What is the faith that moves mountains? What is the faith that performs miracles? How do we become mountain movers? If we want to know why miracles happen Mark is a good place to look. Among all the Gospel writers Mark devotes the most time to faith and miracles.
What does today’s text teach us about being Mountain movers? I think today’s text says that to be Mountain Movers we need to;
- Understand the lesson of the fig tree and the mountain
- Have Faith
First, we are called to understand the lesson of the fig tree and the mountain. The stories about Jesus cursing a fig tree, cleansing the temple, and then telling his disciples to become Mountain Movers, don’t seem to go together, but I think Mark puts these stories together to illustrate faith that moves mountains.
The story of the cursing of the fig tree at first seems out of Jesus’ character. It would make one wonder if you should let Jesus into your garden for fear that he would kill all of your plants because he was in a bad mood. It seems like Jesus is just hungry, goes to the fig tree, finds that there are no figs, has a fit, and by his divine power kills the fig tree. But the fig tree isn’t to blame because Mark tells us it wasn’t the season for figs. Apparently, Jesus had gotten to the fig tree a little early. The leaves were out but the fig tree hadn’t born fruit because figs bear fruit in the summer and it wasn’t summer yet. Yet Jesus still curses the tree. This would be like Jesus going to an Apple Orchard before fall hits as if to beat the crowds. He sees that the trees have leaves but no fruit and he kills all the trees. Now your family has to wait till October to pick pumpkins. Oh…wait….. Jesus got their early too and killed all the pumpkins. This is getting a little stressful as parents. So you send your kids to the baby sitter and you and your spouse go on a day trip to the wineries near Charlottesville to relax. But oh wait……Jesus got their early as well and killed all the grapes. Jesus seems like a he is just being a jerk for no reason. What did the fig tree ever to him?
But in Mark chapter 13:28-31 Jesus tells his disciples why he killed the fig tree. In that parable he uses the fig tree as an analogy for the Kingdom of God, or the season of God’s reign and power on Earth. Jesus says when a fig tree sprouts leaves you know that summer, the season for figs, is coming. Likewise, with apples or any other fruit, trees give signs for when their fruit is about to come. Jesus says, when you see signs in the heavens, the sun darkened, the moon not giving its light, you know that the God is near. God gives us signs that He is near, that Jesus will return. And right before this passage Jesus is entering Jerusalem, where people celebrate Him as the Messiah literally by unfolding leaves, palm branches before him. Yet, Jesus knows that the Temple leadership would reject Him. So he curses the fig tree. For the leaves of the city of Jerusalem opened to him but the city did not bear fruit. Jesus killed the fig tree as a sign that He knew the leadership of Jerusalem would not accept him. Because they had certain expectations of who the Messiah would be. And Jesus would shatter those expectations. He shattered those expectations by cleansing the Temple of the money changers.
“Is it not written, my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.” We might be tempted to entitle this passage, “hungry, angry, table turning, mountain destroying Jesus”. Jesus seems like a pretty calm guy. So when he gets angry we should take notice. Scholars have debated for thousands of years why Jesus got angry at the money changers. Some have argued that it was because the money changers had made the house of God into a house of business and somehow that was sacrilegious. And it seems that the Gospel of John seems to take that view. And certainly opening a Chick Fil A in the sanctuary, while I may like it, may be one step too far. This passage is why many churches have forbid fundraisers on church property. I understand this church used to do that for a long while. But obviously we don’t do that anymore since we had a Brunswick Stew fundraiser last week, which thank you all for buying Stew all of you who did. And while the Gospel of John focuses more on the issue of the trade itself, Mark and the other Gospels have a different focus.
By driving out the money changers Jesus seems to cause another problem that defiles the Temple. The money changers filled what some would consider a Holy duty. They exchanged currency with images of pagan rulers and pagan Gods, on them, so worshipers could buy sacrifices to sacrifice to the Lord when they got into the inner courts. Did Jesus want people to bring images of false gods into the Temple? That would be like complaining about the Brunswick Stew sale while someone else was selling T-Shirts in the church that said, “Hail Satan!” It’s not about commerce or fundraising, it is about idolatry. And the money changers were providing a valuable service. So why is Jesus getting angry at them?
