Last Sunday we took a look at the events of the first Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem as it’s great King and Savior. Today, we focus our thoughts on the Monday of Holy Week.
With Jerusalem’s spiritually bankrupt leaders in full view, Jesus used this day to teach His disciples about genuine faith and the characteristics of it. We pray that the Spirit of God would teach us the same through our meditation on His Holy Word today.
Grace and peace be to you from our Great God, and from the source of forgiveness, our Great Savior, Jesus Christ.
During Jesus’ ministry, He often taught the people by using parables. Parables are often described as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”. With His parables, Jesus used things that people understood well, to help them grasp deeper, more important, spiritual truths.
Not long before Holy Week Jesus had told a parable about a fig tree. He had said,
“…A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
8“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (Luke 13:5-9 NIV).
At that time Jesus did not explain His parable. But, it is not hard to grasp it’s meaning. Just as Isaiah had described faithless Israel as a vineyard that only produced bad fruit, Jesus now described Israel’s people as a fruitless fig tree.
As Jesus walked toward Jerusalem on Monday morning, He found and opportunity to express the final end of faithlessness in a striking and visible way.
Jesus was hungry, and seeing a leafy fig tree along the way, He approached it to find some food.
Being in a warm climate, the fig trees of Palestine sometimes produces three batches of fruit in a single year. Even if there were no new figs on this bushy fig tree, Jesus should have been able to find a few figs still hanging on from the last crop.
But He found nothing. The tree was barren. To help the disciples see the end of result of faithlessness, He cursed the tree.
In the morning His curse had taken effect. The leafy branches were now withered. The tree itself was withering from the bottom of it’s roots to the top of its crown.
Now to some, it seems that this is almost a childish reaction from Jesus. He doesn’t find breakfast, so He curses the fig tree in fit of frustration. But this was a calculated action on the part of the Creator of all things.
The Son of God was there when all things were made in the first six days. The Bible tells us that all things were created through the Son. And as Creator, He was also Master of His creation. He could do with it as He pleased.
Far from being an innocent bystander, if this fig tree could speak I have no doubt that it would express happiness to be an example that the disciples could learn from.
A much greater tragedy than a lost tree, were the lost souls of men and women who lived in close vicinity to the Word of God, and in the very days of the coming of the Savior!
Jesus’ withering of the fig tree was a solemn warning to the disciples, and to us, of the final result of unbelief. First the fruit of righteousness disappear, then when the last year of opportunity has passed, the fruitless plant is cut down and destroyed.
Faith in the Great God produces good fruit. Righteous words and actions in the lives of men and women of faith.
On this occasion, the hard-headedness of the disciples is once again displayed. Upon seeing that the fig-tree had withered from the roots, they seem to be more impressed with the miracle, than the lesson which the miracle illustrated.
Jesus would not let their amazement go to waste. The penultimate teacher uses their amazement to teach them a couple important lessons about faith. Let’s read again what Jesus said as the disciples stared at the withering fig tree.
Mark 11:21-25 (NIV)
20In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”
22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23“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. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
The first of the lessons about faith that Jesus taught here is that faith in the Great God produces great prayer.
And powerful prayer is free from doubt.
Earlier in His ministry, a man had brought his demon possessed son to Jesus to be healed. When Jesus asked the man how long his son had been possessed, the boy’s father replied,
““From childhood… It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:21-22 NIV).
Jesus responded by saying,
23“‘If you can’? …Everything is possible for him who believes.”
24Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24 NIV).
A prayer is like a balloon that rises up to the throne of God. Doubt is like a rock tied to the string of that balloon. Doubt hinders our prayers.
Our lack of trust in God can prevent us from praying at all. If we doubt that He is active in our daily life, we won’t pray. If we doubt that He actually cares, we won’t pray. If we doubt that He’ll actually do anything, we won’t pray.
Perhaps you’re found yourself offering a quick prayer about something, not so much trusting that God will help, but praying simply because you know that’s what a Christian is supposed to do. Certainly such prayer is grounded by our doubt as well.
