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“IF YOU HAVE FAITH AND DO NOT DOUBT…”

Matthew 21:18-21:22
Key Verse: 21:21

Thank God for Jesus, who is righteous and merciful. He cleared the corrupted temple and healed those who came to him for his mercy. We learned how to come to him. He shows his mercy and love to those who come to him with faith. He wants each of his people to be a house of prayer and the assembly of his people to be a temple of God’s Spirit for his healing and restoration work. In today’s passage Jesus curses a fig tree and teaches his disciples the power of faith. We can think about what kind of life Jesus wants us to live

First, a fruitless fig tree cursed (18-20). Look at verse 18. “Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.” This shows Jesus’ humanity. In the Bible Jesus was hungry several times. After fasting forty days, he was hungry (Mt 4:2). When he had a long journey in a day, he was tired and hungry (Jn 4:6,8,31). This time he was hungry early in the morning, as he was on his way to the city Jerusalem. At Bethany no could serve him with breakfast, probably because he got up too early. Once Jesus was hungry at noon, his disciples went into a town to buy food (Jn 4:8). This time what did he do when he was hungry? Look at verse 19. “Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves.” He wanted to eat some fig fruit for his hunger when he saw a fig tree by the road. So he went up to the fig tree, but there was no fruit on the tree. At this, what did he do? Did he go to find another fig tree? No. He stayed there and said to the fig tree with no fruit but only leaves, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. Why did the fig tree have no fruit? In Mark’s gospel, it says, “because it was not the season for figs” (Mk 11:13). It was not the fig season. Then why did Jesus curse the fig tree? Surely he did not curse the tree because he was hungry. There are some people who curse others yelling, when they are hungry and angry. But Jesus was not like that. Apparently he cursed the fig tree, for it had no fruit when it was needed whether in season or out of season. However, Jesus must have had a deeper reason when he cursed the fig tree. Most probably what had happened at the temple in the previous day lingered in his mind, especially his clearing the temple because of the corruption. Now when he saw the fig tree with no fruit but only leaves, it was the exact expression of the lives of the religious leaders who had a lot of temple activities but no true fruit before God.

Here we learn that life is to bear fruit as the fig tree is to do so. No one has a right to curse a tree, but Jesus has because he is the Creator. When he made the tree, he had a purpose for it to bear fruit and feed mankind. Genesis 1:29 say, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” This is a creation order. Trees are to bear fruit for mankind, and so are all humankind for God. Life is not given for nothing. It is given for a clear purpose of fruit-bearing. We all enjoy fruit, which brings joy and satisfaction to a certain degree. Likewise, when we bear fruit in life, it is to God’s pleasure and glory.

There is an interesting story about trees. “One day trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’ But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honoured, to hold sway over the trees?’ Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’ But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’ Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’ But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?’ Finally, all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’ The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’” All the three trees--the olive tree, the fig tree, and the vine--knew the precious purposes of their existence and wanted to keep them no matter what. Even kingship did not mean anything to them. However, the thornbush did not know its purpose and did not want to lose the kingship. In selfish ambition the thornbush was deceptive and threatened all other trees so that they might support it. This story was a prophecy against Abimelech, who murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal (Gideon) except the youngest one Jotham and became a king in the support of the people of Shechem. Jotham told this prophecy to show who he was and who his brother Abimelech was. According to the prophecy Abimelech and all the treacherous people would be destroyed like fire coming out of the thornbush and consuming all the trees. And it exactly happened. But my point is how precious each one’s purpose of life is before God!God wants each of us to live a life with a clear purpose to bear fruit, so good and sweet to honour God and to cheer up many people.

Second, the power of faith taught (20-22). Look at verse 20. “When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. ‘How did the fig tree wither so quickly?’ they asked.” They were amazed at the power of Jesus’ words. They never imagined that such a thing would happen. But it happened before their very eyes. They were amazed and wondered how such a thing could happen. Usually, it takes time, at least several months for a tree to wither. It withers gradually. But the fig tree to which Jesus, “May you never bear fruit again!” withered immediately, right after the words spoken. It was amazing. Seeing the fig tree withered, they could not just pass by silently. Finally they asked Jesus, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” The disciples were men of questions, who would eventually have answers.

