We often have problems with authority – especially when we aren’t the authority. We don’t want people telling us what to do. We’re independent by nature. Still, when it comes to Jesus, He is the authority. His authority comes from His status as God the Son. We need to recognize His authority and follow it.
20. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
We finally get to the end of the Markan sandwich and Peter is amazed at the result of Jesus’ curse on the tree. Jesus had declared that no one would ever eat fruit from the tree again, and now it had withered and died. So what’s the point? The cleansing of the Temple occurred in the middle of this story and I believe that the story of the fig tree was a pronouncement on Israel – Israel had withered and died because they had gotten so caught up in their understanding of what God wanted, that they never stopped to consider God’s desires and, even more, they never stopped to consider the heart of God. In their minds, they had boxed God into a corner and anyone who didn’t fit into that little box was looked on with disdain. They lived as if they thought God was lucky to have them on His side. The result was that they denigrated people that God loved. They were full of leaves, that seemed to indicate life, but they had no fruit of God in their lives. Just as the fig tree withered at the roots, the Judaism of the Pharisees and Sadducees was lifeless and disconnected from God – it was withered on the vine.
22. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23. 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.
The key here is when Jesus tells them to have faith in God. The Pharisees and Sadducees had faith in their own ability to interpret God and His ways – but the problem was they didn’t need to establish a relationship with God in the way they lived. Jesus put the focus on their faith in God, not in themselves. With that kind of relationship, it’s possible to determine what God wants and pray that way. What gives us the power to pray in faith, in the kind of faith that would move mountains? We would have to know that God wanted that to happen. When we have that kind of relationship with God that we hear from Him and pray accordingly, God things happen. It isn’t the words that we say. It’s the power of God working in our lives. It’s the relationship with God that leads our prayers, not our own desires.
24. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
And this verse seems to contradict what I just said. I realize that. If my prayers depend on my belief, then I don’t have a strong belief. That’s the only explanation I have when I think about things I’ve prayed for that haven’t happened the way I prayed. People I love haven’t been healed miraculously. People I love have died and gone through difficult circumstances when I’ve asked God to spare them. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s gone through this. I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who’s been shamed by others for my prayers not being answered. If you go back to the beginning of this story, what did Jesus want? He wanted fruit from the fig tree. He didn’t get it. Was it a lack of faith that Jesus didn’t get what He desired? Ultimately, there was something more important than Jesus satisfying His hunger, and that was a lesson on having faith in God.
What I believe is that when we’re in a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ, He will guide what we desire so that our desires are in line with His will. When we know that we desire what God wants, then it’s easy to pray for those desires and to believe that God will provide them.
25. 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. 26. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
I tend to think that a lot of people don’t like this verse because it seems to indicate a conditional forgiveness. We’re only forgiven when we forgive others. Let’s think about this. We expect God to forgive us when we do wrong, don’t we. We ask Him for forgiveness, but then we secretly can’t forgive ourselves and we keep remembering our sin. Even though God has forgiven us, we don’t experience the fullness of joy we should have because He’s forgiven us. The important point here is that if we can’t forgive ourselves when God’s forgiven us, we tell God that we have higher standards than He does. Let that thought sink in. Meanwhile, if we can’t forgive others when we have something against them, we have a similar problem. If God forgives us any and all sins, He forgives anyone else the same way. God doesn’t wait to for me to beg forgiveness before He forgives me, He forgives me. In the same way, we must forgive others. Don’t wait for them to ask, imitate God and start forgiving right away. When you don’t forgive others, it weighs on you and you can’t experience God’s forgiveness in its fullness.
27. And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, 28. And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders might describe what Jesus did as returning to the scene of the crime. But, there He was walking in the Temple the next day. I wonder if the moneychangers and the vendors had cleaned things up and thing were back to normal, or the destruction was still evident. I think there were at least some signs of destruction and that was the reason for the question. They were asking Jesus what right He had to teach the way He taught and to destroy the system they had set up in the Temple. They wanted to know if Jesus decided to do this on His own initiative, or perhaps they wondered if the Romans had sent Him. If the Romans had sent Him, it might be a precursor to even greater trouble.
29. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.
Jesus didn’t back down. He also didn’t give them an answer they could use against Him. He threw the question back in their faces, and I doubt the Jewish authorities were accustomed to that. Jesus not only asked the question, He demanded an answer. The question He asked as one designed to get people involved. When John was baptizing, did he do it on his own authority or the orders of others, or did it come from heaven and, by extension, God? The religious authorities tried and failed to trap Jesus so many times. Now, Jesus had them in a trap – and they recognized it.
31. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? 32. But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. 33. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.
The religious authorities recognized the trap immediately. If they said John’s baptism came from heaven, the next, obvious question would be to ask why they didn’t believe John and his message. On the other hand, the common people who were in the area believed that John’s baptism was a real thing that came from God, and if they were to say that his message and the baptism came from men, they’d get in trouble with the people. It was the kind of trouble that might upset the whole religious authority applecart that they’d established. So, their answer to Jesus was that they didn’t know. They punted. They refused to take a stand. Jesus probably laughed at them as He said that He wasn’t going to answer their question. If they refused to answer a question that appeared to be obvious, how would they take the truth that Jesus could tell them. Truly, the fig tree of the religious authorities had withered and the influence they wielded over the people would be insignificant when compared to what Jesus would do as He rose from the dead.