What is faith? How does faith work? What is our faith based on? What is saving faith? What happens when our faith is shattered? Those faith questions and others are addressed in this nine-week series simply called faith.
Pastor G takes a nine-week break from his “Just Jesus” series walk through the Gospel of Mathew.
This is a series Greg first heard Andy Stanley preach way back in 2002. It had such an impact on Greg that he has preached his version of it at every church he has served since.
Today is week six and Greg focuses us in on “but what about… (Part 1 of 2).”
We’ve been talking about faith for several weeks. We’ve talked about the dangers of circumstantial faith. We’ve talked about how Jesus is the only true foundation for our faith. We’ve talked about why we need to keep our eyes fixed on Him instead of our circumstances. We defined hope and faith and how they are related but not the same. We defined Biblical Faith. Faith is the confidence that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised to do. We said that Faith Is Always Attached To A Promise. We said if there is no promise then we can only have hope, but not faith, but God has invited us to ask Him for, to hope for, anything we want. We said what has God promised us? The Biblical answer amounts to this, for the most part, God Has Promised Us Grace And Mercy In Our Time Of Need.
We defined grace and we defined mercy and how they work together. We said, our Good Heavenly Father, who loves to give good gifts to His children, oftentimes, He does give us the thing we’ve hoped for and asked for. But we can’t have FAITH that He will give those things because Faith is always attached to a promise. We said we should pray the way Jesus modeled for us. Lord, I KNOW You CAN do this (that’s faith) and I humbly HOPE You WILL. Not my will but Your will be done. We said, sometimes God gives us a personal promise and that’s awesome when that happens. But we cautioned each of us to hold onto that promise with an open hand because we are often wrong at interpreting the promises of God.
Don’t make that presumed promise the foundation or the focus of your faith. We said it is awesome when God says yes to a prayer request but it’s also awesome when God says no. Because He has an overarching plan for all of humanity that means He has a very good reason for saying no to you sometimes when you ask Him. Hearing NO doesn’t mean you didn’t have enough faith. It actually takes stronger faith to endure a no from God than it does to acquire a yes from God. That’s where we left off at the end of last week. As I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve taught this series numerous times at numerous churches. Always, there are some people, who have been taught differently their whole life, who really struggle with this teaching. They will contact me and say something like “Okay, Greg. This sounds right. I follow you. I think I believe that. But what about…. this verse. There seem to be some verses that say if you just really, strongly, believe, and don’t have any doubt about it, God will do anything and everything you ask.
Well, you are right. There are some verses, at least at first glance, that SEEM to teach that. So today, and next week, let’s look at some of those. Along the way, we are going to keep a very important principle in mind which is C.I.E. – Anyone know what C.I.E. stands for? Call it out. Type it if you are online. Right! CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING! Keeping in mind that context is everything, we’re going to look at some of these passages. I think that, by the time we get done, you will see that those passages don’t actually teach what you have maybe been taught about them. I think you will find that the Bible is very, very consistent about faith and how faith actually works. Let me start by giving you some broad context for everything that we’re going to say today and next Sunday.
Listen. Don’t miss this. When Jesus was on this earth, His audience was primarily Jewish people. He wasn’t speaking to New Testament age Christian believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, like you and I are today. He was speaking primarily to Israeli Jewish people. These were, for the most part, people who had grown up and learned in a very well-developed religious education system. Jesus was speaking to a group of people whose history and culture was very faith-oriented, especially as it related to faith in Yahweh as the one true living God. So oftentimes Jesus makes statements about faith that just sort of throw us off in our current worldview because they don’t seem to make sense in the context of how we tend to understand faith. He’ll make some vague, seemingly open-ended (to us) statements about faith that His original audience immediately got the full context of but we really wish He would qualify and clarify it for us.
He’ll make statements about faith and we’ll say, “Um, ok. Yeah, but that just doesn’t work. I’ve tried that, repeatedly, and failed. It doesn’t work that way. If you really study God’s word you will find an interesting thing in Scripture. There seems like there is this shift regarding faith from what we hear in the Gospels, when Jesus was teaching Jewish people, to what we read in the Epistles that the disciples wrote after Jesus was gone. When you look at what Jesus initially said about faith and then you look at what Paul and Peter and James and John said about faith, it sometimes seems to be two different things. It’s really just a C.I.E. thing. Here’s the difference. Jesus was speaking specifically to a centrally located Jewish group who understood what real faith was all about because of their lifelong ingrained culture, religion, and history.
