Saturday, November 19, 2011

Faith & Fig Tree (Mark 11:22-23)

Mark 11:22-25 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. "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. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." 

In Mark chapter 11, we read about Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit (vv.12-14). And the following day, when the disciples passed by the same fig tree, they found that it had withered from the roots. So, when Peter saw it, he exclaimed to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!" (v.21). Then Jesus replied as above: "Have faith in God." It seems like there is no connection between the cursing of the fig tree and the his reply to Peter. Why did Jesus say, "Have faith in God" in response to Peter's amazement that the fig tree Jesus cursed had withered?

Matthew's version of Jesus' response to Peter in Matthew 21:21-22 gives us a clue:

Jesus replied, I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." 

In essence, Jesus' cursing of the fig tree was an exercise in faith: "not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain..." What is faith according to this fig-tree cursing incident? I can find three characteristics of faith here:

1) Faith is public: In other words, if we have faith in God, we will exercise it publicly. Faith is not something private, "between me and God" exercised on weekend away from the crowd. Jesus' faith was public and exercised in the arena of common everyday life (he was hungry). It was not some kind of ecclesiastical activity done within the walls of the church. The kind of faith Jesus demonstrated is faith exercised in the marketplace decisions in full view of everyone. The secularization of the public arena has made many Christians shrank from public exercise of their faith. This is inconsistent with Jesus' understanding of faith as something as natural as looking for food to eat when we are hungry.

2) Faith is vocal: He did not just believe in his heart but he also confessed with his mouth: "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." What we believe in our heart, our mouth speaks. Jesus has said in Luke 6:45, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." Our heart faith is released in mouth confession. So, Jesus reiterated in Mark 11:23 "if anyone says to this mountain." Whatever may be our mountain (sicknesses, work challenges or life crises), we exercise faith by speaking to the mountain before us, saying, "Go, throw yourself into the sea!" If we have doubts, we will find it hard to verbalise this confession. But by saying it out loud, we affirm whatever little "mustard seed" faith we may have and allow God to bring His power to bear on our behalf.

3) Faith is persevering: Jesus says God's power is set in motion after speaking to the mountain, but the speaker must not "doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen." Confession is the first part of this act of faith. But we have to guard against doubts creeping in along the way. Faith stands on God's promises (not our wishful thinking), and doubt is contradicting the promises of God. Confession starts faith in motion, but is completed as we persevere in God's promises and not doubt. Notice that the outcome of such faith is set in passive tense ("it will be done") because faith looks to God himself (not the strength of our faith) to make things happen. We step out in faith by speaking out against the mountain publicly and we resist any temptation to doubt by putting our confidence in the power of God.

Father, strengthen our faith in You! Help us to be unashamed of our faith in You, declaring our faith publicly, vocally and steadfastly. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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