The Lesson from the Fig Tree

The Gospel of Mark  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:00
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Good morning,
If you have your Bibles let me invite you to open with me to the book of Mark chapter 11.
We are going to begin reading with part of the passage that we covered last week and then we will continue on to our new text for study this morning.
If its your first time here this morning we want to welcome you.
We are so glad that you are here joining us. We are not doing anything very different this morning because it is easter.
In fact, every Sunday is what Christians have historically called the Lord’s Day.
Every Sunday, we gather together to celebrate
a resurrected Jesus,
a living Jesus,
and active Jesus.
a Jesus who has spoken and is speaking.
We are continuing to do what we do every week....
and that is read through books of the Bible verse by verse to understand and obey what God has said there.
In fact…, we have been journeying through this book… the gospel of Mark since last easter.
One year ago today, on Easter Sunday we began our study of the gospel of Mark with a sermon on the opening verse.
This is what we looked at on Easter one year ago.
Mark 1:1 ESV
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
That opening verse told us very clearly who the main character is in this story and what it is we aim to learn about him.
This book is a book about Jesus…
It was written that we might know why Jesus came and why his coming is “good news”
It was written that we might know that Jesus is the “Christ” or in other words why he is the one to fulfill all the promises of God.... why is King of the Kingdom of God.
It was written that we might know that Jesus was not just a good teacher.
He was not just a miracle worker.
He was not just a historical figure.
Jesus was and is the Divine Son of God....
He is God in human flesh who came specifically to die on a cross for the sins of the world and on the third day rise again as conqueror over both sin and death itself.
Everything about the gospel of Mark has been leading us to see Jesus in this light.
We have seen Jesus exert his authority over everything in creation:
He has wielded authority over truth
over demons
over diseases
over weather
over the metaphysical world, feeding thousands with miracle bread From heaven.
He has revealed himself on a mountain to be the shining glory of God’s presence on earth.
Most recently in the story though… Jesus has acted in a way that exerted his authority not just over the natural world…
but over the very religious structures instituted by God himself in the earliest books of the Old Testament.
In Mark 11 verse 15.... Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem.
That is what we studied last week… and thats where we begin reading this morning.
Mark 11:12–25 ESV
12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Lets Pray
The temple was designed by God in the Old Testament to be the place of worship.
It was to be the place that you drew near to God.
It was to be a place of prayer.
It was to be a place where the glory of God was seen and experienced through the whole worship system God had put into place...
But that is not what Jesus saw upon entering the temple.
Rather, Jesus saw God being ignored entirely in the name of religion.
He saw religious people exploiting the poor and the needy.
Religious leaders were heavily taxing people and selling at high prices animals for sacrifice in the temple.
Worship was happening… but it was not worship of God..
It was worship of man, of money, of comfort, and convenience.
Though all things were being done in the name of God… God was not the object of their worship.
and Jesus was outraged.
He flipped tables.... poured out the coins being exchanged… drove out the animals being sold.
Jesus as the Divine Son of God declared judgment over the temple....the Earthly and physical house of God...
and as God often does…, Jesus symbolized that coming judgment of the temple with a physical sign that his disciples would remember ...
Jesus passed by a fig tree and though it looked like it had fruit…, Jesus found that it was fruitless..
He rebuked the tree… and then the next day it was discovered that the the tree was withered away down to the roots.
At the word of Jesus’ lips the tree was destroyed.
It was a symbol of Jesus’ authority to both pronounce judgment on the fruitless hypocrisy of the temple… and to accomplish its destruction.
Jesus was going to bring an end to the temple and its religious hypocrisy…
In fact later in Mark 13 Jesus will make that very clear.
Mark 13:1–2 ESV
1 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
The fig tree was a picture of the power and authority of Jesus’ word over even the largest and most important religious structure in the world....
Like a fruitless fig tree withered to the roots… the temple would be torn down.
Jesus… the Son of God… has the authority to build up and He has the authority to tear down… that which pretends to be religious, but reality denies God in their religion.
Now… We turn our attention this morning to teaching that at first seem out of place.
We turn our attention to some object lessons Jesus wants his disciples to walk away with....
having witnessed the corruption of the temple…
and having witnessed the power and authority of Jesus in the fig tree symbol.
Jesus’ disciples are amazed with the sign of the withering fig tree, and then Jesus says this…
Mark 11:22 ESV
22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.