After Jesus ascended, the Gospel was going out all over the world, especially into a Greek culture that understood faith in a very different way. So you find the apostles beginning to put some qualifying statements on some of the things that Jesus originally said, that seemed open-ended, to try to give the correct context to their Gentile audiences. C.I.E. They were writing commentaries, writing about what Jesus MEANT instead of just what Jesus SAID. They didn’t disagree with Jesus, but they knew that their audience wasn’t as informed as Jesus’ original audience. They didn’t have the background that Jesus’ audience had. So oftentimes it looks as if there’s a conflict between something Jesus said and something the apostles later said. But what we’ll see is there’s no conflict at all. The apostles and Jesus taught the exact same thing from different contexts.
The Jewish people Jesus was speaking to were in a covenant relationship with God. Part of this covenant was unconditional and part of it was conditional. God said right up front, “OK, Israel, the Jewish nation, I’ll do certain things no matter what. Whether you stay in covenant with me or not there are some things I will still do.” Wednesday Night attendees know – that’s the Providential Will of God yeah? In addition to that part of the covenant, God also said to Israel, “IF you’ll do certain things, THEN I’ll bless you in certain ways. Likewise, IF you do not do certain things THEN I will NOT bless you in certain ways.” God told them, “I promise you that you’re going to live in the land of Israel, the Promised Land. I’m promising you a Messiah. You can count on it. Those are My promises.” When the average Jewish man or woman thought about faith, their faith was restricted to what God had clearly promised them.
He had made promises to them through the covenant they were in with Him, and consequently, they knew exactly what those promises entailed. They knew exactly what to expect from God because of the Torah. That covenant is really spelled out. Here’s exactly what you can expect from Me and here is exactly what I expect from you. So, the Jews expected from God exactly what He had promised to THEM, to the Jews. That’s the way they understood faith. Listen, don’t miss this. This is very important. A man or woman of faith that was a devout Jew was a man or woman who was committed to upholding their end of the covenant. When you read in the Old Testament about men and women of faith, you don’t read about men and women who brought petitions to God and tried to force or coerce or manipulate God into doing something because they felt like they had enough faith to get whatever they wanted. That name it and claim it stuff? No! That is NOWHERE to be found.
Men and women of faith in the Old Testament were men and women who were completely surrendered and had submitted themselves to the Law and to the covenant that God had invited them into. Old Testament Faith is always a REACTION to God’s initial action. What do I mean by that? Faith was always a reaction to something God said, to something God did, to something God promised. Whenever you see faith being expressed in the Old Testament, it’s NEVER a self-initiating thing. The faith of an individual NEVER initiated ANYTHING. Faith was ALWAYS a response to God. God initiated something and then men and women RESPONDED to God in faith.
That’s the pattern of the Old Testament without exception. It starts with Noah and goes all the way to Nehemiah. God said, “Noah, I am going to make it rain. Build an ark.” Noah would have had no idea about any of this if God hadn’t initiated it. Noah reacted. He responded by faith and he began building the ark. It wasn’t his idea. God was the initiator. Word came to Nehemiah that God had begun to call Israel back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. Nehemiah was still a cupbearer to the king of Babylon, an indentured servant. He wanted to be faithful to God’s call to return and rebuild Jerusalem, so he began praying that God would influence King Artaxerxes to allow Nehemiah to be part of God’s plan. He was just responding to the revelation of God. Listen. Don’t miss this. Old Testament faith, one hundred percent of the time, was a REACTION to God’s initial action. It was always in response to some primary action by God.
Guess how many times the word faith appears as a noun in the entire Old Testament? Are you ready for this? This is unbelievable. In the entire Old Testament, the word faith appears as a noun a grand total of four times. Now, guess how many times faith appears as a verb? 163 times. Faith for the Old Testament believer was not a noun. Faith is an action verb. You never find the Jews sitting around in the Old Testament saying. “How much faith do you have? Well, I have this much faith or that much faith. Instead, you find men and women who were either trusting God or not trusting God. Acting in faith or not acting in faith. Faith was a REaction to some primary initiating action by God. Now, that’s really important because you see that’s VERY different than the way we tend to see and discuss faith. That’s very different from the way many of us were taught about faith. Here’s how the average American Christian views faith.
I have a need or I have a desire. So, I’m going to have some amount of faith, and if I have ENOUGH faith, then my faith is going to cause God to react and give me what I want or do for me what I want. Do you see that? I’m going to do something with my faith, and that will get God to react for me. I want to initiate this process and get God to do what I want. You’ll NEVER find that in the Old Testament. You’ll NEVER find that way of thinking in the Old Testament because the Old Testament believer understood God is the initiator, not us. We are the responders. That has not changed. God is still the great initiator. We were created to respond to Him. We exist for Him. Not the other way around. We are here to serve Him. Not the other way around. Faith is not something we HAVE that initiates a process. Faith is simply our response to God. That’s why almost all of these words we translate as faith in the Old Testament were verbs. Faith was something you did. It wasn’t something you talked about or tried to have or own or build-up or collect or use as a tool: to accomplish anything you desire.
