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Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. Mark 11:24 NKJV

In the long list of verses that people routinely use out of context, this one would be near the top of the charts. And the verse just prior to this one appears to confirm the message:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.” Mark 11:23 NKJV

On the surface these verses appear to be the magic formula for getting what you want—the secret is faith—you’ve got to believe. Believe that the mountain will be uprooted and cast into the sea, don’t doubt, and, “poof”, there it goes! In place of the mountain, just insert your problem, sickness, financial need, or whatever you lack, into the prayer and, bingo-bango, you will have them.

How many of us have felt embarrassed, shamed, or just small and weak, when our problems didn’t instantly go away, get solved the way we wanted, or be resolved at all, even after many such prayers? Weaker souls may even be shipwrecked completely because they can’t seem to muster up the preacher-level faith the guy bouncing around up front demands that “The Bible says” they need. 

But in context Jesus is talking about something else completely. He is talking about how His followers can avoid the same fate as Judaism, who, corporately, missed His coming, even though, by all outward appearances, His arrival was all they were building towards—the arrival of the King, the coming of Messiah. As it turns out, it was all a ruse, outward ritual and practice with no inward anticipation, staunch adherence to tradition with no living faith to animate the spiritual dimension of their activities. They were like clouds without water or trees without fruit.

In fact, an actual tree without fruit was how this conversation between Jesus and the disciples began.

The story revolves around Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. For three years it had been established through teaching, fulfilled prophecy, signs and wonders, that He was the One, the Messiah. And now, on the very day predicted by the prophets, the Messiah entered Jerusalem on a donkey, children and followers honorably waving palm branches, laying branches and clothes in the path before Him, shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9) 

Jesus went straight to the temple—the center, the heart, the pulse, of the Jewish religion, and what did He find? Like a gardener who had been lovingly tending this tree for generations, hoping to find life and fruit, instead, there were only leaves. Money changers, people rushing around, people selling approved sacrificial animals, all the hustle and bustle of a busy marketplace. In short, the Lord came looking for fruitful lives, anticipation, life! But it was nowhere to be found. Micah prophesied of Jesus’ hunger and disappointment when he wrote:

Woe is Me! For I am like those who gather summer fruits, Like those who glean vintage grapes; There is no cluster to eat of the first ripe fruit which my soul desires. Micah 7:1

This is what Jesus experienced that afternoon, riding into Jerusalem. Speaking of the nation, His soul desired fruit – but there was no cluster to eat. And then, the next day, Jesus enacts a living parable, showing God’s desire for Israel’s fruitfulness.

Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry. And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it. Mark 11:12-14

Jesus saw a fig tree that had it’s spring leaves, big green fig leaves, so He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it—but there was nothing but leaves. Now it was not the season for figs, but the leaves suggested something different, the leaves gave the impression of fruitfulness because of its rich leaves—but it was a false impression, there was no fruit. And so Jesus cursed the tree, not for its lack of fruit, but for its appearance of fruitfulness, when there was no fruit to be found. He cursed the tree for it’s hypocrisy you might say, it’s leaves made it look like it was bearing fruit, but it wasn’t. So Jesus says “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.”

This is highly significant as we look at what happens next as Jesus goes to the temple…

So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a “den of thieves.”’ Mark 11:15-17

Jesus sees all the busyness and commerce and just stops it dead in its tracks. This act of halting Temple activity, even though they would resume it later, represents God’s rejection of what Judaism had become—empty tradition. People who came to the temple looking for answers and hope got nothing but religion, history, form. Leaves with no fruit. This act of Christ did not go unnoticed by the religious leaders who heard it and “sought how they might destroy Him…” V18.

The next morning, as Jesus is walking with the disciples, the entire passage begins to come into focus.

Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered away.”
So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.” Mark 11:20-22

Isn’t this a strange answer to Peter’s observation? Some have read that and determined that it is a formula for cursing fig trees. But that’s not it at all. Jesus isn’t telling Peter how to curse trees, He is explaining to him how to live so as to not be cursed. The nation of Israel was rejected, because it had lost living faith. They exchanged relationship with God with religious ritual and ceremony, performance and procedure. When faith in God is lost, the life that was once present just drys up and withers away.

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.” Mark 11:23 NKJV

So Jesus isn’t giving the disciple a formula for moving mountains, cursing fig trees, or getting what you want in life, what He is saying is that having faith in God is hard.

There are insurmountable mountains in life that oppose our faith and they surround and constrict every would-be follower of Christ in every generation.  Think of Israel, they were slaves within their own country because of the missteps of their forefathers, they had endured 400 years of apparent silence from God with no prophetic mouthpiece for God in the land, how could they be expected to be fruitful? How could they hope to keep God at the center of their lives and worship? It was possible with faith. And Jesus says exactly that: “I say to you, if you ask in faith, that mountain will be removed.” 

And then Jesus reveals how to cultivate this kind of living, vital faith.

Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. 
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. Mark 11:24-25 NKJV

Can you see how these verses fit with the whole passage? The great hindrance to having faith in God is unforgiveness, which stems from pride. Pride is like a towering mountain standing between you and living faith in God, it hinders your life, it blocks your fruitfulness. And yet, you have the power to remove it—through forgiveness! 

Unforgiveness blocks the flow of the life of God, it renders the tree fruitless, no matter what it might look like from the outside.

This is why Jesus puts His finger on this one thing. The nation of Israel lost its life because it would not forgive the Romans and other nations and rulers through the centuries who had offended and grieved them. Instead, they gathered themselves up in robes of self righteousness and looked up with pride to God and said, “I thank God that I am not like these other people.” And the life of the nation ended.

Dear one, don’t let pride stifle your fruitfulness. Move that mountain through forgiveness. Start right now.

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