Mustard Seeds are Small Beginnings

Mustard tree Sara

Read Matthew 13:31-32, 17:19-20, and Luke 17:5-6 for some of Christ’s teachings on mustard trees and seeds.

Christ used the mustard seed several times in his ministry. The first time Christ talked about the mustard seed was in a parable about the kingdom of heaven. Christ told the crowd that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, one of the smallest of all seeds. Yet when planted in a field, the seed becomes a large garden plant. Birds come and perch on tree branches. The meaning of this parable is that although the kingdom of heaven begins small, it will expand throughout the entire world. People from all nations will take refuge in it.

On another occasion, Christ used the mustard seed to illustrate faith. In Caesarea Philippi, a man asked Jesus to heal his son who was possessed by a demon (Matthew 17:14-21). Christ’s disciples had tried, but were unable to heal the boy. Christ rebuked the demon and it came out of the child. The disciples asked Christ why they were unable to heal the man’s son. Christ responded that the disciples had too little faith. If they had faith the size of a mustard seed, the disciples could say to a mountain, “Move from here to there” and the mountain would move. Christ’s point was that nothing – not even casting out a demon — is impossible with enough faith.

The Mustard Plant

Some scholars and botanists believe that the Biblical mustard seed and tree was the Brassica nigra. Brassica nigra is also known as Sinapis nigra, black mustard, and shortpod mustard. Others believe it was the Salvadora perscia commonly called the toothbrush tree. I favor the Salvadora because it is a larger plant than the black and better able to accommodate birds resting in its branches. The toothbrush tree grows up to 20 feet in comparison than the much shorter black mustard plant. The mustard tree grows throughout arid Africa and the Middle East. The mustard tree grows in the Judean Desert, Dead Sea Valley (around Ein Gedi) and in southern Israel deserts. Pilgrims to Israel can see the mustard tree growing in the Biblical Landscape Reserve between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Symbolism: Faith

From early Christian times, the mustard seed has been associated with faith. As a young girl, I was given a necklace with a single mustard seed inside a clear heart. The mustard seed was tiny. It reminded me that if I had even a little faith, nothing was impossible to accomplish as long as it was God’s will for my life. The dictionary defines faith as a firm belief in something or someone for which there is no proof. The implication of that definition is that there is no proof of God. Yet, a popular Christian song says, “I talked to him this morning.” In fact, I talk to God all the time and God talks to me. He talks to me through the Scriptures, through other people, and through my conscience. God is really good about convicting me of transgressions against his holiness and I appreciate his ongoing discipline. Part of my role in the ongoing dialogue between God and me is wanting God’s input and staying attentive to it.

Through the work of the Holy Spirit, a small religious group known initially as “The Way” grew into a world-wide religion that has lasted for 2000 years. The disciples of The Way had faith in God and shared their faith with other individuals, who shared their faith with others, who shared their faith with others. Today, we have a world-wide communion of Christian believers. My minister tells us that our present age is more like that of the first and second century Way than any other time in the history of the Church. Christians are no longer in the majority in Westernized countries including Europe, Britain, Australia, and the United States; while, Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia must worship underground and are dying for their Christian faith. The Christian faith is ridiculed and Christians are mocked and declared intolerant.

Individuals who follow The Way should not be surprised by the negative behavior directed toward them. Christ and the early apostles warned us that Christians would be persecuted for their faith (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3: 12). Our goal during this time of persecution is to have faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed. When we have faith, we can move mountains and trees. With faith we can accomplish great things for Christ and live The Way he taught us to live both by his words and his actions. So what if we are scorned for our Christian faith? So what if we are called bigots, intolerant, etc. for our faith? So what if our careers dead-end for our faith or friendships are lost? Didn’t these same things happen to Christ? There is no reason to think that we, Christ’s servants, will be treated any different from the way our master was treated. A key to a Christian life is to have faith in all circumstances, counting on Christ to not only be the author but the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Reflection. How does faith in Christ ease the circumstances of your life?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at

Copyright January 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth


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