In Mark 11, we find Jesus and His disciples en route to Jerusalem. Travelling from Bethany, it was a 2 mile journey. As they make their way, in the distance Jesus sees a fig tree. He was hungry and was sorely disappointed to find the tree fruitless. It may seem strange that the Lord Jesus would curse the tree for not having figs –especially since the Bible says in verse 13, ‘the time of figs was not yet.’ Surely Jesus knew figs were not in season. But these fig trees are a little different than fruit trees we are used to in this part of the world. These fig trees produce leaves in early spring and by June they begin to bear fruit. A second crop of figs are produced in August and sometimes a third crop in December. Often the tree would have figs on it year round, even if they were left over from the previous growing season.
A simple rule of thumb was, if the fig tree had leaves, it would have figs or at the very least pre-growth nodules. They were not figs but they were eatable and were often plucked by travelers to satisfy their hunger. So when Jesus saw this fig tree, He was ready to eat. From a distance it had all the signs and indications of bearing fruit. However, it was completely bare. From here, Jesus continues towards Jerusalem. He then enters the Temple and proceeds to clear it out.
On the following day Peter sees the fig tree. It is completely dead –dried up from its roots. He calls it to Jesus’ attention to which Christ replies, ‘Have faith in God.’ To understand the significance of the fig tree we need to understand Jewish imagery. In the Old Testament, the fig tree is often used to represent the nation of Israel.
Hosea 9:10 –“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time…” (Jeremiah 8:13)
It is of no coincidence that the Bible records Jesus going to the Temple immediately following the cursing of the fig and returns to it afterwards. The cursing of the fig is a visible, tangible illustration of where the nation of Israel was spiritually. They had the Temple, the Law, the ceremonies, the infrastructure and hierarchy –they had the signs of life and activity but they were fruitless. They were dead in their religion because they had rejected the Holy One of Israel. This is the lesson that the Lord Jesus was teaching His disciples.
His response to Peter, Have faith in God, is very significant. For in it we see a subtle but sublime condemnation of the Judaism. The Jews had refused to truly place their faith in God instead they had settled for a legal code and a calloused form of godliness. They were offered the greatest of opportunities, yet they rejected Christ and clung to a lifeless religion. In four simple words, the Lord Jesus calls His disciples to go beyond the example of Israel and to lay hold of all that God had for them in Christ Jesus. There is an under riding theme of opportunity here and the key to not missing these opportunities is having faith in God.
To have faith in God means to live in a constant state of dependence upon the Lord. This is goal of every believer and it ought to be the goal of every local church. Those who come to the place of full surrender and dependence upon God have the privilege of seeing God do what He alone can do. Theirs is a life of fruitfulness. They move beyond mere activity and reap the harvest of productivity! This is the reward for living in a constant state of dependence upon the Lord.
The Bible is full of examples of individuals who were used by God in a tremendous way. Scripture will bare record here: there are times in which God gives a particular person or group of persons a unique opportunity. At that moment, they must choose their response. They must seize the opportunity or it is lost. This is the nature of opportunity.
Recorded in Aesop’s Fables (number 536 from Phaedrus 5. 8, trans. Gibbs, Greek fable C6th B.C.) : We read this description of opportunity as represented by Kairos:
"Running swiftly, balancing on the razor's edge, bald but with a lock of hair on his forehead, he wears no clothes; if you grasp him from the front (by the lock of hair), you might be able to hold him, but once he has moved on not even Juppiter [Zeus] himself can pull him back: this is a symbol of Tempus [Kairos, Opportunity], the brief moment in which things are possible."
Aesop’s Fable is a vivid portrayal of opportunity. We are presented with one fleeting moment in which the Lord God grants us the opportunity to trust Him and to see Him do what He alone can do. Often times, when that moment is passed, it cannot be retrieved. For the next few moments I would like us to consider 3 individuals in the Bible who were presented with just such an opportunity to trust the Lord. Because they had faith in God, they became eyewitnesses to the glory and power of God.
As we shall learn, when we have faith in God, we are enabled:
To see the invisible
To attempt the impossible
To achieve the unthinkable
Have Faith in God
1. To See the Invisible Hebrews 11:24-29
Moses was an individual with all the potential in the world. He was heir to the throne of the most powerful empire in the world at that time. There was nothing that he desired that would be withheld from him. Yet he made a decision that altered his life and the course of history itself. He refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’ s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. The phrase ‘the pleasures of sin’ is not referring to gross immorality. The wording here literally describes the things we commonly associate with success today. Things such as: position, prestige, power, wealth and freedom from problems. There is nothing wrong with those things –unless a person chooses them over accomplishing God’s will in their life. There are many Christians today living on second best because they refused to follow God completely. The sad thing is they have no idea they are settling for second best because they are convinced it is so good!
