Please read Mark 9: 14-29, and then pray: “Precious Lord, as I come to your Word, teach me how to walk more faithfully in the strength and power of your presence and love, in Jesus’ name. Amen!

In recent weeks, I have been considering with you some of the distinctive features of Mark’s gospel, aspects of the good news story about Jesus that are only to be found within Mark. This is why this series of messages is entitled “MARK my words.” We have already considered the fact that it is only in Mark that we find the disciples “anointing the sick with oil” for healing. (6:13) At our Harvest Celebration service, we thought about the parable of the growing seed, a parable that is found only in Mark. (4:26-29) We have also studied one of the healing miracles which only Mark includes in his gospel, the healing of the blind man who needed “two touches” from Jesus for the complete recovery of his sight. (8:22-26). The last time I was with you, we considered the story of Jesus stilling the storm and the unique insights that Mark brings to that story. (4:35-41) Today we are going to think about the story concerning the “healing of the boy with an evil spirit.”

Even before we enter into the details of the story, there is something important to note. Mark is by far the shortest of the three synoptic gospels, (only 16 chapters) and yet he takes more space and time than either Matthew or Luke in their gospels, to retell this miracle of the deliverance of this unfortunate boy. We are given a lot more detail about the discussion between the father of the boy and Jesus, and Mark is also keen to highlight the particular reason for the disciple’s failure to bring healing to the boy. Their failure is due as we shall see, to a lack of prayerful preparation and spiritual equipping. The response of Jesus to the important question asked by the disciples in private after this incident is most illuminating – and disciples and readers of this gospel must take careful note of it. Here is the vital word of our Lord:

This kind can come out only by prayer (and fasting).

This story is set between the great story of Jesus’ transfiguration and the second prediction Jesus makes about his own death and resurrection. It was so well remembered because the incident with the boy happened immediately after Jesus had descended from the high mountain with Peter, James and John. There were two things that met Jesus at the base of the mountain on his return. Firstly, there was the chaotic commotion and arguments between Jesus’s other disciples and the teachers of the law over their failure to heal the boy. Secondly there was the rapturous welcome for Jesus by the crowd that had gathered. This is the strongest welcome Jesus receives anywhere in the gospel for we are told that the crowd were “overwhelmed with wonder” as they ran to greet him. (9:15)

Mark seems to want to highlight the arguments that the disciples got into with others and amongst themselves. (see v 14 and then later v 33). This is because “the arguments” were a big part of their failings as disciples, and Mark is passionate about good and faithful discipleship. Arguing should never be a part of true discipleship – and yet how often it is! (Philippians 2:14f) On this occasion the arguments revolved around the disciple’s abject failure to heal a boy deeply troubled and tormented by an evil spirit. Once Jesus arrives the fierce arguing stops. Perhaps there is a lesson for us here. When we get into arguments in any situation (particularly in Church), we should step back and prayerfully invite Jesus to take control. Is that what you do when arguments arise?

It is in fact the boy’s father who quickly steps forward to put Jesus in the picture. His disciples could not deal with an evil spirit who had been persistently wreaking havoc in his poor son’s life. The father is keen to tell Jesus just how badly his “only son and child” has suffered. (Luke 9:38) Jesus can certainly relate to the words “only Son.” (John 3:16) This spirit within the boy, who is wicked, powerful and determined, and who has robbed the boy of his speech and hearing so that he cannot communicate his deep pain and his needs with his family or anyone else, is literally set on destroying the boy’s life. (Luke 9:39) We are reminded of Jesus’s words in John’s gospel:

The thief (satan) comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Later, in the extended conversation between Jesus and the father, we learn that this pernicious and destructive spirit had sought (in the past) to hurt and kill this poor helpless boy. It is picture of desperation and hopelessness. The disciples could not do anything to help on this occasion. Could Jesus help? Could Jesus heal and deliver the boy from his desperate life of misery, pain and demonic abuse? Could his father and family have any hope for any kind of normal future without the ongoing deep-seated worry and concern for their son’s safety and life?

Jesus encourages faith in the father for “everything is possible for him who believes”.  The father has faith but humbly asks Jesus for greater faith and the ability to overcome lingering doubt and unbelief. He has got to the point where he wonders if it is possible for anything to be done to help his dearly loved son. Before the crowd has a chance to re-emerge and cause further disturbance, Jesus strongly rebukes the spirit, who he refers to as “deaf and mute”, and orders it to leave the boy and never come back! This spells the end of this spirit’s time in this boy. It leaves, but not without a final struggle in front of Jesus. The boy is thrown violently to the ground in a last defiant act, with the spirit shrieking and then leaving in obedience to Jesus. Some onlookers thought the boy was “dead”. It initially looked like that was the case. But then there is “the language of resurrection” in Mark’s account, as he writes this;

But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted (raised) him to his feet, and he stood up.

This only son had been raised to new life! The power of darkness had been defeated and driven away for ever! There would never be a return to darkness for this boy. Praise be to Jesus! I have come that they might have life and enjoy it to the full. Full life has been restored by Jesus.

As wonderful as this miracle of deliverance and transformation is, it is the question that the disciples now raise privately with Jesus that leaves the reader on tenterhooks.

Why couldn’t we drive it out?

It’s a good question because Jesus had given them authority to do this and they had experienced success in the past. (Mark 3:15, 6:7) Why had they failed this time around? What had gone wrong?

Mark supplies us with Jesus’s pinpoint answer:

This kind can come out only by prayer. In some manuscripts the words “and fasting” are added. This kind can come out only by prayer – by focused and committed prayer to which fasting may be added.