When we use it that way, let’s admit it. Our desire, if we’re honest, amounts to bringing the infinite God of the universe down to something small enough for us to manage somehow. As we said earlier in this series we tend to think of faith as some kind of power, some kind of force, some kind of lasso that we can use to harness the power of God. Faith is the key to unlock God’s help. But what we’re going to see today is this. Faith was never meant for us to use to try to change God. Faith is about helping us change. Faith is about bringing us into alignment with the purposes and the plan and the power of God. I want to show you one verse of scripture that I think summarizes this whole concept. Some context first. Why? Because C.I.E. Context Is Everything.
After letting Israel go Pharaoh sent his army to pursue them. Israel was trapped against the Red Sea. The Israelites all began to whine and complain and wanted to back to slavery rather than die in the wilderness. Moses is trying to shut them up.
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward. 16 As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. ~ Exodus 14:15-16
Notice, God is the initiator of this plan. It wasn’t Moses’ idea to lift up his staff and stretch his hand over the water. God told him to do that. How does Moses respond?
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. ~ Exodus 14:21-22
Because Moses responded with faith the Israelites all make it through safely. Then what happens?
26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.” ~ Exodus 14:26 God instigates another action. “Moses stretch out your hand again.”
If He does then God will collapse the waters and drown the Egyptians. What do you think Moses will do? He responds in faith to the initiating command and promise of God.
27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. ~ Exodus 14:26-27
Imagine the Israelites experiencing all this. WOW! This is their response. And I think this summarizes the kind of faith we’re talking about. Look at Exodus 14:31
31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant. ~ Exodus 14:31 (NIV)
So there’s two results listed here for us.
1) They feared the Lord and
2) They put their trust in Him.
Here’s the picture of the Old Testament faith. Here is how Jesus’ original audience understood faith. After they saw God act in some way, or command them to act in some way, they responded in faith. “WOW! God is something else. I’m with You God. I’ll do and say whatever you tell me to do and say.” That was their response. That is a picture of their faith in action. See that? That is SO different from “OK, God, I’ve got this idea, so here’s what I want You to do. I REALLY BELIEVE this will happen so I’m just going to (GRUNT) faith You into it. I am the one who is initiating a plan. I need to get You in on my deal God. If it doesn’t happen then that just means I didn’t have ENOUGH FAITH.
Listen. You NEVER find that in the Old Testament. Faith to them was a verb, an action, a response to something God has said or done. Faith was not a tool to move God where they wanted to move God. Faith was a response to the power or the revelation of God. They stood in awe at God’s power and they submitted and surrendered their will to His will. That’s what faith is all about for them. And nothing has changed. That’s what today’s church is sorely missing. With all of that context in mind, let’s take a look at Matthew 7, part of Jesus’ famous sermon on the Mount. Here we find a very familiar verse. Unfortunately, this verse is very often misunderstood. Jesus is talking about prayer requests.
He’s talking about what we can ask of God and what we can expect from God. Many of you probably have this passage memorized.
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (this is our favorite part right?) 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. ~ Matthew 7:7-8
We like that! That sounds great! God has handed us His American Express Black Card. “Here ya go, gang! Have a good time. Go grab everything and anything your little hearts desire! It’s all yours! Anything and everything! Ask, seek and knock and you will find everything you want. The fact is, everybody, listening or watching right now who has been a Christian for more than two minutes knows that’s just not how it works, is it? You don’t just say, “OK, God, I mean, I asked, I sought and I knocked. Where is my private jet? Where is my trillion-dollar bank account? Where is my yacht? It just doesn’t work that way, does it? God did NOT give an open credit line to all believers and you just get whatever you ask for, seek for, or knock for. We know that right? That cannot be what Jesus meant because we’ve ALL tried it and it just doesn’t work that way.
Fortunately, Jesus didn’t stop there. To explain exactly what He meant, He gave an illustration that sheds light on His true meaning and intent. We can’t prooftext and rip part of a scripture out of context and then build a whole doctrine and theology around it. Unfortunately, some have done that. That’s what has screwed up our expectations and understandings of faith. Look at verse 9 as Jesus illustrates the deeper truth He is actually teaching.
