Christ’s Power Over Every Need
The Gospel of Mark Sermon Series
“The Bragging Fig Tree”
Mark 11:12-14, 20-33
Jesus has entered into Jerusalem on a colt, the people laid down their outer garments in the street, waved palm branches, and shouted Hosanna (save us!) and were anticipating Jesus coming as the Messiah, who would be the new king of the Jews (like David). The following morning Jesus entered the Court of the Gentiles and drove out the moneychangers, the livestock, and Jesus kept people from taking short-cuts through the holy area. While he did all that, He was teaching, specifically against the religious temple leadership, saying, “you have turned this holy worship area into a den of robbers (v.17).”
He may have even been reenacting Zechariah 14:21, “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.” This passage is a reference to the coming Day of Lord, which is a coming judgment. So, the picture of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a colt was Him declaring, I am the promised Messiah. His driving out the false and corrupted worship was what a king would do, restoring a proper worship of God.
And during these events in Mark’s gospel, he adds an account of where Jesus curses a fig tree. This is not just a side point of frustration of Jesus, “because He was hungry.” This is very specific and important because it is Jesus’ last miracle in the book of Mark. All of the miracles were to prove that Jesus was who He said He was. Here, Jesus’ last miracle makes one final statement, and it would be just for the disciples (not the crowds). Mark puts the stories together in such a way so that one helps to explain the other.
Jesus’ Last Miraculous Act (vv.12-14, 20-25)
The following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. . . .20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”
Earlier, Jesus told the parable of the fruitless fig tree, and here he is putting the parable into action, Luke 13:6-9 “And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” Jesus has returned to Jerusalem, the temple, and is not seeing any spiritual fruit. “Israel was the fruitless fig tree, or the richly-privileged vineyard that brought forth wild grapes (Isa. 5:1-7). Yet, though fruitless, Israel was full of profession, false show of godliness.” They were leaves without fruit, promise without fulfillment.
Jesus is not jumping from the cursed fig tree, to the topic of faith. That was his goal all along. He allowed Peter to discover the cursed tree on his own. Also, remember that disciples had seen Jesus perform miracle after miracle up to this point (raising the dead, calming the sea, casting out demons, healing the sick, walking on water, etc.) yet they are still amazed at Jesus’ performing miracles. Peter says, “, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” The disciples will soon lead the new Christian church, they too could do what Jesus did – but how?
Jesus says in John 14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” How will they do even greater things than Jesus did?
22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 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. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 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.”
Jesus is days from the crucifixion, he has a very limited amount of time left with the disciples to prepare them for what they are about to experience all the things that will happen at his death and burial, and their eventual leadership, so he uses the fig tree to explain to them what it means to have faith.
How We Define Faith is Critical to a Relationship With God.
Mark is very careful and sparse in the details that he gives in every chapter and verse of his gospel. So, to help us understand this passage, it is helpful to point out the details that Mark chooses to include (leaves, the season of the year, etc.) – so it is linked with Jesus’ traveling to Jerusalem and what He finds at the temple.
“Jesus on his initial visit to the temple has found all leaves, but no fruit. His summary verdict on the ‘braggart’ fig tree is a verdict on the failure of God’s people and is of a piece with his developing polemic against the ‘barren’ temple.” From a distance the tree looked great, but when you get close, there is nothing there. From a far the temple gave the appearance of authentic and genuine worship of the One true God, but when you get close, it has become corrupt, divided, and disingenuous.
Jesus is preparing the disciples to take over as leaders, so how does Jesus do what he does – how does he do the miracles? How did he curse a fig tree? (v. 22) “And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God” – action, movement, steps in life, live your life in such a way that shows you believe God, and take Him at His Word.
(v. 23) “does not doubt in his heart” – this literally means a divided judgement, it is the word for the number two and judge. It’s having the thought, “it can be done,” and “it’s can’t be done,” at the same time.
Cain And Abel’s Offering
Example of Faith; Cain and Abel’s offering. Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel come to a worship service and present their offering to the Lord. God accepts Abel’s offering, but rejects Cain’s offering because it was not according to the requirements God had established, God says to Cain, Genesis 4:7 “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Hebrews 11:4 helps us interpret what is going on in the Genesis passage. “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” Hebrews 11:6 “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Abel’s actions followed what he believed to be true. Cain’s attitude betrayed him, because it revealed that he did not genuinely have faith in, or believe God.
(v. 24) “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – This is a faith that prays, “prayer is the source of its power, and the means of its strength – God’s omnipotence is the sole assurance, and God’s sovereignty its only restriction.”