In the letter of James it says,
“5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:5-8 NIV).
Doubt cripples prayer. It has no place in Christian prayer.
We need to learn to pray, “Father, I believe, help me to overcome any doubts that live in my heart.”
Now, one point needs to be made before we move on. There is a difference between being unsure of HOW God will answer a prayer and being unsure that God WILL answer your prayer. Remember how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane?
“39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”” (Matthew 26:39 NIV).
In His prayer, Jesus expressed uncertainty as to HOW His Father would answer His prayer. He did NOT however, have any doubt that His Father WOULD answer His prayer.
It is the same in our prayers. We may be uncertain about the HOW and the WHEN, but we can be sure about the WILL. After all, Christian prayer is simply talking to God. It is as certain as God is powerful. As Jesus Himself describes it, doubtless prayer is unstoppable.
Christian prayer is fearless too. If our prayers are misdirected and sinful, we can be sure that God’s answer will be as perfect as God is wise. After all, prayer is not simply “mind over matter”. Christian prayer is speaking to GOD. His perfect mind will yield a precise and fitting answer.
Now, I said earlier that the disciples were more impressed with the miracle of the withering fig three than were by the lesson that the fig tree illustrated. Let’s make sure we don’t miss the point in the same way.
Jesus tells us prayer does the impossible. But don’t dwell on the levitating mountains. Look behind the miracle and answer the question: Why is prayer so powerful? Because of the Being to whom it is directed. It is GOD who has the power to move earth mountains. But, far more important to God are the mountains of sin that are removed by His Son’s cross.
Jesus points His disciples to this fact in verse 25. He said,
“25And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:25 NIV).
Faith in the Great God is accompanied by great forgiveness.
I like to picture faith as a cord that connects people to the true God. Through the “phone cord” of faith we hear God tell us that our sins have been blotted out and washed away because His Son died on the Cross in our place. Through the titanium cord of faith in Jesus, we are drawn through life on earth to life in heaven.
Jesus used a similar picture to describe faith. He said faith was being connected to Him like the branches of a grape plant are connected to the main vine. To His disciples, Jesus said,
“1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:1-8 NIV).
One of the “fruits” that is produced from a “branch” connected to Jesus is forgiveness. We believe that God forgives our sins because of what Jesus willingly suffered, on the cross, in our place. The forgiveness that HE earned and supplies flows to us, through us, and to the people we come into contact with. The Bible says,
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV).
It is the same with forgiveness. We forgive, because He forgives us.
The apostle Paul encouraged,
“13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV).
As forgiveness for our sins flows to us through our faith connection to Christ, that forgiveness must flow out to others. It must. When our sinful nature tries to prevent us from forgiving each other from the heart we must go to God and put that sinful nature down. We must approach His throne in prayer saying, “Forgive me Lord, I have been unforgiving. Cleanse me in Your mercy. Cleanse my by Jesus’ blood. Forgive me that I may forgive others.”
We must never forget how God’s unending store of forgiveness was filled up. The bottomless tank of God’s forgiveness was filled up because of the bottomless ocean of suffering that Jesus felt throughout His body and throughout His souls on the cross of Calvary. Only because God’s horrible anger over our sin was poured out on His Son, is it possible for God to pour out forgiveness on us.
And that’s where we must go to find the strength to forgive one another. To the cross. Other methods of moving our sinful human heart to forgive are not sufficient. Only in the light of His great sacrifice us can we find the power to forgive the thief, the murderer, the rapist, the adulterer and the child molester. Only at the foot of the cross are the tedious sins of our loved ones fully obliterated in forgiveness.
Through faith in the Son of God, and His cross, flows the unending torrent, the mile high tidal wave, the world-wide flood of great forgiveness.
Through faith in Christ, mountains of sin are displaced, diluted, and washed away for all eternity.
Be fruitful, my fellow Christians. Pray without ceasing, and without doubt. Forgive without condition and daily. And know that Your Father in Heaven, through His Son Jesus, daily forgives you in the same way.