Posted on July 23, 2014
#64: Mountain-Moving Faith
My favorite type of novel opens with several seemingly unrelated story lines. Slowly, chapter by chapter, the pieces come together. In time it’s clear that the stories are related. As the details fall into place, one cohesive tale emerges—a nice neat ending for this lady who hates loose ends!
Today’s scripture from Mark 11 is just such a scenario. At first, we see three story lines that don’t appear to relate. Then as we look more closely, we see the pieces come together.
Thanks for joining me for Knowing Jesus, our study through the gospel of Mark. We’re in the final few chapters of Mark, taking a look at Jesus’ last week in human flesh. Get your Bible, breathe a prayer for insight and wisdom, and let’s read.
Turn to Mark 11:12-26, following carefully as Jesus curses a fruitless fig tree, clears the temple, and teaches His disciples a brief powerful lesson on faith. (Parallel passages include Matthew 21:12-22 and Luke 19:45-48.) Three story lines—with a related meaning?
After entering Jerusalem in triumph on Sunday, Jesus went to the temple and looked around. Then He left the city to spend the night in Bethany. Early Monday morning, He and the Twelve started the two-mile walk back to Jerusalem.
Jesus was hungry, and noticed a fig tree in full leaf—a sign that its fruit was already ripe, though it was actually too early in the season for figs. Searching under the leaves, He found no fruit. The disciples heard Him say, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
When they arrived in the city, Jesus went straight to the temple. The busy Passover week had brought out merchants in full force, selling animals and other items needed for the required sacrifices. They had turned the temple courts, meant for worship and prayer and thanksgiving, into a marketplace—hucksters ready to use Passover to make a quick, usually dishonest, fortune.
Jesus began overturning merchants’ money tables and benches, and ordering the merchants’ stock boys out of the temple courts—not on an angry impulse but in reaction to what He’d seen there on Sunday (Mk. 11:11). He created quite a stir, further inflaming the hatred of the Jewish leaders who were already seeking a way to kill Him. Yet no one stopped or arrested Him. Instead, He spent the day in the temple teaching and healing, while adoring crowds surrounded Him and children took up Sunday’s theme of praise—”Hosanna! Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt. 21:14-15)
In clearing the temple, Jesus did what the religious leaders should’ve already done. (Instead, many Jewish leaders were probably accepting a cut of the profits from the filthy business occurring under their watch.) He cried out, “It’s written in scripture, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you’re making it ‘a den of thieves’!” (The Old Testament source of Jesus’ words tells what God desired His temple to be, and how sadly He had watched those desires crumble. See Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11.)
After a busy day, Jesus and the disciples went back to Bethany for the night. Tuesday morning’s walk back to Jerusalem brought a startling sight: the fig tree, in full leaf the day before, was dead—withered from the roots. Every one of the disciples knew exactly why, but only Peter said it aloud. “Teacher, look! The fig tree You cursed is dead.” Jesus seemed to ignore Peter’s comment, answering with a short teaching on faith (11:22-26).
A dead tree, a corrupted temple, and a “random” lesson. How do the three fit?
Remember that the tree had been covered with leaves, reliable indication that a fig tree was bearing figs. Though the appearance of fruit was in place, there was no fruit. The temple was full of people who appeared to be there for worship and prayer, yet in truth had other motives (including the leaders, who were so full of bitter jealousy that they had no room for wonder at Jesus’ miracles or belief in His authority). The pretense of faith was in place but the fruit of faith was not. As a result, the unbelieving Jews were about to be cut off (Romans 9-11), a fact that grieved the Lord. So the fig tree was symbolic of the fate of the fruitless, faithless Jews—unless they embraced Jesus as Messiah (Romans 11:23).
And what of Jesus’ mini-lesson on the power of faith? While the Twelve were still staring in amazement at a dead tree, Jesus wanted them to know that the same power that spoke a word and withered a tree was theirs. It was mountain-moving, powerful faith. But it was only to be used in the context of authentic faithfulness to God’s will, without doubting, and never vindictively (which is why He commanded forgiveness from these men who within a few days would be given ample reason to hate the Jewish leaders).
The Lord wants from His people a clean state of heart, a confident belief, and pure motives. Just like the disciples then, our devotion to God and our total surrender to His will is the basis for the surging power of our faith. We can’t let our faith be diluted by doubt or derailed by bitterness. We need to forgive, release hurts to God, and focus on bearing the fruit of faithfulness for His glory.
© Diane McLoud 2014