The disciples were blessed to see our Lord perform many miracles during His earthly ministry. Consequently, we might expect that they would have eventually lost the amazement that comes with seeing a supernatural sign. After all, familiarity often leads to boredom. Even miracles, one might think, can become ordinary if they are done often enough.
In today’s passage, however, we see that on at least one occasion toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the miracles of Christ still astonished the disciples. Mark 11:20–21 reveals that on the day after Jesus cursed the fig tree, the disciples were amazed that Jesus’ words came true. Jesus had ordered the fig tree never to bear fruit again, and it obeyed completely, withering “away to its roots.” Peter took special note of that, evidently because for him it was an unexpected feat.
Our Savior was not surprised at all by the events. His response to Peter and the other disciples has the sense of expectedness, that Jesus was not amazed at all by what happened and that the disciples should not have been either. In one sense, what was accomplished was not that hard. It simply took belief. We might paraphrase Jesus’ response in verses 22–24 in this way: “Of course it withered. And as long as you believe when you pray, anything can happen, even the impossible. It does not take special e ort; all you need is faith.”
Certainly, we should be thankful when God says yes to our prayers. However, there is a sense in which we should not be surprised, at least some of the time, when He gives us what we pray for. He promises to supply our needs according to the riches of His glory (Phil. 4:19). If we believe Him, we need not be overly astonished when we see Him keep His promises, though we must always be grateful. Inordinate surprise may reflect prayer that was tinged with doubt. But thanks be to God, in His mercy He often gives us what we ask even when we doubt that He will keep His promises.
Of course, Jesus’ teaching that we will receive what we pray for if we believe God will give it to us (Mark 11:24) is no license to think that God owes us whatever we ask. Dr. R.C. Sproul notes in his commentary Mark that “this verse must be understood in light of the consistent teaching of Scripture that we must pray in accordance with the will of God.” Our Creator works out all things according to the counsel of His will, not ours (Eph. 1:11). If we ask for something not in His will, we cannot expect to receive it.