August 28, 2022 Faith Like a Mustard Seed

Faith Like a Mustard Seed

August 28, 2022




Scripture reading: Matthew 17:14-20.


A man comes to Jesus and kneels before him. In the Bible, kneeling is the most common form of body language in expressing humility and honor to the one being approached. We see either bowing or kneeling expressed over 100 times in the Bible. Yet, evangelicals in general, seldom practice it. At least not in corporate worship. Hopefully, evangelical disciples are kneeling before the Lord in their private times of prayer. I know it is uncomfortable. But its not supposed to be comfortable. It’s also hard. I consider myself to be in good physical condition and after only five minutes on my knees I can feel it in my back if I am kneeling straight up. Squatting on one’s knees is easier on the body. Either way, it’s something we should all be practicing, unless we are physically unable to do so.


This man had brought his demon-possessed son to the disciples and they were unable to cast out the demon. The Lord issues a rebuke: “O faithless and twisted generation…” One could get the impression that he is rebuking his own disciples since the verse right before refers to their inability to cast out the demon. But Mark’s much longer version of this same incident intimates that he is rebuking the scribes who were arguing with his disciples when Jesus and the three return from the mountain.


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.”[1]


Once again, we see the necessity not only of faith, but of the proper measure of faith. As a brief review of the essentiality of faith:


And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. [2]


And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.[3]


And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”[4]


Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.[5]


And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”[6]


Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” [7]


She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.[8]


Thus, faith is both important and necessary. So, we must know what faith is. I have preached on faith at least twice but, because there is so much misconception about faith, I wish to rehearse once more what faith is not.


[1.] Faith is not wishful thinking. This is the concept that so many have about faith. If something about a belief system makes a person feel good or if it gives hope then they choose to have “faith.” In return for their faith they get to feel good or have a hope for the future. Under this idea, everyone gets to choose what they believe because it provides them something. And, it is impolite to question anyone’s “faith.” This is not the biblical, meaning true, definition of faith. Faith is not wishing.


[2.] Faith is not just a preference. If faith is not grounded in anything, which is the popular notion, then it becomes just a preference. You like chocolate ice cream and I like pistachio. It’s not too important who likes what. It just happens to be what we prefer.


[3.] Faith is not separated from facts or evidence. The idea that many have is that we know things based upon facts and then, for those things that we don’t know, we just have faith. That is not what faith is at all!


[4.] Faith is not just agreement or mental assent. It is more than that.


So, what is faith? Faith is knowledge. According to the way the word faith is used in the Bible it is often a synonym for knowledge.[9] Yet, it is even more than knowledge. It is knowledge with a most important element added. That is trust. We exercise trust in what we know to be true. Faith involves the whole soul of a person. A person uses their mind to come to know. Their heart – the seat of our emotions – is gripped by the reality of what they have come to know. And, they exercise their will to trust in what or Who they have come to know.


So, we can define faith as knowledge with trust.


Jesus says that the reason the disciples could not cast out the demon is because their faith was too little. In other words, they didn’t trust enough. Didn’t trust whom or didn’t trust what? I do not think that they did not trust Jesus. They had all given up everything they had - their jobs, their families, everything - to follow him. They trusted him.


They did not trust a promise that he made. You can trust a person and then, maybe in certain situations, you will doubt something they said. For example, if you had good parents (not all of us did), you can trust them. But every now and then your father or mother might say something that you simply do not believe. This is what happened with the disciples.


You see, in Matthew, chapter ten, our Lord gave the disciples a commission:


These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.[10]


What is implicit in this command to his disciples? That they were given authority to do these very things: heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. Hence, they should have trusted in the authority and power that our Lord gave to them.


They had already cast out demons after their commission (Luke 10:17) so, all the more, they should have trusted in our Lord’s provision. What happened?


Notice verse 21:


However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”[11]


Now, the ESV, NASB, and most modern translations leave this verse out altogether. This is because Matthew didn’t write it. We know that it was added much later by some scribe. But Jesus did say it because Mark records it (And this is likely the reason why some scribe added it – because he knew it was in Mark[12].). We will not talk about the importance of prayer and fasting. We covered fasting a year ago.[13] But we take note of it because it indicates that the demon this boy had was a particularly strong one. A little more faith, a little more prayer, more fasting was needed to defeat it.


So, the disciples had enough faith to perform some miracles. We know this because they did. But when they came against this demon, their faith was insufficient.


Hear what Jesus said again:


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.”[14]


They didn’t have enough faith, but if they only had the faith the size of a mustard seed then they could accomplish anything!


A mustard seed is the smallest seed of any plant in Israel. In other words, if we have just a  small amount of faith then we can see the promises of God realized in our lives. From the words of our Lord, the disciples had even less than this. Their faith was too little. They had enough faith to accomplish some things (like casting out most demons), but they didn’t have enough faith to accomplish more difficult things (like casting out strong demons).


