Lessons from the Fig Tree — Part Two
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player
return to the main player
Return to the Main Player

Lessons from the Fig Tree — Part Two

From Series: The Gospel According to Mark, Volume 5

Mark 11:23-25  (ID: 2834)

Jesus instructed His disciples to have faith and pray, believing their prayers would be answered. Alistair Begg reminds us to examine these verses in light of the rest of Scripture and to focus on the object of our faith, not faith itself. We must believe God can do the impossible, while at the same time accepting His divine purposes.


Sermon Transcript:

I invite you to turn with me to the New Testament, first to the Gospel of Mark and to chapter 11, and then to the Gospel of Matthew and to chapter 18. I’m gonna read two passages—first, the one that sets the context for our study this evening and following on from this morning, in Mark chapter 11. We looked this morning at the cursing of the fig tree, and we didn’t get as far as verse 22–25, so we read them:

“‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’”

And then in Matthew 18:21:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“‘The servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.”’” Something that he couldn’t possibly do. “‘The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

“‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”

“‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’”

Amen.

Father, we ask for your help now, as the evening shadows have fallen and the day closes in upon us, the potential for anxiety, with the prospect of Monday before us, clamoring for our attention and cajoling us. And so we really need the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit to be able to speak and hear and understand and believe your Word. And so we ask you, a God who’s “able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we could ask or imagine,”[1] to do this for us now, so that we might, beyond the voice of a mere man, hear your voice and submit to it. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, let’s go to chapter 11, to a narrative which we noted this morning “bristles with difficulties.”[2] A narrative bristling with difficulties. And we said that we would seek to come to terms with the instruction of this section by first of all addressing the question of fruit, which we did this morning, and then the issue of faith, and then the issue of forgiveness, to which we return tonight.

I think it’s really questionable whether we have actually so far dealt with the difficult part of this particular section or whether the difficult part is before us right now. We noted this morning that the withered fig tree provides a sorry picture of unbelieving Judaism—that what we discovered Jesus doing was, in fact, prophetic symbolism, that it was an acted parable, and that what happened to this fig tree was an indication of the judgment of God that was coming upon the temple and upon the ceremonial and legalistic externalism that was represented in so much of the teaching and actions of the Pharisees.

And what Jesus did on that occasion was dramatic, it was unmistakable, it was shocking, and it was a warning. It was supposed to jolt the observer into a response. It was supposed to shock the disciples—not simply the fact of the withering but the speed with which the withering took place. And God in his mercy does this in this parable, choosing to curse only a tree, in an act of mercy, in order that the observers would be forced to ask—whether those were observers present at the time or observers such as ourselves who are now reading the record—that we would be caused to ask the question, “Is this in any sense a picture of me? Am I in any sense represented by this withered-from-the-root-up tree?” Jesus had come to his temple looking for fruitfulness; he had come to his temple looking for faith. He was finding neither. And we’re supposed to look at this and say, “When Jesus comes and scrutinizes me, is he finding in my life fruitfulness? Is he finding in my life faith?”

And as I say, it was merciful of Jesus only on this occasion to curse a tree, because he makes it clear later on in the Gospel that a day is coming when the King will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”[3] So in other words, if the cursing of a tree is alarming to any of us, let that alarm be sufficient to cause us to examine our own hearts so that we do not find ourselves faced with the inevitable cursing which will be represented on the day of judgment.

When Jesus comes and scrutinizes me, is he finding in my life fruitfulness? Is he finding in my life faith?

Now, the challenge that we were left with was, how do you get, really, from verse 21 to verse 22? And if you read the parallel section in Matthew’s Gospel, you will find that it gives us a help in this regard. Because in Matthew’s record, he records Jesus as saying, “Hey, listen guys, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will do it.”[4] So, in other words, Jesus helps us in the transition by saying, “Here has been a dramatic display of the power of God, but I want to remind you, my followers, that you have the power of God at your disposal when you act in believing faith.” So in other words, what Jesus has just done in this dramatic act serves as a model for how true believers might draw on the power of God.

