A Withered Fig Tree and Mountain-Moving Faith (Matthew Sermon 101 of 151)
May 31, 2009 | Andy Davis
Faith, Prayer, Judgement Day
“If you believe, you'll receive whatever you ask for in prayer,” those words were projected up on the screen as we came in, I looked at them again. They've really been challenging me. And I wanna begin by saying that there are two errors that we can fall into in understanding this text, this mountain-moving faith. If you believe you’ll receive whatever you ask for in prayer, two very different errors. One of them is that we should ask for the wrong things with misplaced confidence, and that would be the word of faith people, the name-it-and-claim-it people that take verses like this out of context, and ask for fleshly things so they can enjoy a fleshly lifestyle in the name of Jesus. And I'll talk about that later in the message. That's one error. By far the more prevalent error and the more serious and the more damaging to the body of Christ, is that we will ask nothing based on the Scripture that we won't really look at it very seriously at all, that we'll think that our prayer lives are fine the way they are, that we will not ask for much, if anything at all, and we will not ask with the confidence that the Lord is intending by giving his disciples this statement here. That we will be mediocre in our asking and mediocre in our Christian living and we'll have no grand and glorious plans that we're asking for, nothing worthy of his omnipotence, that we'll in short ask for nothing based on the Scripture.
That's by far the greater danger to us today. And so I wanna talk about this, this verse. Has God given you a grand, glorious plan for your life? A great work to do? Something worthy of him? Worthy of the calling with which you've been called? Maybe he has and maybe as you thought about a work that's worthy of your life and worthy of Christ, you've started to hear words in your mind, echoing in your mind. Like “It can't be done,” “it's impossible.” “What can you do to make a change? What can one person accomplish?” And all these kind of echoes of unbelief, come in your mind. Perhaps God's calling on you to act in some mighty way on the issue of abortion, that you would step out in faith and just do something for the pro-life cause for women that are in crisis pregnancies. Maybe he's laid that on your heart to do something on the political side or on the fundraising side. But you’re just stymied, because you think, how could anything ever change? It's the law of the land, it's been that way for decades. Nothing can change. Or maybe God is calling on you to quit your job in midlife and go get some Bible training and go overseas to reach some unreached people group, some grand, glorious thing.
And again, these phrases come in, how can it be? “It's impossible.” “I could never do anything like that.” Or maybe, God's calling on you to sell your nice home and move to the inner city and do some work for the urban poor, maybe he's calling on you to work with single moms and their kids or maybe he's calling on you to do something for the urban scene. People have different callings in life, but God may have laid that calling on you and you're trembling in fear and you think, how can I do that, how can I live such a radical life? And so it just stops there. Well, I think this text is for you, and for me, so that we would stop dreaming small and start dreaming big. It was William Carey that said, “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.” Well, what great thing, are we expecting from God? Or what great thing are we attempting for him? And he was a man that took a text like this, this idea of, if you believe and don't doubt you can even, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree but you can say to this mountain, go throw yourself in the sea and it'll be done. So you get this expression, “mountain-moving faith.” And it's picked up even by non-Christians, they use that expression, “faith that can move mountains,” this kind of thing and...
Well what are these mountains? William Carey faced obstacles in his calling. And so I don't think it's wrong to see it in terms of obstacles, that God could actually move a pile of rocks and shrub and all that and throw it into the sea. Yes, he could do that. But I think Jesus is speaking metaphorically here about obstacles to the Kingdom of God, something that Satan erects in your mind or in your life, the course of your life that stop you from doing what God is calling on you to do. And it's faith that overcomes it, moves it out of the way and throws it into the sea, so that you actually can do what God has called you to do. William Carey had middle school education, taught himself Latin, then Hebrew and Greek, and six other languages, and eventually translated the Bible into 29 different languages. Six complete and then 29 portions of the New Testament in different languages.