Isn’t this precisely the condition that most disciples find themselves in today? We have enough faith to go through our daily tasks and, often, enough faith to tackle the problems that arise in our lives. But when a big problem comes into our life we sometimes fall apart. We become despondent. We give up.


But all we need is the faith that is the size of a mustard seed!


Our Lord says that his disciples can move a mountain if they have even a small amount of faith. If that is true then why haven’t any mountains been moved through a simple prayer? It’s been two thousand years and no mountains have been moved. This either means that no one has ever had even the faith of a mustard seed or that maybe Jesus didn’t mean it in a literal sense. The first option seems impossible. Surely, there have been men and women of great faith throughout the ages. Think of George Mueller who had amazing answers to prayer in his ministry. It must be that Jesus is using figurative language here.


The great commentator, R H Lenski, said:


The language is figurative: telling this mountain to remove from its place to another and instantly having it do so – a supreme example of what is impossible to a human being; yet, let it not be overlooked, the easiest thing for God.[15]


Isn’t it true that moving a mountain is the easiest thing for God to do? Indeed! He created the entire universe out of nothing: billions of galaxies, each containing billions of suns, with trillions of planets. Each galaxy containing atoms and subatomic particles in such huge numbers that they are incomprehensible to us. He made all this from nothing! Thus, to move one mountain is child’s play to our great God.


What is your mountain? There may be a mountain in your life. If there isn’t one in your life right now, there will be. A mountain is an obstacle that keeps you from carrying out God’s will. A mountain is an obstacle, seemingly impossible to overcome, that keeps you from realizing your own will, if your will is good and wholesome (if its not, then maybe the mountain needs to stay there!). Let’s be positive this morning. Let us assume that you desire something and that your desire is a good thing. I think this is true for most followers of the Lord. But there is a mountain keeping you from getting to where you wish to go.


There is, or there will be, a circumstance in your life that seems insurmountable. It can’t be moved. But God can move it!


All you need is the faith of a mustard seed! Just a small amount of faith, if it is real, can move a mountain!


However, we must place our faith in the right thing. Our faith can be misplaced. First of all, we must place our faith in Christ. Not in an organization. If you ever talk to people in the cults, you see that they have really placed their faith in a human organization rather than the Person of Christ. This is particularly acute in the Jehovah Witnesses. They blindly follow whatever their organization says. You can show them clear passages of Scripture, even the words of Jesus Himself in the gospels, for example, and they will believe the opposite because their organization says so. The same is true of the Mormons. It is even true of Roman Catholics. They blindly believe what the church or the Pope says.


But, actually, evangelicals are not too much different. Many Baptists and others resist the truth because of something they were taught in church as a youth. Our trust is in Christ, not in a church!


Trusting in Christ includes trusting in his love for us. We might have confidence that he has the power to move a mountain, but we might think that he doesn’t quite love us enough to do so. This temptation might arise when we have prayed about a certain matter but we see no answer. Of course, it is a lie. He loved us enough to die for us. The Bible is replete with promise after promise after promise of the “lovingkindness” of God (NASB, LSB) or the “steadfast love” of God (ESV). In Hebrew these expressions translate the word chesed, which communicates the strong ,compassionate, and special love He has for his chosen ones. If you have placed your faith in Christ then, make no mistake, you are one of the chosen ones! God loves you!


The last factor with regards to having our faith in the right place is that we should not just have faith in a notion or just a desire, as if just because something is good for us then we assume that God wants us to have it.  Remember, faith is not wishing. There are a multitude of reasons why even good things would be withheld from us. Such as, not the right time, not the right place, unconfessed sin, or us being mistaken as to what is good and what is not.


Therefore, we must place our faith in a specific promise of God. We must find a promise of God in the word, determine that it applies to us, and then we believe it! This is not hard. Is the promise to the people of God? For example, is there a promise made to a church in one of the epistles? Then it applies to you. Take it! Believe it!


Your mountain can be moved!


There are mountains right now, this coming week, that can be moved! You may need to pray and fast as the disciples needed to with this demon they were opposing (Mark 9). But the mountain can be and will be removed!


I have had a mountain in my life for the past six months. I beseeched the Lord about it hundreds and hundreds of times. It remained, much to my great regret and sorrow. It was making me miserable. Last weekend I spent two full days in prayer and fasting and the mountain was removed!


Mountains will be removed this week, if you will have the faith of a mustard seed. If you have a mountain in your way, then prepare to fast and pray this week. Believe! Then get ready to see that mountain moved.







[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 17:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 8:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 8:26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:27–29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 14:31–33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 15:27–28). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9]  For a proof of this, see the sermon, The Storm, May 14, 2022, at

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 10:5–8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] The New King James Version. (1982). (Mt 17:21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[12] Mark 9:29

[13] See the sermon, Fasting and Feasting, Spetember 5, 2021.

[14] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 17:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[15] R H Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel, (Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN, 1964) p 669.