Mountain-Moving Prayer (Mark 11:12-25)
What makes you really angry? There are some people who are a little like nitroglycerin. They’re always ready to blow. The slightest provocation, and watch out! But there are others of us who need to be pushed to the wall before we ever get angry.
Aristotle said something interesting. “It is easy to fly into a passion – anybody can do that,” he said, “but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and with the right object and in the right way – that is not easy, and it is not everyone who can do it.”
If there is anyone who could be angry with the right person to the right extent, at the right time and in the right way, it would be Jesus. We’re going to look today at what made Jesus angry. It may surprise some of you that Jesus got angry. But it’s in Scripture. There are some things that make Jesus very angry.
Please open your Bibles to Mark 11. It’s found on page 1143 of your pew Bibles. We’re going to take a back-door look at the subject of prayer, because there is an important and connection between what makes Jesus angry and the subject of prayer.
As we begin to read Mark 11, it’s the last week of Jesus’ life. Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem, and had already spent part of a day looking around in the Temple, before traveling to a near-by town to spend the night. On the Monday of that week, we read of one of the most puzzling stories of Scripture. Jesus got mad at a tree. Read verses 12 to 15 with me.
12The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.
I’ve been known to curse inanimate objects. So have you. That’s not too surprising. But it’s a little surprising to see Jesus get so upset at a tree. What’s behind his fury here?
The story begins normally. Jesus is hungry, and so he looks around for something to eat. Noticing a fig tree, he examines it to see if it has any figs ready to eat. Fig trees usually leaf out in March or April, but don’t produce any fruit until June. This tree had plenty of leaves, but as Jesus examined it more carefully, it had no fruit. That’s not too surprising – it wasn’t time for the tree to bear fruit. So why would Jesus get angry at a tree for not having any fruit – especially when it wasn’t yet time for the tree to bear fruit?
I’ll tell you why. We make three discoveries in this passage, and here’s the first one.
ONE: OUR PROBLEM IS LIFELESSNESS
I’ve read the Gospels a number of times. Jesus didn’t get angry too often. Whenever he did, his anger was directed at one thing: the appearance of religion without any substance.
Why would Jesus get angry at a fig tree? Some people think that Jesus was simply being petulant. But Jesus was using the fig tree as an illustration. The fig tree looked good from a distance, but when you got up close it was fruitless. It looked promising but it never lived up to its promise. It had all the style and none of the substance.
Look at verses 15 to 17.
15On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:
“‘My house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations’?
But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'”
The Temple looked good from a distance. It was the holiest place in the world. It was where God lived. Jews called it the “gate of heaven.” But when Jesus looked closely, he saw made his blood boil. He announced God’s judgment on the Temple. He drove the merchants and moneychangers out of the Court of the Gentiles. The place of worship and prayer had become a place of extortion, preventing Gentiles from coming to God in prayer.
In the year 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed. But on that day some forty years earlier, Jesus announced God’s judgment on the Temple. God can’t stand religious life with no substance. He can’t stand a tree that has leaves but no fruit. He can’t stand a Temple that looks good but is rotten inside. He can’t stand a church that says the right thing but has no spiritual passion to back it up.
I had the benefit of beginning to follow Jesus at an early age. Back then there was no pretending. I remember how I used to go through Bibles as a kid. The pages would fall out. Eventually I wouldn’t be able to read the pages because the were underlined and highlighted too much. If God said something, I believed it. I wasn’t perfect by any means, but I had a hunger and a simple faith in God. There was no slippage between who I appeared to be and who I really was.
Things changed. I won’t get into all the details, but the year that I entered seminary, I had to make some serious decisions. If you asked anyone at church what I was like, you would have heard me described in glowing terms. But if you asked certain people at work what I was like, you would have heard different things. I was embarrassed by what they knew. I guess I had begun to pretend a little in my spiritual life. There were more leaves than fruit, if you know what I mean.
You would think that things had changed, but they didn’t. In year two of seminary, I began meeting with one of my professors to be mentored. He began to ask me about my devotional life. You can appear to be all spiritual, but when someone asks you about how much time you’re spending with God in prayer and how much of God’s book you’re reading, it’s pretty hard to hide. I was just a few years away from becoming a pastor, and I had no devotional life to speak of.
It’s pretty easy to pretend. At one time, figuratively speaking, we might have had lots of leaves and lots of fruit. But a lot of us have lost our fruit. We appear to be alive but we’re lifeless. We have style but there’s no substance. And it makes Jesus angry.
Writing to a church, Jesus said in Revelation 3:
“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2Now wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is at the point of death. Your deeds are far from right in the sight of God. 3Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly and turn to me again. Unless you do, I will come upon you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.
Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel that your problem – our problem – isn’t heresy but apathy? Do you ever feel like you’re farther away from God than you used to be? That’s my problem. It’s your problem. We appear to be more alive than we really are.
Jesus gives us a solution, and it’s our second discovery. Not only is our problem lifelessness, but…
TWO: THE SOLUTION IS PRAYER
What’s the solution to lifelessness? Prayer. You may think that prayer is only for the spiritual elite, but it’s not. It’s for those who have leaves but want the fruit. It’s for you and it’s for me. It’s for those who want a fresh encounter with God.
Read what happened in Mark 11:20:
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.
Jesus had just performed a miracle unlike any other. It’s the only destructive miracle he performed. It’s the only time that his miracle involved making something worse rather than better.
The disciples were amazed. For a tree to shrivel up in the space of one day was unheard of. What had Jesus done? He had taken away the tree’s false advertising. There was no more pretending. It has looked great but been unfruitful the day before. Now it looked like it actually was.