A passage that helps us to understand Jesus’ teaching is Romans 8:26-27 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
This faith in God, resulting in the words we pray are not a blind faith. Our prayers are rooted in our relationship with God, knowing what He desires, based on His Word, and then praying those things back to Him. If our prayer came from the Spirit of God, it stands a much better chance of being answered by God, according to “the will of God.”
1 John 5:14-15 “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” We are to ask and pray according to His will.
The Greatest difficulties, facing the disciple’s ministry,
can be removed with prayer rooted in faith.
(v. 24) “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.” – This goes back to how we approach God; We ask in prayer that God forgive us of our sin, therefore He expects us to forgive other people of their sin against us. This goes back to action, and a following of God’s Word while interacting with Him. Also, this teaching on prayer is happening corporately, “the text is not focusing on private prayer.”
Standing while praying “signifies that we honor God as being present, before whom we cannot sit but must stand.”
Now when the mountain has been thrown into the sea (you have prayed and God has moved), don’t wade into the water and dig it back up again. Forgive and move on. All of this is rooted in the work that you and Lord, and your church are doing together – this is not about an individual getting rich, or having fancy cars, or having your best life – it’s the work, the obstacles you face together, and asking God in faith to remove them.
The Religious Leader’s Lack of Action (vv. 27-33)
27 And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”— they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
(v. 27) “the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him,” – there are three groups (high priests, scribes, and elders) that composed the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the Jews. This is the Jewish high court, and they are appearing to him in person.
(v. 28) “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” – “that you keep on doing these things,” These questions force the reader to ask, “who was speaking for God – the Jewish leaders, or Jesus?” Their question implied that since they had not given it to Jesus, that he then had not right to say that He spoke on behalf of God.
“The honor paid to the Rabbis exceeded even that due to parents. The ‘elder in knowledge’ was revered even more than the ‘elder in years.’ If a person’s father and teacher are each carrying burdens, one must first help the teacher, or if both one’s father and one’s teacher are in captivity one must first ransom the teacher. This respect bordered on honor given to God. ‘Let the honor of thy friend border on the honor of thy teacher, and the honor of thy teacher on the fear of God.’ To dispute a rabbi, or to murmur against him, was as sinful as to murmur against God. The Jew gave preference to his teacher over his father [because] the one gave him temporal life, the other eternal life.”
Jesus even warns of religious leaders who loved the attention and devotion they received from the people, Luke 20:46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, . . .”
Their intention is not to gain information from Jesus, they don’t believe that he has the authority to teach in the temple, drive out people from the Gentile Court, have disciples following him around, etc. They wanted Jesus to stop.
(v. 30) Jesus asks the religious leaders, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” – Jesus is linking his authority as the Messiah to John the Baptist. When John preached “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” the religious leaders did not repent, follow John’s preaching, nor were they baptized. Jesus is simply repeating their question back to them, but replacing his name with John’s name, “By what authority did John baptize people?”
Mark 1:1-3 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” God had sent prophet after prophet to His chosen people, and John was the last prophet that would be sent – and they didn’t recognize him.
Jesus places the Sanhedrin in the middle of two horns of a dilemma – If John’s authority was from God, then why didn’t you accept him? Why were you not baptized by him? When he was arrested by Herod, why didn’t you say anything? If they say John’s authority was from men, the people knew otherwise and would have punished them (by stoning).
The religious leaders had ignored John. They did not deny that he was sent from God, to do so would have gotten them stoned. They also, made their decisions and public comments based on the consensus of the crowd. The truth of the Bible doesn’t change depending on what culture feels should be right and what should be wrong.
(v. 33) “So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” – They are supposed to be the people who know, it was their supreme duty to know, yet they say, “We do not know.” In their own words, the disqualified themselves from being the religious authority.
 See also Matthew 21:21
 W. N. Clarke, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania; Judson Press, 1950) 163.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002) 441.
 Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume 1 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1932) 361.
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis, Minnesota; Augsburg Publishing House, 1964) 495.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1984) 729.
 Note to self: Don’t be the mountain, that others are praying to be removed.
 See also Matthew 6:14-15; 18:35.
 Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, The Gospel of Mark (Carol Stream, Illinois; Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 499.
 Lenski, 497.
 Lenski, 500.
 Robertson, 362.
 Bock, 503.
 Roy B. Zuck, Teaching as Jesus Taught (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books, 1994) 37.
 See Luke 20:6