The guy was incredible, amazing, the obstacles that faced him: his own lack of education, his own poverty, his status in English society. He's a shoemaker. He overcame all that, he overcame the obstacle of other Christians who were anti-missions and who just poured buckets of water on his dream and his vision, he overcame that. He overcame the laws of the British Empire that made evangelism in India, mission work in India, illegal… 'Cause of the trade and the commerce that they're trying to establish, it made... And he overcame that. He overcame an insane wife who sought to kill him, several times with a knife. She had to be restrained with chains for the last 12 years of her life. Frequently while he was translating the Bible into Sanskrit or Marathi or whatever, she'd be screaming at him from the other room. Overcame that. He overcame social issues that just broke his heart. Like the fact that they would burn widows didn't matter how old, sometimes 12 years old burn widows with their deceased husbands. And he labored in law and in persuasion until that law was overturned. They used to burn lepers, living lepers so that they'd be purged from their leprosy and be reincarnated to something better, worked against that or they would leave their babies out as an offering to the gods, Infanticide. He made that illegal, labored and labored. And after all of his labor six years at least into his ministry, there wasn't a single convert. So I think one of the greatest mountains you have to move is just discouragement, is anything coming of all this? Overcame that, just mountain after mountain after mountain. And I don't have - who can say, how many people there will be in heaven that are there now, or will be, as a direct result of William Carey's life, his willingness to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God?
My fear is that that won't be said of me or of us, this church, that there are many here that attempted great things for God because he's a great God. So my prayer for today, my mountain-moving prayer is that God will actually use the foolishness of preaching some sermon that you're sitting and listening to to actually change the way you pray, and from that, the way you live. So if you just sum it all up, as I look at the barren fig tree, cursed, withered, then the teaching on mountain-moving faith and then in the statement, the promise, “if you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer,” you put it all together, it's fruitfulness, by faith through prayer, that's the point of the whole thing.
And the idea of the withered, fig tree to me, especially having gone through two funerals now in the last week or more. And I realize our time, friends is short, it's not long before we ourselves will wither because the breath of the Lord blows on us and our time will be gone. Are there not twelve hours of daylight? You have that long to work. And when the night comes no one can work. So you have a time to produce fruit, you have a time. And as I look at that withering, I just meditate on the word wither and it comes up in some key places. ... I'm just killing this sermon 'cause I don't even know where I'm at, I'm preaching just ideas, but keep going. Isaiah 40, in Isaiah 40, it says, “All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field, the grass withers, and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them.” Everyone dies because God says it's time for you to die.
So God's breath blows on you, and you wither and you die and the time is over. And so what Jesus did to the fig tree, he does to every living thing. He gives life and he takes life away. He gives you your time here on earth, what are you doing with it? Are you bearing fruit? That's the pressure of the passage here is fruitfulness by faith through prayer. So, bottomline: ask for great things. What I'm about to say is good, sound exegesis, an explanation of the text. It needs to happen and I'm gonna do it, but if you can just get one thing, it's change the way you pray, pray for great things because God can do immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine.
That's an image that came in my mind as we were praying at 9 o'clock this morning. Taking Ephesians 3, that God can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine whatever you ask God could answer. He didn't say he'll do it or not, whatever you ask, but he said, I can do immeasurably more than that 'cause you just imagined it. Alright. So whatever you ask, he can do immeasurably more. Let's see God's omnipotence work in this church, let's see, his omnipotence put to work in this community, with the international students, in the pro-life issue. Let's see his omnipotence move. And it happens through faithful people who pray. That's what it's about.
Lessons About Christ: Human and Divine
Well, from this text we get lessons about Christ, his humanity, we start there. Jesus was hungry. Like you get hungry. Now I know you can say, “Well Jesus was a man, unlike any of that.” Well, he was a man, unlike any other man. And he certainly got hungry after fasting 40 days in the desert, but this was just run-of-the-mill hunger.