9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? ~ Matthew 7:9-10
He’s giving kind of a ludicrous example, isn’t He?
We talked about this on a Wednesday night a few weeks ago as we talked about the Omnibenevolence of God. His listeners had to be thinking, “No! Of course not! We wouldn’t do that! Only a psychopath would do that.” Right? Jesus continues:
11 If you, then, though you are evil, (or we can read that though you are sinners) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! ~ Matthew 7:11
What does God give according to this verse? Good gifts right? Obviously, from the full context of this passage, Jesus’ point is not that God is going to give you everything and anything you ask for! Jesus’ point is that God is a good Father! That’s the Big Idea of what He is saying. Now, don’t miss this. Who determines what is good for you? God! God, who is a Good Father, is smart enough and merciful enough not to give us everything we ask for.
Some of the things we ask for are not good for us or even if they are good for you they are not good for the rest of the world or not good for God’s bigger picture plan for the redemption of humanity. So, you have permission to and are encouraged to ask and seek and knock all day long. He wants You to come to Him with every request. Still, there are MANY things God is NEVER going to give you. Doesn’t matter how much faith you have. Doesn’t matter how much you pester Him. God is a good heavenly Father and it would violate His character, His holiness, and His sovereignty to give you and me some of the things we often pray for. Jesus’ obvious point here, when viewed in its appropriate context, is just like an earthly father is committed to only giving good things to his children, the Heavenly Father is committed to only giving good things, things that are good for all of His children when they ask.
Some of you are old enough to remember Toys R US before they went bankrupt. People would bring their children there and it was total sensory overload. No child could really handle Toys R US. I could hardly handle Toys R US. The Sears Wishbook at Christmas time was an overload for me as a kid. At Toys R US you would often hear this: “Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, I mean, the kid was relentless. Come on, dad! And dad kept saying no and back and forth they went. The dad’s already told them “You’re not old enough for it. It’s dangerous.” He gives all the excuses but this kid is just badgering their dad Tommy has one, Betsy has one, all the kids have one. So finally the dad gives in and says “FINE!” and buys the thing and this four-year-old leaves with a 40 mph gocart. You witness this. What is your first thought? Do you think “Wow! What a good father? No.” You think “Hey dad! Dude. You’ve got to learn how to say no. You’ve got to learn how to draw a line somewhere.”
If your message to your kid is, if you pester me long enough I will eventually cave and give you whatever you want, that doesn’t make someone a good father. That actually makes you a bad father. A good father does not make decisions about what their child gets based on the frequency or volume of their request. A good father evaluates the request in light of their maturity and the wisdom and timing and all kinds of other critical things. Then, if he determines it is a good gift for you and everyone else who may be impacted by your gift, he will give it to you. Jesus’ point is the very same thing. Your Heavenly Father is an even better dad than you are. He is committed to only giving you good things. He’s a really good dad. That means a lot of the time He is going to say no. Let’s face it, there are things that all of us know better than to ask for right?
We knew this as kids too. We know some things that definitely are not good for us. We didn’t bother to ask mom and dad and you don’t bother to ask God because you already know, those things are not good for you. He knows they’re not good for you too. There is no way He is going to give you that! But what about that category of things that YOU THINK are good for you but God knows are actually bad for you? He’s not going to give you those either. Why? Because He’s a good heavenly father. So, when Jesus says to ask, seek, knock, He’s not saying God has handed you the credit card. You can ask, seek, knock for anything you want, just like a child. And He will respond. You will find Him. He will listen to your request. His door will always be open to you. But bottom line, you’ve got to trust Him when He says yes AND when He says no.
Faith isn’t about, “Just beg for things, just demand things enough, believe enough that you can wear God down and eventually God will cave.” No. Faith is about trusting your heavenly Father, no matter what happens. We can probably all tell this story about some point in our lives. There was someone that I wanted and I knew in my conscience it was wrong. Still, in your own way you tried to make a deal with God. Something like this, “God, if you won’t help me, at least don’t get in my way. God, I know You won’t bless it, but at least don’t hinder me. God, just be neutral on this one, because this is what I really want. This is who I really want. You went after it and you got it and you justified all that as the will of God because God didn’t stop you.” And it turned out terrible in the end. Now, today, you say “I wish I had just trusted God because He knew best.” I love it when my kids Becca and Josh call me. I love it when they ask for my help. Jesus is saying God is an even better parent than you are.
