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Have Faith in God

Date: Jan. 26, 2020

Author: Michael Mark

Mark 11:12-25

Key Verse: Mark 11:22

"Have faith in God," Jesus answered.

Having faith in God has got to be one of the most difficult things to do, but of all things we must do, it is the most important.  It is one of the things Jesus offers the most praise for, and in Hebrews we learn that without faith, it is impossible to please God.  Last night, my faith was tried, and my weakness exposed.  My daughter Ellie, my most beautiful and cute daughter, is going through some sleep regression.  Most likely its due to teething, but she also caught a little cold.  Mary, my most beautiful wife, took care of her all day until 11pm so I could work on the message, so I took over from that time, hoping to God she would stay asleep.  Well, it didn’t really happen.  From 11pm till 2am, Ellie was in and out of sleep, and I barely made any progress on the message.  At 2am I went downstairs to make her a bottle, and frustrated, I didn’t close the cap all the way and started shaking it, and milk started flying everywhere.  That’s when I lost it. I lost control of my temper, my anger flared, and I stomped the floor several times, waking Mary up.  I felt sorry, and fed the baby until she fell asleep at around 2:15, afterwards I went to apologize to Mary.  But that’s when I realized how difficult it is to keep faith.  Wasn’t I doing God’s work?  Isn’t God supposed to keep the baby asleep so I could do his work?  I prayed for it!  Well, eventually Ellie did fall asleep for the rest of the night, but my anger and outburst showed that I was impatient and didn’t fully trust God, and that I still have a lot to learn about faith in God.  Through this passage, we will see why it is so hard to have faith God, why it is so important to have faith God, and how to strengthen our faith in God.

Last week we saw Jesus come to Jerusalem as King.  Although he didn’t come with the pomp and exuberance of worldly kings, he came with the hearts of crowds rejoicing and celebrating his arrival.  Crowds shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save!” and made a trail for Jesus with their cloaks and palm branches.  His triumphal entry kicked off what we call the Passion Week, the last week of Jesus’ life leading up to his death on the cross.  That day is traditionally called “Palm Sunday,” so we have 5 more days until “Good Friday,” the day of his death.  Our passage, then, begins early in the morning on the Monday of that week.

Look at v.12-13, “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  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.”  Jesus and his disciples travelled back and forth from Jerusalem to Bethany each day.  Bethany was about 2 miles away, so maybe about a 40-45 minute walk.  They usually went early in the morning, some time between 4-6am.  It was time for breakfast, and Jesus was hungry.  Here we can see the humanity of Jesus.  He was fully God, but also fully man, so he got hungry.  In the distance he saw a fig tree in leaf – so we see here that this fig tree must have had some prominent place on the road to Jerusalem.  It was identifiable from far away.  But there was also something unusual about it: it was in leaf.  Usually, when fig trees get leaves, it signals that summer is near, which is around June (Matt 24:32).  But the Passover, the week when Jesus would die, is in April.  So this tree is showing leaves about 2 months early.  Usually leaves coincide with fruit, and the branches of fig trees are usually covered with clusters of figs.  It was well known in Judea that the figs appear before the leaves do, so with this tree in full leaf, it was expected to have fruit.  But when Jesus reached the tree, he found nothing but leaves.  Not even any ripe fruit.  The tree had the appearance of bearing fruit, but it was actually barren.  We also learned that it was not the season for figs.  That doesn’t necessarily suggest that the figs wouldn’t come out on this tree.  The leaves are a sign of the fruit.  But that tells us that this tree sprouted early, and that by this time people were not harvesting figs.  That means Jesus did not get to this tree too late, and all the figs were picked.  What we see here is that the tree never bore any fruit, but it was fully leaved.

Jesus, seeing that he could not get a physical meal, turned this into an opportunity to make a spiritual meal for his disciples.  Look at v.14, “Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’  And his disciples heard him say it.”  He said this in the hearing of his disciples, because later on he would make teach a lesson from this event.  Jesus cursed the tree, not because it didn’t have fruit, but because look deceptively like it had fruit.  Bible scholars, in this general area of Jerusalem, who or what does this fig tree remind you of?  Are you thinking what I’m thinking, which is what Jesus might be thinking or want his disciples to think?

We continue in v.15-16, “On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts 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.”  There was a major marketplace going on at the temple.  It was Passover time, and one of the requirements were that the Jews needed to offer a clean, unblemished animal for the sacrifice.  The vendors made it so that a travelling family did not have to bring an animal, but they could buy one there at the temple, and it would be in good condition for sacrifice.  Here the vendor could charge what they want, and likely the priests of the temple were getting a cut of that for allowing them to do business there.  It was like a tourist trap, and they took advantage of a captive audience.  It’s like going to a festival, or event or show.  When Dan took Lukey to see Jurassic Park live, they were charging $17 for a snow cone.  Yeah no thank you.  It was like that. But the pilgrims didn’t have a choice.  Money changers exchanged foreign currencies to the local currency, but also charged a high rate for the exchange.  In addition, instead of walking around the whole temple, which was vast, people would walk through the temple courts as a shortcut to get from the city to the Mount of Olives.  When Jesus came in, the kicked all these people out.  He overturned tables, and blocked people from carrying merchandise and using the temple as shortcut.