I’m also attracted to the notion—but I don’t want to work it out now, just give it to those of you who are doing the master’s course—but for those of you who are interested to think this out, I’m attracted to the view that there is actually a strong link here between the absence of prayer in the temple in verse 17—that the temple has now become defunct as a place of prayer—and now Jesus is giving instruction to his disciples so that they might become a community of prayer, and that the prayer that they exercise will be the prayers of believing faith and not the shibboleths and routine prayers that had now been represented in a temple that was going south.

And if we regard these verses between 22 and 25 as instruction on prayer, then that helps us to understand why our two remaining points would be faith and forgiveness. We will spend a vast majority of time on this question of faith, and just a small amount of time in the end on the question of forgiveness, at least for this evening.

The Issue of Faith

“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and [doesn’t] doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” Not very hard to understand that, is it? It’s pretty straightforward. And yet the misapplication of these verses have scared some of us so much that we scarcely give any kind of attention to the encouragement and the challenge that they contain. Some of us, if we’re honest, are in danger of essentially sidestepping verses like this, trying to bury them under, if you like, a hundred qualifications. As soon as somebody raises the verse, we immediately explain to them that it doesn’t really mean what it says, and it means this, and it means that, and it means the next thing—so much so that the people are left saying, “Well, I wonder why the verse is even in the Bible at all.”

That’s why it’s so important to keep these principles of interpretation in mind, as we mentioned them this morning. That will help us to notice, first of all, that the object of faith here in verse 22 is no one other than God himself: “Have faith in God.” “Have faith in God.” It is a very contemporary notion for people to talk about faith, in a way that wasn’t true in the ’60s, when I was growing up as a teenager. People were opposed to any notion of faith. Scientific rationalism held sway. No well-meaning, sensible individual would ever say, “And we’ll be praying for you,” or “We have some faith ideas that we wanted to mention.” Nobody would ever have said that then.

Apparently, everybody’s happy to say it now, because faith means whatever you want it to mean. And faith may actually be nothing more than faith in faith. Some people say, “Well, have faith.” And people say, “Yes!” And then they walk away and go, “What does that mean?” Because the issue is always the object of faith; it is the ground of faith that gives faith its significance. This is not faith in faith, or faith in myself, but faith in God. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth. And I believe in his only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who suffered under Pontius Pilate,” and so on. Right? In other words, when we say the Apostles’ Creed, we are affirming all that underpins the exhortation of Jesus here when he says, “Have faith in God.”

Notice also the nature or the extent of faith. What Jesus is saying here is, “I want you boys to have an audacious faith.” An audacious faith. “I want you to have such confidence in God that you are prepared to ask him to do things that are seemingly impossible.” Now, look at the verse and tell me, is that not what Jesus is saying? “I want you,” he says, “to do in this respect that which says you actually believe in a God who is too wise to make mistakes, who is too kind to be cruel, and who is too powerful to be subjugated to the normal forces of the natural universe—unless and because he chooses so.”

Now, the terminology that he employs—“if anyone says to this mountain,” “if anyone roots out this mountain”—was actually familiar terminology. And in rabbinic circles, this very phraseology was used figuratively for the accomplishing of something that was impossible or incredible.[5] And so they used this terminology: “Saying to the mountain, ‘Do this,’” or “Saying to the mountain, ‘Do that.’” It just is so patently impossible. “If you have faith and do not doubt”—I’m quoting again Matthew’s reference—“if you have faith and do not doubt…”[6] Sounds a bit like James, doesn’t it? James 1:6. “Not only,” says Jesus, “can you do what has been done to this fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea, and it will be done.’”

Now, do you think that the disciples were standing there on the Mount of Olives, and they said, “Oh, I get it now. What you’re suggesting is that we will be able to turn round and say to the Mount of Olives, ‘Throw yourself down into the sea below,’” which would be a maneuver of some four thousand feet, once it got itself up in order that it could go back down? No, they didn’t think that for a moment. And the idea of pressing this into some kind of literal fulfillment will result in immediate disappointment for the individuals who hold this out as a possibility. You’re gonna spend a lot of your time in mountain ranges, you know, trying to move things, and it will be thoroughly disappointing for you. I don’t recommend it.

