…the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive [the demon causing the boy to have seizures] out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, 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. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” – Matt. 17:19-21
In response to His disciples inquiring why they couldn’t drive a seizure-producing demon out of a boy when He had been apart from them, Jesus spoke the critically important truth put forth above. In Mark’s account, Jesus called this particular demon a deaf and dumb spirit; it robbed the boy of speech, and caused him to have what we call grand mal seizures today, complete with convulsions, rigidity, foaming at the mouth, and gnashing of the teeth (Mark 9:17-29).
Picture how frightening such a demonic manifestation would have been for the disciples to apply their faith to in Jesus’ absence! Nevertheless, the Lord’s word here is that even a tiny mustard seed of faith is sufficient to move mountains such as this. Praise God, His Word is omnipotent – all powerful, always effectual. Incongruence between God’s word and our experience today is always due to an issue with the earthen conduits…
Now, the disciples had at least a mustard-seed of God-pleasing faith at this point in time. Having left their families and their livelihoods to follow Jesus, they had already driven many demons from numerous people when away from His physical presence. Therefore, it is apparent than another force was present, preventing the disciples from driving the demon out of the boy.
The faith-impeding factor was alluded to by verse 21: But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. If you are unfamiliar with this key verse, it might be because it appears only as a footnote in many of the modern Bible translations. In Mark’s account, Jesus’ full response to the disciples’ inquiry “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” was simply “This kind can come out only by prayer and fasting” (9:28-29), with the last two words similarly appearing only as a footnote in many modern translations.
Jesus’s words “this kind” refer to a supernatural power that prevented the disciples from driving the demon from the seizing and foaming boy. Having just taught that a tiny mustard-seed of faith is sufficient, our Lord reveals that it is a different demonic power that the disciples have opened themselves up to which inhibits them from driving the very frightening demon out of the boy. The disciples must pray (in the Holy Spirit – see Jude v. 20) and fast (deny themselves) in order that this less conspicuous kind of demon be cast out of them.
Scripture does not record Jesus naming this particular kind of demon, but we can discern a name or two for it, can’t we? Either “fear” or “unbelief” would fit. The latter is suggested by both Jesus’ exclamation “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” and by the boy’s father’s appeal to Jesus in the first half of Mark’s account of the story: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:19; 24). What an important confession and supplication the latter is for us all!
Now here is our point: regardless of what name is applied to this faith-crippling supernatural power, the Lord is revealing that intimacy with Christ and self-denial are the means by which He has ensured that His disciples may be delivered of it. Praise God! The same Spirit that empowered Jesus of Nazareth to perform miracles delivers us from captivity and then empowers us to heal and deliver others as well: I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. (John 14:12-13).
Hallelujah! This is Isaiah 61 come to pass through us, the members of His Body! Let us worship Christ our Deliverance, our Life, our Joy!
Praying, denying self, and moving mountains with you in Christ, your sister deanna
(see recent post, Knowing, Seeing, and Believing the Glorious Truth, then Speaking it Forth)