Lessons on Faith and Authority — Mark 11:20-33

Religious Hypocrisy takes many forms.  But in all instances, Hypocrisy puts on an external mask to try to look like something it is not.  It dresses itself up in the activities of religion – lots of prayers; lots of donating money; lots of quoting of bible verses; lots of acts of worship – like baptisms and observance of the Lord’s Supper; singing and listening to sermons – but no heart reality of genuine faith and no submission to the authority of the Lord.  Instead, there is an exchanging of the commandments of God for the traditions of the hypocritical religious leaders.

Jesus takes the two object lessons of the Cursing of the Hypocritical Fig Tree and the Cleansing of the Corrupt Temple and revisits them with these TWO APPLICATION LESSONS.






A.  (:20) Occasion for the Application Lesson

And as they were passing by in the morning,

they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.

Day 3 of Passion Day is going to be an extremely busy day – much takes place.  Jesus got an early start.

Fig tree picture of the nation of Israel – Jer. 24 – 2 baskets of figs – good ones and rotten ones

(Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10; Mic. 7:1; Nah. 3:12)

Such a radical change (had been a healthy, robust flowering tree) in just a 24 hour period

Such a permanent change – some water and some nurturing care was not going to bring this tree back to good health

Constable: This event happened on Wednesday morning [Day 3]. “Withered from the roots” means that death was spreading through the tree, emanating from its sources of nourishment. The “roots” of the tree correspond to the religious leaders of the nation. The curse of spiritual death would spread from them to that whole generation of unbelieving Jews. Peter connected the judgment with Jesus’ words. In parallel fashion, Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment on that generation of Jews would have a similar effect.  Rather than explaining the symbolic significance of the cursing of the fig tree, Jesus proceeded to focus on the means by which the miracle happened.

Matt. 3:7-10  The ax had been laid to its roots

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

B.  (:21) Incredulity on the Part of the Intended Audience

And being reminded, Peter said to Him,

‘Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.’

Peter sounds surprised here – how could this have happened so quickly and with such devastating results?

Thing about Hypocrisy: it looks healthy, but it is rotten to the core – that tree that outwardly just the day before had professed such health and vitality with its leaves of promise had already been nothing more than a white-washed sepulcher —

So it should not have been surprising that Jesus reduced it to the withered up shell it was in reality

The exposure of Hypocrisy … not the extinguishing of life

C.  (:22) Primary Lesson

And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God.’

You would have thought that Jesus would have spoken more directly to the issue of Hypocrisy – and He actually does by addressing the need for genuine faith instead of a self-righteousness that is oriented towards external works – but he makes the application to the exercise of that faith in believing prayer – talking about the means by which Jesus performed the miracle … not the significance of the cursing itself

Steven Lawson:

 – the imperative of faith – divine command; not a suggestion

– the object of faith; not have faith in faith = positive thinking movement

– the exclusivity of faith – this is all that Jesus required of them – for salvation; sanctification; not faith plus anything else; sola fidi

– the responsibility of faith – each and every person is responsible before God to exercise their own will; parents cannot believe for their children

– The urgency of faith – right now; not when you can get around to it or feel like doing it

Present tense – abiding faith; keep believing in God

Hendriksen: But what is faith?

Faith is:

  • The soul’s window through which God’s love comes pouring in.
  • The openhand whereby man reaches out to God, the Giver.
  • The coupling that links man’s train to God’s engine.
  • The trunk of salvation’s tree, whose root is grace, and whose fruit is good works.

Faith was:

  • The means of Abraham’s justification.
  • The magnet that drew Moses away from the pleasures of Egypt, so that he threw in his lot with God’s sorely afflicted people.
  • The force that overthrew Jericho’s wall.
  • The secret that enabled Ruth to make her stirring confession.
  • The weapon that killed Goliath and destroyed Sennacherib’s host.
  • The deciding factor in Carmel’s contest.
  • The shield that protected Job in the midst of his trials.
  • The muzzle that closed the mouths of Daniel’s lions.
  • The remedy that cured the centurion’s servant and many others.

Scripture also describes faith as:

  • Leaning on the everlasting arms.

  • Committing one’s way to the Lord, trusting in him, knowing that he will do whatever is best.

  • Receiving the kingdom (or rule) of God as a little child.

  • Being sure of what we hope for, and being convinced of what we do not see.

  • The victory that overcomes the world.

The list could go on … how about in your life – What has faith accomplished?  What does faith look like in your life?

D.  (:23-26) Expanded Explanation

Truly I say to you, ‘whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and cast into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it shall be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they shall be granted you. 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 transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.’

Statement of hyperbole for effect and impact

Mountain = the Mount of Olives; sea = Dead Sea – would take a miraculous event to accomplish such a deed

No act is impossible if it is within the scope of God’s will and performed by faith in the context of prayer from a loving and forgiving heart

Look at what Jesus is going to teach in John 14:12

Re vs. 26 — This verse does not appear in the most important ancient manuscripts of Mark’s Gospel. Evidently scribes inserted it later, because they associated the preceding verse with Matthew 6:14.

Parunak: In prayer we are not demanding what we are owed, but are asking God for a favor; it is inconsistent to do this while we are embroiled in bitterness with our fellow creatures.

J C Ryle: We have no right to look for mercy, if we are not ready to extend mercy to our brethren. We cannot really feel the sinfulness of the sins we ask to have pardoned if we cherish malice towards our fellow men. We must have the heart of a brother toward our neighbor on earth, if we wish God to be our Father in heaven. We must not flatter ourselves that we have the Spirit of adoption if we cannot bear and forbear.