And to the extent that you want to argue for a literalistic fulfillment of this, then you will discover that you are playing into the hands of your atheist friends. I say that because I went to check. I thought I’d just check this afternoon what atheists do with this verse. And I didn’t spend very long on it, but I spent enough time on it to prove at least to myself that what I imagined was the case is actually the case. This is one of the passages that is used in atheist literature to show, from the perspective of such an individual, that there is absolutely no basis for belief in God. They actually use this passage. And I can’t go through the whole thing with you, but this is how they summarize it: Once they’ve gone through it, they say, “These verses are wrong because clearly God doesn’t answer prayer. Have you seen anybody throwing mountains around lately?” they say. “And the reason God doesn’t answer prayer,” they then say, “is because God is imaginary. He is a figment of your imagination.”

So, do you understand why it’s so important that in seeking to be true to the Bible, we don’t try to be truer to the Bible than the Bible is to itself or truer to the Bible than is Christ to the Scriptures? As I said this morning, it is important that when we read the Bible, we say, “What is the language, what is the genre, in which this is being expressed?” And as I suggested to you, this is a figurative, proverbial kind of statement, akin to “a camel going through the eye of a needle.”[7]

Now, when we are pressed upon like that, and when these things come at us—and it’s not uncommon that people would say these kind of things—I’m not suggesting for a moment that we back down from the audacious challenge and encouragement that Jesus is giving. No. We need to affirm our convictions and to assert that we are absolutely confident that God is more than willing to respond to our cries of faith. As says Hendrickson, “We should not try in any way whatever to minimize the force of this saying or to subtract from its meaning.”[8] I want to read that to you again; I think it’s jolly good. “We should not try in any way whatever to minimize the force of this saying or to subtract from its meaning.” Somebody’ll immediately go and say, “Well, he said that it wasn’t literal. He said it was just figurative. What he’s trying to do is minimize the force of its meaning and subtract from its significance.” Wrong. Twice wrong! No.

What we’re actually doing is we’re saying, to understand this allows us then to have the Scriptures say exactly what they’re saying, and not in any way to detract from the audacious way in which Jesus says to his followers, “God wants to do things for you that are incredible and that are apparently impossible.” That’s what he’s saying. “We’ve just come from the temple; it’s defunct. We’ve come from the place that used to be the house of prayer. There’s no prayer going on. It’s been turned into a market. Now, you are my men. You’ve seen what has happened to this tree. That is a model of what you will do one day when you take me at my word and when you do what God designs for you.”

Now, we could illustrate this in so many ways. But the man that came to mind is probably the man that’s in your mind right now as a wonderful illustration of the deep-seated conviction that God is able to do what seems totally impossible. Now, we could go all kinds of places, couldn’t we? We could go to Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. We could go to little David going up against big Goliath. There’s a lot of places we could go, but that’s not who I have in mind. I have Abraham in mind. Abraham, the old man. Abraham, the old man with the old wife. Abraham, the increasingly old man with the increasingly old wife, who’s been hanging on to a promise about becoming a father, and every day that he lives, it is increasingly incredible that he could ever become a father. In fact, frankly, from a human perspective, it is no way that he is going to become a father. And so Paul says, “Let me tell you about Abraham.” Romans 4:18: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead”—we don’t need to go into that—“since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.” Okay.

So he has a promise: “You are going to become the father of many nations.[9] Through your seed, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”[10] This is not just, “You’re gonna have a boy.” This is, “You’re gonna have a family that is as vast as the sands on the seashore.”[11] And every day that passes, when they’re having their breakfast, they must have said to one another, “This is totally unbelievable. This is incredible. Frankly, this is impossible.” “Yet he did not waiver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and [he] gave glory to God”—here we go—“being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”[12] That is faith. That is faith.

