Have you ever read the above scripture and agonized over your lack of mountain moving faith? Well, today was one of those days for me. I looked at the “mountains” I have been facing, and I had a reality check. I then became convinced I couldn’t possibly have mustard seed faith. Of course that thought depressed me even more, but there was a nudge inside of me to investigate this passage further and I’m so glad I did. What I discovered both excited me and shook me to the core! Why? Because I realized my theology was about to be messed with (but in a good way).
Before I share with you what I learned, let’s have a quick review of Matthew chapter 17:
The chapter begins with a trip up the side of a mountain. Three of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James, & John, were invited to see Messiah Yeshua in all His glory. Oh and Moses and Elijah joined them too. Like Moses on Mt. Sinai, the disciples heard the thundering voice of the Almighty declare that their beloved rabbi was the One Israel had been waiting for. Of course, this miraculous event was short lived and the men left the mountain to attend to other matters.
While coming down from the mountain, the 3 disciples began to question Jesus because the scribes, learned Jewish men, had told them that Elijah had to come before the Messiah. Of course, these very educated sages presented strong arguments that mere fishermen could not refute. And doubt crept in so Jesus had to explain who Elijah was and tell the disciples that he had already come. As this news sank in, the crowds began to press into the miracle maker of Israel. But this would prove to be a powerful teaching lesson that these disciples would never forget.
It wasn’t long after this mountain experience before a panicked father began to beg Jesus to heal his son- a boy possessed by a strong demon who often caused the young man to shake violently and burn himself by falling into fire and then water! But before coming to Jesus, the father made sure that Jesus knew that he went to the disciples first, but they were unable to cast the demon out of the boy. To which Jesus issued a strong rebuke and accused His inner circle of being perverse and faithless. Wow! Strong words, but Jesus was about to use this as a teaching moment for the disciples and for those who love the Word of God (you and me).
After the public rebuke, the beguiled disciples questioned Jesus privately about the matter. And this is when Jesus says the infamous words:
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20).
By now, most people realize just how small a mustard seed is, but if you’re not sure, the picture above shows the size of a mustard seed! And all that was needed to cast out the demon was tiny mustard seed faith??? How can this be? Well, first we need to talk about what Jesus meant by faith. Remember, right after coming down from the mountain, the disciples posed a question about something the scribes had told them about Messiah’s coming. At some point, the scribes had successfully planted doubt in the disciples’ minds about who Jesus was. Yeah! It’s hard to believe that even after Peter confessed Jesus is the Christ, and the three disciples witnessed Jesus in all of His glory on the Mt. of Transfiguration that they would doubt the Messiahship of Jesus, but that is exactly what took place. So the faith Jesus told the disciples they lacked had to do with whether or not they fully believed this Jewish Nazarene was really the Messiah of Israel. And because they were not fully convinced, that demon wasn’t budging! But that’s not the full lesson.
Jesus also told his disciples that once they were convinced that He was the Messiah of Israel then they would be uprooters of mountains! Ok so does this mean that the disciples could tell a physical mountain to move and be cast into the sea, and if so why don’t we see this happening in the New Testament? Jesus was using hyperbole and a familiar Jewish idiom to describe the transformation that would take place in the lives of these unlearned Jewish fishermen once they became fully convinced He was who He said He was.
The first century Jews would have understood what Jesus was saying because they had men in their midst that they called “uprooters of mountains.” How did they get this name? There were men in Israel, much like there are today, who devoted their entire lives to studying the Torah and the oral traditions. These men were known as sages or scribes, and they could argue the Law like no one else could (except Jesus). Yet, Jesus promised His scant group of unlearned followers that they too would be called “uprooters of mountains.” And when you read the New Testament, it is clear that the words of Jesus were fulfilled. Peter, James, and John turned the first century world upside down with the message that Messiah had come and is coming again. They absolutely uprooted obstacles (also known as mountains) and made disciples in the most grueling of circumstances.
So how does this newfound understanding of the Matthew passage apply to your life? Well, if you’re a Gentile, you probably don’t struggle with believing Jesus is the true Messiah, but you may struggle with believing God’s word is the same yesterday, today, and forever! I know I do. I love to study the Bible, but when the rubber meets the road, and my faith is tested, I have no doubt that Jesus would rebuke my little faith just like He did the disciples. Indeed there are obstacles in my life and yours too, but when we become fully committed to this faith walk (remember the just shall live by faith) then we will also become uprooters of mountains through the power of the Holy Spirit. And like the early disciples, we can turn our world upside down too!
Maybe you are a Jew who questions whether Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. Somedays you are convinced and other days you doubt. The rabbis tell you one thing, and your Christian friend tells you something else. It’s time that you have a come to Jesus moment and become convinced for yourself and refuse to look back! Once this happens, you will become an uprooter of mountains!
You have called me to be an uprooter of mountains, but that will only happen when my faith in Your Son is firmly established. Lord, remove the veil from my eyes that keeps me from seeing Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel. Open my eyes to see Jesus in the Old Testament, and make me an uprooter of mountains too!
B'Shem Yeshua HaMashiach