Ever wonder about that passage where Jesus tells his disciples that if they pray with enough faith they can tell a mountain to throw itself in the sea. Pretty strange, huh? This scripture passage suggests on the surface that if we pray with enough faith for a mountain to be moved and thrown into the sea, it will be done!
Now, if you choose to stay home on any particular Sunday you can turn on your TV and see multiple so-called-preachers who will twist this passage to turn God into a cosmic Santa Claus who, if we just pray with enough faith, will give us all we want. Make no mistake, these are NOT biblical teachers. Many of them can be categorized as prosperity preachers. I believe that the Bible refers to them as false prophets. They teach that God wants you to materially prosper and give you everything you want if you just name it and claim it!
I knew a lady at a previous church who had a husband who was dying of cancer. She attended a church with similar teachings who told her that if she prayed with enough faith, God would heal her husband. Well, in a short amount of time her husband lost his battle with cancer. The wife was perplexed. She prayed with faith for her husbands’ healing and he passed away from the cancer. What happened? She went back to the preacher and asked him why God allowed her husband to die of cancer when she earnestly prayed with faith for his healing. The pastor had the audacity to tell the grieving wife that it was her fault because she did not have enough faith! She then walked away from the faith for years.
In order for us to best understand this passage we need to back the lens up and see the bigger picture of what is going on. If we look at the beginning of Mark 11 we see that Jesus has just entered into Jerusalem on a donkey as his followers praised him. This is the triumphal entry that we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Let’s pick up the story at v. 12.
12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.13 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. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
Now on the surface, this appears to be a scene in which Jesus is having a bad day and in this one instance uses his power to curse a tree! Very, very strange. But we need to keep on reading to understand the context. So let’s continue with v. 15
15 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, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 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.’”
18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.
Jesus entered into the temple and saw people who have turned it into a marketplace which he called a “den of robbers”. He called out those who were financially taking advantage of those who wanted to come to the temple to offer sacrifices. These people were being hustled for their cash. Jesus also made two points here that we need to highlight.
First of all, he said that “My house will be called a house of PRAYER”. He is emphasizing that this is supposed to be a sacred space for people to come and communicate with God through prayer. This is a spiritual discipline that is repeatedly taught all throughout the gospels and the teachings of Paul. We are to be a people of PRAYER.
The next point is that this sacred space is to be a house of prayer FOR ALL NATIONS. The nation of Israel had a way of feeling exclusive and exceptional when compared to the other nations. We know that many of the religious leaders were looking for a political messiah to overthrow Rome and establish his kingdom with power. They did not expect Jesus and his revolution to be of a spiritual nature. Jesus came to establish salvation not only for the nation of Israel but also for ALL THE NATIONS. Jesus had a much bigger agenda of inclusion and love that would involve all people.
So let’s pick up our story and see what happens with Jesus and his disciples after the temple incident.
20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
Now we have to ask, “What’s the deal with the stinking tree?!?” We need to look at the tree event as book ends to the temple incident. Jesus saw a tree that looked good on the outside. It was healthy and was full of leaves. But as he got closer up to it, it had no fruit. Then he addresses the Israelites at the temple who, on the outside looked like a beautiful temple, but on closer inspection, they were not producing the fruit that they ought to, which is being a house of prayer. The tree was a type of symbolic parable of Israel. If they were not going to be producing spiritual fruit like they were supposed to be doing, then judgment was coming. I believe that Jesus was foreshadowing the coming destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 by the Romans. So instead of being a house of prayer for all the nations, they took an Israel First stance and to hell with everyone else, especially Rome. The tree represented the nation of Israel who would be judged for not bearing the fruit that God intended for them.
Now, this is not just about Israel. We need to realize that Jesus has established the church to be that very house of prayer for all the nations. And this is how Jesus tells his disciples to pray. Let’s continue reading from Mark:
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 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.”
Is Jesus saying that we can literally move mountains if we just pray hard enough? Well, being that Jesus never actually carried out that type of miracle, I don’t think so. But the tree representing Israel became an obstacle to Jesus because it did not produce the fruit it was supposed to. Therefore Jesus removed the tree and instead, empowered his disciples to carry out the task of taking his message out to all the nations!
Now Jesus does say we can remove mountains if we pray correctly. What exactly does he mean by this? I believe that he is telling us that if we want to be a part of God’s program of being a blessing to all the nations we need to overcome the metaphorical mountains that stand in the way. The mountains that prohibited Israel from being a blessing was pride, arrogance, nationalism and an attitude of exclusion. As a church we must be aware of the mountains that prevent us from seeing the “other” as an enemy and learn to be a blessing for all people, for all nations, and even for those whom our government would consider enemies. We have a responsibility to pray to remove these mountains and to be a blessing to everyone. Even if it also means forgiving others.
So how does this apply to us?
The first thing related to our IDENTITY. The most important thing that you must understand is that if you have put your faith in Jesus then you are a child of God. This trumps all other ways that we try to find identity. You are a child of God!
The second application relates to PRAYER. And as a child of God we have a responsibility to be in conversation with God through prayer. Our prayers cannot be self-serving, looking to take advantage of people, and about our own materialism and our own ego. We must pray for all people to come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and that His Spirit would remove any and all boundaries that are holding back people from coming to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Our salvation is not a private, exclusive deal between you and God. It is more of an opportunity for us to invite others to be a part of this awesome family of God. We are to pray that God would remove those mountains, those barriers that prevent us from inviting others in to the church of Christ, and prevent others from seeing the blessings that are connected to being a child of God.
And the final application is that we need to be producing SPIRITUAL FRUIT. One day we as believers are going to have to give an account for our lives before Jesus. And if we learn anything from the fig tree, it’s that a true follower of Christ is one who is producing spiritual fruit with their lives. That would involve what Paul talks about in Galatians 5 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. But in the context of this passage, it also would include that we are a people of prayer who want to take the message of Jesus Christ to all the nations. That we love others. We care for others. We reach out to the hurting. We pray for our enemies.
So find your primary identity in Jesus. Yes you are a son and daughter, brother or sister, a student, an athlete, a performer, a musician but all those thing pale in comparison to the fact that you are a child of God who loves you. And He wants to be in conversation with you through prayer, and He wants you to be a blessing to all the people you can: those who are easy to love and those who are hard to love. And we are to smash down barriers through prayer that stand in the way of reaching others for Christ.
So knowing this should help you to look at your school differently. Your job. Your sports team. Your show choir. Your band. Be the light in the world that God has called us to be which is supposed to be attracting people out of the darkness and into the light.
Are you ready now to claim your identity in Christ and take ownership of your faith that your parents and the church have raised you in?
Are you ready to begin your own journey of being in conversation with God through prayer and Bible study?
Are you ready to open yourself up to God to use you to be a blessing to others and help remove barriers that prevent others from knowing him?
If so, then let’s do this!