Truth #1 God is the Focus of Our Faith

This was one of the failures of the Jewish temple.
What was once constructed to be a place where God was praised, trusted, and prayed to…
had over time lost its focus on the whole reason for the structure in the first place.
Remember what Jesus had said the whole purpose of the temple was.
Mark 11:17 ESV
17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The temple was meant to be a place where people drew near to God whom they had put their trust in.
and over time in turned into something else entirely.... and in the end it would be destroyed.
The religious activity of the temple had simply become a means to another end other than God.
Now…, as Jesus’ disciples are amazed by the seemingly small miracle of the fig tree…
Jesus wants to refocus their attention...
Believe in God.
Have Faith in God.
He is the reason behind the temple.
He is the reason behind the miracle.
He is the object… the focal point… the center… of all our believing.., and all our hoping…, and all our trusting..
God is.
He exists whether you want to believe in him or not.
He has spoken whether you want to believe what he has said or not.
He is trustworthy whether you trust him or not.
His relevance and his existence is not contingent upon your recognition or worship.
I wonder how many of us this morning need a refocusing on the self-existent, glorious, powerful, God of the universe who stands above and behind all of our religious structures?
Why did you come to church this morning?
Why do you ever go to church?
Did you come with an awareness that the worship you were about to partake in
and the gathering you were about to engage in
is all a design of God for your communion with God and his people?
When we have prayed this morning was their an awareness that it was God to whom we were praying?
When we sang this morning… was their an awareness that there is a very alive, very active, very real God to whom we sing?
When we have read this Bible this morning, was there an awareness of the God who inspired this book and who uses this book in our lives?
In the Gospel of Mark thus far…, we have seen Jesus again and again celebrate and reward the person who has faith in the existence, ability and activity of God through Jesus.
Without belief and trust in God… you miss the blessings of God through Jesus.
The disciples were amazed at Jesus’ announcement of judgment on the temple.. They were amazed at Jesus’ miracle destruction of the fig tree…
But its almost as if Jesus says, “you are far too easily amazed”
Re-direct your attention to God.
God can do absolutely anything he desires.
In verse 23, Jesus urges his disciples to believe that God can do anything
Mark 11:23 ESV
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

Truth #2 We Believe in a Mountain Moving God

Whats amazing about this verse in particular, is how many people absolutely ignore God and his word in order to apply this verse however they want.
Its amazing that faith healers, and prosperity Gospel teachers have taken this and wielded this verse for their own purposes while ignoring the rest of the Bible…
Many have used this verse to do the very thing that the religious leaders were doing in the temple.
So many have taken this one verse with no context at all…
and they have interpreted it to mean that our faith is where the power is to accomplish whatever our sinful heart desires.
They have interpreted it to mean that we can make God do whatever we want so long as we believe it enough…
From this verse read in isolation...., comes the whole name it and claim it movement....
If you believe you are healthy, wealthy, and prosperous, God has no choice but to make you healthy, wealthy, and prosperous....
Its the exact same sin of the religious leaders.... using God…and using religion… for selfish gain… rather than trusting God and the whole counsel of his word for your life.
Faith that Jesus refers to here.... is NOT a whole hearted belief that you know whats best for you and you just have to convince God to jump on board.
Faith that moves mountains in the book of Mark is not a faith that God will give us whatever we want…
Faith that moves mountains in the book of Mark is a faith that gives up everything we want in order to follow Jesus.
We have to read Mark 11:23 against the back drop of what we have already learned about following Jesus in the gospel of Mark.
We have learned that following Jesus means denying ourself.
It means picking up a cross of suffering to walk in his footsteps.
It means the potential for losing relationships, losing homes, losing possessions, and even losing our physical life.
If all suffering and difficulty could be avoided simply by strong faith, then the first half of the Gospel of Mark doesn’t fit With this verse.
Faith, therefore, must be a praying for God to move the mountains that God desires to move.
Just think about this… Jesus is teaching his disciples to have a faith that does not doubt so that mountains may be moved through them...
The language is used to emphasize the unlimited nature of God’s power that we must believe in.
None of the disciples every moved a mountain for the fun of it...
None of the 12 became wealthy… except for the one who betrayed Jesus and hung himself.
The disciples, rather, in true faith… gave their lives as martyrs for the cause of Christ IN FAITH that Jesus and obedience to his word was worth it…
and God, through them and through their faith... created the church of the living God and his gospel spread throughout the known world.
Thousands of hearts were brought from spiritual death to spiritual life at the preaching of these disciples.
Jesus is very obviously making a point about the importance of believing that God can do anything and that our role is to simply believe in his power for his glory…,
rather than to trust our own.
The power is not in us… the power is not in our faith… the power is in the God we believe in.
Jesus’ teaching on faith that moves mountains here comes in the context of Jesus’ teaching on what mountains we should want moved… and what mountains God wants moved.
Jesus has taught against heart postures like hypocrisy, materialism, and pride.
He has taught on the sacrifices required for following Jesus…
Jesus has very clearly taught on the impossible task of following Jesus and fulfilling his mission.
He has said that following him will be difficult.
The greatest mountain to be moved in the world…
was not the Mt. of Olives Jesus may have gestured to in this analogy… but greatest mountains to be moved were the hearts he was speaking to.
How can we become the kinds of people who will deny self and follow Jesus at all cost?
We have to believe that he is who he says he is…, and that he will keep his promises.
We have to believe that all things are possible with God… including the changing of our own hearts and the hearts of others…
Don’t read Mark 11:23 and mis apply it like the prosperity preachers do....
but, don’t read Mark 11:23 and then just refuse to apply it at all.
We believe in a Mountain Moving God.
Let me ask you…, do you live your life with a kind of holy optimism?
Do you believe that God almighty can do anything at any time?
Do you believe that if it be within the will of God, God could throw a mountain into the sea?
Do you believe that he has no limit to his power… and are you willing to trust him with how he decides how to wield that power for his purposes?
If he created this universe out of nothing… there is nothing within this universe that God cannot do.
This is the God to whom we pray… and He has determined that our prayers be meaningful and powerful.
Which leads to truth #3