And Jesus now takes these fellows who are on this side of the cross, and he directs them in this way. And if you read the Acts of the Apostles, the Acts of the Apostles are there in part as vibrant proof of what Jesus is actually teaching. Because it is impossible to go into the Acts of the Apostles and not find some of the fulfillment of this. The beggar says to Peter and John, “You got anything for me?” Did Peter swallow before he then said to them—did he go, “I’m gonna try this, I don’t know”? I mean, what did he do, or did he just go? I don’t know. “What have you got for me?” “Well, silver and gold have I none—here we go, hold my hand—but such as I have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth just stand up and walk.”[13] That’s faith. That’s faith. Did he remember, when the man said, “Give me something,” what Jesus had said to him? “You see this fig tree? You see that mess? Now, let me tell you guys. This is what you need to understand: God is able to do beyond all of your capacity to even imagine. You could even say, as it were, to this mountain, ‘Throw yourself in the sea,’ and it would actually be accomplished.” It is a picture of the doing of the impossible.

Jesus is encouraging his disciples to trust God with all that they need for doing God’s work.

And he then builds on that in verse 24: “Therefore,” he says, building on his own argument, “therefore I tell you, whatever you ask … in prayer”—“whatever you ask in prayer”—“believe that you have received it.” That sounds like Abraham, in the little section in Romans 4, doesn’t it? “Fully persuaded” that God could do what he said he would do. “Fully persuaded.” He was banking on it, because God said it. “Believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” “Whatever you ask.”

Now, once again, don’t let’s set this aside by a hundred qualifications. Just let it sit there for a minute and enjoy it. “Whatever you ask.” Jesus has taught elsewhere, “If [you] … being evil, know how to give good gifts [to] your children, how much more”—the argument is from the lesser to the greater—“how much more will your [heavenly] Father … give good things to them that ask him?”[14] You can go and ask him for good things. In one of the old hymns we used to sing in Sunday School in Scotland:

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
[Since] his grace and pow’r [is] such,
You can never ask too much.[15]

You can never out-ask God. He owns everything. Doesn’t mean you’re gonna get everything. But you can ask him: “Whatever you ask.”

In fact, James, who seems to have paid very close attention to this, says in chapter 4 of his letter, he says, “The reason that many of you don’t have anything is because you don’t ask.” That’s the very phraseology he uses: “You do not have, because you do not ask. And when you ask, you ask wrongly, to please yourselves.”[16] You don’t have the courage to ask, and then if you do pluck up the courage to ask, you ask, and your motives are all wrong.

Jesus is addressing this here. In other words, he’s encouraging his disciples to trust God with all that they need for doing God’s work. Because it is in that context that he is speaking to them, isn’t it? So that they might be sure that God will accomplish what they ask. In fact, they may be so sure that it will appear almost as if they have already received it.

Now, here I need to introduce one of the principles of interpretation from this morning, so as to allay the fears of some and to just set the framework for others. Remember what we said this morning, in part: that we must always interpret Scripture with Scripture and that our interpretation of Scripture must be adjudicated upon by the totality of Scripture. So in other words, we can’t come to this verse and take it in its bald simplicity and make application of it in a way that would set it in opposition to other places in the Bible or to other truths in the Bible which are corollaries or are necessities that are, if you like, inherent in the thinking of Christ, even when he urges this audacious approach.

Now, if we had time—which we don’t—we could work our way through a whole list of these, but there are characteristics of prayer that are present, and need to be present always, when we think of a verse like this. So, for example, when he says, “Whatever you ask in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours,” first of all, our prayers must emerge from the humility—the humility—which says, “Lord, I don’t know always what to ask.” It also has to be framed by the sincerity which is different from the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: “Do not be like the hypocrites when you pray.”[17] In other words, sincerity. Also, it is framed in the context of consistency, so that in Matthew 7 you ask and you keep on asking, you knock and you keep on knocking.[18] So in other words, this safeguards us from a notion that what we have in this verse is a kind of “press button A” approach, and upsy-daisy, out everything falls in line. Also, our prayers are framed by charity—in other words, by love for all who are concerned. And also, that our prayers are framed ultimately by the sovereignty of God and by submission to God’s will.