Why did Jesus do this?  Look at v.17, “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.’”  The temple courts were supposed to be sacred.  In fact it was the only place that Gentiles could come and worship God.  But you can see how little the chief priests and teachers of the law cared for the worship of God, much less for the Gentiles.  The courts became a noisy, bustling, smelly marketplace.  How could the Gentiles pray, or worship, or meditate on the glory of God in such a place?  They have turned it into a den of robbers.  It’s not even a temple of robbers – it’s a den, how scary is that.  If you ever walk into a cave filled with thieves, you can be sure they’re probably going to be more bold and violent in taking your stuff.  This was happening at the temple, a place of prayer.  The people were being milked for their money left and right, all with the approval of the chief priests and teachers of the law.

When Jesus cleared the temple courts, he was purifying the temple, cleaning out the filth.  He was acting as God’s King and Priest.  Nobody stopped him from driving away all of the crooks.  Although Jesus quotes Isaiah, he is speaking as if the temple is “My house.”  The temple is the house of God, and it belongs to Jesus.  He called out the chief priests and teachers of the law, those who were supposed to take care of it, and exposed their hypocrisy.  When Jesus cleared the temple courts, he also taught there, and healed the lame and the blind.  His words and teachings would have also been heard by the chief priests and teachers of the law, and according to v.18, they were looking now for a way to kill Jesus. But they hesitated, because they were afraid of the crowd.  The whole crowd was amazed at Jesus’ teaching, and if they touched him, the people could revolt.

There was no fear of God among the leaders of Jerusalem, nor was there any faith.  Here we can see why it is so hard to have faith.  One reason is because we are selfish.  The rulers, the vendors, the money changers all were greedy for personal gain.  When Jesus got in their way, they wanted to kill him.  Sometimes it’s other people or forces that they to hinder our faith – like the thieves here. Sometimes it’s bad influences, or peer pressure, or temptations from demons and the devil, that make it hard to keep faith.  At the core of it is sin, and for that we only have ourselves to blame.  It’s our sin that makes it hard for us to keep faith.  The reason we are selfish is because we are sinners.  How much would we rather browse social media, than to go to God in prayer?  How much would we rather entertain ourselves, then read the word of God?  How quick are we to become angry at God, or blame him for something, rather than humble ourselves and wait patiently on him?  Jer 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  Here is the scary thing: sometimes it seems more convenient to deny God, to deny his truth, to even deny his existence, than it is to submit to him, listen to him, trust him, obey him, and acknowledge our sin.

We continue in v.19-21, “When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.  In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.  Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’”  This was now Tuesday morning, and as they passed by, they saw something astonishing.  The fig tree, the one that looked so green and fruitful, was now withered from the roots.  If some of the roots looked alive maybe the tree could regrow – but no, even the roots were withered.  This tree was completely dead.  This tree, which looked so full of life just a day ago, was now fully withered – and look at what Peter said, “The fig tree you cursed!”  Overnight frost did not kill the tree.  Pesticides did not kill the tree.  It was Jesus’ curse that killed the tree.  This was the only destructive miracle that Jesus did in the whole Bible, but there are many lessons here.  We can see that Jesus did come to save and heal and restore, but he also has the power to judge and destroy as well.  But also see that this power was not performed on any human, but on a tree to illustrate the point.  This is a mercy from Jesus

Here is the lesson Jesus wanted to teach his disciples from this fig tree.  Can we all please read v.22, “ ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.”  Have faith in God.  This is what Jesus wanted to teach his disciples.  When Jesus initially saw this fig tree full of leaves but had no fruit, what might he have been reminded of?  He may have been reminded of his own people, the Jews, especially of the chief priests and teachers of the law who looked so religious and law abiding on the outside, but bore no fruit on the inside.  Luke tells us at his triumphal entry Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and prophesied of its destruction, because they did not recognize the time of God’s coming (Luke 19:44).”  Israel was like the fig tree, naked and covered only in fig leaves, with no fruit on its branches.

Why did he tell his disciples to have faith in God?  Because there was no faith in Israel.  This is the reason they defiled their temple of their own God.  This is why they plotted to kill their Savior.  They had no faith.  You heard about how hard it is to have faith, but from this lesson you can also see why it is important to have faith.  Without faith, we are led to sin and do wicked things.  Without faith, we are naked, and barren.  We can bear no good fruit.  Without faith, we are as good as dead.  Worse than that, we are cursed and not blessed.  God said to the Israelites in Deut 11:26-28, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn form the way I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.”  When Jesus pronounced the curse on the fig tree, he said, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”  This is the reversal of the very first blessing God gave to mankind: “Be fruitful and increase in number (Gen 1:28).”  We are cursed not because God is mean or malicious, but when we disobey Gods commands that sustain life, the natural result is death and destruction.