The bottom line is, you can lay in bed at night and sleep easy, not worrying that you asked for the wrong thing. Because God is ONLY going to give you what’s good for you and the rest of His Creation. Whether or not you accept His answer, that is based on your faith in, your confidence in, who He says He is and what He promises to do. So, maybe right now, you are like, “OK Greg, I hear you. You convinced me on that one but what about Mark 11? This is the one that is used most often to support a name it, claim it, prosperity approach to faith. Again, C.I.E. Context Is Everything. Let’s add some context. Jesus and His disciples are traveling from Bethany located at the base of the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. There are lots of hills in that area but there’s really just one true mountain there, the Mount of Olives. Jesus is hungry. He sees a fig tree. They walk over to the fig tree and there are no figs on the fig tree.
Mark tells us it was the wrong season for figs to grow anyway. Still, Jesus, in response to the tree not having any fruit, curses the fig tree and tells it to die. Now, this is very uncharacteristic of Jesus. That seems like a little bit of an abuse of power. We will be reminded that Jesus always has a teaching reason for everything He does. He wasn’t just pitching a temper tantrum with His God power when He cursed the tree. They go on to Jerusalem. Jesus overturns the money changers tables in the temple. Then, that evening, they head back to Bethany. Peter looks over and sees that fig tree. And lo and behold, that sucker is super dead. Even its roots have already shriveled up. And Peter is shocked! He says “Rabbi! Look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” In the Greek, the grammar is such that Peter is saying “WHOAH! Can you believe that? It actually died! That’s crazy? Never expected that!”
I’ve been picking on the disciples a lot this year but it’s almost as if Peter expected Jesus to go “Really?! Wow! Me either! I can’t believe that actually worked! Coooool.” No. Come on. Here is how Jesus actually responds to Peter’s shock and amazement.
22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if ANYONE (that’s important – remember He said anyone here – we’ll come back to it – if anyone) says to THIS mountain (what mountain? Based on their location it HAS to be the Mount of Olives) if anyone says to THIS mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be DONE for them. ~ Mark 11:22-23
(Done is a key word here too. Remember done – we’ll come back to it) Then look at verse 24.
24 Therefore I tell YOU, (that’s important. He says YOU – we’ll come back to that.) whatever YOU ask for in prayer, believe that YOU have received it, and it will be YOURS. ~ Mark 11:24
HOT DANG! Right? God’s Black American Express Card all over again. Just go on out there and have a good time. Just whatever you believe in, whatever you want, it will be yours. Perfect health? Miraculous healing? Mansions? Yachts? Ferraris? Rolexes? Diamonds? Gold? Jewels? Cash? All yours! Anything you want! This is where we get thrown off course by some prosperity teachers. They say, well, if that thing you asked for, that thing you prayed for, didn’t happen, it’s obviously because you didn’t really believe it, you didn’t have ENOUGH faith. Now, Jesus said the same thing about faith moving THIS mountain, in a different setting, in a different context, in Matthew 17. We studied this six weeks ago. The disciples, whom Jesus has given the power to heal and exorcise demons have been unable to heal and exorcise a demon from an epileptic man.
They ask Jesus why they failed and Jesus answers, in that context:
20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” ~ Matthew 17:20
How much faith did they need to pull off that miracle of moving a mountain? Faith as small as a mustard seed. The tiniest little speck of faith is all you need. Faith that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He promises to do. As we said several weeks ago, Jesus had already promised them He was sharing His power and authority to do this. Their problem was they didn’t have any faith IN HIM and what He had PROMISED them. This isn’t about faith in your own personal belief about what YOU want to happen. That’s not the context of this promise at all. This is 100% about faith in who God says He is, what God wants to happen, and what God promises to do.
Regarding both this passage and the Mark 11 passage we’re looking at in-depth today, those who miss the point of this teach us: “Well, the problem is, you have to really believe it in your heart. You’ve got to have heart faith and they go through all these made-up stages of faith. If you prayed for something you wanted to happen and it didn’t happen the problem was you didn’t have real faith, enough faith, you had doubt in your heart. Because Jesus clearly said if you just have faith and do not doubt in your heart and if you believe what you say will happen then it will be done for you. Ask for anything in prayer and if you believe that you have received it, it will be yours! Looking at just those couple of lines in the Mark 11 fig tree event, out of context, that definitely seems to be what Jesus said. If that’s true, if that’s what Jesus means, then we are concerned.
