Mark – God is On Our Side!
MORE THAN PICKING UP BREAKFAST…
Our Lord’s condemning of the tree and cleansing of the temple were both symbolic acts that illustrated the sad spiritual condition of the nation of Israel. In spite of its many privileges and opportunities, Israel was outwardly fruitless (the tree) and inwardly corrupt (the temple). It was unusual for Jesus to act in judgment (John 3:17), yet there comes a time when this is the only thing God can do (John 12:35–41).
Mark 11, NLT
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree
12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. 14 Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
Jesus Clears the Temple
15 When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, 16 and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. 17 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
18 When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
19 That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city.
20 The next morning as they passed by the fig tree he had cursed, the disciples noticed it had withered from the roots up. 21 Peter remembered what Jesus had said to the tree on the previous day and exclaimed, “Look, Rabbi! The fig tree you cursed has withered and died!”
22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. 23 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. 24 I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. 25 But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”
GOING DEEPER STILL…
FAILURE AND FAITH
The fig tree produces leaves in March or April and then starts to bear fruit in June, with another crop in August and possibly a third crop in December. The presence of leaves could mean the presence of fruit, even though that fruit was “left over” from the previous season. It is significant that in this instance Jesus did not have special knowledge to guide Him; He had to go to the tree and examine things for Himself. If He had power to kill the tree, why didn’t He use that power to restore the tree and make it produce fruit? Apart from the drowning of the pigs (Mark 5:13), this is the only instance of our Lord using His miraculous power to destroy something in nature. He did it because He wanted to teach us two important lessons.
“DRIED UP FROM THE ROOTS”
First, there is a lesson on failure: Israel had failed to be fruitful for God. In the Old Testament, the fig tree is associated with the nation of Israel (Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10; Nah. 3:12). Like the fig tree our Lord cursed, Israel had “nothing but leaves.” Note that the tree dried up “from the roots” (Mark 11:20). Three years before, John the Baptist had put the ax to the roots of the tree (Matt. 3:10), but the religious leaders would not heed his message. Whenever an individual or a group “dries up” spiritually, it is usually from the roots.
PAUSE: ARE WE TENDING TO OUR ROOTS?
The disciples would probably connect this miracle with the parable that Jesus gave some months before (Luke 13:1–9), and they would see in the miracle a vivid picture of God’s judgment on Israel. They might also recall Micah 7:1–6, where the prophet declares that God is seeking “the first ripe fruit” from His people. Christ is still seeking fruit from His people, and for us to be fruitless is sin (John 15:16). We must carefully cultivate our spiritual roots and not settle for “leaves.”
Jesus also used this miracle to teach us a lesson on faith.The next morning, when the disciples noticed the dead tree, Jesus said, “Have faith in God,” meaning, “Constantly be trusting God; live in an attitude of dependence on Him.” In Jewish imagery, a mountain signifies something strong and immovable, a problem that stands in the way (Zech. 4:7). We can move these mountains only by trusting God.
PAUSE: WHAT MOUNTAIN DO WE NEED MOVED?
ARE WE TENDING OUR FAITH?
PRAYER – OUR CONSTANT LIFELINE TO GOD!
Of course, this is not the only lesson Jesus ever gave on prayer, and we must be careful not to isolate it from the rest of Scripture. Prayer must be in the will of God (1 John 5:14–15), and the one praying must be abiding in the love of God (John 15:7–14). Prayer is not an emergency measure that we turn to when we have a problem. Real prayer is a part of our constant communion with God and worship of God.
Nor should we interpret Mark 11:24 to mean, “If you pray hard enough and really believe, God is obligated to answer your prayers, no matter what you ask.” That kind of faith is not faith in God; rather, it is nothing but faith in faith, or faith in feelings. True faith in God is based on His Word (John 15:7; Rom. 10:17), and His Word reveals His will to us. It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.
True prayer involves forgiveness as well as faith. I must be in fellowship with both my Father in heaven and my brothers and sisters on earth if God is to answer my prayers (see Matt. 5:21–26; 6:14–15; 18:15–35). The first word in “The Lord’s Prayer” is our—“Our Father who is in heaven” and not “My Father who is in heaven.” Though Christians may pray in private, no Christian ever prays alone, for all of God’s people are part of a worldwide family that unites to seek God’s blessing (Eph. 3:14–15). Prayer draws us together.
We do not earn God’s blessing by forgiving one another. Our forgiving spirit is one evidence that our hearts are right with God and that we want to obey His will, and this makes it possible for the Father to hear us and to answer prayer (Ps. 66:18). Faith works by love (Gal. 5:6). If I have faith in God, I will also have love for my brother.
This “religious market” was set up in the court of the Gentiles, the one place where the Jews should have been busy doing serious missionary work. If a Gentile visited the temple and saw what the Jews were doing in the name of the true God, he would never want to believe what they taught. The Jews might not have permitted idols of wood and stone in their temple, but there were idols there just the same. The court of the Gentiles should have been a place for praying, but it was instead a place for preying and paying.
Mark especially mentioned the people who sold doves. The dove was one of the few sacrifices that the poor people could afford (Lev. 14:22). It was the sacrifice Joseph and Mary brought when they dedicated Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:24). Even the poor people were victimized by the merchants in the temple, and this in itself must have grieved the Lord Jesus, for He was always sensitive to the poor (see Mark 12:41–44).
The Jews looked on the temple primarily as a place of sacrifice, but Jesus saw it as a place of prayer. True prayer is in itself a sacrifice to God (Ps. 141:1–2). Jesus had a spiritual view of the Jewish religion, while the leaders promoted a traditional view that was cluttered with rules and regulations.
Campbell Morgan points out that “a den of thieves” is the place to which thieves run when they want to hide. The chief priests and scribes were using the temple and its religious services to “cover up” their sin and hypocrisy.
WHO ARE WE?
Before we quickly condemn the Jewish religious leaders for their sins, we should examine our own ministries to see if perhaps we are making merchandise of the gospel.
Do the outsiders in our community think of our church buildings as houses of prayer?
Are all nations welcomed there?
Do we as church members flee to church on Sundays in an attempt to cover up our sins?
Do we “go to church” in order to maintain our reputation or to worship and glorify God?
If the Lord Jesus were to show up in our house of worship, what changes would He make?
PAUSE, REPENT, PRAY
Dear Heavenly Father, Lord and Savior,
We repent of impure motives in our talk and walk with You. Cleanse us of all that displeases you. Help us to glorify and praise YOU alone, not a worship team, not the songs themselves, not the church building, not the teachers, leaders or especially the pastor, but YOU alone. Help us to be oh so cautious and careful that Your place of prayer is holy and pleasing to you. May Your spiritual temples, embodying You in us, be just as pure and holy, full of praise and gratitude for You. Thank you, Lord for these lessons today. May we bear fruit for You.
In Jesus Name, Amen. I believe.