HAVE FAITH IN GOD
Key Verse 11:22
“‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.”
If you’d look at Mark 11:12-19, Jesus was on his way to the temple when he saw a fig tree and wanted to eat some of it’s fruit. But when he found no fruit on it, he cursed it. It was really odd that he would curse a tree for not bearing fruit. Why would Jesus do such a thing? It may be that he was thinking about the religious leaders from when he visited the temple. The tree was innocent. But the religious leaders were not! They had a responsibility before God to bear fruit. But they were too busy with their own affairs rather than to tend to God’s affairs. No wonder Jesus was broken hearted at what he saw at the temple of God. The fruitless fig tree reminded him of the state of the nation and its religious leaders. They were barren.
Jesus had cursed the fig tree. And none of his disciples said a word about this unusual event. They may have contemplated the meaning. They may have been shocked at the severity of his actions. Maybe his actions brought to mind how terrible God’s judgment usually is. Jewish history is filled with incidents of rebellion against God, spiritual and moral compromises followed by God’s severe judgment. His judgment on the tree may have made them think of what will happen to a nation and a people that will not bear fruit to God. But whatever they thought, none of them said anything to Jesus about it. Then the incident at the temple happened. The mayhem at the temple. Jesus turning the tables of the money changers. No one dared say a word especially when they saw the angry face of God on Jesus. And probably no one understood what Jesus was so angry about. But the disciples understood that kind of righteous anger. His words made things clear when he said: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations. But you have made it a den of robbers”. That explained some! The pain in his voice. The anguish on his face. These people needed to reflect God’s holiness. But what they were doing was so unholy! These people were called to serve God. But they were only serving themselves! They should love God, but they loved everything else more. These people should have at least honored the holiness of the temple where God dwells. But they were only interested in honoring themselves. What Jesus did at the temple that day was memorable, even more memorable than Jesus’ cursing a barren fig tree.
Perhaps the memory of the temple events was on their minds until they came across this tree once again. Read verse 20. “In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots.” Something out of the ordinary had happened to the tree! It was not only dried up, but it was dried up from the roots. What they saw was the skeleton of what had once been a magnificent tree. That in itself was enough to make anyone stop and wonder. A living tree, yesterday beautiful and majestic had shriveled up overnight. It was as if death had settled on the tree in a cloud, and when the cloud lifted had taken the life out of the tree. Something so unusual that it might have sent shivers down the spine of any one who had seen the tree. The disciples were still thinking about all that had happened the evening before. The visit to the temple had not been so pleasant. The disciples had seen murder in the eyes of the religious leaders. What would those people do to Jesus! What did they intend to do to those who associated with Jesus— with them! But as soon as they saw the fig tree, all these thoughts drained away.
Read verse 21. “Peter remembered and said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!’” Peter was amazed at what he saw. At the very moment that Jesus had cursed the tree, none of them had known what would happen to the tree. They might have thought the tree would simply die. But it didn’t. Maybe even some limbs would have fallen, but they didn’t. Nothing had happened to the tree at the moment Jesus cursed it. They may had looked back to see what would happen to the cursed tree, but nothing happened. So, they thought nothing of it, as if Jesus had said nothing. But today, the tree looked like a dried up corpse. And they were amazed. They wouldn’t have been amazed yesterday if the tree had just died right there and then— for the they had witnessed Jesus’ power time and again. But now they were amazed! It is hard to understand why they now were amazed. The only clue we have comes from listening to how Jesus responded to Peter’s amazement! Jesus’ words always shed light on all things.
Read verse 22. “’Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered.” At Peter’s amazement at the dried up fig tree, Jesus simply counseled him to have faith in God. Jesus told Peter to “Have Faith in God”. Why did Jesus tell him to have faith in God? According to Jesus, Peter’s (and the disciples’) amazement reflected their lack of faith or unbelief or stubbornness in believing— which continued to linger on even till now, when it should already be great faith in God. It didn’t mean that Peter (and the disciples) had no faith in Jesus’ power, for they had seen his power at work so many times before, even a power to calm a storm at sea, even the power to raise the dead. But when it came to the most crucial faith— that is, to believe without a doubt that Jesus’ Word is absolute and final— their faith was shaky from time to time. Jesus, therefore, considered this shaky faith as not enough faith. It seems that they didn’t always believe that Jesus’ word is absolute and final. Yesterday they were certain that at his word, the tree was going to die, or something! They had watched to see what unfortunate thing would happen to this tree, anything. But when nothing happened, they probably reasoned, something, as to why nothing happened. But from Jesus’ point of view, their faith in God and in his word had shaken there. Their faith wavered because of some reasoning according to their own understanding of things. Their faith no longer stood absolute! It no longer stood final! They had no faith in God. They had no absolute faith in his word.
