Holy Week - Tuesday: Questioning His Authority

The Pain of Unbelief

Mark 11:20-33

In this text we see two events: the withered fig tree, and the authority of Jesus being questioned by the chief priests and scribes. In the first, Peter points out the dead fig tree that Jesus had cursed the previous day ( vss. 12-14).  This appears to be a strange story, until the reader grasps the truth that Jesus was communicating to His disciples. As the disciples and Jesus are passing by the withered tree the next day, Peter points it out to Jesus, who responds with a short explanation of faith.  Most scholars believe that Jesus was using the fig tree as a metaphor of the nation of Israel. It looked good from a distance, or on the outside. Yet, upon closer inspection, it was fruitless and devoid of its purpose for existing. The rejection of the Messiah and the coming destruction of Jerusalem were obviously weighing heavily on Jesus’ heart (vss 22-24).  The illustration of a large mountain being cast into the sea illustrated His point: that simple, genuine faith in God can accomplish the impossible. Interesting that included in this short teaching on faith, Jesus includes a reminder in verse 25 – that we must forgive others if we want God to forgive us. Clearly this is a condition for the prayer of faith.

At this time, the religious leaders were already plotting Jesus’ death (Mark 11:18).  The questioned Him in this passage regarding the nature and source of His authority (referring to His teaching and cleansing of the Temple). Mark notes several  disputes brewing between Jesus and the Pharisees in His account, this being one of them. Jesus refuses to answer their question and instead brings up the controversial John the Baptist, thus exposing the true motive of their question. Their only desire was to entrap Jesus, thereby finding a way to condemn Him by Jewish law.

In both of these passages Jesus confronts unbelief. Of course He always knew men were not naturally bent toward believing God, and He taught on the topic frequently.  Surely this pain was sharper on this day than at any other time of His earthly ministry…God was among His people and they not only did not believe, but they vilified Him!

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century believed that simple faith was the foundation for any spiritual growth and understanding. He said, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe; but I believe that I may understand. For this also I believe, that unless I believe, I will not understand.”

Prayer for Today: Lord, I echo the prayer of the desperate father in Mark 9:24; “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!” What a starkly honest prayer, and it reminds me that I have such little true faith. I pray that You, by the power of Your Spirit, would increase my faith, and fill me with a simple trust in You and Your goodness. Help me not look so much for answers to my questions, but to simply believe in You – that You are the only begotten Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the one and only Jesus Christ.

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