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Wrath of God

Mark 11:12 -- 33

It seems that God has an attitude problem – towards the wicked. That permanent attitude (for God is eternal) is known as the wrath of God. Its penalties are delayed until the Day of Wrath – but he wants to let us know it’s coming.

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again!" And His disciples were listening. Then they *came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple. And He began to teach and say to them, "Is it not written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS'? But you have made it a ROBBERS' DEN." The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching. When evening came, they would go out of the city. As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up. Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, "Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered." And Jesus *answered saying to them, "Have faith in God. "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 will be granted him. "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. ["But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."] They *came again to Jerusalem. And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the 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?" 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." 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 people, for everyone considered John to have been a real prophet. Answering Jesus, they *said, "We do not know." And Jesus *said to them, "Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things."

(Mark 11:12-33 NASB)

The character of God

You will please forgive me if I begin this lesson with a bit of review. It makes it much easier to understand one of the most difficult sections of Scripture. We need to review the character of God.


Do you believe that the universe is a moral place? By that I mean a place where “what goes around, comes around?” If you’re like most human beings, you hold two contradictory beliefs:

  • First, you believe that righteousness will ultimately prevail – that so and so is going to get what’s coming to him. It’s a matter of justice. Interestingly, this belief is common across almost all religions.
  • But you also believe there are people who do not get what they deserve (either in good things or bad things). Some people die fat, happy and wicked; others die in righteousness and pain.

There’s a reason for this belief. It is rooted in the character of God:

  • God is pure righteousness. There is in Him no taint of sin, as there would be with us.
  • God is uncompromising righteousness. He cannot compromise. As one old preacher put it, “God is angry with the wicked all day long.”

This tells us that “just desserts” have only been delayed (God is eternal, he has plenty of time.) At Christ’s return we shall see the Judgment. But we need to remember that this will not be a change in God’s attitude – only the final act of it.


Christians know that God is merciful. Again, we must consider the character of God. God is merciful “all the time.” His mercy is pure. His mercy is without limit.

  • The purity of that mercy is shown at the Cross; only the sacrifice of the sinless would do.
  • The depth of that mercy is also shown at the Cross – “no greater love.”

Mercy, however, carries with it one intrinsic characteristic: it must be asked for. The defiant do not receive it; the humble do – if they will but ask.


It is trite to say God is omnipotent. But we need to recognize that point. It brings out the question, “If God is righteous and omnipotent, what are all these rotten people doing here when there are lightning bolts left?” We need to remember that in mercy he has delayed things until the Day of Wrath. But there are two things in today’s Scripture which bear on the subject of power:

  • First, did you ever notice how righteousness reinforces power? The wicked know who they are, and when confronted, flee.
  • God shares that same power with us – for his righteous purposes.

Three Examples

Do recall the lesson on symbolism regarding the Triumphal Entry. This set of events happens immediately afterwards. The symbolic method of teaching is still in session.

The fig tree

The first and obvious question is, “Why?” We know of no evil done by the fig tree! The answer is more clearly seen when you look at this as a symbolic event.

  • The fig tree is used frequently in the Old Testament as a symbol for the nation of Israel. We shall follow this line of thinking.
  • It is obvious, therefore, that Jesus is teaching his disciples his power over the house of Israel.
  • The root of the lesson is simple: no fruit.

Jesus takes the symbol for Israel and deals with it. He has already taught them the parable of the tree without fruit, and now he makes the lesson come alive, visually. In this the disciples see the power of our Lord – which, by the way, should teach them that he is going to the Cross voluntarily. His power is sufficient to prevent the Cross; but it was for the Cross he came.

The lesson? No fruit, no more tree. In AD 70 the Romans sacked Jerusalem and dispersed the Jews over the face of the earth. The fig tree bore no fruit, and it was withered. Matthew tells us the tree was withered from the root up – the fate of any who will not have Jesus as their true vine.

Cleansing the Temple

Are “things” holy? Can a place be holy? Can objects be holy?

Indeed, they can. If God sets them apart, they are holy. All through the Old Testament this concept is reinforced. God sets the Jews apart, they are his, therefore they are holy. Dishes, candlesticks – all manner of things are declared to be holy. Holy means to be set apart for God.

