Have Faith In God.
Matthew 21:20-22; Mark 11:19-26
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.” – Mark 11:22-23 NLT
This is one of those passages that gets used and abused on a regular basis. It gets lifted out of context and construed to mean just about anything people want it to mean. It has been used to justify all kinds of prayers, to inspire and encourage boldness in the lives of believers, and to support the name-it-claim-it theology of many groups. But what was Jesus really teaching that day? What was His point in cursing the fig tree, and then why did He turn that occasion into a lesson on prayer? As always, context is essential when unpacking this passage. Jesus is on His way back into Jerusalem with His disciples. The day before they had passed this very spot on their way from Bethany into the city. He had pronounced a curse on the fig tree and now, as they passed by it again, “the disciples noticed that it had withered from the roots up” (Mark 11:20 NLT). Peter, always eager to have his voice heard, pointed out this fact to Jesus, who then responds with a brief lesson on faith and prayer. It is important that this section of the passage be kept in context with everything else that has happened before it and that will come after it.
When the disciples see the fig tree in its withered state, they surely thought back to the day before when Jesus cursed it saying, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” (Mark 11:14 NLT). Mark tells us the disciples clearly heard Jesus pronounce the curse on the tree. But apparently, it was not until the next day that it had fully withered and died. The disciples are amazed at all of this and Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. His main point has to do with faith. But notice that it has to do with the focus of our faith. There are those who would use this passage to teach that if you have faith that you can do something, you can do it. In other words, the focus of our faith needs to be in what it is that we want accomplished. But Jesus did not say, “Have faith in your efforts.” He didn’t encourage the disciples to “believe it hard enough and you will have it.” No, He said, “Have faith in God.” It would be easy to make this teaching by Jesus all about “moving mountains,” or accomplishing mighty things for God. But what Jesus really seems to be trying to communicate is that all things are possible with God. He is unlimited in His strength. He is unstoppable and all powerful. So place your faith in Him. If God wants you to move a mountain, He will not only tell you, He will provide the power to make it possible. This is not about me determining what it is that I want to do or have done. This is about trusting God for His will and relying on His power to accomplish that will.
One of the significant details in this story is the location of Jesus and disciples when He tells it. They are standing somewhere between Bethany and Jerusalem. More than likely, they are somewhere on the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley lies Mount Zion, the mountain range upon which Jerusalem sat. I believe Jesus is continuing to make a point about the state of affairs in Jerusalem. Oftentimes, the references to Mount Zion and Jerusalem are interchangeable in Scripture. The entire capital city of the Hebrew nation occupied this area. As in His cursing of the fig tree, Jesus is making a point about the judgment of God against the people of God for their fruitlessness and unfaithfulness. Have faith in God. He will deal with Jerusalem, and in just a few short years from this point in time, the city would be destroyed. When it comes to dealing with unfaithfulness and fruitlessness, have faith in God – He will act. Yes, Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray and to do so without doubt. They are to ask, believing that God will answer. But it is essential that when they pray, that they ask according to God’s will. Our faith should be in Him, not in the nature of our request or the unbelievability of our expectations. Jesus says, “I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24 NLT). So is Jesus telling me that I can pray for a new Mercedes, and actually receive it, as long as I believe hard enough that I already have it? I don’t think so. And yet, that is what some people try to twist this passage to mean. This isn’t about us using God as some sort of cosmic Genie in a bottle. He does not exist to grant our wishes or fulfill our wildest dreams. Jesus did not curse the fig tree on a whim or as some sort of personal vendetta against the tree for failing to meet His needs. His cursing of the fig tree was a visual lesson for the disciples meant to teach them about God’s intentions for the hypocritical religious leaders of the Jews. The object of our faith is to be God, not the outcome for which we are praying. If we focus on God, we can ask, fully believing that He will answer – as if it has already been done.
But it’s interesting that Jesus closes out His teaching on prayer with a kind of disclaimer. He seems to try to tone down any enthusiasm the disciples might be feeling at the thought of having that kind of power available to them through the means of prayer. He tells them that “when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that Your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too” (Mark 11:25 NLT). In other words, before you start asking God to move mountains, ask Him to move in your own heart, confessing your sins and forgiving those who might have sinned against you. There seems to be a not-so-subtle hint from Jesus that we are to do some personal housecleaning before we attempt to move mountains for God. A right heart was going to be essential to having right motives when asking God to act on our behalf. God will not honor prayers prayed in anger, selfishness, pride, or aimed at accomplishing our will in place of His. We are to have faith in God. It is not the intensity or fervor of our prayers, the size of our requests, or the shocking nature of our expectations that God is interested in. It is the focus of our faith that concerns Him. Do we trust Him? Will we trust Him?
Father, I want to accomplish great things for You, but too often it for my own glory and so that I might be seen as a powerful resource in Your toolbox. But I know that I am to make You the focus, not me. I am to trust in Your power, not mine. Continue to teach me to have faith in You, and in nothing and no one else, but You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men