A ReMARKable Life Series
  • The gospel of Mark is a short, action-packed book that focuses on how Jesus Christ is the Messiah for every man, woman, and child. Christ – fully man, fully God. But Jesus wasn't the rescuer God's people had imagined, and many didn't recognize Jesus as their answer to prayer. We, too, can miss out on what God wants for us if we're only looking for answers that fit our expectations. Join us for this series as we explore Jesus' heart for people and we can change the world by serving one person at a time and helping them connect with God.
9. Real Faith and Real Forgiveness (Mark 11:12-25)
  • Jesus arrives at Jerusalem as King, and cleanses the Temple. The religious authorities begin to plot His death, and He teaches the 12 about faith.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • God invites people to worship Him with their whole hearts, and will brook no interference with full access. (Mark 11:15-17)
  • Faith in God gives access to God and full response from God. (Mark 11:23)
  • Forgiveness is inextricably linked with access to God in prayer. (Mark 11:25)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • Why is it important that our worship of God be unimpeded?
  • What is the object of our faith and how does it give us access to God?
  • Why is it important to forgive and be forgiven to have access to God through prayer?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? What is the picture to us of the fig tree being cursed and then withering?
  • Why did Jesus cleanse the Temple? What was the problem with the merchants and the money-changers being in the Temple?
  • Describe the scene in the Court of the Gentiles when Jesus arrived? Describe how Jesus cleanses the Temple. What was His attitude?
  • Why did the religious authorities want to kill Jesus?
  • What does faith have to do with prayer?
  • What does forgiveness have to do with prayer?
  • What can faith in God bring about through prayer?
  • Does the absence of a resulting answer to a prayer request mean that the person praying had no faith?
  • Why does Jesus link prayer with forgiveness?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • What impediments are there to your own free and full worship of God?
  • What needs to be cleansed and purged from your life to bring you back to God’s presence? What do you need to do about those things?
  • How should you approach worshiping God?
  • What is faith? Why does Jesus link faith with prayer?
  • Why does Jesus link forgiveness with prayer?
  • Do you pray with faith that God hears you? That God will answer you? How do you react when your prayers are seemingly not answered? Do you check your faith and forgiveness meters?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
In the text covered by these Notes, Jesus has arrived at Jerusalem, and the final events of His life, and His confrontations with the religious authorities, will soon take place and end with his death. He had entered the city in a triumphal procession (which will be covered in Notes 12 in this Series), whereupon He entered the Temple area, though apparently not the Temple itself, and looked around. We find out the next day (Mark 11:15) that Jesus didn't like what He saw going on in the Temple area, namely buying and selling and moneychanging. But He took no action. Why did Jesus not cleanse the Temple at that point instead of waiting until the next day (Mark 11:12, 15)? It seems that He wished to avoid the appearance of being a political Messiah. He had come to Jerusalem to proclaim He was the Messiah, to be sure; but His claim all along has been on a spiritual, not a political level, and He sought to continue that approach. So Jesus and the 12 left Jerusalem and returned to Bethany for the night, Bethany being about 2 miles east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives (which itself rose to an elevation of some 2600 feet and thus provided a wonderful view of Jerusalem). As Mark later points out (Mark 11:19), this would be the pattern for the ensuing days – in Jerusalem by day; in Bethany at night. Presumably it was too dangerous for Jesus to be in the city at night, given the attitude of the religious authorities (Mark 3:6).

The next day, Jesus and the 12 proceeded from Bethany to Jerusalem. Being hungry, along the way Jesus approached a fig tree He saw. But the fig tree had no fruit, as it wasn’t the season for figs (Mark 11:13b). Jesus then pronounced a curse on the fig tree, specifically, that no one would ever eat from that tree again (Mark 11:14). The next morning as they passed by the same tree, the 12 noticed that it was withered from the roots up (Mark 11:20). So why the curse on the tree? Given the setting Jesus is about to encounter in Jerusalem, with the religious authorities rejecting Him, it seems that the fig tree is representative of Israel, God’s people, who had turned from God over and over even though they had all the advantages of knowing God, possessing the Law, and being the conduit for the proclamation of His Kingdom to the world. The nation as a whole honored God with their lips but largely abandoned Him with their hearts and were far from Him, especially as evidenced by the religious authorities and their pretense of worship and obedience. For its sin, the nation had come under God’s judgment and been dispersed centuries before; and now that the Messiah had come and was in the process of being rejected, the nation continued under God's judgment. The Temple, and indeed Jerusalem itself would be destroyed; God would henceforth work through the Church who would be His new covenant people. In short, the fig tree was no longer necessary for fruit bearing.