That means there is definitely something wrong with me because God does not appear to operate that way with me. Right? How many times have you prayed for something to happen and you really believed, had total positive thinking about it, but it didn’t happen? And I was told, as maybe you have been told, “Well, the problem is you! You just don’t have ENOUGH faith.” They point us to Matthew 17 where Jesus told the disciples they had too little faith. We are told, “You just need to get out there, generate a lot more faith.” But Jesus said the hugest miracle only takes a tiny mustard seed amount of faith. He doesn’t even mean that as a literal amount. Again, remember, faith is not a noun. It’s not something you can have an amount of. Faith is an action verb. Back in Mark 11, notice, it doesn’t say have faith in your faith. NO. How did Jesus kick off this promise? He said …
22 “Have faith IN GOD,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ’Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be DONE for them. ~ Mark 11:22-23
Who’s doing the doing? You? Your faith? Your belief? No. God is doing the doing If you look at the text and the context, here is the point Jesus is actually making. What would have to happen for you to genuinely believe with 100% absolute confidence and certainty that this mountain is literally going to be picked up off its foundation, by God Himself, and cast into the sea? What would give you the confidence that God was going to do that for you when you proclaimed it to happen? What would give you so much confidence that you would walk up to Mauna Kea and say “Be lifted up and cast into the sea?” What would give you the confidence that God would actually do that for you? Only one thing. Right?
Only one thing. I don’t care what you say, only one thing would give you or me that confidence and that faith. Clearly, God has woken me up in the middle of the night and said, “Greg, I want you to go out there and stand in front of that mountain, and say “Pick yourself up and cast yourself into the sea.” That’s the ONLY way that thought, that possibility, would EVER enter my mind. Just like Moses never would have thought to hold his staff up and split the Red Sea, you would not in a million years walk up to a mountain and believe that God was going to throw that into the sea for you just because you wanted Him to and really believed He would do it. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. That’s actually the point of the illustration that Jesus is making. The illustration is sort of ridiculous, but it’s a reflection of something that the Jews knew in a heartbeat that we often miss. Our faith is not the initiative. Our faith is not the thing that initiates.
Faith is our reaction to God’s initial action or revelation. That’s why Jesus begins this whole narrative by saying have faith IN GOD. In other words, if you think this little old scrawny fig tree dying is something Peter, hold onto your hat because that’s nothing! You won’t believe what God is able to do when He is ready to do it. He can pick this whole mountain up and throw it into the sea right before your eyes. That’s what He is saying. Isn’t it obvious now? When Jesus talked about tossing the mountain into the sea in Matthew 17 He was scolding the disciples for not having faith IN GOD as well, not having faith in HIM. Remember, in Matthew 10, Jesus told them He was giving them access to His power and His authority but seven chapters later, we see they obviously didn’t really believe Him. Otherwise, they would have exorcised the demon. Not because they believed they could do it. Not just because they really believed God could do it. They didn’t believe Jesus’ promise that they had His power, authority, and permission to do it. They didn’t have faith in Jesus. They didn’t respond with confidence to the initiating command of God. Let me tell you another reason throw the mountain thing can’t be the way it’s explained by the health and wealth name it and claim it camp. Look at what God, through the prophet Zechariah, has already told us long before Jesus says what He says in Mark 11 and Matthew 17. In Zechariah 14 we have a prophecy about the Second Coming of Jesus. Look at what God tells us through Zechariah.
4 On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. ~ Zechariah 14:4
When Jesus finally comes back, guess what’s still going to be sitting there right by Bethany? The Mount of Olives. When Jesus comes back He’s going to touch down there and split it in two.
You can go out to the Mount of Olives right now. You can have all the faith, all the belief, all the confidence, all the positive thinking you want. You can pray for it 24-7 for days on end. But I want you to know that mountain is NOT going ANYWHERE. I don’t care who you are or how much faith you think you have, you CANNOT speak to THAT mountain and move it. Why? Because we’ve already been told by God it’s still going to be sitting right there when Jesus returns. See why our Hebrew roots are so important? The only way we can truly understand faith is through our Hebrew roots. Clearly, Jesus’ point was NOT “Listen, disciple dudes, why don’t you all get together and try this out. Now look, you just have to have enough faith, and then you go tell that mountain to go flying into the sea and God will do that for you. God will do ANYTHING YOU WANT HIM TO DO!
As long as you have enough faith. Is that what Jesus meant? Of course not! Of course not! That’s ridiculous. That wasn’t His point. You can’t uproot a mountain that God has already declared will be there when Jesus returns. No way! If that was His point all these super fathers out there teaching us this stuff would be out playing pitch and catch with mountains all day long. Jesus’ point was clear, “Guys, when God is ready to move, lookout. Nobody can stop Him. Flinging that mountain around is as easy for God as you throwing a dead fig tree leaf.” Do you get that? Do you see that? He says, Have faith in God. Clearly, God is not going to entrust anything as huge as mountain throwing to the whims of anyone who just believes it hard enough. The world would be destroyed in seconds. In Scripture, we see that not even Jesus, the perfect human, did anything on His own initiative. He didn’t walk around thinking “Well, I’m Jesus. I’m the Son of God.” So I can do whatever I want.