An Unusual Miracle
This was just morning, I'm hungry, kind of hunger. Now you shouldn't think poorly of his hostesses Martha and Mary, they're in Bethany. I'm sure they would have taken care of him but you know how Jesus used to get up a great while before dawn. So we're not gonna fault the ladies. My guess is, he got up early and made his way back into the city and he hadn't had anything to eat at that particular moment. And that's a remarkable miracle really, if you think about it, because as far as I can see in his first coming, his first advent, this is the only destructive miracle he does. Every other miracle in some way, enhances life or blesses somebody etcetera. This is a destructive miracle. Now I say in his First Coming, in his Second Coming, he will do all kinds of destructive things by a supernatural power.
But here in the First Coming, this is the only destructive miracle there is. Jesus came not to destroy, he didn't come to bring judgment, he didn't come to bring wrath in his First Coming. In John 3:17, it says “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” And so Jesus' miracle is generally of this way, but this was a destructive miracle, and I think a foreshadowing of the judgement that will come when Jesus comes the second time. And there in the Second Coming, you know the Book of Revelation speaks of seven seals that are broken and just wrath poured out on the earth, and seven trumpets that blow and wrath all over the Earth, and seven bowls that are poured out and destruction, all over the Earth. And everything is destroyed by the power of Jesus Christ. So this is, I think, a foreshadowing of that.
And so Jesus goes out and he's hungry and he sees this fig tree by the side of the road, and it's in leaf. Now, Mark tells us, it's not, it wasn't fig season. But the way it worked and agricultural experts that know about fig trees say that when the leaves are out by that time already, there's some early immature fruits and while it might not be delicious it’s certainly nutritious and edible and so if the tree has leaves on it, the fruit had already been there and so Jesus went with that, at least outwardly, with the expectancy to lift up some leaves or look around and find something to eat, but there was nothing there.
Christ’s Deity: The Power to Curse
And so as a result, Jesus says in verse 19, “May you never bear fruit again!” This is a curse. And the response is immediate. Though I think you have to put it all together with Mark's gospel. They don't see it immediately, but it withered, immediately the fig tree withered. And so Jesus puts on display his power and his humanity, the deity of Christ on display in the humanity.
Lessons About Israel: A Parable in Action
The Fig Tree: A Symbol of Prosperity
Now, the fig tree itself I think is a symbol of prosperity for the Jews. Fig trees are plentiful around the Mediterranean and they're called “the poor man's food” because you just go up and eat as he was expecting to do there. And they can grow to a height of over 20 feet and they're leafy so that it's a good place to sit in the shade. Remember, in John 1, Nathaniel was sitting under a fig tree when Jesus called him. And so they become a symbol of prosperity. It says in 1 Kings 4, “During Solomon's lifetime, Judah and Israel from Dan to Beersheba lived in safety each man under his own vine and fig tree.” So it became a symbol of prosperity.
A Barren Fig Tree: A Symbol of Judgment
So also Zechariah figures, pictures, the fig tree as a symbol of prosperity, of the future, messianic reign. In Zechariah 3:9-10, the Lord Almighty says, “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.” How can you hear that and not think about Jesus? Oh, what a mighty work that was, Jesus dying on the cross, removing the sin of the land in a single day, Zechariah 3, “I'll remove the sin of this land in a single day, … and in that day, each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree declares the Lord Almighty.” So a symbol of prosperity. Therefore a cursed, withered, dead fig tree, a symbol of judgment from God, a symbol of judgment.
The Fig Tree Itself: A Symbol of Israel
Now, what does this fig tree represent? I believe to some degree this is a living parable. Jesus told parables. This is kind of an acted out parable. So I think there's a symbolism to this action. We should not imagine that Jesus was just irritable that morning, not having had breakfast yet, and just got ticked at the tree and used his power to just wither something, and it was just a slip, it was just a moment and then he reverted back to his usual ways of healings and teaching and all that. Jonathan Edwards, when he was 20, wrote a bunch of resolutions and one of them resolved never to show the slightest motions of anger toward inanimate objects or irrational beings, okay. Edwards at 20 knew that Jesus certainly lived it perfectly, he wasn't irritated in a flip and sort of way at this tree, and curses it, wasn't like that. No, there's a symbolism here. And we have to understand the context of when this happened. Matthew is not carefully giving us a chronology here. Mark does a better job with chronology, Matthew, I think is keeping stories together. So if you put it all together, we've already had the triumphal entry.