Some scholars have argued that Jesus got angry at the money changers because they were charging high exchange rates. They were ripping people off. And this may be a possibility. Why then did Jesus quote Isaiah 56, “my house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.” If you read that passage it is not talking about extortion. It is about welcoming people from various backgrounds, from various nations, with various diseases, into the Temple. Jeremiah 7 where Jesus quotes the Den of Robbers passage also talks about executing justice for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Yet, we are told in Ephesians 2:14 we are told that Christ has torn down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. The wall Paul was referring to was giant wall between the inner and outer Temple court. The wall had a sign on it in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It basically said if you were not a Jew and you past that point, you would be killed. Also women, the sick, and the disabled wouldn’t be allowed into the inner courts of the Temple after a certain point. But Isaiah 56 talks about everyone who desires to believe in the Lord being welcomed. So even if the money changers were charging non Jews fair rates of exchange Jesus still would have turned over their tables. Because the Gentiles, or non Jews, were not getting their money’s worth. They would buy the same sacrifice as Jews, but they would not be allowed to go as far into God’s Temple as Jews. So both passages Jesus quotes agree. This isn’t about extortion. It’s about Hospitality and welcoming people who are not like us. It is about being racist and discriminating against the disabled. God wants a house of prayer of all people. For Hospitality, love of the stranger, is the greatest form of love. Hospitality Heals. That was the title of my sermon when Jessica Mckenzie got healed.
After this incident Jesus and his disciples leave Jerusalem for a bit and head back the way they came. Peter sees that the fig tree has died and remarks on it. We know now that Jesus cursed the tree because it was a sign that leaders of Jerusalem would not receive Him. They literally unfolded palm leaves for Jesus on Palm Sunday but opposed Him when He cleansed the Temple. And this leads Jesus into his teaching about becoming Mountain Movers. Often we immediately apply this text to the problems, obstacles, or mountains in our own lives. And indeed, Jesus is using a metaphor. But Jesus says, “this mountain.” He does not say , “a mountain.” It seems like he is referring to a specific mountain during his time. The question is which mountain is he referring to?
Most scholars agree that the fig tree was directly outside of Jerusalem. And thus there seems to be two options. I have provided you a map so you can visually see the two mountains that Jesus could see at the time. The mountain is either the Temple or the Mount of Olives. Now you may be like, “Pastor Will the Temple is not a literal mountain.” That is true but the Jesus is using a metaphor. He is not saying that God will destroy a mountain if we ask him to. He is saying that God will destroy obstacles that get in the way of the Word of the Lord being proclaimed. This could be a physical obstacle. It doesn’t have to be. But God never meant a literal mountain. And in Isaiah 56, the passage Jesus quoted when he cleansed the Temple, the Lord refers to His Temple as a mountain in the very chapter that Jesus quotes. And throughout the Bible and Israel at that time the Temple and Jerusalem is referred to as Mount Zion. It is one of the most common metaphors for the Temple in all of scripture. And between the Mount of Olives and the Temple, it seems that Jesus is closer to the Temple. And considering he had just come from the Temple I believe that Jesus is referring to the Temple. More scholars have argued for the Mount of Olives being the Mountain Jesus is referring to. But the question is not whether it is a mountain. The question is whether it was an obstacle for Jesus’ mission. People live on the Mount of Olives today. There is a town there because it is level at the top. You can climb up it or you can go around it. But it is not an obstacle it is an inconvenience. It would be like me asking God to blow up Afton mountain which is between Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. It is not an obstacle. It is just a physical inconvenience. I believe that Jesus was saying that with a Word he could destroy the Temple. And he had good reason to. The Temple Elite had made it a den of robbers. And indeed Jesus predicted the fall of the Temple within his lifetime in Mark 13. And the Romans did invade in 70 A. D and burned the Temple to the ground. When I first realized that the mountain was the Temple I thought that Jesus had not only predicted the destruction of the Temple, he caused it with a Word, it just took 37 years to fulfill. He destroyed the Temple much like he withered the fig tree.
