
publicly flexing our spiritual muscles
by pitching Johnny Cake Hill
into New Bedford harbor.
And, although Jesus said it could be done,
notice that he, himself, did not actually do it, either:
he did not throw the Mount of Olives into the sea.
For us to pull a stunt like that would be like
performing magic tricks
to amaze and impress people—
which is contrary to the will of God.
1 John 5:14-15 says:
“And this is the confidence
that we have in Him,
that if we ask anything according to His will,
He hears us.
And if we know that He hears us,
we know that we have
the petitions that we desired of Him.”
But, if we are asking contrary to the will of God,
those prayers don’t get answered.
The Letter of James makes that clear
in James 4:3, where it says,
“When you ask, you do not receive,
because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get
on your pleasures.”
But when we do pray unselfishly,
according to God’s will,
our prayers actually can move mountains.
And miracles can result.
I’ve actually seen it happen—miracles in answer to prayer.
Mountainous obstacles in our lives
can be moved out of the way
through persistent, earnest prayer.
Those mountainous obstacles could be
an addiction we have been in bondage to,
a problem we don’t see any solution to,
or a situation that we don’t see any way out of.
Our earnest and persistent prayers of faith
can move those mountainous obstacles
out of our way—
as our all-powerful Lord answers our prayers.
Or, we may be striving to reach
a goal that seems unreachably high—
like a high mountain.
Our God can help us reach
a mountain-high goal like that
when we persistently pray in faith.
Or the mountainous obstacle we face
may be our own old, sinful personality
that we need to leave behind
to take on the new personality
in imitation of Christ.
It may seem like a mountainous obstacle
for us to leave our old personality behind
and develop Christ-like love.
We have no need to move literal mountains of dirt and rock,
but our faith will enable us
to overcome mountainous obstacles in our lives,
and to develop Christ-like love.
As the Apostle Paul wrote at 1 Corinthians 13:2,
“If I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.”
But when our prayers do move mountains,
we need to remember
that the power is not ours, but God’s.
I recall an old-time pastor
saying in one of his sermons 25 or 30 years ago,
“I’m not sure about the power of prayer,
but I know for sure the power
of the One who answers prayer.”
The idea that the power of prayer
comes from within us
is a false New Age teaching.
There are all sorts of non-Christian and pseudo-Christian
spiritualists and New Age mystics today
pedaling books and videos
on how to unleash
the supposed power within you
through prayer or meditation
or whatever the latest fad terminology is.
Those New Age beliefs
are rooted in the Eastern religions
and derive straight from Hinduism and Buddhism
with their false gods,
and their false teachings
about Ying and Yang forces
that people can supposedly harness.
Those who bring such Buddhist and Hindu teachings
into the Christian community
are just as offensive to God
as those who built altars to false idols
in ancient Israel.
The power of prayer
is not any power residing deep inside us.
Scripture makes it plain
that the power of prayer
that can move mountains
is the power of the Almighty Creator,
our heavenly Father
who answers our prayers of faith.
Perhaps as a reminder of the One who answers prayer,
Jesus concluded that discussion
by saying in Mark 11:25,
25 And when you stand praying,
if you hold anything against anyone,
so that your Father in heaven
may forgive you your sins."
When we pray in faith,
we are asking our Father in heaven
to answer our prayers.
And one other thing
our heavenly Father requires of us—
besides having faith—
is to forgive others who have sinned against us.
In Bible translations based on
the manuscripts used by the King James translators,
the next verse, Mark 11:26, says,
“But if you do not forgive,
neither will your Father who is in heaven
forgive your trespasses.”
However, those words don’t appear
in older and more ancient manuscripts.
They may have been added
by a scribe or copyist
so Verse 26 is left out of
many other Bible translations.
These versions continue with Verse 27, which says,
27 They arrived again in Jerusalem,
and while Jesus was walking in the temple courts,
the chief priests,
the teachers of the law
and the elders came to him.
28 "By what authority are you doing these things?"
"And who gave you authority to do this?"
They were evidently referring
to Jesus cleansing the Temple
the day before.
He had acted with authority
when he forcefully drove the money changers
out of the Temple
and expelled those selling doves and animals.
The religious leaders
demanded to be told
where he got the authority to do that.
It was a trap—a trick question.
From all the miracles Jesus had performed prior to this,
the religious leaders already knew
that he had divine authority.
But they were jealous
and wanted to hold onto
their own positions
of prestige and power.
When they asked Jesus,
"By what authority are you doing these things,”
they may have hoped Jesus would say
something they could use
to charge him with blasphemy
under their laws.
But our Lord did not fall into their trap.
29 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question.
and I will tell you
by what authority I am doing these things.
30 John's baptism--was it from heaven,
or from men? Tell me!"
31 They discussed it among themselves and said,
"If we say, 'From heaven,'
he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?'
32 But if we say, 'From men'...."
(They feared the people,
for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
33 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."
"Neither will I tell you
by what authority I am doing these things."
Our Lord knew
that the religious leaders
felt the same way about John the Baptist
as they now felt about Jesus himself.
They realized that God had sent John the Baptist
and that God had sent his Son, Jesus—
but they jealously guarded
their own positions of power and prestige.
So, Jesus didn’t owe them an answer,
and he didn’t give them one.
It was a situation like he spoke of at Matthew 7:6
when he said,
“don’t cast your pearls before swine,”
or, as another translation renders it,
“do not throw your pearls before swine.
If you do,
they may trample them under their feet,
and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
The religious leaders
were looking for an opportunity
to tear Jesus to pieces,
but he refused to give it to them.
It was their corrupt leadership
and their corrupt nation
that was about to be cursed
and to wither up
like the fig tree Jesus cursed.
We, too, may someday face ridiculers
like those who made themselves
And we may need to hold our tongues before them
or refuse to give them an answer,
as Jesus did.
In the meantime,
we all need to grow in faith,
so that we will have faith to move mountains.
And we don’t need to depend on our own power
to grow that faith, either.
The disciples at Luke 17:5 asked Jesus to “increase our faith.”
And it was right for them
to ask Jesus for more faith,
because Hebrews 12:2 says Christ is
“the author and finisher of our faith.”
He is the one
who gives us faith to begin with,
and he is the one
who finishes or brings our faith to completeness.
As another translation puts it,
Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
And we can share in growing our faith
and the faith of others,
through reading and sharing
the message found in the Bible.
Romans 10:17 says
“Faith comes from hearing the message,
and the message is heard
through the word about Christ.”
Let’s ask the Lord
to give us faith to move mountains.