“Oh,” you say, “now here we go. You just made me get all excited about the way in which we can approach God, and now you seem to be, having given it with one hand, and you’re taking it back with the other hand.” No. No, I’m not doing that at all.

Here’s how I wrestle with these things in my own mind: When I come up against knotty problems like these, I always ask one question, and that is, How does this idea work for Jesus? Or how did this idea work for Jesus? This idea of his own statement here, “I’m gonna tell you that whatever you ask for in prayer, if you believe you’ve received it, it will be yours,” I’d say it’s pretty categorical, doesn’t it? Okay. Well then, let’s try it with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Turn over a couple of pages, 14:35: “Going a little f[u]rther, [Jesus] fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.’” So he’s not in any doubt about that. “‘Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me.’”[19] Now, if you kept your finger on the verse, go back to verse 24: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe … you have received it, and it will be yours.” “Take this cup from me.” What’s up, Jesus? Didn’t you believe you would receive it? Could Jesus possibly be unbelieving here? No. No. “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”[20]

Do you see the balance? Absolute confidence in God’s power: “Father, everything is possible for you. I am absolutely confident in your power.” Secondly, “I am completely submitted to your will.” Total confidence in his power, complete submission to his will, so that the very boldness, the very childlikeness, the very enthusiasm, the vastness, of asking God to do impossible things is not mitigated by his sovereignty; it is controlled mercifully by his sovereignty. In fact, I came across a quote—I wrote it down, and I don’t know where I got it from. It just comes to mind now. I’ll see if I can find it for a moment. Yeah, here it is: “When prayer is the source of faith’s power and the means of its strength, God’s sovereignty is its only restriction.”[21] That is really good. I need to find out where I got that. “When prayer is the source of faith’s power and the means of its strength, God’s sovereignty is its only restriction.” And it is only the sovereign purpose of God that restricts the answer of the prayer of Christ. It is not because he didn’t “believe enough” to make it happen.

And let me say, before I just finish up, that if you are tempted to come out with that nonsense, have somebody staple your lips together! For seldom have I been as righteously stirred in pastoral ministry as when I have listened to individuals tell well-meaning, believing, trusting Christians that the only reason that their prayer has not been answered according to their design is because of their inadequate faith: “The reason that you haven’t been healed, the reason that this hasn’t happened, is all because of the inadequacy of your faith!”

Those who trust God for the right things in the right way may have confidence that God will always make the right response.

We had a girl who was a missionary in West Africa. She took cancer, she came home, the cancer was through her entire abdomen. Well-meaning people, who wanted to take mountains and throw them into the sea, went over to the house to ask God for the impossible, which his sovereignty chose not to give. Despite that, they got her out of her bed, and they marched around the bed, so that they could come back to the prayer time and tell everybody, “Yes, God is beginning to work. She’s out of her bed. She was walking around.” It was fatuous, it was unhelpful, it was a disaster. And worse still that after I conducted her funeral, they went to the home of her mom and dad, and told her mom and dad, “You know, she would still be here if it were not for your inadequate faith.”

Is that what this verse is saying? No, you see, if you take the Scriptures and squeeze them like Plasticine to fit your own agenda, you can make them do and say just about anything you choose. But if we are going to allow the Scriptures to adjudicate on themselves, and our interpretation of the Scriptures to be guided by the Scriptures, then we will be prevented from such things.

The bottom line, I wrote, was this: those who trust God for the right things in the right way may have confidence that God will always make the right response. Those who trust God for the right things in the right way may have confidence that from God they will always get the right response.

The Issue of Forgiveness

Well, can I say just a word about forgiveness? Just take a moment, because otherwise we’ll just have this little verse hanging out here all by itself, and I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Verse 25, and Jesus says, “And while we’re talking about praying, if you’re standing praying, make sure that you’re not having an unforgiving spirit in your heart.” Unless we forgive one another, it becomes clear that we have got no sense of the grace of God that has forgiven us.

