3 Unexpected Lessons from the Faith of a Mustard Seed Illustration Jesus Gave

Heather Riggleman

Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
Published: Jun 02, 2021
3 Unexpected Lessons from the Faith of a Mustard Seed Illustration Jesus Gave

In a few months, these tiny plants would grow over eight feet tall. Suddenly, the words about the faith of a mustard seed came to life.

The day I received my daughter’s autism diagnosis sent me falling into pieces instead of peace. My mama instincts knew something was wrong, but I never expected to be something like autism.  I went outside and sat on the porch swing in utter shock. I questioned whether or not my faith would survive this blow, and I questioned how could it be expected of me to raise a child with special needs. As I looked towards the setting sun, rows upon rows of tiny shoots of corn filled my view. In a few months, these tiny plants would grow over eight feet tall. Suddenly, the words about the faith of a mustard seed came to life. “And He said to them…. “for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you (Matthew 17:20).

What Does Faith of a Mustard Seed Mean?

If you’ve been blessed to live in the Midwest, then you know that spring is our favorite time of year because it’s the season that holds the most hope. Farmers will plant millions of tiny seeds burying them in the dark. And for many days—even weeks—we’ll see nothing but rows of dirt. Then one morning, we’ll wake up to the tiniest, almost imperceptible shoots of green. And by fall, the corn will be eight feet tall.

Like fields of corn, Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed. It was one of the most extreme examples of growth in their time. The seed is the smallest of all seeds in the world. They grow best in hot and dry climates. From this tiny seed, a tree can grow up to 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide. The same can be said of our faith.

The parable in Matthew begins with Jesus giving his disciples the authority to drive out evil spirits and the ability to heal disease and sickness. But a father approached Jesus and told Him that the disciples had been unable to heal his son. When the disciples couldn’t heal him, the father took his son straight to Jesus. Jesus then heals the child which then made the disciples question their own faith. Later they approached Jesus in private. They asked him why they had been unable to heal him. “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, 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.”

What Is the Context of Matthew 17:20 and Faith of a Mustard Seed?

Jesus knew His disciples would need a faith that could overcome doubt, demons, and extreme difficulties. He knew they would need to move mountains. Here in Mathew, Jesus uses the mustard seed to help teach the disciples that even the tiniest amount of genuine faith can bring something mammoth out of something microscopic. Even a small amount of genuine faith can take root and grow.

Jesus didn’t mean for his disciples to take this passage about moving mountains and uprooting trees literally. The key to this passage is how faith is a gift from God. The power of faith in an invincible God bestows invincible faith in those who believe. Little is much when it comes from God. Just like any seed planted in the ground, it sprouts, shoots up, grows, and spreads—just like the faith represented in this parable. This is how Christianity started, it began with one man who then taught 12 men, and today—Christianity has reached billions around the world.

3 Unexpected Takeaways from The 'Faith of a Mustard Seed' Passage

This isn’t the first time Jesus referred to this small but mighty seed, there are five references in the New Testament because apparently, the mustard seed can teach us much about our walk with Jesus. Here are three unexpected takeaways from this passage.

The greatest things have the smallest beginnings.

Jesus is the Son of God. His knowledge of heaven and earth is infallible. He knew exactly what He needed to say to make His words have a ripple effect inside the hearts of His disciples. Just like each of us starts out in life tinier than a pinprick, or how a mustard seed grows into a 20-foot tall tree, a marriage begins with a spark, God’s kingdom began with a man born to a teenage girl from a small, ordinary town of Nazareth.

The Bible is filled with examples of tiny, unassuming beginnings. Sampson took down thousands of Philistines and rallied the faith of a small town. Hannah’s prayers became Samuel, one of the greatest prophets of his time. David was the youngest of his siblings and a mere shepherd boy before he became king. Gideon was the runt of his tribe, yet he became the greatest warrior.

The purpose God has placed on each of our lives comes from the still small voice whispering, “this is the path, walk in it.” It might scare us, it might seem overwhelming, it may even seem impossible. But it begins with taking the first step holding our mighty Father’s hand. Never underestimate what just one individual can do when we allow God to work through us.

We cannot rely on our own abilities.

I sometimes wonder if God looks at us the way moms look at their toddlers. One moment, you’re holding your newborn, fresh from the womb and so helpless. The next, you have a toddler who insists she can pour the milk by herself. We laugh and love her determination, but we know she can’t pick up a gallon of milk by herself, so we lend her our strength and steady hands.

It’s the same with our faith walk. When we are at our weakest, He is strong. When we are hopeless, He is Hope-filled. When we doubt, He breathes a fresh wind of faith into our spirits. When we are faithless, He gives us the faith of a mustard seed.

You may be facing a cancer diagnosis, the rough waters of a marriage, raising toddlers and teens, or even raising a child with special needs. God may have led you to quit your job and take the plunge to start your own business. Whatever it is God is asking you to do, we cannot rely on our own abilities. John 15:5 sums it up perfectly when Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

If we lack faith, God promises to not only give us faith but to help us do things we never imagined. Beyond your ability is where God wants you.

Its Roots Run Deep

Just as a tree needs deep roots to withstand the storms and droughts, we need to be deeply rooted in Jesus. The mustard tree has roots that dig deep into the ground which allows the tree to grow in some of the harshest environments. Its roots allow it to flourish in times of drought and in rocky places. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul encouraged them to examine their beliefs and deepen their root system in Christ, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him.  Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7). If we aren’t deeply rooted in our faith, we won’t withstand life storms that are sure to come our way.

As our roots grow deeper and we learn and grow in God’s Word, we will come to trust in God in all things. No matter what mountain lays before us, we merely need to shift our eyes to the One who can move the impossible. A deep-rooted faith will give you the strength you need to navigate the trials of life and allow you to flourish no matter what life brings your way.

Further Reading

What Does it Mean to Have Faith Like a Mustard Seed?

What Does Jesus Mean by ‘Faith as Small as a Mustard Seed?’

What It Looks Like to Have the “Faith of a Mustard Seed”

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MrsOKeefe


Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.  


This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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