So we see that Jesus’ anger is reserved for those who misuse the things set apart for God. It is a sin against holiness.

It is indeed a grievous thing. We can understand this better by examining a principle that all of us hold: sins against the innocent are more grievous than sins against the guilty. For example, if two drunks get into a brawl, and one beats the other nearly dead, that is an evil thing. The police will be called. But if that same drunk beats a small child like that, we are much more outraged, and call for more severe penalties. Why? Because sin against the innocent is more grievous.

The same thing applies here. The Pharisees and such are the keepers of the Temple. By their swindling the pilgrims who have come to God’s holy place they are abusing their authority – and sinning against the innocent. It is an outrage, and Jesus treats it as such.

Notice, too, that this is blasphemy. Blasphemy, we are told, is “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” It is not just obscenity using his name; here, it’s much worse. In this instance we have people who have said, “God commands,” when in fact he has not. This is a terrible sin, and Jesus acts against it properly.

We often miss this fact: Judgment begins with the house of the Lord. To those who claim to be God’s people God will apply his measure of justice. Better to be an open sinner than one who piously spouts “the will of God” in his own thoughts.

By what authority

There is a curious paradox here. The Pharisees complain to Jesus about the children who are praising him in the Triumphal Entry – but offer no objection to his cleansing of the Temple. Only afterwards do they question his actions. The reason? Righteousness in action is very powerful; children are not.

That – it is obvious to see – is the problem the Pharisees have. They understand that all legitimate authority must somehow stem from God, who is righteous. They see that righteousness in his Son. Not until Jesus allows it will they use superior force to take him. Until then, He is the authority they dare not challenge directly.

But they can attempt to undermine that authority. That’s there attempt here. It hasn’t changed in two thousand years. When you speak of righteousness, do you ever hear “What about the Salem witch trials?” The argument being that those upholding the right are not perfect – and therefore should shut up.

What shall we do?

There is no sense in reciting all this if you are not willing to make changes in your life. What would Jesus have us do?


Evangelicals are curiously silent on this point. Confession of sin is almost never a sermon topic; it sounds too “Catholic.” But confession is required:

  • It’s almost as if Jesus were saying to the Pharisees (and remotely, to us), “I won’t tell you what I know to be true until you confess what you know to be true.” A personal relationship must have truth to thrive.
  • Indeed, is it not a characteristic of the best personal relationships that we share our secrets? Including the ones we’re ashamed of?
  • Most of all, confession is necessary to restore righteousness.

Christ’s words on prayer here sound unbelievable. But you need to remember that the entire lesson has been one based on symbolism. Where would we find a mountain and a sea in symbolism? Take a look at the second chapter of Daniel. The sea represents the people of the world; the stone is our Lord Jesus Christ. We will indeed take that stone and – by faith – cast it into the sea.

So sure of this is Christ that he tells us to pray – in the past tense! Pray as if your prayers were granted; this is great faith indeed.


We must remember that God is righteous. If we are to approach him, we must be righteous too. That comes from Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross; but we put it into effect by confession (see above) and forgiveness. Remember that mercy must be asked for? His condition for mercy is that we extend it to others.

This is just – righteous, if you will. In forgiving others I proclaim to God that I beg his mercy in accordance with his righteousness. Forgiving others is “fair” when I ask for forgiveness for myself. I can ask forgiveness with confidence when I forgive others – basing myself on the righteousness of God.

More than that: it shows that I am a child of God, for children imitate their parents.


Distinguish, please, between magic and faith. Magic says, “If I just really believe, and say the right words, I will get what I want.” Bill Cosby gave us the antidote to this. He once had a comedy routine about learning karate. The instruction manual on how to break a brick told him to “think right through the brick.” So he was thinking right through the brick when he hit. Unfortunately, the brick was thinking “Oh no you’re not.”

The prayer of faith is God’s way of letting his power flow through us. If you want mountains moved, they will have to go where God wants them to.

Tie it all together: By confessing our sins, asking for mercy (and giving it freely to others) we have the ability to tap into both the power and mercy of God. It must be done in faith – but so doing brings us into harmony with his purposes.

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