Jesus did not come to curse us but to save us – and he showed us the way: “Have faith in God.”  Only God can save us.  Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.  Rom 1:17 tells us “The righteous will live by faith.”  Gal 3:11 says the same thing, and elaborates further, “Christ redeemed us form the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”  Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:1)”  Even Abraham, before the law was given, believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom 4:2).  We are not saved by any complex works or rituals, but by simple faith.  And Jesus wanted to teach his disciples this.  He was soon about to be handed over to the chief priests and teachers of the law to be killed, and it looks like he will lose, and the enemies win.  But they needed to have faith in God, that God will save, that Jesus is God, and that Jesus will rise again.  We need to have this same simple faith.

This passage will conclude with a rich and detailed teaching on prayer.  Why would Jesus go so in depth about prayer at this time, after curses the fig tree and talks about having faith in God?  It is because prayer is the way to strengthen faith. You heard about how hard it is to have faith.  You heard about how important it is to have faith.  Now, we will learn about how we can strengthen our faith, and that is through prayer.

Look at v.23, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself in to the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”  The disciples probably had in view the Mount of Olives in the background.  I’m not sure if they imagined this whole mountain lifting up off the ground and flying into the Mediterranean Sea – but this was a common phrase used to talk about something that is very difficult or impossible to do.  Here is the beginning of bearing fruit for God.  Without faith, we are useless, but with faith, we can hurl mountains into the sea.  Matthew Henry talked about some spiritual mountains that were moved.  When we were justified, the mountain of guilt was removed.  When we were purified, the mountain of corruption was tossed away.  Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, preached to more than 5,000 people every week, and this was before the time of loud speakers.  As he ascended the steps to the pulpit, he would say “I believe in the Holy Spirit” with every step.  He moved mountains by his preaching.  God can help us move mountains through prayer.  There were weeks that I had where I had deadlines at work, a message the same week, and family events to go to.  It seemed overwhelming sometimes.  But in prayer, somehow all of those things get done.  Every time I have a message, it feels like a mountain. But I pray, and ask God to accept and bless my preparation, and by God’s grace, I don’t know how it all comes together but I feel like he’s cooked a royal pot roast to feed us.  And in 2018, there was that huge mountain of the International Summer Conference, where I helped organize housing and group Bible studies for over 3000 people.  There were times I wanted to die, but to me those were mountains moved.  But when we see how sinful we are, how wretched we are, it truly is a mountain that God has moved to turn our eyes in faith to him.

Jesus continues in v.24, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Prayer makes us fruitful. Jesus said “believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  The faith that bears fruit comes from praying for the fruit.  You need to pray.  You must pray.  Jesus commands us to pray.  What if you don’t pray?  You won’t receive.  James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask God.”  There’s a verse in a hymn that goes, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear.  All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”  Prayer is essential to your faith.  John Calvin says prayer is “the chief exercise of faith by which we daily receive God’s benefits.”  If you are not praying, you are forfeiting God’s benefits for the day.  Prayer is the chief exercise of faith – it is the main application of your faith.  Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated.  Start simple, pray and give thanks before meals.  Pray before major exams, or projects, or interviews.  Pray for each other.  Try to pray regularly daily.  And you don’t always have to be sitting or kneeling.  V.25 says you can be standing.  But pray with faith and pray from your heart.  What should you pray for?  That would be another sermon, but the Bible has a wealth of teachings on prayer.  John shows us how Jesus prayed.  1 Thes 5:16-18 tells us to pray in all circumstances.  The book of James has a couple of chapters on prayer.  Jesus teaches us how to pray in the Lord’s prayer.  We pray for God’s name to be glorified, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done.  We pray for our daily bread: our physical and spiritual needs, for protection against temptation and for the forgiveness of our sins.  All of these things God will give us if we ask.

This teaching on prayer concludes with v.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.”  It goes without saying, that you can like anyone who hasn’t offended you.  But Jesus goes further to say if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them.  You must even love the one who offends you, and forgive them.  This is how all of the blessings are made complete.  On the one hand, in prayer, you receive unlimited blessings from God.  On the other, you are giving blessings to others, so God’s love is made complete.  Unforgiveness, or holding anything against someone, is a serious hindrance to prayer.  The second of the greatest of God’s commands is to love your neighbor as yourself, and when you do so, you may pray freely.  And it is only fair to do so.  God had forgiven and removed the mountain of your sins, so should you also forgive others.  God has given you peace with Him, now we should make peace with one another.

As you heard, faith is hard to have, but it is important to possess.  Jesus gives us faith.  When he says, “Have faith in God,” he intends for you to take it.  So here you go – have faith in God, keep on praying and do not give up.  God is faithful.  Though it seems difficult, keep on praying.  May God bless you to be fruitful to be a blessing to all, until his kingdom come.

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