Faith to Move Mountains

October 30, 2022 | Robbie Alderman

Passage: Matthew 21:1-22

What we see happening in our text this morning is Jesus making a dramatic entry into Jerusalem.  All throughout the history of Israel, when a prophet’s words were being ignored, they used drama to catch the people’s attention.  In these verses, we are going to see some of Jesus’ most dramatic actions throughout the Gospels and why He is acting in this way.  He is trying to catch the attention of his disciples and his people one last time.  He is dramatically asserting that he is the new temple.  In these verses, I hope we will see that by establishing himself as the new temple, He is revealing to the world that He has become the house of prayer and healing for all nations.  After a ministry of three years of watching so many reject him and miss his points, Jesus is beginning his closing statement and assertion that he is not to be missed.

1) Jesus came to steal the attention of his people back from the temple.  What takes place before this event at the fig tree and the temple is Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem which we talked about a few months back at Easter.  I want to make a brief note before we move on because it is important to see here that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was showing us three things:  
1. His courage to face his captors
2. His claim that he was the Messiah as we see prophesied in Zechariah 9:9
3. His appeal to his people
Not an appeal for men and women to open their palaces and temples to him and be received as a royal visitor but for us to open our hearts to him.  As Jesus is coming back into Jerusalem, it mentions in Luke 19:41, he began to weep as he approached the city.  He was broken over his desire for people understanding the way to peace but them rejecting it.  He talks about Israel’s enemies surrounding them and destroying them because they did not recognize when God visited them.  Do not miss recognizing Jesus.  It seems like we have been given multiple warnings not to miss him. He has pleaded with us over and over again to repent and turn to him and it feels like this is a combination of a final plea and realization of how many are going to reject him.  Because Jesus is fully God, he would have a clear idea of those who were going to accept and those who were going to reject and the knowledge of how many would reject him broke his heart.  This is also why he knew that he’d need his actions the next couple of days to stand out in dramatic fashion.  His people were not prepared for his arrival.

A few weeks ago, we talked about Jesus’ return on Wednesday night with the students.  The two big points that I hit with them are that we do not know when he will return but despite that, we must be ready for him.  Jesus was coming into Jerusalem and was looking for spiritual fruit from the tree but also from his people in the form of true worship.  Instead he found a tree making a promise it could not fulfill and a temple full of activity that incurs God’s wrath.  The temple was a wonder of the world at that time.  It was a place for Jews across the world to come visit and worship and a place for gentiles to be gathered as well.  Without going into too much detail about the design of the temple, it was a unique structure that although it had sections specific to Jews and Gentiles it was an inclusive place that identified the Jewish people among the nations.  In the outer court, called the court of Gentiles, it was a place where there was often trading and exchanging of goods taking place.  In this particular setting, the two things that were being traded were doves for animal sacrifices and money exchanging.  These two items were used for people trying to worship but they were also heavily taxed and taken advantage of.   

If you’ve ever been to a foreign country that uses different currency than the US dollar, you may have experienced something like this before because it happens differently depending on what type of country you are in.  In Taiwan, it is done through a computer or a money changer with the going rate for all forms of currency against the New Taipei Dollar which is what they use.  In Haiti or Jamaica, there are not usually official machines that do this for you and instead you go to markets and barter with merchants.  These merchants can make up any price and make it much more difficult to exchange goods honestly.  Jesus’ anger here is because people were exploiting each other for profit and using his Father’s house to do so.  He was finding chaos, disputes and abuse where he expected to find the glory of God.  Church, the worship of God and disputes of men can never go hand in hand.  This is why we must leave our politics and petty debates out of our Sunday morning services, something that I believe Jess does very well.  There is a place for that but it is not when we are gathered for worship on Sunday mornings.  What is beautiful about what Jesus does here is he doesn’t stop with his anger.  A lot of times when reading and studying this passage, we discuss the righteous anger of God and when it is okay to get angry. Which is certainly true.

