Tag Archives: Faith

Mustard Trees and Seeds

Jesus seemed to like the tiny mustard seed; he used it to illustrate faith in several settings. One teaching found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, illustrated how the Christian Church would grow. Here’s how Mark recorded Jesus’s words about growth of the Church:

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade (Mark 4.30-32 NIV).

This illustration described the growth and expansion of God’s kingdom on earth, i.e., growth of the Christian Church. Although the Church began in a small province of the Roman Empire, it grew larger than the mightiest empire on earth.

Another time Jesus used the mustard seed in an illustration, he was in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus wasn’t with disciples when a man asked them to heal his son, possessed by a demon. Disciples were unable to heal the son. Jesus arrived and ordered the demon to leave the boy (Matthew 17.14-21).  After Jesus expelled the demon, disciples asked him why they couldn’t heal the man’s son.  Jesus responded that they had too little faith.  He told them that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could say to a mountain, “Move from here to there” and the mountain would move (Matthew 17.21 ESV).  Jesus’s point was that nothing is impossible with sufficient faith, even when that amount of faith is as small as a tiny mustard seed.

Mustard Tree

In scientific communities, the mustard tree is the Salvadora perisica, commonly called the toothbrush tree.6 Indigenous to Persia (Iran), the mustard tree could have been brought into Palestine by traders. Alternatively, returned Jewish exiles may have brought  mustard tree seeds from Persia and planted them in gardens and fields. The mustard seed grows best in hot, arid climates; high humidity stunts tree growth. The mustard tree is an evergreen that can grow to twenty feet. Often, mustard trees have many branches that start to grow from the tree trunk low to the ground. The mustard tree can grow as wide as tall. Mustard trees reach full size in a few years.

Spread of Christianity

Like branches of a mustard tree, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and into India and Ethiopia. In a few centuries, Christianity went from unheard of, to being outlawed, to the official religion of an empire. Mustard trees were used for shade because of their low-growing branches. Similarly, people from all nations took refuge under the canopy of Christianity. Unlike thorn trees (Ziziphus spina-christi), mustard trees have no thorns to  deter individuals from resting beneath them. Although wild animals sometimes fed on tree shoots, many branches grew high enough that predators couldn’t reach birds that nested in them.

Warning?????

In Jesus’s teaching about the mustard tree, birds settled in its branches. Some Bible commentators interpreted this clause as a warning to keep the early Christian church pure. In Old Testament scriptures, the phrase “birds of the air” was sometimes used to symbolize demonic forces. From this perspective, Jesus warned disciples to beware that Satan would attempt to encroach on the kingdom of God.

Certainly, Jesus warning became reality. In the first few centuries of the Christian church, Jews (Judaizers) advocated that newly converted Christian could be justified only by observing Jewish laws, i.e., circumcision, adherence to Jewish dietary laws. The Gnostics claimed they possessed elevated knowledge, a “higher truth.” The higher knowledge was acquired, not from the Bible or apostles’ teachings, but, from a higher mystical plain of existence. Individual with this special knowledge, for example, Jezebel in the Thyatiran church, believed they were elevated above other Christians because of their deeper knowledge (Revelation 2.18-25).

Not Really

At times, Bible scholars concluded that the black mustard (Brassica nigra) plant was the source of the mustard seed that Jesus referred to in teachings that used the mustard seed. Very likely, the true mustard tree was the Salvadora perisica.

Many powerful men attempted to stop the spread of “The Way,” the early name for the Christian church. The Jerusalem Jewish leadership tried to stop it when they arrested Jesus and turned him over to Pilate for crucifixion. King Herod attempted to stifle apostle’s teachings when he killed the apostle James and had Peter arrested. Paul was beaten, confined to house arrest, jailed, and finally murdered; however, Paul’s letters, many written while he was confined or jailed, were important to the spread of  the good news of Jesus in the Gentile world.

Despite many deterrents, the fledgling Christian church grew in numbers. Through Paul, Peter, and John’s letters, converts deepened their understanding of Jesus as Son of God. They came to understand the role of the Holy Spirit in individual lives and in the church. Jesus’s  mustard seed illustration came true in early centuries after his death and remains true today. Even with  anti-Christian rhetoric and entire denominations turning from God’s commands, continuance—even extension—of the church Jesus founded is inevitable.

Important for westernized societies is the answer to the question, “Where will Christianity spread next and/or grow even deeper roots?” Will it be in Greece, Rome, or Asia Minor where Christianity was first embraced? Perhaps, Germany and Great Britain, homes to great reformation thought? What about the United States, founded on principles of religious liberty? We need to pray that individuals in all nations experience Christian revival, so they can rest in the shade of God’s love.

Reflection: Will Christianity grow in your sphere of influence?

Copyright 10/03/2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Moving a Mulberry Tree

Christ reassured the apostles that with faith they could move a mulberry tree in Luke 17:1-6.

In the mulberry tree discussion, Christ outlined some responsibilities for his disciples.  One was to never lead another person into sin.  Christ told his disciples that it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause another to sin. A second responsibility for a disciple was to rebuke a brother if he sins. The third responsibility was is to forgive a brother if he repents of sin and asks for forgiveness. Christians were to forgive a repentant brother even if the brother sinned and repented seven times a day. Seven times a day meant that repentance-forgiveness cycle was limitless. 

After hearing this teaching, Christ’s apostles must have felt overwhelmed with the extent of their responsibilities as followers of Christ. How could they live so blameless a life that they never caused another individual to sin? Did they have the courage to rebuke a fellow Christian when he or she sinned? How could they, simple men that they were, forgive and forgive and forgive?  In desperation, the apostles cried out to Christ, “Increase our faith!”  (Luke 17:5). 

Christ gave them a simple response – if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell a mulberry tree to be uprooted and transplanted into the sea. With sufficient faith, the mulberry tree will obey. 

mulberry fruitThe Mulberry Tree

The mulberry tree is the Morus nigra also known as the sycamine tree. The tree is indigenous to Persia (Iran).  In Israel mulberry tree remains have been found from the late Iron Age. In modern Israel, mulberry trees grow wild and are domesticated from Mount Hermon in northern Israel to Eilat in the southern Negev Desert. During our stay at Kibbutz Lotan in the southern Negev Desert area in 2012, we saw a 25 foot tall mulberry tree which had been planted for its shade as well as its fruit.  After pollination female flowers ripen into .4-1 inch blackberry-shaped edible fruits. Ultimately, the berry becomes succulent, fat, and full of juice. Mulberry berries vary in color with the M. nigra tree producing black mulberries.

Symbolism: Delay or Wise

The genus name of the mulberry is Morus derived from the Latin word mora meaning “delay” because the mulberry tree is the last tree to bud in the spring (Grieve, 1971). Because the mulberry waits until all possibility of frost is past, the mulberry tree has been called the wisest of all trees. When his disciples asked Christ to increase their faith, his response was that they could and would accomplish great acts with a small amount of faith. Wisely, Christ did not tell them that they needed a large amount of faith. At that point in their walk with Christ, probably the disciples did not have unswerving faith in Christ; they were still getting to know him and coming to the realization that he was the promised Messiah. Christ met the disciples where they were in their awareness of him.

Reflection. Name some ways you have grown in the intensity of your walk with Christ.

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 http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 9/13

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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 http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright January 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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