How did Jesus help them? Look at verse 21. “Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.” Jesus knew why they were amazed and what their question meant. Jesus knew through their amazement and question that they wanted to live a powerful life in their deep hearts. So Jesus told them a secret about a powerful life. A powerful life is related to none other than faith. Jesus told them the truth concerning the world of faith. Jesus’ answer to their question was “If you have faith…you can …” Jesus’ reply was very positive and encouraging and hopeful.

He said, “If you have faith…” Definitely here faith means faith in God. One’s faith in God brings God’s power to work. Human power has a great limitation. No human power would do what Jesus did. When people think about human power, many become fatalistic, for they do not have it. But God’s power is available to all, anytime and at any circumstances. Jesus wanted his disciples to have faith in God so that they could live a powerful life, overcoming their human limitations and doing impossible things. This is Jesus’ repeated teaching concerning faith in Matthew’s gospel. When the disciples asked Jesus about why they could not drive a demon out of a boy, he replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Mt 17:20). Jesus’ repeated teaching showed his earnest desire and hope for them. Jesus really wanted his disciples to have faith that not only dries up a tree but also moves mountains, talking to a mountain, “Move from here to there”, and then even “Go, throw yourself into the sea.”

Faith is really mysterious and fantastic. It is amazing. In a sense the Bible is the record of amazing miraculous works done through people’s faith. As we studied in 2 Chronicles 20, when King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah put their faith in God, confessing, “Our eyes are upon you,” they could defeat a vast army. In fact, God, who has power and might in his hand, fought for them and gave them a miraculous victory. When two blind men in Jericho shouted to Jesus out of faith, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” they could receive their sight (Mt 20:29-34). We also experienced the power of God in our lives in a certain degree. This summer Allen worried a lot before final exams that he would fail in one actuarial science course. But when he relied on God and studied with faith, he did not just pass the course. He got “A.” It was his personal experience of the power of faith. Our Lord Jesus wants us to experience the power of faith more and more and in a greater and greater way until we can fulfill God’s purpose upon us and offer fruit in life to God that can please him. We absolutely need faith, if we want to live a life that is pleasing to God. Hebrew 11:6a says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God…”

Jesus said, “If you have faith and do not doubt…” Here we see the relation between faith and doubt. Doubt is a big obstacle in the realm of faith. Doubt is to think the impossibility of a certain thing not being done due to some reasons. God cannot work in a doubting heart. In faith process doubt can rise in one’s heart. When the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Lk 24:38) Once Peter was walking on the water to come to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, doubt arose in his mind thinking, “What am I doing? Am I walking on the water? What if I sink…” Then he began to sink. Jesus reached out and caught him, and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt 14:31) Having faith is a spiritual battle and this battle includes overcoming doubt. When God called Abraham, he promised that he would make Abraham a great nation. Abraham believed this promise and began his life of faith. But he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and Sarah’s womb was also dead. Fact was fact. However, in this situation he overcame doubt by holding on to the word of God’s promise believing God’s power to keep the promise. One can overcome doubt by holding on to the word of God’s promise. When we think about our shortcoming and weaknesses and human conditions, doubt rises in our hearts. Then all things become uncertain and nothing is sure. But faith makes things certain and sure. Hebrew 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is to think including God on the basis God’s personal promise, whereas doubt is human thinking without the promise of God. This is the reason we study the Bible earnestly and sometime same things repeatedly, again and again as Matthew wrote Jesus’ teaching of mountain-moving faith repeatedly. How great it will be if we can learn mountain-moving faith? Jesus really wants you and me to learn the faith that moves mountains. He teaches us to have faith in God and do not doubt.

Look at verse 22. “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Here we see that those who believe pray and receive the answers of all their prayers. When we have faith, we can pray. And when we pray, we become stronger in faith. When we pray, doubt diminishes and faith increases until we can receive whatever we have asked for. There are various kinds of mountains. Among them relationship problem is a big mountain. People can wonder, “How can my relationship with a certain person be better? Can this broken relationship be restored?” When we have such relationship problems, we should believe and pray. God wants us to pray with any kind of mountain-like problem, heal problem, finance problem, future problem, or how to serve God’s people, etc, and see the mountains being moved one by one, as we believe and pray.

Thank God for teaching us that life is given to bear fruit and if we have faith and do not doubt, we can move even mountains. May God help us to indeed learn mountain-moving faith overcoming doubt and praying constantly so that we can offer him the fruit of faith in our lives for the glory of God and for the blessedness of many others.

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