This is cross-referenced elsewhere in the teaching of Jesus, not least of all in our routine stating of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”[22] “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”[23] This is not a quid pro quo. This is not tit for tat. It’s not that our forgiveness of others earns us the right to be forgiven. Some people think that’s what’s being said: “If we do this, then you’ll do that for us.” It may even appear that that’s what’s being said in verse 25. But once again, if you allow the Scriptures to speak and to push us and mold us in the right direction, then it becomes clear that God forgives only the penitent. And one of the chief evidences of being penitent is that I have a forgiving spirit.

It is inconceivable—in terms of the parable that we read at the very beginning of this, in Matthew 18—it’s inconceivable that we who have been forgiven so much should refuse to forgive the small debts of others against us. And yet we’re tempted to do it, aren’t we? And people say, “Well, I’m prepared to forgive but not to forget.” And someone says, “The person who says, ‘I’ll forgive you, but I won’t forget’ is like somebody who buries the hatchet but leaves the handle sticking out.”[24]

I were to guess that—if it’s not number one, it’s definitely in the top three—that an unforgiving spirit may be the number-one killer of genuine spiritual life. Don’t tell me that you’re a pray-er, don’t tell me that you’re seeking God, if you harbor enmity in your heart against your brothers and your sisters. Three things will destroy it: immorality, anger, and an unforgiving spirit—the exact same three things that will make it impossible for you to listen to the Bible being taught and benefiting from it. When people tell me, say, “Well, I used to come, I listen, I don’t get anything out of it now.” Well, I may be getting worse; I’m prepared to admit that. But I tell you, you better check three things: you’d better check if you’re an angry sucker, and you better check if you’re filling your mind with filth, and you better check if you’re harboring bitterness and enmity in your heart against other people, because those three things will kill you. And they will kill a congregation.

And it is no surprise, then, that Jesus says, “What I did to the fig tree is all about the question of fruit. Check your life for it. What I’m now saying to you about being bold and audacious with God is all about faith. Check your life for it. And what I’m saying to you about a forgiving spirit is a fundamental of believing prayer. Check your life for it.”

Let us pray together:

“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
You taught us, Lord, to pray;
But you alone can grant us grace
To live the words we say.

How can your pardon reach and bless
The unforgiving heart?
That broods on [wrong], and will not let
Old bitterness depart?

In blazing light your cross reveals
The truth we dimly knew,
How small the debts men owe to us,
How great our debt to you.

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls,
And bid resentment cease;
Then, reconciled to God and man,
Our lives will spread your peace.[25]

Father, teach us that it is in our forgiveness of other people’s sins against us that we reveal the fact that we have been truly forgiven by you. Amen.


[1] Ephesians 3:20–21 (paraphrased).

[2] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Mark, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary, ed. C. F. D. Moule (1959; repr., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 354.

[3] Matthew 25:41 (NIV 1984).

[4] Matthew 21:21 (paraphrased).

[5] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1898), 2:376n.

[6] Matthew 21:21 (NIV 1984).

[7] Mark 10:25 (paraphrased).

[8] William Hendrickson, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), 459.

[9] Genesis 17:4 (paraphrased).

[10] Genesis 22:18 (paraphrased).

[11] Genesis 22:17 (paraphrased).

[12] Romans 4:20–21 (NIV 1984).

[13] Acts 3:6 (paraphrased).

[14] Matthew 7:11 (KJV).

[15] John Newton, “Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare” (1779).

[16] James 4:2–3 (paraphrased).

[17] Matthew 6:5 (paraphrased).

[18] See Matthew 7:7.

[19] Mark 14:35–36 (NIV 1984).

[20] Mark 14:36 (NIV 1984).

[21] William Lane, The Gospel of Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 410.

[22] Matthew 6:12 (paraphrased).

[23] Luke 11:4 (paraphrased).

[24] Attributed to D. L. Moody in The Wit and Wisdom of D. L. Moody, ed. Stanley and Patricia Gundry (Chicago: Moody, 1974), 48. Paraphrased.

[25] Rosamond Herklots, “Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive” (1969).

Copyright © 2020, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.