Jesus, according to Mark's gospel, then goes into the temple, looks around, sees everything there, goes home for the night, comes back the next day to cleanse the temple. This is when he sees the fig tree. He hasn't cleansed the temple, yet, he's going back to cleanse the temple which we covered last time. And he sees the tree and therefore the tree, I believe, represents Israel as a nation and their fruitlessness. I don't think it's wrong to see it this way, because the people are filled with religiosity, there's all kinds of activity, it seems like there should be fruit.
They are streaming in their quarter-of-a-million-strong to worship God as the Passover time and to offer sacrifices and there's all kinds of leaves but the fruit is missing. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship me in vain, their worship is just rules taught by men.” In another place in Luke 13, Jesus told a different parable that helps us interpret this action. Luke 13, “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now, I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and I haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil any longer?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘Leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it, I'll fertilize it. And if it bears fruit next year then fine, but if not, then cut it down.’” Boy this is a powerful, powerful parable. Basically it's that judgment on fruitless on a fruitless nation, and I would also add a fruitless individual doesn't come immediately, but God is patient waiting for us to repent, and bring forth the fruit of the kingdom. And so, he fertilizes, he puts around that tree what is necessary to bring forth fruit, and if it brings forth fruit fine, if not, then judgment comes.
And so we have time, we have time to repent, we have time to bring forth fruit, but we don't know how long it is. And so I believe that the tree, the cursing of the tree represents God’ stance both toward an individual and toward his people, collectively, the Jewish people. And the issue is the same no matter how you look at it: God demands fruit, and if no fruit comes then judgment comes.
Israel’s Long History of Fruitlessness
Now, Israel has a long history of fruitlessness. Later in this chapter, Jesus is going to redo Isaiah's song about the vineyard and we'll talk about that in due time. But you remember that song? I preached about it within the last year in Isaiah 5, the prophet said this, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones, planted it with the choice vines, he built a watch tower in it and dug out a wine press as well. Then he looked for a crop of great good grapes, but it yielded only bad. Now, you dwellers of Jerusalem and you men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I did for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now, I'll tell you what I'm gonna do to my vineyard: I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I'll take away its hedge and it will be destroyed. I'll command the clouds not to rain on it.” Does that sound like withering to you? “I'll make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow in it.”
Then Isaiah tells us what he's talking about. “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” And I'm not gonna say any more about the song of the vineyard 'cause we'll get a chance to look at it again as Jesus revisits at the end of the same chapter, but again and again, the prophets cried against the fruitlessness of the Jewish nation. And therefore, Christ cursed the fig tree as a symbol of Israel's future judgment. The wall, the protective wall would be removed. And the Romans would come in and they would destroy the city. They would lose their place in their nation, and judgment would come.
But friends, it's always dangerous to keep that judgment theme, and that warning theme out there. Bring it right home. Because the nation of Israel is made up of individual people, who are living their lives the way they were living. And each one of us is gonna stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for our lives. We're going to give an account for how we lived here on earth. And the Lord demands fruit from us. He wants fruit, so that's the parable. Has to do with God and the individual or nation and fruit.
Lessons About Prayer: A Faith that Moves Mountains
The Disciples Astonished
Well, at this point, the fig tree withers immediately. It says in Matthew, he's kind of conflating. I think it started right from the roots to wither at that moment, but the full effects of the withering weren't obvious until, I think, the next day. And they're walking in Mark's gospel, they're walking by, and then there's that same tree, and it is just dead in one day. Now, the withering of a fig tree isn't in itself a miracle.
