A LESSON ON FAITH AND THE BARREN FIG TREE
Mark 11:20-26 And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto Him, Master, behold, the fig tree which Thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Also See Matt. 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14)
Both Matthew and Mark record this event, with Mark noting that it occurred on consecutive days. Notice what Mark wrote preceding the message found in the lesson text as well as in the gospel according to Matthew. Coming from Bethany, on His way to Jerusalem with His apostles, he wrote that Jesus was hungry: and seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He came, if haply He might find any thing thereon: and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet (Vss. 12-13). The time that fruit would normally be ripe to eat was near but not yet. This was understandable except the leaves that the tree bore were misleading because they appeared as they would normally be when its fruit was ready for harvest. Jesus fully expected to find figs sufficient to satisfy His hunger. Therefore, because the fig tree falsely indicated, by its leaves, that it bore fruit but was barren, Jesus cursed the tree and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter forever. And His disciples heard it (Vs. 14), that is, they held this saying of Jesus saying in their memory, which was explained on the following day.
This is where Matthew begins his recording of this event, and where Mark continues it in the lesson text. On the morning following the cleansing of the temple of the traders, Jesus and His apostles passed by the same fig tree that He cursed on the previous day. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. The curse had taken effect overnight. Not only would it never bear fruit, but from that day forward, it would never deceive anyone into thinking that the tree was abundantly bearing ripe figs. Although this is not the primary lesson derived from the lesson text, this barren fig tree most certainly resembles a hypocritical Christian of today that appears on the outside to be devoted to the cause of Christ; reverent, and holy, but within is filled with self-righteousness and deceit.
As they passed by the fig tree, Peter remembered the curse Jesus placed on it and brought it to His attention. In Jesus' answer we find this lesson: Have faith in God. The apostles were amazed that the fig tree had withered away. In Matthew's account, Jesus expands on the fact that they should, and they would have this same power: If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall ...do this which is done to the fig tree. Both Matthew and Mark continue by saying that they would also be able to say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
Taken literally, this passage is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. However, Jewish historians tell us that the analogy of moving mountains and casting them into the sea was a proverbial saying that was common among Jews. It was used to indicate that a dedicated, believing faith is required to overcome all of the, seemingly impossible, difficulties and trials that stand in the way of attempting and doing anything that needs to be accomplished. This we know, that quite often the magnanimity of a task often prevents us from even attempting to overcome, solve, and accomplish it. Here in this passage, Jesus is not talking about literally moving mountains but He was rather telling His apostles that they would certainly, during their lifetime, face many monumental trials and tribulations in preaching the gospel of salvation. He assured them that such obstacles could, and must, be overcome by their unwavering, dedicated faith in God.
From this passage one must never be led to believe that "faith in God" will allow them to defy His laws of nature that He established and put into effect during the creation of all things. We can never gain faith sufficiently to stand on a railroad track and defy an oncoming train to spare our life. Neither can we expect to avoid death by jumping off a cliff, or recklessly, without necessary caution, safely handle snakes or alligators. We cannot rely on the sufficiency of faith in ourselves, in others, or in God Himself to fly an airplane toward a mountain and expect to it to split apart or vanish before you reach it. We can, however, overcome most of the seemingly insurmountable, figurative "mountains" that Satan will assuredly place in our way when we serve God by teaching others to seek the soul-cleansing power of Christ Jesus in the manner required in New Testament scriptures. With a dedicated, trusting "faith in God," the lesson text teaches us that we are never to let any discouragement, regardless of its magnitude, deter us from our Christian responsibilities to God and all other men and women of the world.
By inference, Jesus continued by teaching His apostles the manner in which this wonderful faith can be obtained. He told them, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. To these apostles, Jesus gave the assurance that faith was the fountain from which earnest prayers come forth and ascend to God. They cannot be separated, nor can they exist, as God intended, on their own merit. In the context of the lesson text, these words regarding faith and prayer were especially directed to Jesus' apostles. No doubt they were the source of their God-given ability to perform miracles, which would undeniably establish and prove the truths found in the gospel message of eternal salvation through Christ Jesus which they delivered beginning on the Day of Pentecost following the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven by our Lord.
Indeed, both faith in God today, and our prayers to Him, are necessary to be acceptable in His sight. However, Jesus adds another qualification to acceptable prayer. He had just taught His apostles that through faith, prayer is perfected. Now He teaches them, as well as all Christians today, a condition that is necessary in order to make prayers acceptable in the eyes of God. Mark quotes Jesus with this teaching: when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses. In order for us not to take the opening of this teaching literally, we must address the mistaken idea that it is necessary to stand while praying. Most bible scholars translate this to mean that when we are "disposed, or desire to pray" rather than the physical position we take when praying. There are too many examples in the Holy Scriptures where prayer is made in other positions, such as kneeling, lying down, in a closet, walking down a road, etc. God does not look at one's posture when praying, but rather He looks into our heart and mind for the proper attitude to pray acceptably.
The lesson in this passage was the same as Jesus taught in His "Sermon on the Mount." There Matthew quotes Jesus as teaching, not only His apostles, but the multitude of followers that surrounded Him, making it universal doctrine for all Christians to follow. As it is in the lesson text, so was Jesus teaching there: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14-15). This tenet, Jesus told His apostles, must always be remembered when seeking God's mercy in prayer. Unless you forgive any, and all, trespasses of others, your trespasses will not be forgiven by God. It is well to include here that, not only is forgiveness required for seeking God's mercy, but it is also required for acceptably worshiping Him as well as avoiding being excluded from heaven (See Matt. 5:21-24).
Because all human beings often sin and fall short of the perfection required to enter heaven, we must continually seek forgiveness from our Heavenly Father through the avenue of prayer. It is only by forgiveness that we can ever be reconciled to God by the blood of Christ Jesus. Only those that have faith in God can truly understand the dire eternal consequences of failing to receive God's forgiveness, and the condition to receive it, is His commandment to forgive others. Jesus' lesson on faith and the barren fig tree is filled with the teachings of our Savior. In order to obtain eternal life in heaven and avoid the never-ending punishment of hell, we must read, understand, and incorporate into our manner of life, the Christian doctrine found in these teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.