2) Jesus shows his people that he is now the house of prayer and healing.  He doesn’t just flip tables and then peace out.  Anger and love go hand in hand in truly great people.  He begins healing the lame and the blind and pointing out who the true worshippers in their midst were – the children.  He is establishing himself as the new temple.  His followers would’ve recognized this from his parables and teachings.  But now he was showing them in dramatic fashion that he was taking the place of the temple.  Don’t get so hung up on having a place of worship. Instead, get hung up on the person of worship.  The blind and the lame didn’t miss this. They came to him for prayer and healing.  The children didn’t miss this either.  They were shouting “Praise God for the Son of David!”  They recognized him as the Messiah.  The tragedy of these verses is that the people who missed it and continually chose to reject him are about to receive their curse.  The Pharisees and scribes questioned and condemned the children.  “Can you believe what these children are saying?”  Jesus challenges and maybe even mocks their knowledge of scripture and points out Psalms 8:2 “You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.”  In this Psalm, David is ascribing glory to God and saying that the praises of children and infants will silence the Lord’s enemies.  You see church, God will not hold guiltless those who attempt to make it impossible to worship Him or attempt to distract from worshipping Him.  The children recognized what the scholars and Pharisees were unable to and that’s that he was the Messiah.  They didn’t miss Him!  Even the children understood that he was the new temple: the new place of worship and healing and prayer and life.  What a mic drop moment from Jesus because when he says this, he leaves!  He returns to Bethany for the night.  And we are about to see him continue his dramatic actions the next morning in a more metaphorical way but it will still be very clear to his disciples who are with him.

3) Jesus will curse not only those who distract others from worshipping him but those who are fruitless for the Kingdom.  There is a story about Ghandi visiting a Christian church in South Africa near the beginning of his ministry.  From his interaction with this church, he saw that they were worldly minded, going to church for recreation or a social gathering, and they were conforming to the customs of the culture around them.  He left and went onto to become one of the greatest voices in India and beyond and was a follower of Hindu teachings and merged them with other religious teachings including Christianity.  Can you imagine the impact he could’ve had for the Kingdom of Heaven had that Christian Church in South Africa made more of an impact on him and instead of seeing a church bowing to culture and a place to socially gather, he saw a place devoted to Jesus?  We can sit here and judge that church or we can look at The Church at Spring Hill and why we gather. What are we here for? What would Ghandi take away from a gathering of ours?  More importantly, what would Jesus take away?  Would he flip tables and curse our religious elite or would he celebrate us for the praises of our children and our recognition of him as the Messiah?  Would he curse us because we aren’t bearing fruit or would he commend us because of our faithfulness? 

It is important to note here that the fig tree that Jesus curses was not supposed to be bearing fruit in this season. This would’ve been mid spring and while fig trees produce leaves in mid spring, they don’t produce their figs until the Fall.  Despite knowing this, we can assume that Jesus was not acting in a way that was callous towards this tree because that would not align with his nature.  Instead, he was making a point to his disciples about the dangers of uselessness.  He was using an acted parable and making an example of the fig tree.  As the sun rises, the disciples would’ve watched Jesus curse this fig tree for not producing fruit with the temple in the backdrop.  They would’ve been reminded of his anger just the day before in the temple over his people taking advantage of each other and turning a place of worship into a den of thieves.  They were being fruitless and useless.  Uselessness invites disaster

And although it would’ve been the middle of the week and not the Sabbath or put more directly, not the time to produce worship or fruit, Jesus was making a point that our lives should not only be producing fruit in the temple on the Sabbath or on Sunday mornings.  The fig tree looked full and leafy on the outside but was not producing any fruit. The temple looked full and busy on the outside, but on the inside it was void of praise.  It must be a lifestyle!  What happened to this fig tree was a reflection of the judgment of God on his people for rejecting his Son.  But there is a message of hope here as well and the disciples would have been reminded of this from his teachings and we can be reminded of it from Romans 11.  Paul talks about the nation of Israel and how God has rejected them and cause them to fall asleep and they do not see or hear.  But in verse 11, he says, “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not!”  He made a way for the gentiles so that his people would become jealous and turn back to him.  Paul then beautifully and subtly ties in the story of the cursed fig tree with his narrative about all people being grafted into the tree where the branches were broken off.  Have you rejected Jesus as the true temple church? Have you missed him? Have you been worshipping a place or a thing when instead you should’ve been turning to the person of Jesus? Have you distracted others from worshipping Jesus?  There is still hope for us!  Which is why this passage should yes, challenge and convict us and maybe even frighten us a bit, but it does not finish with the fig tree drying up.  No, it finishes with Jesus’ great charge to be fruitful people of faith. 