Many of Jesus's miracles have to do with timing, and words that are spoken. Okay, so just the withering of a fig tree isn't a miracle. There are lots of withered fig trees in the world, none of them miracles. However, when a prophet of God, when the Son of God speaks like he does to a tree, and within one day, it is completely dead, friends, that is a miracle. It is a display of the power of God. And Jesus seizes that moment and their astonishment. They're astonished, they're amazed. They're always amazed at the power of God, and I think we should be amazed at the power of God, but there's a certain level of amazement that isn't appropriate for the children of God.
It's funny, after Peter and John healed a man at the temple and they're preaching based on that, and he says, “Man of Israel, why does this surprise you?"” I love that statement. You just have to meditate on it. Someone was healed. Why does this surprise you? Think about all that Jesus did and now we are his apostles, and we're here to preach in his name. Shouldn't surprise you at all. Well, in effect, Jesus could somewhat say this to them. “Why are you surprised?”
Jesus’ Lesson on Faith and Prayer
And then he teaches them lessons about faith and prayer. Look at verse 21 and 22, “I tell you the truth, you have faith and do not doubt. Not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but you can also say to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea’ and it will be done. If you believe, you'll receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” Really an astonishing statement similar to the one Jesus makes in John 14 in verse 12, when he says, “I tell you the truth. Anyone who has faith in me will do what I've been doing. In fact, he will do greater works than I've been doing because I go to the Father.” Now, that's an amazing statement. Jesus makes these kinds of statements, but they're all true.
So it's an issue of faith and the power of faith, of believing in Jesus as the centerpiece of what Christ has come to do in our hearts in the world. It's the centerpiece that we would believe in Jesus. That's why he came. And so, they came to him in John 6, and said, “What must we do to work the works of God?” And Jesus said, “The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent.” That's the work of God. Everything else flows from that.
First, believe for justification. Believe that you might be saved, believe in Jesus and you will be saved from your sins. Perhaps you need that. Perhaps you came here, you're invited, and you've never been saved. You've never trusted in Jesus. The work of God for you is simple. Trust in Jesus to save you from your sins. But after that, everything flows from that. All the good works and it's the same thing: believe in the one that God sent. Believe in Jesus.
Now, what is the nature of faith? Well, perceiving and receiving, I'll put it that way. A lot of different things I could say, but perceiving and receiving is in the nature of faith. Perceiving the invisible spiritual truths, the reality of God on his throne, his nature, his purposes, his plans, what he is doing, seeing what really is in the invisible spiritual realm. And then receiving from God what he is willing to give. That's how I define faith. Perceiving what is in the invisible spiritual realm, and receiving from God what he has promised to give.
Faith, then, is just a humble avenue by which the omnipotent God does great things. It is not faith that moves the mountain. It is God that moves the mountain by faith. That is an important distinction. It is God who moves mountains, not faith. I think we should take this metaphorically because Jesus uses the expression “this mountain.” You can say that “this mountain” be removed and thrown in the sea and it will go. “This mountain” is the Mount of Olives, about which it's spoken in Zechariah that Jesus would have a second coming there. Okay. So I don't think God intends for the Mount of Olives to be removed and thrown in the sea.
Warning Against Misunderstanding: Faith is NOT a Creative Force
I just mentioned this because our asking must be constrained by the Word of God. We have to ask for what God has commanded and what he is doing. So we learn from Scripture what to ask for, and then we be incredibly bold in faith based on those things. And so, I must say this, then, about faith. Faith is not some independent creative force in the universe, that God must bow his knee to. You understand what I'm saying? It's not some independent mindless creative force that we tap into, and then by that electrical kind of force, we then compel God to do something he didn't intend to do. That's the word of faith approach.
It's a major heresy, that whole name-it-and-claim-it, confess-it-and-possess-it, all these rhymes. It is really clever. And it really does pander the whole prosperity success thing. It really does pander to the people's lusts, but how sad it is when people don't understand what God really wants to give us. He wants to give us himself. He wants to give us the fruit of the Spirit. I'd rather have that than a Lincoln Continental town car, or something like that, but I was reading one of these men, name-it-and-claim-it guys. He's saying, “Hey, the Mafia drives around in a Lincoln Continental town car. Why shouldn't the King's kids?” Well, it sounds attractive but I'd rather have the fruit of the Spirit. Wouldn't you?