Truth #3 God Designed Prayer to be Our Access to His Power

Mark 11:24 ESV
24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Now again, we have to read this sentence in context of the rest of the Bible.
Jesus does not intend to provide you with an exact formula for controlling God.
You cannot ask God for something against the will of God and force his hand to act as you want him to act.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray in this way.
Hallowed be your name,
Your Kingdom Come,
Your Will be done.
Jesus himself would later pray this prayer..
Mark 14:35–36 ESV
35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Even Jesus overwhelmed by the impending wrath he was about to experience on the cross asked if there was any other way…, and the answer is recorded here for our benefit.. the answer was no… The cross was the only way.
the apostle Paul similarly prayed.
2 Corinthians 12:8–9 ESV
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Its clear from the rest of Scripture…, that prayer is not like a spell or a magic trick… used to coherse God to do whatever you want...
But there is a positive aspect to this teaching that we cannot deny.
God has sovereignly ordained that the way you access his divine power in and through your life is through prayer.
God is pleased to answer the prayers of his people when the prayers of his people align with his purposes.
Prayer matters.
Prayer is powerful.
God designed prayer to be our mode of communing with God over what we hope he would do in our lives and through our lives so that when God acts on our behalf we would know that he is the one who acted on our behalf.
James 5:16 says this so clearly.
James 5:16 ESV
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
God is pleased to respond to prayer because in prayer we declare our utter dependence on him.
We don’t boast about ourselves in our own prayer..
We confess our weakeness and our inability through prayer.
We confess that we need God through prayer.
If you really pause to think about it.... its through the faith expressed in prayer that person is eternally saved!!
Jesus came to die on the cross and raise again on the third day so as to take the punishment for all sin on himself…
If you want to be forgiven and you want to become a follower of Jesus… what should you do right now?
You should pray!!! you should pray and ask God to forgive you of your sins. You should pray and ask God to help you to believe and have saving faith in him.
We are saved by trusting Jesus alone for our salvation.
We express that trust in Jesus alone through our prayers.
Why is Jesus giving instruction about prayer here though?
Well it was prayer that was neglected in the temple....
Remember why Jesus was appalled?
Mark 11:17 ESV
17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
The temple had become about so many things other than relying on God in prayer.
So what about you?
What about your life?
What does your prayer life reveal about the priorities in your life?
What does your prayer life reveal about what you put your trust in?
Hear Jesus’ words to you this morning… God’s power is freely given to prayers.
But not just any Pray-ers...
There is a way to pray that is genuine… and there is a way to pray that is not..
We see this emphasized in the sermon on the mount
Matthew 6:5–8 ESV
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
there is a way to pray that is not genuine.
When Jesus rebuked the temple for no longer being a place of prayer… it doesn’t necessarily mean that there was no prayers heard...
but it seems rather that there were hypocritical prayers prayed for show.... hence Jesus’ correction now in verse 25.
Mark 11:25 ESV
25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Truth #4 Powerful Prayer is Genuine Prayer