This should not surprise us. People claim to have faith in God. Some claim to believe in the absoluteness and finality of Jesus’ words. But in reality, their faith wavers and shakes and becomes vague so very quickly— when their prayers are not answered right away— when God’s promises seem too impossible to come true— when they expect some change in their lives or in the lives of others, and nothing seems to be happening at the pace they expect— and this is just a short list of things that cause faith to shake and become vague. Of course, most people who have faith in God never completely lose faith in God, nor faith in his word! But they seem to always have to reason out why this or that did not happen according to their expectation. When we do this— be careful— because we by doing this, we are replacing the word of God with our own ideas and explaining things with our own emotions— which are without foundation. Most believers never lose faith in the word of God. We only lose faith in the absoluteness of his word, and in the finality of his word. (2X) And when I lose faith in the absoluteness and finality of God’s word, I also lose the power and authority of God’s word— that works in my life and in the world around me. (2X) And when nothing seems to be happening, here is what I— as a believer— usually reason out: Either that “God does not love me” or “God will not listen to a sinner like me for I seem to fall into my sin again” or “I am far too gone in my heart for God to work in my life and the life of those I would pray for” or perhaps “others are too sinful and far gone for God to actually answer prayer for them” or “God’s word or promise or power was never meant to be for me…. Maybe for the saints and prophets but not for me today”. This kind of reasoning is unbelief, a lack of faith, a stubborn sort of belief! And it has a way of going south! It degenerates into further stubborn unbelieving reasoning: “What’s the use of praying or doing anything when nothing seems to change”. This kind of reasoning is dangerous to the Christian. It is dangerous because this kind of reasoning is not rooted in faith but in unbelief. So— Jesus counseled, urged, commanded his disciples to “Have faith in God.” Have faith in God, means that the word of God is Absolute and Final— it means that without doubt, what God says will happen— all of it, every word of it, every exhortation, every rebuke, every command, every Promise! As the Saint tells us: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” That is faith! And those who believe this will surely reap the fruit of that faith.
Read verses 23,24. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’” When Jesus commanded them to have faith in God, he wanted them to hold the word of God as absolute and final in their hearts. He also wanted them to learn something else! He wanted them to practice the absoluteness and finality of the word of God— and they could do that through prayer and active faith. Faith is not faith until it shows itself as faith. Someone may say “I have faith”. But if there is no evidence of that faith showing itself in that person’s life, then there is also no faith. According to Jesus, to practice faith in the word of God is necessary and even vital. Jesus instructs those who belong to him to pray. He challenges us to believe— believe what seems to be impossible— even up to the moving of a mountain. Jesus tells us not to be vague in faith and prayer— and to not doubt. He urges us who belong to him to ask and ask and ask— and then to believe what is asked for. Even the moving of a mountain! Who can move a mountain— No one can move a mountain— and Jesus knew that. In the same way no one can lift a finger to do the work of God— to accomplish something for the glory of God— I cannot achieve my potential in God— I cannot attain to the promises of God— to me these are as impossible as to move a mountain. What then makes these things possible for me and for you and for us when they are in reality impossible! Jesus says that faith makes them possible— when I have faith that the word of God is absolute and final and my faith does not shake and tremble and change according to the situation I am in. So many have lost every opportunity to rise to what God has called them to do— not because its impossible to achieve what God has for me— but because I do not have the faith to stand on the absolute word of God that promises me such things. My circumstances and inabilities, my weaknesses and failings, are not the problem in my life. They do not determine who I am and what God would do in and through me and my family and my church! What determines that is God himself— working— moving these mountains! And through my faith— on me standing on his word. No wonder Jesus told us that “All things are possible for him who believes”. No wonder Paul told us that “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” These are not idle words. God knows what he is saying. I must therefore, decide to put faith to action! I must not doubt. I must pray believing— just as he tells us to do.
But Jesus did not stop there. He knew that many would actually pray with faith but actually still achieve nothing. And why is that so? Read verse 25. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against any one, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” There is a missing verse here and when I looked it up it says: “But if you do not forgive, neither will your father who is in heaven forgive your sins.” Very serious words here. Why did Jesus add faith to prayer, and forgiving others to them both? Because if the heart is heavy with unrepentant sins, prayer has no power— and neither does faith. I can believe all I want, and I can pray all I want. But if I have something against someone, and I refuse to forgive him, I need to come before God for cleansing. I must let that unforgiveness, that grudge, that huge burden that weighs down on my heart— I must let that go. When the heart is weighed down with unforgiven sins, and un-forgiveness to others, my prayers are weak and my faith has no power. God wants us to have faith— such great faith that it does not doubt. He also wants us to pray impossible prayers— prayers to do what is impossible. But what God really wants more than anything else in our lives, is to stand before him with a heart washed of sin in the blood of Jesus. That heart— the heart that is washed in the blood of forgiveness— alone has the grace and power to stand before God— in confidence— and in prayer for anything to the glory and honor of God. The God who forgives us our sins in Jesus, is the God who expects us to forgive others in Jesus as well. Without forgiveness, the heart is full of bitterness and anger and frustration and deceit and everything foul. That heart cannot pray for anything in power. It is reduced to praying only for mercy like a beggar forever asking for alms. That heart has no power to pray. It has no faith to believe that God answers prayer. Why? Most likely that heart has many grievances against others, which it cannot forgive. But Jesus warned that we need to repent and be forgiven. Then we to must forgive. After that we can approach God with all the confidence and faith needed not to whine helplessly, but to ask with fervor to do his work with mountain moving faith.
May God bless us to believe the absolute and final word of God. May God give us the faith that prays without doubt. May God empower us to pray with a repentant heart so that you might be forgiven. May God help us to forgive all offenses against us as God has forgiven all our offenses against him. And most of all may God enable us to go beyond the pitiful prayers of a beggar and pray with the might and confidence that come from faith in the absoluteness and finality of the word of God.