Mark 9:25-29 (NIV): When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
Jesus noticed that a whole crowd of people were running toward where He was speaking to the demon possessed boy’s father, drawn by the noise and violent action of the young man’s convulsions. The time for talking was over; the time for action had come.
Jesus’ technique in dealing with demons was always simple and effective. In this case, all He had to do was speak a command (“I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”), and the demon left with a shriek, and a final spasm. There was no wrestling with the demonic forces, no incantations, no ritual. Jesus didn’t need any of that. The demon already knew that he was doomed as soon as He saw Jesus. He understood that he had no power over the Son of God. And the smoke screen that he tried to throw up by convulsing the young man didn’t sway Jesus even the smallest bit. One command, and out.
Those who saw the young man lying motionless on the ground after the violent shriek and final convulsion, could be excused for believing that the final attack had left him dead. But Jesus knew better. It was only the violence of the actions immediately before the demon left that made his normal quiet seem like death; his normal shallow breathing seem like no breathing at all. But when Jesus pulled him to his feet, the young man stood strong before them in full health.
The disciples were silent as they went into the nearby house. Jesus had made this exorcism seem so simple, but they had been completely unable to pull it off. So they asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” After all, they had driven out many demons not long before, when Jesus had sent them out ahead of Him, two by two. What had gone wrong?
Jesus’ answer in Mark’s gospel is different than in Matthew’s, but the two versions are complementary. Matthew (who was one of those who had tried to drive the demon out and failed) remembered most clearly the part of Jesus’ answer in which He said, “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. (Matthew 17:20 NIV) Mark’s version, remembered by Peter, who had been coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus while the original failure was happening, is much shorter, and seems to go in an entirely different direction: “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
So how can it be that these two answers are complimentary? Prayer and faith go together hand-in-hand, each being indispensable to the other. Jesus’ response that this kind of demon can only be cast out by prayer (especially when there is no record in any of the gospel versions of this event of Him praying as part of the exorcism), is really talking about what we would call today being “prayed up.” The disciples had approached the exorcism by just doing what they had always done to cast out a demon, relying on their own power, their own skill, their own techniques. Jesus never did that. Instead, He was always “prayed up,” always intimately connected to the Father, and always relied on God’s direction and God’s power, not mere human technique. Faith is closely related to this. When a person spends consistent time in prayer, he or she is able to clearly hear God’s voice guiding and directing them in every situation. Whether faced with a demon or an illness, or even a person who has died, a person who is consistent in prayer, and who has stayed “prayed up” throughout the day, can easily hear what God’s plan is for the situation, and then act in faith to do what God has directed them to do.
Father, it is so easy for us to let our focused prayer time with You to get pushed to the side by our schedules, our agendas, our general busyness. But when we do that, we can so easily end up unable to hear You as You try to guide and direct us through the events of our day. Help us, Lord, to be more consistent, to spend regular time with You in prayer – QUANTITY time, not just what passes for a small amount of quality time. Then, when you speak, when we hear, we can move forward in faith to move mountains. Amen.