What would you expect Jesus to say next? I would have expected him to address barrenness and corruption. I would have expected Jesus to expand on why God was judging Israel. But he doesn’t make that application. Instead he talks about prayer. Why does he do that?
Certainly, part of the reason is to explain how he was able to curse the fig tree. The disciples were amazed that Jesus could do it. Jesus wanted to let them know how he was able to do such a miracle. But there’s more.
The reason Jesus talks about prayer is because prayer is the antidote to lifelessness. Jesus was explaining how to be different from those who participate in lifeless religion. He was explaining how his kingdom really works. As opposed to those who participate in the ritual of religion, his kingdom is based on faith in God that overcomes insurmountable odds. Do you want to know how to overcome lifeless religion? Begin with prayer.
Jesus said, “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.” Jesus was referring to a specific mountain. It’s possible as he spoke that he was either referring to the Mount of Olives or the Temple Mount. It’s just possible he was saying, “If you really have faith in God, you can oppose the current religious system. You can stand up against the apathy that you see around you. The world can be remade. But it’s going to happen through prayer.”
It’s as if Jesus was saying, “Out with the old institutionalized religious establishment. In with my people – people who will specialize in faith-borne prayer.” The antidote to lifelessness is prayer.
What can prayer do?
Prayer can revive your heart. We all feel spiritually dead at times. If you don’t right now, you will one day. Prayer can change that. Somebody once said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus honors a prayer like that.
Prayer can overcome obstacles. Jesus said you that mountains can be moved with prayer. In the Bible, a mountain often signifies an insurmountable obstacle. God can do the impossible. With God, anything is possible.
Prayer can remind you who’s in charge. Sometimes we think that it’s up to us. People have twisted this passage to make it sound like we need to get enough faith and then we can make things happen. But the amount of faith isn’t as important as the object of our faith. Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “”I assure you, even if you had faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” There is great power in even little faith, as long as the faith is in God. It’s God’s power that makes the difference.
I’m pretty sure that you have obstacles in your life. I’m pretty sure that you need a fresh encounter with God. You and I need our hearts revived. We need to be reminded that God is the one who makes the difference. Prayer can do that. Prayer is the antidote to lifelessness.
Our problem is lifelessness. The solution is prayer. There’s one more discovery we make in this passage.
THREE: THE WAY TO PRAY IS WITH AUTHORITY
Jesus said in verse 24:
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.”
There are two conditions to effective prayer. One is that we pray confidently. The second is that we pray with a forgiving spirit. This morning I’d like to focus on the first condition. We need to pray confidently and with authority.
There are different ways to pray. We’re always to pray submissively, submitting to God’s will rather than ours. There are times that we don’t know what God’s will is. Our will might even be opposed to God’s will. That’s when we pray very clearly saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
But there’s also a time for authoritative prayer. Ordinary prayer proceeds from earth to heaven. We ask for forgiveness; we pray for healing; we give thanks. But authoritative prayer is different. We bring the resources of heaven down to earth.
When we know what God’s will is, but need the power to do God’s will, it’s time to pray authoritatively. When we need to engage the enemy, it’s time for authoritative prayer. We know what God’s will is. We just need to pray God’s resources into the situation. Richard Foster writes:
How do we do it? We do it by coming against every “mountain” that hinders our progress in God. We command all kinds of fears to leave and never return. We stand against evil thoughts and suspicions and distortions of ever sort. We bind the spirit of anger and jealousy and gossip, and release the spirit of forgiveness and love and faith.
How do we do it? We do it by demon expulsion. Wherever we find evil forces at work, we firmly demand that they leave. We are in charge, not them. In the ministry of power we take authority over whatever is opposed to our life in the kingdom of God. (Richard Foster, Prayer p. 256)
We can pray God’s power into Richview. We know what God’s will is for our church. There’s not a question of whether or not God wants to move among us. There isn’t much of a mystery about whether or not he wants us to be evangelistic. But we need his power.
A pastor once stood in front of his church and said:
Brothers and sisters, I really feel that I’ve heard from God about the future of our church….It’s not fancy or profound or spectacular. But I want to say to you today with all the seriousness I can muster: From this day on, the prayer meeting will be the barometer of our church. What happens on Tuesday night will be the gauge by which we will judge success or failure because that will be the measure by which God blesses us.
If we call upon the Lord, he has promised in his Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to himself, to pour out his Spirit among us. If we don’t call upon the Lord, he has promised nothing – nothing at all. It’s as simple as that. No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend on our times of prayer. (Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire p. 27)
C.H. Spurgeon, the great British preacher from a hundred years ago, said in his church:
The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings. So is the prayer meeting a grace-ometer, and from it we may judge the amount of divine working among the people. If God be near a church, it must pray. And if he is not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer.
If God is going to bless Richview in the year 2000, it’s going to be because of prayer. If God is going to get rid of deadness in our hearts, it’s going to be because of prayer. If we are going to see God move, it’s going to be because of prayer. “Herein lies the Church’s power against the world” (Andrew Bonar).
I hate the deadness in my heart. God hates any deadness he finds in the church. He’s given us the antidote: it’s prayer. And he’s called us to pray authoritatively. Will you?
Father, prayer isn’t a gimmick. It isn’ t just the pastor’s vision. It’s the antidote to deadness within our souls and within the church. It’s a command of our Lord.
Jesus said, “I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” We believe that. And so we begin a week of prayer, asking that you would awaken our hearts. Turn us into a spiritual powerhouse. If we don’t call upon the Lord, he has promised nothing – nothing at all. But if we call upon the Lord, he has promised in his Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to himself, to pour out his Spirit among us.
Lord, I don’t know what you have planned for this coming week, but you have called us to prayer. May we be found faithful. In Jesus’ name, Amen.