Mustard seed faith

Matt 17:14-20 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.”  18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.  19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” ESV


The scenario is that the disciples have been successfully healing all the sick and casting out all the devils brought to them. Suddenly they fail on one. The dad brings his boy to Jesus telling Jesus that the disciples couldn’t deal with it. Jesus rebukes the disciples for being faithless!


In private the disciples ask Jesus what the problem was. He’s already blasted them for being faithless and twisted, but they want a more detailed and less attacking explanation. So Jesus says, according to much teaching, Because of your small faith – but it doesn’t matter how small your faith is if you have faith – and we all have ‘the measure of faith’ if we’re Christian, you can move mountains.


This is a daft interpretation and completely ignores the text.


Reason – your small faith.


Solution – have faith, it doesn’t matter if it’s big or small as long as you have it.


1. Did they not prove they had faith to heal the sick and cast out devils already?

2. Did Jesus not acknowledge that they had faith – small faith?

3. So how then can Jesus be saying that the issue is lack of faith, or if they have faith they can do everything.


I hope all my readers can see that this is nonsense. I could go on making the point more fully, but I really hope I’ve demonstrated conclusively that Jesus wasn’t just saying that any amount of faith is enough.


So what was he saying? Why did he choose mustard seed and not grain of sand? Sand would have been good for a very small thing?


Back n Matt 13:31-32 Jesus had already given them a teaching in parable form about the Kingdom and how mustard seed relates to the Kingdom.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field.  32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

So I propose that when in Mat 17 Jesus returns to the mustard seed, he presumes that they will remember his prior teaching and apply it in this context. He’d already laid the groundwork for this second mustard seed teaching.

Here he explains that in the context of the Kingdom (and is faith not of the Kingdom?) mustard seed starts very small – the smallest of things – but grows inevitably a tree that provides for ‘the birds’.

So we can learn that it doesn’t matter how small your faith starts as long as its the right KIND of faith. Faith like a mustard seed. Please remember the word ‘like’. It’s critical to the message. It’s telling us what our faith needs to be like if we’re to see mountains move.

By definition, this means that you can have a different kind of faith that won’t move mountains. The disciples were in that place, because they had success with the supernatural. Jesus here is refining and modifying the faith they already had. It was enough for certain things, but had failed at this particular kind of devil.

So what is a mustard seed like? Jesus says that its nature is to grow. It grows first by germinating from all the goodness within the seed. The truth of the word received at salvation. Then it puts out roots. The roots spread out to draw fresh nutrients from the soil, which in turn produce further growth. So we need to put out roots into the soil of the word of God to receive the nutrients of truth that will enable further growth.

Then it starts to put out shoots and leaves. These push up through the soil searching for the light of the sun. They take this sunlight and by photosynthesis turn it into further goodness further enabling it to grow. So we can see that as we seek out the light of the Son (of God) as we bask and walk in Him that further nourishes our faith that had started out as a seed, but is now growing into a tree.

The seed had to push out and exercise. It had to draw on nutrients from soil and sun in order to become what it was meant to be. It didn’t remain a tiny seed. It grew into a tree to give a home to birds, shade for rest.

This teaching is saying that the kind of faith to move mountains is a dynamic living breathing moving growing pushing out reaching out serving loving providing kind of faith.

My guess is that they had a “we’ve got authority and are the business” kind of faith. They thought they had it made when they returned from the first mission trip. See Luke 10:17. Maybe they were a bit over confident, thinking that they were the finished work and Jesus had to teach them that they were just starting and had a long way to go to transform into the finished tree?

On a final note, the original greek text for Mat 17:20 goes:

ὁ δὲ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν ὑμῶν: ἀμὴν γὰρ λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐὰν ἔχητε πίστιν ὡς κόκκον σινάπεως, ἐρεῖτε τῷ ὄρει τούτῳ, Μετάβα ἔνθεν ἐκεῖ, καὶ μεταβήσεται: καὶ οὐδὲν ἀδυνατήσει ὑμῖν.

The word we’re looking for is the 7th – ὀλιγοπιστίαν which google translate confirms is oligopistian meaning little faith.



One Response to “Mustard seed faith”

  1. Matthew 17:20 & Faith | Jots and Tittles Says:

    […] still have some thinking to do on this matter, but in the meantime I want to highlight this post:  Mustard seed faith from Jeremy Penwarden’s Blog. It is really good. I think he nails […]

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