“This kind can come out only by prayer”

Suddenly, the disciples couldn’t drive out a demon. They’d driven out many demons so far (Mark 6:13), but here was a child in Mark 9:17 “possessed by a spirit” and the disciples couldn’t drive the spirit out (verse 18).

They asked Jesus later, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” and Jesus replies in verse 29, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” Well, he’d never said that before. Up to this point he’d given them “authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7), so they’d simply commanded an evil spirit to leave a person, and it left, no prayer needed. The disciples “drove out many demons” by that method (Mark 6:13), so was this boy’s demon some sort of super demon, and only prayer could drive “this kind” out?

The central issue in this episode, however, isn’t a super demon, it’s verse 19, when Jesus cries out, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” That was the problem here. It was the unbelieving state of the entire Jewish nation at the time, pictured by the large crowd, including the “teachers of the law,” flaying the disciples alive for failing to cast out the demon (verse 14). This entire episode, therefore, had been deliberately orchestrated by God to show how pathetic the Jews’ faith was.

Jesus was especially upset at the boy’s father too, when the father said “IF you can do anything” to Jesus in verse 22. What do you mean “IF you can?” Jesus replies, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” And that’s what this incident highlighted – that the Jews, at heart, still didn’t believe in Jesus. Oh, they’d thrilled at the amazing miracles he and his disciples had done, but just one failed healing and out the window all their belief in him went. It showed just how shallow their belief in him really was.

On this one occasion, then, there wasn’t a healing – to face the Jews with themselves. And that’s where “This kind can come out only by prayer” comes in, because prayer to a Jew was (and still is) about taking a good, hard, honest look at the state of one’s own head and heart, which is exactly what that entire “unbelieving generation” of Jews needed to do – including the disciples, because they had no answer either for why the demon hadn’t left.

The answer was simple: It was unwavering belief that in Jesus everything was possible, and for the disciples to check themselves in prayer to see if that’s really what they believed too, because that was the only way “This kind” – or any kind – of demonic possession in their day could be successfully dealt with.

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