What a silly thing it is for us to come to God praying for his will to be done…
Pleading with him for clarity in a big life decision…
Or asking him to act in some miraculous way… all the while we are ignoring and out right neglecting very obvious commands that the Lord has given us.
The example Jesus uses here… is the call to forgive.
Can you imagine standing to pray to God for forgiveness…
You have sinned against a holy God, a righteous God.
You have sinned against your creator, though he has given you everything good you have every experienced.
and then you come to him asking that the forgive you.
Can you imagine pleading with him for forgiveness… all the while you a sinner… refuse to forgive someone else who has sinned against you.
In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable about exactly this.
He tells a parable about a Master who forgives the debts of his servant only to find his servant refusing to forgive the debts of someone else.
Matthew 18:32–35 ESV
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The forgiveness of the Father should affect our hearts in such a way that we are quick to forgive others… for the sake of our prayers.
Jesus is clearly teaching that our prayers will be hindered by the hypocrisy in our lives.
It is difficult to pray according to God’s will… when we are actively and knowingly living contrary to God’s revealed will.
Therefore lets listen to the voice of God just as much as we try to have the ear of God.
When we do that… when we both revere his voice and we go to him in prayer and have his ear… we are living in the sweet spot of the divine will.
God has made us for relationship with him.
He has made us to live and act and think and pray in the forgiveness he provides and in the power he bestows.
Powerful prayer is genuine prayer that both heeds God’s voice and has God’s ear in prayer.
These are object lessons that Jesus wants his disciples to walk in having now witnessed the fruitless, prayerless religion of the temple.
Lets recap:
Truth #1 God is the Object of Our Faith
Truth #2 We Believe in a God Who is Unlimited in Power
Truth #3 Prayer is God’s Design for Our Access to His Power
Truth #4 Powerful Prayer is Genuine Prayer
This text is so important for us today…, but I will tell you where this text really comes to life for me…
It comes to life for me as I watch the disciples obey this text in the unfolding story of God’s mission....
Jesus makes the point here that God is unlimited in his power…
But its on the third day that he proves that fully and finally.
Jesus Christ surrenders himself to the most irrevocable force on the planet… death itself…
And three days later God raises Jesus from the dead, declaring victory and power over every evil power.
And then Jesus sends his disciples on a mission to all the world to share the good news.... that through faith in this resurrected Jesus… you too can share in resurrection life..
You too can live forever in the glory and forgiveness of our God.
These disciples being taught this object lesson on this mountain this day… became men who did not trust themselves… but who relied upon the power of God in prayer to do the impossible.
In Acts chapter 1, Jesus sends his followers on this mission and they know exactly what to do.... they begin to pray.
Acts 1:14 ESV
14 All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.
The church begins with a prayer meeting…
the church begins with a group of people believing that God can do anything… and that even in a city where they just crucified Jesus… the believed that God could save souls and begin his church.
They prayed genuine God believing prayers…, and then God was pleased to unleash his power in accordance with their prayers.
Acts 2:41–42 ESV
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
A community of prayer was born… and then they kept praying and God kept doing the amazing.
through prayer they rose above persecution and preached with boldness...
Acts 4:31 ESV
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
through prayer they saw church leaders delivered from prison.
Acts 11:5 ESV
5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me.
through prayer they saw missionaries raised up and sent out which would begin the largest and most influential church planting movement in the world.
Acts 13:2–3 ESV
2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Through prayer they made disciples, planted churches, and raised up elders to lead those churches.
Acts 14:23 ESV
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
I want to close our time on this Easter morning with a question...
How does Easter inform and affect your prayers?
How does the historical fact that Jesus rose again from the dead inform and affect how you pray and how you desire God to use you in your life?
Do you pray mountain moving prayers for the glory of God to go forth to all nations?
Or has religion become to you what it had become to the religious elite in temple?
Is religion just a means to a more comfortable and moral life, so that you do not really need prayer?
Is religion to you, moral, and spiritual, but godless?
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