Moses walked away from all of it! Read carefully verses 26 and 27. He stood toe to toe with most powerful man in the world –not fearing the wrath of the king. Why? How was that possible? He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible! Moses had no fear of man because he feared God most! In Mark 11: 23, Jesus said that if we have faith in God we can say to this mountain, be thou removed and it shall be cast into the sea. Again Jewish imagery gives great understanding to this verse. To the Jew a mountain is representative of something of great power or strength. It can be used in a positive sense like Psalm 36:6: Thy righteousness is like the great mountains. Or it can represent a great trial or difficulty such as Zechariah 4:7
Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
Pharaoh and his mighty empire was Moses’ mountain but he refused to take his eyes off of God and place them on his adversaries. He was in complete dependence upon the Lord. His eyes were upward. Peering into heaven Moses saw Him who is invisible!
This can be your testimony too! As we depend fully upon God in faith, He becomes our all-consuming thought. We see Him and we seek after Him. Everything in life is filtered by what is pleasing to Him because everything is in light of seeing Him. Moses saw God do what God alone could do! He saw God level the Egyptian mountain and cast it into the Red Sea. Whatever your mountain might be –have faith in God and see Him deal with it in His time and in His way.
Have Faith in God to see the Invisible and then
2. To Attempt the Impossible Matthew 14:22-33
In this portion of Scripture we read a very familiar event that took place in the life of Peter. It is important to note that the disciples were in the will of God –and this storm was part of that will. Jonah was in a storm because of correction but these men were in the storm for purification. Jesus Christ would use this to teach them great lessons about faith and Himself.
The storm is raging and Jesus comes to them in the storm. They assume He is a spirit and their remaining courage completely dissolves –terror grips their heart and they cry out in fear. Isn’t it wonderful to see how the sweet voice of Jesus brought peace to them? At this point Peter speaks up and says, “Lord if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” The Lord Jesus calls him forth.
Can you imagine what it must have been like to see this transpire? What must have gone through the minds of the others looking on? What was Peter thinking? This is one of the most powerful examples of faith in the New Testament. In practical terms, faith is a positive response of the will to the Word of God. When Jesus spoke to Peter, he immediately responded in obedience. Stepping forward, he put one foot over the side of the boat and then the next. He responded in faith. It did not make since. It was humanly and scientifically impossible. This step of faith defied the laws of nature as well as common sense. Yet Peter had faith in God and now he is attempting the impossible.
For those daring enough to exercise such faith they have learned this same glorious secret. A step of faith is stepping out into a seeming void but finding the strong arms of God beneath your feet. For Peter the water was as solid as stone. And all was well so long as he would abide in faith. As I said a moment ago, a practical definition of faith is the positive response of the will to the Word of God. But a Biblical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus.” This is the secret to abiding in faith. It is looking unto Jesus. So long as Peter’s gaze was steadfastly towards Jesus Christ all was well. But that moment he took his eyes off the Lord and turned toward the storm, he began to sink. In verse 31, Jesus highlights the key element that enabled Peter to attempt the impossible. It was his faith!
It was William Carrey, the father of modern missions, who famously said, “Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.” Faith is the defining element for God’s people. Having faith in God –to live in a constant state of dependence upon Him enables us to attempt the impossible.
Have faith in God and you will
See the Invisible
Attempt the Impossible
And thirdly you will be able…
To achieve the Unthinkable
3. To Achieve the Unthinkable 1 Kings 18:19-24, 33-39 (19-39)
We pick up the story of Elijah as he challenges 450 prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel. This event in the life of Elijah is a tremendous illustration of achieving the unthinkable. This demonstration is in complete obedience to the Word of God. Remember –this is what faith is. Notice what we read in the final phrase of verse 39. This was not Elijah’s idea. He is simply doing what God had told him to do. He was exercising faith in God.
This challenge must have seemed strange to the prophets of Baal and those standing round. You see, Baal was the god of fire. Elijah was challenging their god to a battle in an area that was his strength. Surely Elijah had lost it. He challenges the god of fire to a demonstration of fire. It was unthinkable. If that was not challenging enough he soaks his own sacrifice with so much water that the trench cut out around it is also filled. Then, without a great show, no shouting, no commanding, no self-inflicted wounds –Elijah calmly but confidently prays.
Before his prayer is even finished, God answered. The fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. In a moment, everything was consumed and all that was left was scorched earth. Revival ensues and the people fall down to worship the Lord. Elijah gives command that the enemies of God be taken away and slain. In a matter of minutes, a faltering nation who was dabbling in idolatry is revived. The fire that consumed the alter now burned in their hearts for the Lord God of Israel.
Because of Elijah’s faith in God, he was able to achieve the unthinkable!
You too can exercise the same faith! Faith placed in God is not wasted faith. You can look to Him in absolute assurance, complete confidence knowing that He will never fail. What mountains are you facing? What obstacles would hinder you today? Friends have faith in God. Set your gaze heavenward, lean wholly upon Him, trust Him and you will see the invisible, attempt the impossible and achieve the unthinkable. Before you, God places divine opportunities and you can lay hold of them and truly see the Lord do amazing things, but only if you will Have Faith in God.