Mountain Moving

“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.” (Matt. 17:20; also Luke 17:6)

So what’s all this mountain moving about? Well, of course it’s not really about moving a mountain, is it? Who among us has any desire to move a mountain – unless you’re into highway construction? The most popular studies of this passage teach that Jesus was instructing His disciples about faith and how the measure or degree of our faith empowers us to do kingdom work. That is surely a valid and reasonable teaching, but I would challenge you to look it from a slightly different perspective.

On this occasion (Matt 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29) Jesus was responding to the disciples query of why their attempts to heal a demon possessed boy had failed. 

Looking at Mark’s Gospel we find more detail, including a lengthy description of the possessed boy’s symptoms as well as the father’s admission of his struggling faith. This is the man who told Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This plea was in response to Jesus statement to the father in verse 23, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes”. This verse corroborates and further supports the promises of John 14:12 and Phil. 4:13.

But with His disciples Jesus seems to be frustrated with their slow pace of learning. We too are somewhat surprised that the disciples are unable to heal the boy, particularly since they had been given authority to cast out evil spirits earlier (Matt. 10:1)  and had actually done so (Mark 6:13). So why now do they fail?

In Luke and Matthew’s Gospels we read that Jesus tells them, ‘Because you have so little faith”. Mark’s account adds another caveat – “So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting. (Mark 9:29 NKJV) (Note – not all translations include “and fasting”)

It seems we have two separate and differing explanations for the disciples’ failure – ‘so little faith’ and ‘by prayer [and fasting]. In fact both solutions are at play. We can understand how they go together when we think about what Jesus is saying in Matthew. When Jesus tells the disciples that they have ‘so little faith,’ it is not a matter of quantity since He explains in the next verse that even faith ‘as small as a mustard seed’ can move mountains. The disciples must have had at least that much faith in some sense or they would not have even tried to do the exorcism.

Instead of referring to an inadequate amount of faith, Jesus is referring to a faith that is deficient. That is, it is not the kind of faith that is effective. This is clear from Jesus earlier words about an ‘unbelieving and perverse generation’(vs.17). An unbelieving generation is a faithless generation, which is what the disciples and the others were being at this time. They have yet to believe and commit themselves to all Jesus has taught them.

So what’s with the mountain moving? There’s no record here of a mountain being actually moved. Or is there? Was not the demonic possession a mountain of a burden to both the boy and his father? And do we not have mountains that burden our lives? Absolutely!

So we ask again, what’s all this about moving mountains? It’s about our unabashed trust in the LORD –  not only that He will provide, bless, and sanctify us but that He will empower us to move our mountains when we completely put our faith in God’s plan for every hour, every facet and phase of our life.

When I think about faith I like to think of it in three part harmony. Scripture teaches us that faith has three elements:

  1. The content of what must be believed
  2. Assent to that content
  3. Trust in or commitment to Jesus Christ as the heart of the teaching. 

That last point (trust or commitment) is what makes faith personal and not just an intellectual or mechanical thing, and it is that personal element that was lacking with the disciples. It is why Mark wrote in his account that Jesus tells the disciples that the reason they had failed to exorcise the demon was that they had not supported their efforts by prayer.

The disciples had the mindset that they were ordained and empowered by Jesus through His teaching and therefore the ‘power’, His power, was theirs to administer; yet their faith was insufficient. It was never about the quantity or measure of their faith, it was the about believing in Him, His mission, and how to convert that belief into living for Him, ministering for Him, testifying about Him – He, Christ Jesus was the power – and without total belief in who He was and Who He represented, their faith wasn’t sufficient to exorcise the demon.

It may seem a fine line and you will get no argument on that from me. But we must agree that there is a measure or level of belief in Christ that does not always coexist with our level of trust or faith in Him.

We all have mountains that must be moved. Jesus teaches us that we can move those mountains! But we cannot do so unless and until we are enabled through the power of the Holy Spirit. First we believe; then He empowers us, through our faith – our trust in what we have chosen to believe.

You must both trust and believe, and then God will empower you to choose to move your mountain.


  1. My email address has changed to above website.
    May God continue to bless you in your efforts to teach and bring people to Christ as Jesus did.
    Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
    Frank and Sheila Herrell

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