I’ll just come up with some wild and crazy ideas and do whatever I want, whenever I want. I certainly have enough faith to do anything and enough power to do anything so check out this wild thing. POW POW! ZAP ZAP! Jesus never did anything on His own initiative.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. ~ John 5:19
Jesus essentially told us “I’m just here to do what the Father tells me to do and I’m just here to say what the Father tells me to say.” Jesus always responded in faith to the revelation and the initiative of the Father. The reason Jesus healed certain people is because God the Father told Him to. The reason Jesus went to the cross is because God the Father told Him to.
The reason Jesus cursed the fig tree was because God the Father told Him to so that He could use it to teach a lesson about trusting in the ultimate power of God. That’s why His response, to their amazement about the fig tree was, “Have faith in God and you can do the kinds of things I’m doing too.” Whatever the Father tells you to do, do it. Whatever the Father tells you to say, say it. Even if it sounds crazy or impossible at the time. So listen. I promise you. If God wakes me up in the middle of the night and tells me “Greg, go speak to Mauna Kea – tell it, ‘Pick yourself up and throw yourself into the sea.’” You know what? I’m 100% going to say it and I am 100% going to expect it to happen. Not because I have a lot of faith like a superpower or something but just because God told me to do it and I have faith that God is who He says He is and that He is always going to do everything He promises to do. If God is initiating it and He wants to do it then I am going to react in faith and do what He tells me to do. You should too.
Even if He tells you to build an ark. Even if He tells you to stretch your staff out over the Red Sea. Even if He tells you to march around the walls of Jericho. Even if God tells you say to a mountain “Move!” Expect that mountain to move – IF — IF IF IF IF – God is the one who said to do it. Be like Jesus. Only do what the Father tells you to do and only say what the Father tells you to say. If you believe in your heart that God is able to do what He says He is going to do, then go do and say everything He tells you to do because 100% it IS going to happen. Not because of YOU or some critical amount of faith YOU have. No. Only because of God. One day, that mountain, the Mount of Olives, IS going to split itself in two. Part of it might very well end up in the sea. It is definitely going to happen one day, but it’s definitely NOT going to happen until God’s ready for it to happen.
It’s definitely not going to move on the whim of any human being or any angel. It’s not faith that moves mountains. It’s God that moves mountains. Jesus’ point is God is in control. God is still large and in charge of His universe. Now, something else happens in this verse. It’s easy to miss. I told you to pay attention to the words anyone and you. Remember? Let’s look at it again. Jesus says in verse 23 if ANYONE says to this mountain – then look again at what He says in verse twenty-four.
24 Therefore I tell YOU, whatever YOU ask for in prayer, believe that YOU have received it, and it will be YOURS. ~ Mark 11:24
Did you catch it? Jesus changes from “if anyone” to “whatever you.” Who is the “you” He is referring to in the context of this conversation? We assume it is all of us, all Christians, but it’s not. Not here. C.I.E. Who is His audience in this conversation? His disciples, the Twelve. He tells the Twelve “Whatever YOU ask for in prayer, believe that YOU have received it and it will be YOURS.”
Remember what we studied in our Just Jesus: Matthew messages? We talked about it a little bit ago as well. When Jesus gave the Twelve access to His power and His authority. When He gave THEM the ability to heal and cure and exorcise demons? Jesus entrusted to THEM a certain amount of power and authority that not every single believer received. He entrusted to THEM a responsibility, a stewardship of power that He did not entrust to any other group. He gave THESE MEN a power that would allow THEM to do what He had been doing. THEY, the TWELVE, would be able to walk up at will and heal people by touching them like Jesus had been doing, a power that goes beyond the average and normal power of an individual. Jesus is speaking to Twelve here at the fig tree. Jesus knew that THIS group of people were people He could trust with that kind of promise.