I think it's helpful to have a car that gets you from here to there, but the bottom line is, I'd rather have the fruit of the spirit. Now, these folks, you know how they talk? I'll say one of their names. Creflo Dollar. Maybe you've heard of him. He said this, “When you pray the word in faith, God has no choice but to do what you say.” Oh friends, we don't talk like that. We don't talk like that. And they'll even talk about how they ask for a king and God didn't wanna give 'em a king. Remember that whole thing? And so, “God will give you what he knows isn't good for you, because he's got to. You asked in faith.” And that's not how it works. It's not how it works. And there are lots of people doing this.
In effect, you become like a little God creating your own beautiful universe as you see fit. That is not faith. Faith sees what really is in the invisible realm, and fits into what God is doing. And the more faith you have, the more clearly you can see into that invisible world. And then you ask according to it, and the asking you do is remarkably blessed by God 'cause that's what he was gonna do anyway.
Lessons Applied to Us
Marvel at Christ’s Power BOTH to Bless and to Curse
Alright, so what applications can we take from this text for ourselves? Well, let's just marvel at Christ's power. He can do anything. Just meditate on that. He can do immeasurably more than all you can ask or imagine. I don't know. I can imagine some pretty great things. Do you really wanna take that text on? Take it on then, because God is omnipotent and anything that can be done by power, God can do. So marvel at that.
A Warning to Non-Christians: Seek the Ultimate Blessing of the Gospel
And let me give again a warning to non-Christians. Flee the wrath to come. Flee to the cross of Christ. The greatest curse is not a curse on the fig tree. It's withering and dying Christless and going to hell. That's the greatest curse, flee to Christ. He died on the cross for you, he died on the cross for sin. Trust in him, you need a Savior. You shed his blood, that you might not have to suffer that wrath from God.
All you have to do is believe in him. And if you believe, then you'll do those great mighty works I've been preaching about today.
A Warning to Christians: Produce the Fruit of the Kingdom
But I also wanna give a warning to Christians. If God did not spare the natural tree, he'll not spare you either. Quoting Romans 11. Are you bearing fruit? Is there fruit in your life? A fruitless person is not a Christian. Simply put. Let me quote John 15: “I am the vine and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers.” Sound familiar? It withers. “Such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.”
What is “Fruit”?
So, again, I say, a fruitless person is a Christless person. If Christ is in you, you will definitely bear fruit. Well, what is the fruit then? What is the fruit? Well, we talk a lot here in this church about internal journey and external journey. There's fruit of different types. In the internal journey, it has to do with who you are, what kind of person you are. And so, there are different aspects. It's fruit to God, to see brokenness, genuine heartbrokenness over sin, at levels you've never seen before. That's fruit. He sees that as fruit. Do you see how he's humbled himself?
“Do you see how Manasseh has humbled himself?” He says, in one place, there's a brokenness inside and God sees that, a broken and contrite spirit, that's fruit. So there's internal to have a stronger faith, a stronger sense of the greatness of God. As you're listening to this sermon, if your faith is getting strong, that's fruit and you're alive. Nourishing sap is flowing through you, and you just have a stronger faith than you did when you walked in here. That's fruit. Or how about your heart? What you love and what you hate, if you love Jesus, more than you ever did before, and then that's fruit.
Come tonight to our concert of prayer. We're gonna focus entirely on love for Jesus. We need to love him. We need to express our love for him. We need to pray together about our love for Jesus. We need to stimulate ourselves, lest we be like that church in Ephesus, that had forsaken its first love. We don't wanna be like that. Love or die. The book is about that, and God will bring judgment on the church that forsakes its first love. So Let's love Jesus. That's fruit.