4) Be a fruitful people and be a faith filled people.  Read vs. 20-22.  [Mat 21:20-22 ESV] 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree wither at once?" 21 And Jesus answered them, "Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith."   What we find in these verses is that there was an absence of prayer among his people in the temple so Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be and to foster a community of faith filled prayer.  What is faith?  Faith is being fully persuaded that God has the power to do what He has promised.  He is encouraging his disciples to do what God says He can accomplish.  When Jesus talks about saying to a mountain, “Be lifted up and thrown into the sea” he is making a figurative, proverbial statement similar to “a camel going through the eye of a needle.”  It doesn’t minimize the importance of what is being said.  Alistair Begg says this, “It takes nothing away from the truth of the Bible to understand when things are used figuratively or metaphorically.”  Jesus is showing us that God wants to do the impossible and the incredible through us.  And he is preparing his disciples for the establishment of his church and moving of his spirit with these words.  Do you think they thought raising people from the dead was a mountain moved?  Do you think they thought healing the blind and the lame and the dumb was a mountain moved?  Do you think that they looked at the Romans and the captivity they were under and thought of the Egyptians and imagined not their physical freedom but instead a spiritual freedom and the advancement of the Gospel through a sea of captivity the way the Israelites escaped through the Red Sea from the Egyptian chariots?  How about in Joshua 10, when the sun stood still for a day so the Israelites could finish off their enemies? 

God is willing to do the impossible through you, all you have to do is ask in faith.  Whatever you pray for actually means whatever.  Here’s the catch: It doesn’t mean he will answer it. It doesn’t mean you’ll get everything you ask for but you can ask.  My daughter’s have asked for another puppy for every birthday and Christmas since they’ve been home and that doesn’t mean they’re gonna get one. But they have the faith to continue asking.  Quote: “Our prayers must be framed by sincerity, humility, consistency, charity, and sovereignty of God and submission to His will.” – Alistair Begg.  Look at Jesus’ example of prayer in the garden which we are just a couple of days away from: He had absolute confidence in God’s power but complete submission to his will.  So are we actually praying for mountains to move? No. Because I can’t think of an example where a physical, literal mountain being moved would be important to God’s Kingdom being moved forward and expanded.  But what Jesus is challenging us to do here is be a people devoted to him in worship and recognize him as the person we approach to pray prayers that are big, seemingly impossible, and scary to us.  

A couple of months ago, a dear friend of mine lost his battle with cancer.  It was a battle that last for years. It nearly ended his life in college but through his prayers and those around him, God had more of a mission for him to accomplish.  It was in the years after his battle with cancer in college that I was able to meet him and grow close to him.  He was such a source of light and beautiful picture of someone who was completely in love with and devoted to Jesus.  A couple of years ago, he announced to a group of us that the cancer had returned.  Over the past two years, there have been thousands of prayers of faithful people begging God to spare his life and keep him with us.  People were on their knees, people were gathered together. People fasted. And yet, in the end, his condition declined rapidly and it was announced that he had passed into Jesus’ arms around the beginning of August.  The questions have certainly been asked. Did we doubt too much? Did we not have enough faith? Why did God not answer these prayers as he did through the first battle with cancer?  This certainly would’ve been a mountain moved. It certainly would’ve been a huge opportunity for God to showcase His sovereignty and power.  But instead he chose not to and chose to call my friend home.  So what does Jesus mean when he says, “You can pray for anything and if you have faith, you will receive it?”  I believe that ultimately He is pointing us back to him.  If he has come to dramatically assert and establish himself as the new temple, the new house of prayer and healing, well, where people used to go to a building to pray and ask for healing, they will now come to Jesus. They will not go to His word. And instead of seeking answers from the world, we will go to Him.  And while we may not receive the answer we were looking for, we will receive Jesus.  If his answer drives us to confusion and frustration, we will take that to him. If it drives us to the thing we were asking for, we will thank him.  But above all else, we will receive him. And is there anything better than that?  While I am sad that my friend is gone from this place, I have a wonderful hope that I will see him again and sing with him in front of and at the feet of Jesus.  There is nothing better than this.  

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Series Information

This sermon series will a year long journey through the book of Matthew in 2022.  These messages will examine the broader themes in Matthew like God’s character, Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament’s promises for a Messiah,  and the importance of internal integrity over external behavior. It lays out practical application points like the need for salvation, baptism, and repentance.  It also provides answers to the question “Who is Jesus?”.  It invites you to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and to receive him as Lord of your lives.  

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