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Posts Tagged ‘praying for the kingdom’

For the last two weeks we have been in Mark 11 working our way toward vs. 22-25. Here’s a quick review:

  • With his temple demonstration, where he brought everything to a halt, Jesus symbolically indicated that the temple will cease to operate.
  • With his cursing of the fig tree, which then died, Jesus symbolically indicated that the temple will be judged and destroyed.

Also we saw how Jesus is building another temple, made without hands. And although the old one was condemned for not being a house of prayer, this new one, which includes all who are connected to Jesus – is to be a true house of prayer.

22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 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. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And 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.”

 Connections between our verses and the fig tree story

First of all, the disciples were greatly impressed that the fig tree had withered. Wow, Jesus! How did you make the fig tree die? How is that even possible? And so  1. Jesus teaches them how to exercise similar power through faith and prayer. (In Matthew’s version this is even more clear.)

But on another level this teaching on prayer has to do with the underlying question, 2. If the temple God’s house of prayer is destroyed as is pictured by the dead fig tree . . . how can we pray? This is hard for us to get. But the temple was the place where God heard their prayers.

And prayers that were “in” or “toward” the temple were thought to be especially effective. It was seen as the gateway to heaven; the place where heaven and earth met so that you had access to God’s throne here on earth (Sharyn E. Dowd).

As the Lord said about the temple in 2 Chronicles 7:15, “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.” (Also Jonah 2:7; Psalm 28:2; 2 Samuel 22:7) And this is what Solomon prayed for, when he dedicated the temple in 1 Kings 8:30. He said to God, “And listen to the plea . . . of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.”

  • So the temple was a place where prayers would be heard and answered, even really difficult prayers, as the examples that Solomon gives after this verse indicate.
  • And it is a place where God would hear their confession and forgive their sins, so that their prayers could be heard and answered.

And notice that Jesus talks about these two things in our verses – effective prayer and forgiveness. So Jesus is teaching his disciples to be the new temple, the new house of prayer.

Finally, the kind of prayers that are being talked about in our verses is made clear by the fig tree episode. This is not talking about prayers for our own personal needs or wants. 3. These are prayers in the service of doing God’s kingdom work. Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree wasn’t about him. It was a part of his prophetic ministry. And when Jesus teaches his disciples how to do this, it’s not for their personal needs. It’s for the sake of their calling to represent God and to do God’s work.

[This prayer teaching also shows up in John, where this is made clear in how Jesus says it. For instance in John 15:16 Jesus says, “whatever you ask the Father in my name, he [will] give it to you.” In my name means, in your role representing me and doing the work of the kingdom. See also John 14:13-14; John 15:7; John 16:23-24.]

Alright, let’s look now at –

Mark 11:22-25

Jesus teaches us in these verses two conditions for effective prayer. The first is faith. As he says, “Have faith in God.”

He is saying to the disciples, if you want to do something that you think is impossible, like with this fig tree, you need faith in God, that is, faith that God can do the impossible (Mark 9:23; 10:27).

But also, at a deeper level he’s saying, even with the temple gone, don’t despair, but have faith in God. As he goes on to say, faith is how your prayers will be answered without the temple.

Next comes two parallel statements (see the handout). We will focus on one at a time. “23Truly, 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.”

[This is an example of an authoritative prayer command, like what Jesus did with the fig tree. It is a kind of prayer, but instead of asking and then waiting, you just say what God wants to happen and it happens.]

“Truly, I say to you” indicates that this is a really important statement. 

The phrase, “Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’” is a proverb that has to do with “the impossible.” Jesus uses it, or one like it in several places. [Matthew 17:20, Matthew 21:21-22, Luke17:6 and also 1 Corinthians 13:2.] It is, after all, impossible to speak to a mountain and have it move from one place to another. Only God can do something like this.

[It is possible that this is an additional reference to the temple, with “this mountain” referring to the temple mount being judged by being thrown into the sea, which represents evil, chaos, and also the nations, or the Gentiles.]

We also see in this verse a further elaboration on what  “faith in God” is about. It means:

  • don’t doubt in your heart; don’t be of two minds, “yes, God can do it; no, God can’t do it.” As James says, don’t be like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (1:6) going  back and forth.
  • rather, believe that it will come to pass. Be fully convinced that God can do what he says he can do, as Paul says in Romans 4:21.

