"And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: 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."
Luke 17:6, "And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you."
This morning, life never changes, and sadly our reactions to life never change although many times they should. Life is full of problems, cares, trials, and sorrows. As long as we traverse this low ground of sin and sorrow, change and decay will continue as long as the natural universe stands because of the sin that is in the world. However, this never-ceasing tide of sorrow and tribulation does not mean that we should be overcome with overmuch sorrow and grief, distress, and fear when the unsavoury things of life rear their ugly heads. Rather, our faith should be exercised to not become cast down and discouraged but renewed in the service of the Lord to understand the difference between the "mountains" and "molehills" of life. By recognizing the importance of the thing in life, we will then understand the consequence which ensues when exercising our faith in that situation. While the faith must be exercised in all seasons of life, we need to
understand that the outcome is not always going to be identically the same.
The two verses before us show very similar language by the Master as to how our faith should be utilized in this present, evil world. In the verse from Matthew, the disciples are a bit puzzled and amazed at the unclean spirit that the Lord cast out of a man that they were unable to overcome. The Lord specifically charges them with unbelief and lack of faithful exercise. Should their faith have been exercised, I have no doubts that they could have cast out the unclean spirit as they had been blessed to do so prior to that point. In the verse from Luke, the disciples specifically ask the Lord to increase their faith. In response to this request, the Lord again tells them to exercise what He has put in as a grain of mustard seed.
What is interesting about the use of the term mustard seed in both passages is that the Lord tells us that it is perchance the smallest of all seeds, but yet, it grows into the largest of trees for the fowls of the air to nest in. (Mark 4:31, Luke 13:19) Likewise, our faith that is put in the heart of the new man in regeneration may seem minuscule in comparison to all the things of life, but yet grow into a stately form of service to the Lord of Glory. For example, the act of regeneration is also called the new birth, and what do we understand about a child? A child, when born, is small and tender, but the growth of the child yields the result of a full-grown man that (while the same person as the little baby) is now large and strong. Likewise, a newly born child of God may seem small in a great world, but the exercise of faith in growing from spiritual food yields a mature spiritual individual that can be strong in the face of the many and varied
trials of life. This is the thought embraced by the Saviour's language.
Now that we have discussed the commonality of these two texts, let us investigate for a moment the subtil differences between the two. The Saviour brings to light two different kinds of problems, and while the thing used to deal with both is the same (faith), the outcomes are slightly different. In the passage from Matthew, the Saviour describes the exercise of faith as removing a mountain from one place to another. Mountains are things we associate as great, massive, sometimes impassable, and treacherous to travel. They can also be thought of as majestic in scope, but the import of the Master's thought is more in keeping with the negative connotations. So, how does exercise of faith deal with large and great problems in this world? What exactly is the result?
Firstly, we need to understand what are truly large problems in this world. I am afraid that the world today, myself included, views tiny matters as large mountains to scale, even though in the grand scheme of this life they are really not all that important. The larger problems of life deal with necessities. How does one eat? What about clothing, shelter, health, etc.? How are our families doing; what about the church of our membership? These things are certainly the more relevant and important things of life, and sometimes, the problems seem like a large mountain to hurdle. By the exercise of faith as a grain of mustard seed, the problems are removed. Notice that the language does not imply that they are gone forever. For example, if we eat today, we understand that we need to eat tomorrow. These things are never gone forever (in this life), but the problem they pose today can be dealt with today by faith.
We need to look to the Lord for our daily bread, pray that He clothe us as He does the lilies of the field, and be with our churches and families during their course in this life. Tomorrow is not something that we need to be centered and focused on (Matthew 6:33-34), but rather, our focus needs to be on the things of today. Our prayer for tomorrow is that He continue His presence and fellowship with us, and bless us to do better in the future than we have in the past. So, the exercise of faith takes away the problems of large things in life for the present situation, but we need constant attention by faith to keep us in the right frame to continue to deal with these things again tomorrow.
Moving into Luke's thought, the Saviour is not talking about mountains being removed, but rather, a sycamine tree being cast into the sea. A sycamine tree belongs to the mulberry family of trees and bears fruit similar in nature to a fig. Since the tree is not one of the largest by far, we should not look at this as dealing with mountainous problems as in the other passage. Rather, the Saviour is declaring that when we understand, by faith, that this problem is more of a molehill than a mountain, our faith can be exercised to not worry about such situations. One of the more amusing points in this discussion is the use of patience in dealing with "sycamine tree" matters. Whenever a problem arises that seems to not be a mountain, waiting patiently normally resolves the matter. When tempers flare up and out of control, patient waiting and prayer will see many of these storms blow over.
The Lord declared that the smaller problems, when dealt with by faith, will be removed from sight. Being plucked up by the roots (nothing left) and cast into the sea (never to be seen again) is a complete dissolution of the thing. Looking back over times in our lives that we felt to be great and pivotal many times has the hindsight view of, "Well, that wasn't nearly as important as I thought it was." Things we thought would turn the world upside down if not dealt with right now are seen in the past as but speed bumps in the road of life. Exercise of faith deals with those problems as speed bumps now rather than looking back later to see that they are. Faith gives us the foresight needed for today rather than the hindsight of tomorrow.
Therefore, faith will not remove all our problems from us, for in this life, we shall have tribulations for trying to live godly in this old world. But, by use of the faith given unto us by God, may we press forward with the sight to understand what is a mountainous concern, what is a molehill concern, and the presence to understand what will be consequence when dealing with each one. Problems in life are never non-existent for us, but by faith, we can avoid the overmuch sorrow of life by dealing with the problems in a God-honouring way. What do our actions say to God when we blow up at small things? What do our actions speak when we throw up our hands in abysmal despair? What are we telling God when we say, "I can't deal with this?"
Since God has given us the ability to deal with these things (with His strength and help), our poor behaviour in these cases basically tells God, "I know that you have saved me from my sins, but this is just too big." What burden was greater than bearing the sins of the family of God? As that load was great, may we understand that our load in life is light (Matthew 11:28), and that we can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us. (Philippians 4:13) Dear friends, He has given us the ability, may we use it. He has given us the armour, may we put it on. In so doing, we honour Him in our actions by showing forth what He has done for us, and we show the trust and confidence that we have in Him. Let us therefore press toward the mark that He has set, dealing with the necessities of life daily, and looking beyond and forgetting all the trivial irritants of life.