And then I realized that could not be right. For the New Testament tells us that Jesus was put on trial for saying He would destroy the Temple but he was falsely accused. We hear second hand at Jesus’ trial and first hand in the Gospel of John what Jesus actually said was, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days.” (John 2:29). Mark reports Jesus’ accusers saying something similar at His trial. Certainly, with Jesus’ prediction that the Temple would be destroyed, and this statement, it is easy to see how folks could have thought Jesus was saying He was going to destroy the Temple. But His prediction was meant as a warning. Because God may ordain or allow a disaster but he says in Jeremiah He is willing to relent from disaster if we repent (Jeremiah 18). And the point of speaking a Word of Faith is the Word itself causes the mountain to be cast into the sea. Jesus was innocent of speaking a Word against the Temple for if he had spoken a Word against the Temple it would have been destroyed like the fig tree. Perhaps with a Word Jesus could have turned that entire building and all of Jerusalem into ash. Such is the power of the Word of Faith. Instead he says, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days.” He isn’t speaking about a literal Temple, any less than he is speaking about a literal mountain, he is speaking about His body. He told his disciples in private that he would die and rise again on the Third day. But in public he spoke in the form of a parable to test for those who would seek to understand. Perhaps Jesus Word about His death and resurrection was just a prediction. But perhaps it was a Word of Faith. Perhaps with a Word Jesus moved the mountain of Death itself. Jesus was not helpless. He let Himself be crucified. And perhaps he caused His own crucifixion and resurrection. Not only by being misinterpreted by the crowds. But by Speaking a Word of Faith and Moving the mountain of Death itself.
Which leads us to the message of faith. We have been using this passage to treat God like Santa Clause. But Jesus never used his power for himself. Throughout the Gospel of Mark and the rest of the Gospels Jesus does miracles out of compassion, out of great love, for those who are need, for those who are hurting, for the powerless. He heals, cripples, lepers, the blind, the deaf, a bleeding woman who was ritually unclean, and a man oppressed by demons who is so tormented he cuts himself and lives alone in tombs. All of these people are unlovely and unlovable people ignored and rejected by society who are still loved by God. Jesus used His power in the name of Love. Paul says if we have not love we have nothing. God is love. Therefore, God’s power is love itself.
Finally, to become mountain movers we must forgive. I think this is the hardest part of speaking a Word of Faith. A couple of weeks ago I preached on the book of Job. And I was astounded that after 38 chapters of Job’s supposed friends accusing him of all manner of things he did not do, God restores Job, “after he prayed for His friends” (Job 42:10). And this wasn’t a Southern, “bless your heart” sort of prayer. It is a genuine prayer wishing that the life of the other be blessed and go well.
The young adults group in our church is reading the book and watching the movie The Shack. It is a fictional book about a guy name Mack who’s daughter is brutally murdered, her bloody clothes are found in a shack. Her body is never found. The killer is never found.
Sometime later Mack receives a mysterious note from “Papa” inviting Mack to meet Him at the shack. Mack Goes and encounters the three persons of the Trinity, the Father who is a nice black woman in the story, Jesus, a Middle Eastern carpenter, and the Holy Spirit who manifests as an Asian woman named Sarayu. They lead Mack on a journey of forgiveness. I got to see the end of the movie when I sat in on the Sunday School Class. In the scene I saw Mack is arguing with God, now depicted as an Old Native American Man. Mack is angry with God and with the killer of His daughter. He wants the Killer to burn in Hell. God says something to the effect that Mack must trust Him to be the judge. Mack retorts that the killer will get away with what he did to his daughter. In reply God says with much love, “no one gets away with anything.” That is good news and also hard news for some of us. Whatever you have been through, whatever has happened to you, and whoever may be to blame or not to blame, no one will get away with anything. And you can let it go. Because God is Love and He is just and we must trust Him to do what is right.
So Lord, would you come in your Love, in your power, and move mountains among us. Because we believe, we believe and we desire to become mountain movers.