In mark 11 we read that Jesus entered into Jerusalem 3 times. The first time was on the colt that hadn’t been broken in and ridden. Here we see Jesus declaring his Lordship over the animal kingdom for its an amazing miracle that he could just hop on a untamed donkey or horse and ride it the way he did. The crowd are amazed and praise him and follow Jesus and his disciples into Jerusalem where an anti climax takes place and the crowds disperse..,Jesus looks around and then they leave again and go home.
The second day in coming to Jerusalem he saw a fig tree with no fruit on it and cursed it and continued on his journey until he reached the temple. There he got angry and over turned tables and chairs and cleared out from the temple all who were selling and buying and the money changers. And the people were astonished at his teaching there…. and he left for Bethany once again.
On the third day Jesus started the trip to come back into Jerusalem. Peter was astounded to see the fig tree had withered and died. And Jesus started to teach Peter and his companions about prayer.
Mar 11:22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.
Mar 11:23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
Mar 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
Mar 11:25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
It would seem that at first glance a literal understanding of this passage says that we can ask for literally anything and if we believe we have received it and don’t doubt…it shall be ours. But, there are some difficulties in this understanding. The first is that there is a bit of debate between scholars if it says Have faith in God, or Have God’s faith! Secondly, this literal understanding doesn’t fit into the wider contextual meaning of the chapter, and the passage’s emphasis on forgiveness. And the third issue is what mountain exactly is Jesus pointing to?
This then leads us to ask how does forgiveness fit into the historical schema of the Jews. And so we are taken to Deuteronomy where Moses speaks about God’s forgiveness.
Deu 4:29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. Deu 4:30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice.
Because there is an emphasis on the temple and Jesus is pointing to the mountain that the temple is on; we are forced to look at what God said to Solomon who was the first builder of the temple.
1Ki 9:6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them,
1Ki 9:7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
1Ki 9:8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’
Eventually the nation falls into deep idolatry which is accompanied with deep self centeredness from within the governmental and religious leadership resulting in a corruption and a lack of social care. And God sends the prophet Micah to the nation to rebuke them of their lack of social care..
Mic 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
But they don’t listen, war breaks out, the leadership topples, the temple is destroyed and the nation is taken into captivity. Skipping forward, we see the nation praying, the people are allowed to return to their country, and the temple is eventually rebuilt. Within this historical frame work we come to the present situation where Jesus is speaking about the temple and the religious practice / leadership of the nation who have forsaken social kindness and the care of the people.
We often read of Jesus walking and talking amongst the broken hearted and lonely. Hugging and healing the lepers. Eating with tax collectors and sinners. Forgiving the prostitutes, healing the sick, feeding the hungry and delivering the demon possessed. And within this narrative setting we see Jesus putting into practice the words of Micah…Practice justice, show kindness and walk humbly with God….which is something the religious leaders of the land failed to do.
Within the context of prayer. Jesus is not teaching us to pray for what ever we want. He isn’t encouraging us to a lifestyle of idolatrous prayer. Rather he is encouraging us that God is for us and not against us and if we truly seek God, we will find what we desire and that desire is God.