Here we are in the last week of Jesus earthly ministry. God is about to write the final redemption chapter in the scripture. In his 3 years of public ministry, Jesus has healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, gave limbs to lame, made the cripple walk, offered sight to the blind, raised the dead to life, cast out demons, calmed the storms, fed multitudes, opened the mouths of mute. All these are constructive miracles. But when we come to Mark Ch.11, in v12 to 14 we read an account of an unusual miracle where Jesus cursed the fig tree. This is the only destructive miracle recorded in the gospels, and it is an illustration of the judgment and coming destruction of the temple and upon the nation of unbelieving Jews.
Now, in the following morning when they walked by that tree, Jesus’ disciples saw the fig tree withered from the roots. Peter remembered what happened in the previous day and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (v21). The answer Jesus gives is very interesting! What does it have to do with the fig tree?
Peter had seen the display of Jesus power, but this one is so different. Peter was amazed by the mighty power drawn through the words spoken by Jesus, and it was as if he asked, “Wow! Rabbi, what kind of power is this?” And Jesus answered, “Have faith in God”. In other words “such power comes from God”. The subject of this text is nothing but prayer. Jesus is teaching them how to draw such divine power from above.
Jesus’ final three days on earth
For three years, the disciples had lived in the presence of Almighty God Himself, God in human flesh. Anything they needed, He provided. Everything that they needed came directly from His hand. When they needed protection, He provided that. When they needed direction, He provided that. When they needed food, He provided that. When they needed wisdom, He provided that. Imagine they’re going with Jesus to a wedding where wine runs out, imagine they’re going fishing with him, imagine they’re going to a hospital with him, imagine they’re going in to a middle of a storm with him, imagine going on a road trip with only two loaves of bread, and imagine they don’t have money to pay taxes when collectors come? Jesus, the Son of God was their life line for three years!
But things were going to change dramatically in just two days! It is Wednesday. On the next day, Thursday will be the Passover, on Friday the crucifixion, on Sunday the resurrection. So these are the last days of our Lord’s life and ministry. They were going to go from having the Son of God within arm’s reach, to not having Him at all. This is a massive shift for them to handle. On whom they are going to depend on from Friday?
So Jesus took time to teach them that the same power and the same resources are still available and accessible to them even after He is gone. In these five verses, we can learn FIVE important components of a powerful prayer.
Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered” (V21). It seems that Peter didn’t realize the fig tree died immediately the day before. He only noticed it the next day. Peter remembered the power Jesus had displayed in the previous times, he knew the fig tree died after Jesus cursed. He had previous experiences to attest to this act. The foundation of the powerful prayer is to know that God has put His power on display in the past in your life. Why would you call on the Lord now if He hadn’t proven Himself in the past?
When the children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land the Law was given and fifteen times in that book of Deuteronomy we read, “You shall remember”. Remember what? Remember how God has delivered you out of Egypt, remember how God has preserved you from the death angel at the Passover, remember how God has parted sea and then drowned Pharaoh’s whole army, and remember how God fed you manna in the wilderness and provided water from a rock.
The more you remember, the stronger your confidence in God. The more you remember, the more it fuels your worship. The more you know the scripture, the more you know the redemptive history, the stronger the foundation of your confidence in prayer.
Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God” (v22). The point here is not about faith. It’s about God. It’s the character of God. You must trust God. You must trust His power, but you also must trust His promise, His plan and purpose. Faith is a belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to his will for one’s life – Nelson’s Bible Dictionary. Hebrew 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Faith believes God.
Do not doubt, but Believe (v23)
“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” (V23). Jesus is using a simple analogy here, it is figure of speech. It refers to really difficult things, hard things. The main thing here is not to doubt God, but believe Him. Belief is to place one’s trust in God’s truth – Nelson’s Bible Dictionary.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours (v24). This is a promise from Jesus -you need to ask. Prayer shows your dependency upon God. However, this promise is based on a qualifier; you must ask according to His will. “This is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 Jn 5:14). “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:13).
“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” (v25). First of all, I need to deal with the sin in my heart. Psalmist says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ch.66:18). If I hold a grudge, feel vengeance towards another then my prayers are not answered.
The immutability of God
One of the supreme blessings to His Children is the immutability of God -that is His unchanging nature (Malachi 3:6). If God is unchangeable, how can He answer prayer? It is His unchanging work that sustains the creation (Heb. 1:3), It is His unchanging righteousness that results in His wrath toward the wicked (Rom. 1:18–32), and it is His unchanging love and mercy that leads Him to rescue His people (Ex. 2:23–25). What a great privilege we are given to tap the divine power through prayer.
God knows our griefs, our pains, our hardships and tribulations. He hears our cry for healing, our cry for better marriage. He understands our struggles with the finance, and our heart cry over wayward children. He is wiser, generous, gracious, and merciful than anything I could ever imagine. He will never forsake us, and He will never withhold any good thing from us. The whole universe exists for the glory of God, and at the end, His purpose will stand, and we must believe that it is always good.
Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us. Fervent prayer aligns our deepest desires and expectations in life with God’s wise and loving plan for us. So, our plea must be, “not my will, but your will be done.” And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Dr. John MacArthur
Transforming Prayer, Daniel Henderson