Sproul: We have to be very careful with this verse.  A whole theology based almost exclusively on this text has permeated the Christian world in our day.  The word of faith movement, which espouses the idea of “name it and claim it,” tells us that all we have to do to receive something we want is to claim it as ours in Jesus’ name, and it will be ours.  This movement is, in some ways, the Christian parallel to the New Age movement in the secular world.  The New Age movement teaches that by visualizing what we want to happen, we can actually change the world around us.  The force that is at the bottom of the New Age thinking is really magic . . .

I do not believe that this text or any text in the New Testament teaches that we are obligated to forgive people who sin against us unilaterally without their repentance.  All the New Testament teachings on confronting brothers who sin against us, seeking restitution, carrying out church discipline, and so forth do not mean that if someone harms us, we have to say, “I forgive you,”  We may do that, but there is an analogy between our forgiveness of others’ sins and God’s forgiveness of our sins.  God does not forgive us unilaterally; He requires repentance.  But when we repent, He does forgive.  We must do the same.


A.  (:27a) Occasion for the Application Lesson

And they came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple,

All of the focus continues to be in the city of Jerusalem, at the temple of God

Matt. notes that he was teaching as he was walking in the temple

B.  (:27b-28) Incredulity on the Part of the Intended Audience

the chief priests, and scribes, and elders came to Him, and began saying to Him,

‘By what authority are You doing these things,

or who gave You this authority to do these things?’

Seems like an official delegation from the Sanhedrin

This was their domain; how could the loyalty of the people be diverted to the teaching of some uncredentialed pseudo-Rabbi??

Jesus was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth … he did not have the background one would expect; he had not had the training that one would have expected

Yet he was acting with so much authority … on what basis??

  • His teaching had demonstrated great authority – Mark 1:21-22
  • His miracles had demonstrated great authority
  • Not afraid of confrontation with the religious leaders of Judaism – did not shrink back from healing on the Sabbath
  • Had demonstrated even authority over demons

They were trying to shut Jesus down

But they did not understand that one greater than the temple was in their midst

People today don’t respond well to the authority of Jesus; to the authority of the Word of God; nobody is going to tell me what to do; I will read the bible to have it say what I want it to say; I will live my life the way I think best

You can’t have the salvation that Jesus offers without the authority that Jesus commands

C.  (:29-30) Primary Lesson

And Jesus said to them, ‘I will ask you one question, and you answer Me, and then I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men? Answer Me.’

Remember the mission of John the Baptist laid out in John chapter 1

Here was one recognized as a prophet by the people

Not an intellectual problem as if they did not know the answer to their question; it was a moral problem; did not want to submit to the authority of Jesus in their hearts

Look at how the critics of the Apostle Paul tried to shut down his ministry – accusing him of having no legitimate authority; being self-sent rather than commissioned by God

2 Cor. 1:12; 3:1; 6:4; 10:7

By what authority do I preach this morning?  Where is my certificate of ordination from some mainline denomination?

  • I must be examined as to meeting the qualifications of a pastor – laid out in the NT – must continue to meet these; not a one-time check the box type of thing
  • Look for the character fruit of the Holy Spirit – cannot be counterfeited or manufactured by human means
  • – The gift for teaching and exposition can only come from the Holy Spirit; the discernment of the body of believers must evaluate that gift in light of the word of God
  • You will know them by their fruit – good grapes or rotten?

D.  (:31-33) Expanded Explanation

And they began reasoning among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, From heaven, He will say, Then why did you not believe him? But shall we say, From men?’– they were afraid of the multitude, for all considered John to have been a prophet indeed. And answering Jesus, they said, ‘We do not know.’  And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’

Acting simply on the basis of expediency rather than conviction

How are things going to turn out for me if I answer this way or that way?

What a pitiful, cowardly answer:   “We don’t know

This from a group of proud men who always claimed to understand all things; they were not used to professing ignorance

MacArthur: Strong challenge. Our Lord is stunningly brilliant. They’re really on the hot seat. If they said the ministry of John is from God, then they have to admit that Jesus is the Messiah because that’s what John said. If they say the ministry of God is not from God, it’s from men, then they’ve got a problem because all the people knew that John was a real prophet. You see, it’s a package deal. You can’t take John without Jesus. And you can’t throw away Jesus without throwing away John.

James Edwards: institutional religion, even its pinnacle in the powerful and prestigious Sanhedrin, is vacuous unless it is centered in the “Stronger One,” declared to be God’s Son at the baptism of John.  John’s significance for Jesus – and in this instance for the Sanhedrin – is as a herald of Jesus’ divine Sonship, with which Mark begins (1,1, 11) and ends (15:39) his Gospel.  The “these things” of which the Sanhedrin inquires can be understood only if they are seen as consequences of the authority (exousia) of Jesus as the Son of God, which John’s baptism inaugurated.  What Jesus does as God’s servant has meaning only because of who he is as God’s Son.  The exousia of Jesus is in fact the exousia of God.


Are we praying with faith in a spirit of forgiveness, expecting Jesus to remove obstacles from our path of ministry so that we can be fruitful?

Are we submitting to the authority of Jesus Christ … understanding that all authority has been given to the Son who in the Great Commission has sent us out to make disciples of the world in dependence upon him

What kind of ambassadors are we for Jesus Christ?