Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; 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. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 17:19-21)
In Matthew 17 is recorded a situation most of us would do anything to avoid. A man brought to Jesus’ disciples his lunatic son. This son was so possessed by a demon that he convulsed and cast himself into fire and water in an attempt to burn or drown himself. Mark tells us in his gospel that this boy could not talk and that he was slammed to the ground periodically with his convulsions. When one of his fits seized him, he would foam at the mouth, grind his teeth, and stiffen like a board. Luke gives the further details that he screamed and the demon mauled him, scarcely leaving the poor boy alone. What a horrid situation.
And the disciples could not cast this demon out. It was a hopeless situation that they felt helpless to change. After Jesus rebukes the demon and heals this young man, the disciples ask Him the question above. Jesus responds with an answer that has become proverbial. He tells them that if they had faith as a mustard seed, they could move a mountain.
The traditional understanding of this statement is that a little true faith can see God do great things. The situation this father and his son were in was mountainous in size, and if the disciples would just exercise “mountain-moving faith” it could be dealt with. Even Paul in I Corinthians 13:2 speaks of faith removing mountains. The focus of this understanding tends to be on the enormity of the problem. Certainly there is truth in understanding that God can help us with enormous difficulties. But is that all that Jesus is saying here?
For notice above that Jesus tells His disciples to tell “this mountain” to move. What mountain is Jesus talking about? Remember, as this situation of the boy with the demon being brought to Jesus' disciples was unfolding, Jesus was not there initially. At the time of this statement, Jesus was standing at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13), where His power, majesty and glory had just been manifested moments earlier. Could it be that this mountain is the one He is telling His disciples their faith can move "from here to there"?
Perhaps then that lends a deeper sense to what our Lord is saying. For had not the glory of God just moved from the top of that mountain down into this situation and brought healing to this young boy? Similarly, if the church fasts and prays, then the Lord will cause His mountain top glory, the sign of His reign and power, to shine its radiance where she yearns for it to be in this world. As God sees you long for His presence to be known, for His will to be done on earth as in heaven, you will see that mountain move as the glory of the Lord enters into those hopeless, helpless situations.
For as the psalmist prays, so can we.
The LORD reply in your distress;
May Jacob’s God defend you then.
And from His place of holiness
Both strength and help from Zion send. (Psalm 20:1).