They were ones that He knew would use that kind of power, after He ascended, under the guiding umbrella of God’s will. He knew one day that His representatives, as the second wave of the gospel went out, that THEY were going to be able to ask God for ANYTHING and God would answer THEIR prayers and He would say yes. He would do whatever THEY asked Him to do. Why? Because don’t miss this! Listen. This is so important! Listen. BECAUSE, like Jesus, they would ONLY ask for the WILL OF GOD to be done. BOOM! That is SO CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to this promise in Mark 11:24. As Paul would later write in Romans 12:2
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~ Romans 12:2
These were men who were transformed by the renewing of their minds through Jesus, the Word of God, and later through the Spirit of God, so they were able to discern the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God and their only goal in life was to do the will of God, to ask God to share His will with them and then to respond in faith and go and do His will. Like Jesus, they would only do whatever the Father told them to do. They would only say whatever the Father told them to say. Just like Jesus before them and just like Jesus taught them to do. That’s why God would do whatever THEY asked because they would ONLY ask what God Himself told them to ask just like Jesus did and taught them to do. Do you see that? What a game-changer that is to this faith promise of Jesus yeah? They were surrendered one thousand percent to the purposes and the will of God. That’s what their faith was about, responding in obedience and faith to whatever God initiated in them and through them.
They were men who did not go out and ask God for big houses and big salaries and Rolex watches and yachts and private planes and big bank accounts and $100,000 suits – there is such a thing – some prosperity preachers buy them – and call it all the will of God. In OBVIOUS contrast, the disciples all died paupers. They all died as martyrs except John who was boiled in oil but didn’t die so he instead died exiled on a prison island. These men were SO different than the prosperity preachers we see today who tell us “God wants to give you ANYTHING and EVERYTHING YOU want.” In amazing contrast, the apostles were men who would use that special endowment of power and authority, entrusted to them by Jesus, to do only one thing, to ask for only one thing, and that was to do the will of God, to do whatever the Father told them to do and to say whatever the Father told them to say. With that understanding, then of course this prophecy of Jesus is true for them.
That’s what prosperity teaching gets wrong. God has to be the initiator. Faith is just our response to His command. Prayer isn’t about us moving God. Prayer is about God moving us. Faith isn’t about getting God to do something He wasn’t going to do anyway. Faith is about us aligning our lives with His purpose and His will and praying for His will and His will alone to be done. Doing what He tells us to do and saying what He tells us to say even when it seems impossible? It amazingly becomes possible. Even, moving a mountain. True, Biblical faith is the faith we see in the Old Testament believer. “Wow! You are God and I’m not. You call the shots and I do not. I stand in fear and reverence and trust and dependence upon You Lord.” That is what true faith is all about.
Here’s why people sometimes get confused and misinterpret this. Jesus didn’t have to qualify all these statements in this passage with the kind of exegesis I’m doing for you, because of the audience He was talking to at the time. He was only speaking to the Twelve Jewish Disciples. He wasn’t speaking to a crowd of thousands. He wasn’t even speaking to you and me. Not in this passage. He was speaking to the Twelve. When the audience changed and the terms weren’t as clear, Jesus tacked on some extra words and some extra illustrations and some extra conditions for them and for you and me to make it more clear for us how faith actually works. The bottom line is this: Faith is our REACTION to God’s FIRST ACTION. Our faith is our reaction to the revelation, to the promises, to the actions of God, and what God has called upon us to do. We are to simply learn His ways and His will and then align our thinking and our lives with His ways. As Paul said, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds through His word and through His Spirit.
If we do that to the fullest, then we can know and discern what His will is in any situation. Once we know it, we do what the Apostles and Jesus did before us. Pray for God’s will, whatever it is, pray for God’s will to happen. Our prayers should only and always be for the will of God to be done. Not my will but Thy will be done. Then, listen, don’t miss this. Listen. Then we can live our lives with two confidences. This was the point of this little incident there by the fig tree.
1) God is able to do anything He wants to do. Have faith in God.
Do you know what God is able to do? God is able to do anything He wants to do. God is able to fix your marriage. God is able to heal you. God is able to resurrect you. God is able to save you. God is able to bring that child home.
God is able to save your husband. God is able to convict your wife. God is able to change the heart of your terrible boss. That’s Jesus’ point at the fig tree at the base of the Mount of Olives. Here’s His point. Have faith in God. Don’t have faith in your faith. That’s ridiculous and pointless. Have faith in God. When God is ready, there is no limit to what He can do. We can ask, seek, knock for anything we want. We have His permission and invitation to do that. But listen:
2) God is only going to give us good gifts, never anything that will hurt us or anyone else.
What great confidence. In the meantime, your responsibility, my responsibility, and the Twelve’s responsibility are the same. We are to simply respond in trust and in faith to who He says he is, what He says He has done and what He has promised to do in the future. We don’t need to be amazed by fig trees dying. We don’t need to be amazed one day by a mountain splitting in two when Jesus returns. We should flat out expect it to happen, in faith, 1000%, just because God said it is going to happen.
~~~~~ LET’S PRAY ~~~~~