For around three and a half years, the Lord Jesus trained the disciples to take the Gospel to the world, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Luke 9:1-2). He also sent 72 others to do the same thing (Luke 10:1, 9, 17), but just before He would be crucified, nine of his disciples could not cast out a demon from a man’s son. When Jesus came on the scene, the boy’s father was stricken with hopelessness due to the disciple’s powerlessness:
40“I begged Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not.” 41And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was still approaching, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father (Luke 9:40-42).
Doesn't it seem like the Lord got upset and frustrated at the disciples in the above verses? He said they were “unbelieving and perverse” [or distorted] (Luke 9:41). The Fall in the Garden of Eden has made humanity into an unbelieving people with a distorted view of God and His ability to use us in ministry toward those held in bondage to sin and evil. A person's frustration is often visual evidence showing what they care about. Jesus cared that the disciples, His representatives, could minister in God's power and deliver people from spiritual bondage. As believers, each of us should do what we can to carry on the ministry of Jesus on the earth in Christ's name. The nine disciples took the time to pray for the boy, but they moved from trusting the power and authority of Christ to having little faith. The presence of Christ in us is the key, not the method or system on which we tend to lean.
What happened to the disciple’s faith? They had ministered this way before (Luke 10:8; 17), so why couldn’t they cast the evil spirit out of the boy? It is essential to Christ that His Church, His called-out ones, understand that we are invested with divine power and authority to do His work.
We live in a day where the Church in the West primarily relies on intellect more than God's power, but the mind will only get us so far. We don't have time for business as usual; the harvest is too great. We need to multiply disciples. We cannot rest on what we can do in our strength to get the Gospel out to a lost world. We need the whole Church to preach the whole Gospel to the whole world! Did you know that the world's population only surpassed one billion in 1830? Then it took 130 years before it got to two billion people. The world population is now 8 billion (2023), growing one billion every nine to ten years. More than half the people who have ever lived are currently alive. Think about that! Only as we step out in God's power, exercising His authority, will the Church ever get into multiplication mode where we see whole cities come to Christ. Is that not possible? Why would it not be possible today if it was possible in the Book of Acts? (Acts 9:35).
The Lord was frustrated at the nine disciples because He wanted them to work under the Holy Spirit's power and not rely on their abilities. Human intelligence and soul energy are not going to change the world. The power of God was, and is, the need of the hour! God's work needs God's power exercised through people of faith in God.
28And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:28-29 KJV).
When they asked why they couldn't cast out the evil spirit from the boy, Jesus said it was because of their lack of faith. But then he explained something interesting: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Some Greek manuscripts do not include this passage. Hence, the New International Version translators put verse 21 down at the bottom of the page. The King James Version includes it. The Lord says that a life characterized by prayer and fasting will always be ready to handle any situation.
I am thankful for this nugget of truth. It explains that there are some situations we encounter that can only be resolved by a greater level of the presence and power of God upon us, a life of regular prayer and fasting. One needs time to fast and pray, and it is often impossible to ask a person to come back later to give us time to fast and pray. If only the nine had known beforehand that they would encounter a spirit resisting their commands to come out of the boy, they would have prepared themselves for the encounter. Jesus is advocating a lifestyle of prayer and fasting that is ready for any situation. I don't believe the words "this kind" refers only to a strong evil spirit; I think it relates to stubborn problems in our lives, which a typical habit of prayer has not resolved. In this instance, a spiritual stronghold needed to be broken by prayer and fasting. Keith Thomas