Harmony of the Gospels

 -Tuesday-
Bethany to Jerusalem
(4) Withered Fig Tree Testifies
(Is. 6:10) Mark 11:19-26 (focal passage), Matthew 21:20-22,


19 When evening had come, He went out of the city.
20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”
22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.
23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”


19 When evening had come, He went out of the city.

The religious leaders hated Jesus for His denunciation of their hypocrisy, but here they began to conspire because of jealousy over His popularity as a teacher.

In the evening ... He went out of the city. Jesus’ practice during the first three days of Passion Week was to not leave Jerusalem until sunset, when the crowds had dispersed and the city gates were about to be closed. For safety’s sake, He would not spend the night in Jerusalem, since his enemies were there. He was not afraid for Himself. We must keep in mind that part of His ministry was to preserve the sheep, that is, His own disciples (John 17:6–19). Furthermore, it would be ludicrous for Him to surrender to His enemies’ wishes before the proper time.

20 Now in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.

On the Tuesday morning of the Passion Week, following the cursing of the fig tree on Monday, the disciples passed it on their way to Jerusalem. It had dried up from the roots (withered away from the roots up). The cursing of the fig tree is recorded in Mark 11:12-14:

12 Now the next day, when they had come out from Bethany, He was hungry.
13 And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
14 In response Jesus said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again.” And His disciples heard it.

21 And Peter, remembering, said to Him, “*Rabbi, look! The fig tree which You cursed has withered away.”
22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God.

Matthew tells that “…when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” (Matthew 21:20). When Peter mentioned the withered fig tree to the Lord, He simply said, “Have faith in God.” But what do these words have to do with the fig tree? The following verses show that Jesus was encouraging faith as the means to remove difficulties. If disciples have faith in God, they can deal with the problem of fruitlessness, and remove mountainous obstacles.

The cursing of the fig tree is given a spiritual application. By faith this tree was destroyed; all things are possible if you Have faith In God.

*Rabbi    A title of respect signifying master, teacher, given by the Jews to their doctors and teachers, and often addressed to our Lord.

23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.

When the disciples expressed amazement at the sudden withering of the tree, the Lord told them that they could do greater miracles than this if they had faith. For instance, they could say to a mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and it would happen. This expression was related to a common figure of speech of that day, “rooter up the mountains,” which was used in Jewish literature when talking about great rabbis and spiritual leaders who could solve difficult problems and seemingly do the impossible. Obviously, Jesus did not uproot mountains; in fact, He refused to do such spectacular miracles for the unbelieving Jewish leaders. Our Lord was on the Mount of Olives when He uttered these words, and so, He must have been referring to it. The sea was probably the Dead Sea, because it could be seen from the Mount of Olives.

The Lord’s illustration is extreme so that it may dismiss all excuses, which limit the faith principle. What could be more difficult than a mountain being removed and cast into the sea? But Jesus told them how to do such astounding things: Have faith or absolute confidence in the power of God.

The removal of the mountain may indicate eliminating obstacles to giving the gospel to the Gentiles. Such appears to be the most likely meaning of the entire incident. Israel is the fruitless fig tree and the Gentiles are the mountain that shall be moved for God by the power of prayer.

By this teaching, we know that Jesus urged His disciples to believe that they have already received whatever they have asked for in prayer. Faith accepts it as being as good as done, even though the actual answer is still in the future.

This verse is often misunderstood today. The Christian does not need to throw mountains around literally, but he needs power for meeting the daily mountains of cares and problems. This is why Paul could pray for the Ephesians, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph 3:16). Personally, I have no need to move mountains, but I would like to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in the inner man. That is more important than moving mountains, and that is what I think He is talking about through the illustration He has given to show what prayer can do.


24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

These verses do not give a person authority to pray for miraculous powers for his own convenience or acclaim. Every act of faith must rest on the promises of God in light of all that the Bible teaches on the subject. If we know that it is God’s will to remove a certain difficulty, then we can pray with utter confidence that it will be done. In fact, we can pray with confidence on any subject as long as we are confident it is according to God’s will as revealed in the Bible or by the inner witness of the Spirit. When we are really living in touch with the Lord and praying in the Spirit, we can have the assurance of answered prayer before the answer actually comes. There are no limits on what we can pray for as long as our requests are according to God’s will and purpose for our lives.

Another point Paul is making is that the first step in Prayer must be faith in God. The writer to the Hebrews stated this same principle: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The skeptic who says prayer is a madman talking to God is certainly correct. Having faith in God is the first step.

25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

One of the basic requirements for answered prayer is a forgiving spirit. If we nurse a harsh, vindictive attitude toward others, we cannot expect God to hear and answer us. We must forgive if we are to be forgiven. This does not refer to the judicial forgiveness of sins at the time of conversion; that is strictly a matter of grace through faith. This refers to God’s parental dealings with His children. An unforgiving spirit in a believer breaks fellowship with the Father in heaven and hinders the flow of blessings.

“And whenever you stand praying.” Standing was the customary way to pray. Kneeling or lying with ones’ face on the ground was used during extraordinary circumstances or for extremely urgent requests.

“anything against anyone” is an all exclusive statement that includes both sins and simple dislikes that caused the believer to hold something against another person. Devine forgiveness toward a believer and a believer’s forgiveness toward others are inseparably linked because a bond has been established between God and the forgiven believer.

Trespasses are offenses, false steps, or blunders.

These last two verses are repeated from the Sermon on the Mount—“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15).

 

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