Sermon title:  FAITH TO MOVE MOUNTAINS

 

 

Mark 11:13-33

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

destroyed Jerusalem

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

through prayer.

 

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

and overcome

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.”

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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 mindfulness

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,

their idols,

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,

forgive him,

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

sometime later,

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?"

they asked.

"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.

Answer me,

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."

 

Jesus said,

 

"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

Christ’s enemies.

 

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.