Once in Jerusalem again, Jesus went to the Temple area and proceeded to clear it of money-changers and the people who were buying and selling animals used for sacrifices. Remember that this was Passover time, and many pilgrims were streaming into the city. They needed to make offerings and sacrifices, and it was easier to purchase unblemished animals right there in Jerusalem than to bring their own, potentially suspect animal offerings. The authorities were only too happy to oblige by allowing the market in animals no doubt for a handsome price paid to the Temple treasuries by the merchants for the right to buy and sell. Further, pilgrims came with various currencies and needed to exchange their funds for Temple currencies to pay the Temple tax. Hence, money-changers were at the ready and they also stood to make exorbitant profits on the transactions. This activity all took place in the Court of the Gentiles, which was in the outer portion of the Temple area. The effect of this activity in that area was twofold: it was per se, a profanation of the Temple which was to be a place of worship and prayer, not a marketplace; and it acted as a barrier to the worship of God by Gentiles as they had to deal with all the activity and the smell and the general clamor of that area while trying to worship. Jesus, as the Messiah and sovereign Lord, was rightfully incensed, and He wasted no time in clearing out and purging the area of the businesses and the money-changing, overturning tables and driving the merchants out. (Mark 11:15) And He also stopped people from using the area as a “traffic short-cut” between the city and the Mount of Olives for people carrying their goods with them on the way back and forth (Mark 11:16). In doing as He did, Jesus proclaimed that the house of God was to be a place of prayer for all peoples, quoting from Isaiah 56:7, and was not to be a place that robbed people of their money and their access to God, quoting from Jeremiah 7:11. (Mark 11:17) Also in doing what He did, Jesus directly challenged the religious authorities on their “home turf,” so to speak, as they were the ones who permitted and countenanced the activities and profited from them as well. And it is clear that the authorities got the message as they immediately stepped up their plan to kill Him, for they were afraid of losing their own position, power and prestige (Mark 11:18). At the end of the day, Jesus and the 12 returned to Bethany (Mark 11:19).

On the walk back to Jerusalem the next morning, the 12 noticed the withered fig tree and Peter mentioned the fact to Jesus. He did not really respond directly to the observation of Peter, but instead provided the 12 with a teaching about faith and forgiveness. The power that judged the fig tree (and that will judge those who reject Him, including the Jewish religious authorities) comes from God in the person of Jesus; and it is God must who be the object of one’s faith in all things, including the future as well as the present. Real faith, said Jesus, can remove the largest difficultiesand those things get in the way of a relationship with God; when one asks God in faith, He responds, even if it is to take up a mountain (they were likely on the Mount of Olives at the time) and cast it into the sea. Of course, Jesus is speaking figuratively; but His point is that faith is necessary and it accesses God’s power. Jesus further said that what they (or us, for that matter) pray for in faith will be granted (Mark 11:24). Note that Jesus did not mean that His followers can simply receive whatever they ask as if God were some magic genie. God’s responses are always in accordance with His will and purposes (see Matthew 6:10, Mark 14:36), and our requests must be also. And beyond the foregoing, Jesus added that access to God in prayer through faith presupposes forgiveness of others. In other words, if one comes to God in prayer, audience is not granted unless the supplicant has forgiven others and sought forgiveness from others as well (Matthew 5:23 & 24; 6:14 & 15). One’s heart must be right before God, and forgiveness is an integral part of that. Interestingly, in only a short time, Jesus will be found praying to God the Father asking that if possible, He wouldn’t have to drink His cup of suffering. Certainly Jesus’ prayer will be a prayer of faith and He will become the sacrificial Lamb through whom forgiveness is available to all.

The scene in Jerusalem is getting more tense by the day as Jesus has intentionally walked into the storm where the clash with the religious authorities will certainly occur. He has directly challenged them by cleansing and purging the Temple, and although the authorities are wary of the people and how they respond positively to Jesus, they nevertheless want Him dead.

The big question of Mark's gospel, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” continues and will shortly be front and center in bold relief And the related question of who can enter the kingdom is set before us as well. As to the latter, even children can come; those with simple, child-like faith can come; those with wealth can come but only if they eschew the lure and hold of that wealth; and those who recognize their need can come. The common denominators of all who come to Jesus is faith in who He is and a setting aside of one's self and pride. The choice is clear, as Jesus heads ever closer to the cross. For now, He is Lord of the Temple where God is to be worshiped by all with purity of heart. Soon, He will be dying on the cross. It is not the time for Jesus to be crowned king; but the truth is that He is King over all and will prove it on the cross when He gives His life a ransom for many.