But then there's action fruit that just flows out, the fruit of lips that confess his name for you to worship and praise God. Say, “Thank you, Jesus.” That's fruit. It's just evidence of Jesus in you, you're speaking praise. Evangelism is fruit. If you just speak the word of God to a lost person, just speak to them, that is fruit, even if they never repent and believe. You stepped out in faith, you acted, you did something. If it's hard for you to invite someone to church and you do this week, friends, that's fruit. Is there fruit in your life?
Lessons in Faith and Prayer
Now, I wanna push you a little further and go back to where I began. The great danger of this text for most of us is that we will ask nothing based on this text. Just another sermon, just another day at church. And you ask nothing based on this text. If you believe, you'll receive whatever you ask for in prayer. I think you know what kinds of things you ought to be asking for. Let's ask him for those things, shall we? Let's pray for them. Let's start with love for Christ. Let's go and say, “Lord, I want this church to be openly, clearly, passionately in love with Jesus.” I want us to talk about it. I want our affections for Christ to be very clear and powerful toward Christ, vertically. Horizontally, I want us to be characterized by a genuine sacrificial love for one another.
It grieves me when I hear that people don't feel loved. “People didn't call. I was going through this in my life, nobody called, nobody came.” That grieves me. I take it personally. And if I didn't call and I feel grieved about that, and I need to repent sometimes from that. Sometimes I did call, but no one else, etcetera. I want, horizontally, I want our church to be a loving church, pray for it. That's a great thing. More than that, though, I want our church to be a bright shining light in a dark city. I don't mean to insult Durham at all, but Durham's a dark place, they all are, all of them. But this is at our dark place, and we need to shine like the sun in this place.
So we have an urban ministry going on. Pray that God would make it evangelistically fruitful, that we would see people come to faith in Christ through it. We have an international student ministry. Pray that God would make it eternally abundantly fruitful. Lots of baptisms. We had some this spring, didn't we? Marvelous. Pray for more. We've got friends out on the mission field in unreached people group areas that are counting on us to pray. Pray specifically. Ask what they're doing this week, what projects, what programs they're doing. Pray powerfully for that.
And then one final challenge. Look at the overall general direction of your life, what you're living for, what you are. What could be said briefly at a funeral, in reference, you don't get much time.
Longest funeral I've been to was 75 minutes, alright. And that was long. It was longer than most. Most of them are shorter than that. They will sum up your life, your children, your friends will sum up your life in a few phrases. Alright. What great thing do you want to dominate their mind? He or she was the person who did this. They stepped out in faith with a... William Cary, it was India. He did great work in India. We just know he did that. Hudson Taylor, China Inland Mission, prayed until thousands and thousands of inland Chinese came to faith in Christ. We know his great work. What is your great work?
We're about to go to the Lord's supper. As you do, I just urge that you... That you get your heart right. You may know right away that some pattern in your life is hindering you from full fruitfulness. It's just sin, and you need to confess it. Confess it then, and receive the forgiveness from Christ. And if you've been baptized as a believer, you're welcome to join with us in the Lord's Supper. We want you to partake. It's for sinners. There are no perfect people here. The Lord meant it for that. So use it as an opportunity to reconcile with the Lord, to confess sin. Also, use it to look for opportunity to look forward to when we get to sit at table with the Lord Jesus and feast with him. And then piggyback on what I preached, as you're sitting there waiting for the elements to come, say “Lord, give me a great thing to live for. Something, some great thing I can expect to you to do great things about. Give me a great life work. Give me a ministry here in this church so I can use my gifts in a glorious way.”
Let's pray. Father, thank you for this time of hearing the word of God. Thank you for the power of Matthew, Matthew's gospel, and thank you for the incredible power of God expressed in faith-filled prayer. Oh God, make us fruitful. We don't have long. Our time here on Earth is short, oh God, that we would not die before doing the great works you have in mind for us to do. Clear out the sin, clear out the weakness, clear out the selfishness and worldliness, clear it all out, that we might be maximally fruitful for you. Pray in Jesus' name.