Posted by: Heather | December 30, 2011

Mustard Seed Faith

mustard plant

Wikimedia Images / Pixabay


Matt 17:20 ‘…for verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove;  and nothing shall be impossible to you. ‘

Mustard seed faith…what exactly does that mean?   I’ve heard many sermons on the subject, and for some reason I haven’t given too much thought to it outside of that.   I’m not sure what brought it to my mind, except that I was thinking about the above scripture a few days ago, and wondering why Jesus would give ‘talk time’ to displacing literal mountains.  Thus, my adventure began.

The mustard seed is only mentioned 5 times in scripture, and all 5 of these verses are actually only 2 events.  The synoptic gospels share many of the same events, written from the perspective of a different eyewitness.   Each of the gospel writers had a different intended audience, which also makes their account significant, especially to the group of people they are presenting to.  The events surrounding the mustard seed passages fall like this:  Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:31, and Luke 13:19 take place when Jesus is teaching through parables.  A parable draws similarities between spiritual truths and natural things that men could understand.   Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6 take place later, shortly after the transfiguration of Jesus.

The first set of verses speak of the mustard seed, not in conjunction with faith, but as a comparison to show the disciples what the kingdom of heaven is like.   Mustard was one of the smallest seeds known to the people of that day.  God’s kingdom is like the smallest mustard seed planted in a field, which grows to be one of the largest plants in the field…the size of a tree.   The Jews as a whole were looking for a Messiah that would set up an impressive earthly kingdom and deliver them from their military enemies.  This is not the kind of kingdom Jesus came to bring.   The comparison here is made to show that although His kingdom did not look at all influential here on earth, the actual impact of it is mind-boggling.

The second set of verses, Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6 are the ones I really want to focus on here.  These describe the mustard seed in relation to faith.  I have always heard this subject taught in the context that we only need a tiny bit of faith to move mountains.  I’m not saying that’s wrong at all, but my study brought a little different perspective on it for me.

Jesus had just been transfigured before Peter, James, and John.  As they came to join the other disciples, they saw an argument going on.  A boy possessed of an evil spirit was brought by his father to the disciples for healing.  The disciples were unable to cast the spirit out, and Jesus healed the boy.

When considering this account, I always thought of this scripture as a very positive thing…like Jesus was encouraging His disciples that if they could only gather that small amount of faith, nothing would be impossible to them.   A closer look actually reveals it was probably more of a reprimand than an exhortation.   Matthew 17 tells the version of Jesus reprimanding the disciples for not being able to heal the boy because of the weakness of their faith (translated ‘unbelief’ in KJV).   Luke 17 is also very telling…here, Jesus tells the disciples how many times to forgive a brother that has sinned against them.  The disciples say ‘Increase our faith’, and Jesus tells them about having faith as a grain of mustard seed.  They didn’t actually need an increase in faith, just in application.

We’re told in Romans 12:3 that God has given every man a measure of faith.  So, if we all have faith, and the size of a tiny mustard seed is all we need, then why would this be a problem?   I think there’s something very important here that we may have missed.   Both of these verses say that our faith should be ‘as’ a grain of mustard seed.  As I’ve pondered on that, I started doing some research about the ancient mustard plants.

Both sets of verses above reference each other in the Bible, so although they describe different events, their meanings can be connected.    The ‘grain of mustard seed’ faith alone is not very impressive looking.  But when planted, it will grow into something much greater.  The ancient mustard seeds grow best in hot, dry climates.   The seed itself was planted at a depth approximately 100 times deeper than the size of the seed itself, so when it germinates, it fights to get above ground.

Ancient mustard grew abundantly in some of the most adverse conditions known to man.   Mustard trees grew in the valley near the temple mount in Jerusalem.  This valley was the receptacle for all of the blood, waste, etc. from the temple sacrifices, which created conditions where mustard trees could thrive.  In biblical days, a shepherd had to be knowledgeable about conditions for his sheep to drink.  If bamboo was nearby, the water was safe to drink, because bamboo only grows in fresh water.  Mustard however, thrives in filth, so if mustard was around, the wise shepherd knew that this was not a safe place for his sheep to drink.

So if your wilderness seems very hot and dry right now, and your circumstances seem so dark and horrible that you can’t imagine any worse, you’re living in the perfect conditions for faith ‘as a grain of mustard seed’ to thrive.  In Matthew 17, Jesus told His disciples about the boy, ‘This kind only goeth out by prayer and fasting’.  Mustard seed needs the same things all other plants need to grow…soil (the heart of man where faith must be planted), air (the Holy Spirit), water (The Word of God), and sunlight (the SON Himself).  Even though it grows well in adverse conditions, there is one last thing it needs to reach its final destiny…time.  That time in prayer, fasting, and communion with God, while going through the wretched circumstances of life are what will bring that grain of mustard seed to its final stage.

It’s also interesting to note that the mustard tree is known to contain antiseptics, abrasives, and detergents.  So that mustard tree, which thrives in such filthy conditions, contains elements that can heal wounds, slough the roughness off, and cleanse.  Sounds just like a full-grown faith, doesn’t it?

I sit back and think of many elderly people I’ve known…some still living and many passed on.  They’ve exhibited such great faith in times of distress, but how did they get that way?  They allowed that ‘grain of mustard seed’ to become a tree in their lives…by doing the right things, enduring the wrong conditions, and carefully nurturing the small plant that would eventually grow to a size large enough that they could settle in the shade it provided.   I pray I am able to do the same.

© Copyright Notice: Permission is hereby granted to make copies as long as Promised Land Ministries is properly cited and credited as the author.


  1. Beautiful!!

    • Thanks Glenda!

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