The promise is, if you have faith, “it will be done for” you. Like with the fig tree, even if it is something that seems impossible, if you have faith, it will be done for you.

Next comes the parallel to v. 23. “24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Unfortunately this verse is often misunderstood. The first issue has to do with the word, “whatever.” Does this mean that God will give me whatever I want??? Some teachers have taken this and run with it, for sure.

But we know from other scriptures that God doesn’t give us whatever we want (1 John 5:14-15; James 4:3). Prayer is subject to God’s will. [This is evident in Mark as well. For, not too long before our story, in 10:35 James and John ask Jesus, “we want you to do whatever we ask of you.” But Jesus can’t grant their request to be exalted, because this is subject to God’s will – v. 40. Also, in the garden of Gethsemane, even though Jesus notes that all things are possible for God, when he asks for another way than the cross, he submits his request to God’s will, “yet not what I will, but what you will” – Mark 14:36.]

Otherwise we are dealing, not with prayer, but with magic – where if I can talk myself into thinking that my request will happen, my faith compels God to give me whatever I want. 

And we have already seen that in context these are prayers in the service of representing God and doing his kingdom work, not asking for our own desires.

The meaning of “whatever” is not whatever I want. It is even what seems impossible. In other words, on a scale of things that seem really easy to ask for, and things that seem impossible, like the fig tree – even the latter. Even something impossible, like moving a mountain, which is the parallel statement to “whatever” in v. 23. Even something really hard, despite that the temple will be gone, the place to get really difficult requests answered.

It means even the really difficult requests  we pray for as we represent God and do his kingdom work on this earth.

So the lesson is the same as in v. 23. In the course of doing God’ work, whatever God’s will is for us to do, even if it’s something that seems impossible, if you have faith, it will be yours.

One other note on this verse. The phrase, “believe that you have received it” can be misunderstood. The past tense here is sometimes taken to mean that God has already answered the prayer, but there is no evidence for it. So that there is a split between reality and what we say by faith.

Let’s use Abraham and Sarah as an example. They were promised a child. But their faith didn’t manifest itself by saying that Sarah was pregnant when she wasn’t. They didn’t try to speak it into existence – “we claim that she is pregnant by faith.” No they knew when she wasn’t pregnant and when she was. They were in touch with reality.

No, the past tense here doesn’t mean that it is already a reality, it means that your request has been heard and granted – even before it is a reality. It is what’s called a “prophetic perfect tense,” where you are so certain of a future event, that you can speak of it in the past tense. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will! And Abraham was “fully convinced” that God would one day answer (Romans 4:21) (Notice also that the phrase, “it will be yours” is in the future tense. Also notice that Matthew’s parallel, “you will receive” is in the future not the past tense – 21:22.)

Well, not only are the prayers of this new house of prayer conditioned by faith, they are also conditioned by forgiveness.

“25And 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.”

[Jesus speaks of standing while praying because this was the most common posture for prayer in Judaism at this time.]

Scripture teaches that sin disrupts and destroys our relationship with God, which blocks our prayers from being heard. For instance Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

And so we need to repent and confess our sins if we want God to hear us and answer us. [In I Kings 8:30ff a central part of God answering prayer is that God forgives our sins.]

But, and this is Jesus’ point, if we don’t give others the same grace and forgiveness that God has given to us, we will no longer receive grace and forgiveness in our lives. [Jesus also talks about this in the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:14-15 and Matthew 18:23-35]. Thus our sin will block our ability to have our prayers heard.

So if we want our prayers answered, we have to let go of our resentments, bitterness and anger. 

Let me end with –

An example

We have learned in this passage that when as an individual or as a church we are doing the work God has called us to do, (whether just generally or something that he specifically tells to do), even if it seems impossible to us, like with the fig tree, like moving a mountain – if we have faith and we forgive others God will hear our prayer and answer us. It is assured.

So I want to encourage us to put this into practice. Let’s pray that God will powerfully transform lives here with the gospel. This is God’s will. This is God’s kingdom work. This is our call.

God wants to work through us to bring about his will. This is how prayer works. We are not to be passive and resigned, but rather active allowing God to work through us to bring about God’s will.

And so let’s pray for this with bold faith. Do you think that God can do this? Is it possible? Do you think that he can do more of this through us – reaching out into the lives of unbelievers? And those that have real problems? Can God transform them? Can he use us to do this?

And let’s pray for this as we extend grace and forgiveness to others. And God will do it.

William Higgins 

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