“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed…nothing shall be impossible unto you (Matthew 17:20).
This is the second passage where Christ uses the mustard seed illustration. In this passage Peter, James and John were returning with the Lord from the Mount of the Transfiguration where Christ revealed Himself in His glory.
During that return trip the three asked the Lord a theological question about Elias: “Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?” (Matthew 17:10). Christ responds by saying that Elias had already come in the form of John the Baptist whose ministry was in the spirit of Elias (Matthew 17:12). Elias’ ministry was to set the people’s mind right when it came to their understanding of the Messiah. Up to the time of John the Baptist there were many misconceptions. John the Baptist’s ministry was the instrument of reformation used of God to help those truly seeking Messiah to recognize him when He appeared. He capped off his ministry in no uncertain terms when he declared: “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:33-36) on the day Jesus appeared for baptism.
The Transfiguration further confirmed the veracity of Christ’s claim to be Messiah, and it was not just that He revealed His glorified self. It was more in the affirmation of the Father who said: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).
Now, after all of this, an apparent interruption:
(14) And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
(15) Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
(16) And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
One minute our minds are set heavenward, contemplating the sweet by and by, and the next minute we’re dragged back into this life and the nasty now and now: a man has a demon-possessed son and the disciples are powerless to cast the demon out.
The Lord’s rebuke of the people’s unbelief is quick and piercing: “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” (Matthew 17:17) Unlike the centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), the Jews could not fathom the authority and power of Messiah. They did not understand that the Lord did not have to be physically present for the authority of His Word to have affect.
The Lord orders the son be brought to Him and He heals him on the spot. The disciples’ question after the incident is understandable: “Why could not we cast him out?” (v. 18) To this, Jesus answers plainly: “Because of your unbelief” (v. 19). Then He again uses the mustard seed illustration: “…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 unto you.”
In the region where Christ ministered, the mustard seed of that area grew from a seed smaller than a grain of rice to a plant that was like the size of a tree when compared to other herbs. Some accounts say that that little seed grew to a plant as tall as a horse and rider. Incredible. Miraculous.
How does that little seed do that? For one thing, it doesn’t let its tiny stature define its potential. For another thing, it’s willing to get outside itself. It doesn’t grow into a giant seed. It dies to self and becomes a plant large enough to cast a huge shadow and allow birds to nest amongst its branches. Finally, it thrives in its environment.
What Christ wants in us is not faith the size of a mustard seed, but faith with growth like the mustard seed. What does that mean? That kind of faith…
- Does not limit God to its present circumstances.
- Fully trusts in the power of God’s Word.
- Sees problems through God’s lens and recognizes them as already solved. “Ye shall say to this mountain remove…and it shall remove.”
- Thrives in the promises of God.
What God wants from us is not unattainable. We can have faith that does the impossible because we have a God who does the impossible. What our God wants from us is complete trust. That’s why this apparent interruption regarding this man’s demon-possessed son. Contemplating the greatness of God is not separate from our dealings with a difficult world. We deal with our difficult world through the power of an omnipotent God. We just have to trust that He is here with us now – and then nothing shall be impossible.