You’ve Gotta have Faith!
On the first day of the week, we experienced the triumphal entry of the King, and on the second witnessed a fig tree curse and a kerfuffle at the temple compound. Now, we arrive on day three!
As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:20-26
That poor fig tree gets passed once again. The fact that the fig tree gets mentioned a second time indicates that a Mark Sandwich is present. Remember that Jesus cursed the tree, then went to the temple and tore it up, and now back to the tree, which signals that the inner story (the temple incident) clarifies the outer story of the fig tree. The temple practices and faith of the people are unfruitful and may even be rotten to the core!
Having said this, we now move to Jesus’ three-part teaching about faith, prayer, and forgiveness following Peter’s thoughtful observation about the tree. The first lesson addresses faith directly. The ESV translation says “faith in God,” but the Greek literally reads “faith from God.” There are debates as to why this translation decision, but the key is that all faith flows from the Spirit of God. Then comes the statement that leads to a popular idiom; “Faith that can move mountains.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:2). Jesus is not saying you can actually move mountains with true faith; this is the use of hyperbole. He says that true faith in God empowers people to do things that seem humanly impossible, more prep for ministry. Yet, with God, all things are possible.
The second part also addresses faith in prayer. But this time, Jesus is saying that God is amazingly dependable, so pray to him knowing upfront that it’s already answered. This statement does not guarantee that the answers will always line up with what you expect, which is often the case, but God always answers.
The final teaching moment is about forgiveness. This passage is as close as you will get to the Lord’s Prayer in Mark. (see Mathew 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-13). Notice that forgiveness of others is essential when approaching God to receive forgiveness. This inability is a stumbling block, and I cannot tell you how many times I have worked with people where this is painfully true. They couldn’t receive forgiveness from God because they could not offer it to others!
To sum up what Jesus is telling us…
“You’ve gotta have faith, faith, faith!”
Our Father in Heaven, holy is your name.
Let your Kingdom come, and your will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven. Give us today what we need to serve, and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Keep us from our inclinations to follow our sinful desires, and deliver us from evil when we fail to listen.
For yours in is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen!