MATTHEW 21:20-23a
Mt. Everest, Take a Dive
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Matt. 21:20-21 (Holman) When the disciples saw it, they were amazed and said, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” Jesus answered them, “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done.”

The disciples were stunned. It takes little imagination to see them gaping at the withered tree, mouths wide open. Seeing He had their undivided attention, Jesus took advantage of this teachable moment to give a lesson on faith and prayer.
We must be careful in interpreting Jesus’ words. Understood aright, they give strong confidence. Misunderstood, they can result in disappointment, and lead to disillusionment serious enough to make a believer give up on Christian living.
Since no one ever prayed a mountain into the sea, we probably can assume the words were meant to be taken figuratively. We don’t take them literally when we sing, “Savior, He can move the mountains; Our God is mighty to save.”
As we voice these words we think not of Mt. Everest taking a dive, but of the fact God can handle any difficulty in our lives. Jesus used a figure of speech to say, “With God, nothing is impossible, including the seemingly impossible”.
When we say Jesus’ words here are not to be interpreted literally, we are not saying we think they should be watered down. Faith can and does prompt miracles.
We have unimaginable power available to us. The tragedy is, Satan has more confidence in our abilities than we do. He is almost as afraid of prayer warriors as he is of God Himself. The devil knows what we are capable of. We should too.
Remembering our context helps us. This verse sits in passages dealing with the failure of the current religious establishment. Jesus was referencing a power Judaism had lost. The religious leaders, spiritually powerless, were no threat to do anything miraculous. They had proved they had no respect for prayer when they turned God’s house of prayer into a den of thieves. In matters of spiritual warfare, Judaism had become a toothless tiger. This should never happen to a believer.

Matt. 21:22 “And if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in

This verse hinges on a proper understanding of the word “believe”. I find it helpful to remember the Greek word for belief is based on the concept of oneness.
The term teems with relational implications. Mental agreement with God results from ever-increasing oneness with Jesus. As we commune with Him more, we think as He thinks, understand His thoughts, and come to want what He wants.
In other words, “believe” means we ask for things in agreement with God’s will. In prayer we do not have carte blanche, automatically receiving everything we ask for. But anything that agrees with God’s will is never too hard to be done.
This truth is vital to Christian living. Believing we have power in prayer makes us bolder to ask for more. In everything, we are, with thanksgiving, to make our requests known to God (PH 4:6). Do you want something? Thank God for the past, and ask for the future. Stay in the habit of thanking and asking. We have a huge God, make huge requests. William Carey said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God”. One reason God granted Carey’s specific prayer request was; it was smack dab in the center of what God’s will for sure is.
Again, remember our context. (A text out of context is a pretext.) Jesus was dealing with a Kingdom-growth matter. The religious leaders had become powerless, especially in the matter of having the anointing needed to fulfill their primary mandate. From the time God called Abraham, Israel was meant to have supernatural empowering that would enable them to bless the world spiritually.
Faith in God gives us the power of God to accomplish the purposes of God, the main purpose being expansion of His Kingdom. This is the value of what we here at Second call “therefore” praying (MT 28:18-20). All authority has been given to Jesus, “therefore” we see miracles if praying about the Great Commission.
We know reaching the lost is 100% for sure God’s will. As we pray under Jesus’ authority about reaching the missing ones, we see real mountains moved.
Can we win back our country? Can God give us lives holy and beautiful enough to win others in a culture rapidly becoming ever more distant from Him?
These are movable mountains, and we should pray for them to get gone. “But Pastor, these are difficult times,” we say. This argument is bogus. God has worked mightily in cultures worse than ours. The ultimate issue is never the lost world around us, however pagan it is. The problem stares at us from the mirror.
Often, we are the last place we look at to explain a society’s moral decline. Before we can win a culture we must win our self. We are the enemy. Moody said, “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I have ever met.”
This is actually good news. It lets us not be helpless victims. If the problem is outside us, we can do nothing to alter it; if in us, we have a fair chance to fix it.
We need to examine our prayers. Do we know they are pointed at the bull’s eye of God’s will? Target it in our prayers. All other requests are possible, but iffy.
I am convinced that “therefore” praying enhances every other aspect of our prayer lives. If we are outreach minded, we know we have to be filled with the Holy Spirit, thus we will pray for it to happen; we know we have to be able to defend our faith, thus we will ask God to give us discipline to study apologetics; we know we cannot do this alone, thus we will pray for God to send others into our lives to disciple us; we know only God can change a person’s heart, thus we will pray for God to work logic-defying miracles. “Therefore” praying makes all our praying more meaningful and powerful.
Again, let me hasten to say, we are never promised we will receive everything we ask for. Let me also say, we never lose by trusting God’s answers, by being okay with His will whatever it is, not ours, being done. He always gives us what we ask for or something He knows is better for us. Either way, we win in prayer. This victory can be painful, because God’s answer to a request we desperately want granted is often no or wait. This can shake our faith. Thus we must always be examining our faith. Is our faith in God, or in the answer yes? If the result of our praying is no or wait, do we believe God did what was best for us?
Is our faith in God, not us, not in our own faith, not in our ability to always know God’s will, not in our dreams, aspirations, or what we want? Faith is not gritting our teeth, believing we will receive what we are at that moment wanting.
In any given case where we are convinced we know God’s will, we must always acknowledge the possibility we misheard God. He infallibly sends, but we fallibly receive. The best way to hear from God is to pray ourselves to the point that the final result doesn’t matter, to be able to say truly, “Not my will, but Thine, be done”. We must make sure these words express our true heartfelt sentiment, and are not being used merely out of rote or habit.

Matt. 21:23a When He entered the temple complex, the chief priests and the
elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching. . .

The religious leaders were rampaging. The cleansing of the temple had dealt them a huge public relations blow. Feeling Jesus launched a hostile head-on attack against them, they decided to take the boxing gloves off and swing with bare fists.
The leaders will try to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. The Sanhedrin had sole authority to ordain. They controlled who the religious leaders would or would not be. Since Jesus was operating outside their prescribed system, they thought they could trip Him up on claims of His work being illegitimate.
Had Jesus never done or said anything controversial, no one would have ever bothered Him. I fear this may explain why we aren’t bothered more. For many of us, if our acquaintances found out we are Christ-followers, they would be surprised. More of us need to come out of the closet, and raise the ire of some.
The leaders had been simmering a long time. Frustration finally exploded into fury. Here’s a good lesson for us all. We can hold ill will in for only so long. Flush it out every day before the sun goes down. Inevitably, aggravation explodes on itself and others. True colors, though ugly and hateful, will blast through.