Forever Fruitful: Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

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One of the more perplexing things Jesus ever did or said can be found during the week of His crucifixion. During this week, as Jesus was staying with friends in the town of Bethany and traveling into Jerusalem during the day, we read in two of the gospels about a time when Jesus passes by a fig tree and curses it for not having figs.

While this seems like an ungodly thing to do, the only reason for Jesus to have done this would be because He wanted to teach us something. Let’s read what happens from Mark’s gospel, chapter 11, using the New Century Version. Starting in verse 12, Mark tells us that:

12 The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. 13 Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. 14 So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.

In my mind, it would be one thing for Jesus to curse the fig tree if it should have had figs on it, but Mark clearly tells us that this was not the season for figs. This would mean that no fig tree in the area would have had fruit on it. In my mind, Jesus’ statement was in many ways unrealistic because the fig tree was simply doing what God had designed it to do, and that meant that there would be some times in the year that it did not have figs – including the time when Jesus spoke these words.

However, with the way that Mark describes Jesus’ sudden hunger, I wonder if this was something that was Holy Spirit inspired, because there was no other reason for hunger. Jesus and the disciples probably had recently finished eating their breakfast before starting their journey to Jerusalem that day.

But regardless of the cause of Jesus’ hunger and regardless of the fact that this was not the season for figs, Jesus seems to do something in these verses that conflict with a loving God. Most people would agree that a loving God would not sentence a tree to death for no reason.

Mark continues in the verses that follow describing what Jesus and the disciples did while in Jerusalem. It is as though this strange event that morning gets swept under the rug. It is like Jesus minimizes this outburst against the tree.

However, what Jesus appears to minimize, the disciples are paying attention to. Mark tells us later in the chapter what happened the following morning. Skipping down to verse 20, we learn that:

20 The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. 21 Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!”

22 Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. 24 So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. 25 When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. [ 26 But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.]”

What the disciples may have been confused about the day before becomes an object lesson for them from that point forward. In these verses, we get one of the most powerful promises related to prayer that is found in the entire Bible. This promise seems to imply that if we truly believe with no doubt that God will do something for us when we prayerfully ask it, He will do it – regardless of what the request is.

A number of Christian groups have rallied around this idea by saying that we can “Ask God for something”, “Believe that He will give it to us”, then “Claim this promise” in order to ultimately receive it. I will say that there is tremendous power in this promise and this belief, but in some ways, by framing God in this way, we cheapen His existence into being just a genie in a bottle – or in other words, Someone who is simply standing by to give us whatever we want to ask on a whim.

The verses that surround this promise are powerful in that they give context to Jesus’ words. Immediately prior to Jesus beginning this promise, we get the context of seeing an answered prayer, and the first foundational element of this promise is having faith in God. Faith in God is another way of saying trusting in God, and the only way we can really trust God is if we are actively moving towards Him.

After the part of Jesus’ words that most people focus on we read a challenge regarding anger, and the challenge is that if we realize during prayer that we are angry with someone, we should stop the prayer and forgive that individual. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be done in person, and in some cases, forgiving someone to their face is not possible.

Instead, forgiveness is releasing someone from a debt that you feel they owe. It might not be a payable debt, but it is something that you are holding them accountable for. Jesus tells us that we must forgive others in order to be forgiven ourselves, and this should be at the heart of our prayers because this is at the heart of Jesus’ promise.

While God can answer any prayer He wants to, it appears when we look at this event in context, the focus points towards our forgiving nature mixed with our belief in God and lack of doubt that together unlock the true power of this promise. The implication, at least with how I read these verses, is that someone who doesn’t trust in God, and someone who may trust in Him but who is not forgiving others will have limited their prayer lives and will have stopped short of where God wanted them to be.

Jesus has challenged us to trust God with everything, He has challenged us to live a life without doubt, and He has challenged us to forgive everyone, regardless of the circumstances. While these are not easy challenges, accepting each of these challenges, and living a life that aligns with these characteristics will transform our prayer lives and allow us to claim Jesus’ promise for ourselves.

When we live a life that is continually growing towards God, trusting Him with everything, and forgiving others without condition, we are being fruitful at the highest level possible, because these characteristics reflect God’s attitude towards us.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Continue to seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Him and His promises. If you ever find yourself in a place where you feel someone else owes you something, choose to forgive that person so you can claim Jesus’ promise that God has forgiven you. Jesus says that God’s forgiveness towards us is based on how forgiving we are towards others, and while I don’t know about you, I want God to be overwhelmingly generous when it comes to forgiving me – and according to Jesus, this can only happen when I am overwhelmingly generous when forgiving others.

Also, continue studying the Bible for yourself, to learn more about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and to grow closer to each of them. When we are living lives within His will, and reflecting His character, we will be able to claim His promises related to prayer and ask for powerful things to happen.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Season 3 – Episode 37: Cam discusses Jesus cursing a fig tree, and what we can learn from this strange event during the week of Jesus’ crucifixion.

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