What is it that Mark wants us to learn about discipleship and about faithfully following Jesus? What does he want us to learn about why disciples fail, and why the Church might fail as it engages in the struggles against what Paul refers to as “the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms?” (Ephesians 6:12)

How might this help Christians suffering dark and dangerous persecution in Rome at the time when Mark wrote to them. How could this story encourage and challenge them in their trials and battles?

The first thing for them to learn and for us to learn and grasp is that our greatest battle is actually a spiritual one – and the enemy is a powerful spiritual foe called satan (Mark 1:13) who has alongside him and beneath him a whole massive host of evil spirits and entities who are bent on the destruction of human life and God’s created order. Paul in Ephesians emphasises that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against these evil powers and forces of wickedness. And if we are not to constantly fail and fall before them, then we need to regularly, on a daily basis, take up our spiritual armour (Ephesians 6: 10-18) and our spiritual weapons which equip us for the fight – the good fight of faith. (2 Timothy 4:7). Undoubtedly, our main spiritual weapon is prayer – and when the battle is at it’s fiercest, we can add fasting to it. When confronted with tougher spiritual battles, this kind can be won only with prayer.

Firstly then, our battle is of a spiritual nature, and prayer, which involves entering God’s holy presence for renewal, grace, strength and power is the way to victory. The battle belongs to the Lord, (1 Samuel 17:47) but we are God’s chosen servants, and we are called to fight as the redeemed children of God in a crooked and depraved generation. (Philippians 2:15) Fighting unequipped is foolish. God provides armour and weapons to bring down strongholds. As Paul writes to the Corinthians:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10: 3-4)

I’m sure the disciples were aware that they were in a spiritual battle, but they seem to have forgotten that they were utterly dependent on God for the power and the resources to defeat strongholds and strong spirits like the one who was tormenting and controlling this boy. They had, it seemed, become over-confident in their own strength and power, and failed to seek the Lord for power through prayer. They had been attempting to engage in serious Christian ministry without looking to the Lord for his strength and power and equipping. The had become branches disconnected from the true vine, and without continuous connection to Christ, they could achieve nothing. Apart from Christ and our constant abiding in him – we can do NOTHING. Our ministry falls like a pack of cards. (Read John 15 v 1-5 and v 7) Our service becomes ineffective if we do not constantly abide or “live” in Christ. Prayer nurtures and sustains abiding.  Without abiding in Christ, we bear no fruit. We fail.

The disciples, whilst attempting to expel this particularly strong and stubborn evil spirit, had taken their eyes of heaven and its resources, they had taken their minds off Christ (who was up a mountain), and away from his almighty power, and they had tried to do this exorcism without the necessary power and equipping needed. And having failed, they did not think to step back and consider their weakness and failure, so that they could then step forward into the presence of God in prayer for the guidance and power of God through his Spirit. They persisted in their spiritual weakness and failed miserably, leaving the boy’s father to despair even more.

Disciples of Christ must learn from this. We must learn about the importance of developing and keeping a relationship with the One who is the Source of all spiritual life and power. We do this primarily through prayer. The days we stop being watchful and prayerful, are the days we fall and fail. Later in Mark’s gospel we learn how Jesus taught this very lesson to his disciples in Gethsemane with regards to defeating temptation. Whilst personally wrestling with the temptation not to drink the cup of suffering given to him by his Father, Jesus said to his sleepy disciples,

Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. (Mark 14:37-38)

When it comes to temptation and our battle with it, the minute any complacency or over confidence slips into our thinking – we will fail and fall. Our eyes must always be on Christ and his power. So, in 1 Corinthians 10 v 12 f, Paul wisely points out and warns the Church with these words:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful you don’t fall. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

When we feel we are in a good place with the Lord, and when we feel we are doing well, it is then that we are most vulnerable to a serious fall because we are tempted to take our eyes of Jesus and rely on ourselves and our own strength and ability. “This is great” – we say, “this walking with Jesus is simple and going so well just now.” – and before we know it, we have fallen and failed because we were not living with that vital ongoing sense of dependence on the grace and power of the Lord. WE were not drawing on our connection to the vine through prayer.

Why do Christians and Churches so often fail? What is the main reason for failure and lack of fruit-bearing? The answer is this; they have stopped praying. They have stopped reaching out to God daily – regularly looking to heaven with faith for resources, protection and power. They no longer lean dependently and trustingly upon God the Rock. They have stopped praying to the Father to “lead them not into temptation”. They have stopped petitioning their heavenly Father to “deliver them from evil.” The Lord’s prayer has to be a daily pattern of prayer for us all and for the Church. We must abide in this pattern of praying if we are live the life of joy and service which Christ call us to.

We live in difficult and challenging times and the devil is having a field day in the UK with more and more people and families coming under his power to steal, to kill and to destroy. (John 10:10) We are now living in such an intensely secularised country that God is rejected outright – certainly by the elite who hold and control power. God’s laws are trampled upon with impunity. The Church is struggling more than ever with the spiritual realities behind this battle. We are faced with mammoth opposition, ignorance and disillusionment. As in cases of demonic affliction, so is the case with human societies at different points in history; there are differing degrees of difficulty and opposition. Certain “kinds” of societies like certain kinds of evil spirits are particularly difficult for the Church to face and minister to. In such times, Christ says to us, if we will but listen; My people scattered throughout the UK – This kind (in 2021) will only come out with prayer.

We cannot face this situation without adequate strength and resources from heaven. More than ever before we need the power and anointing and strength of the Spirit – and that is only accessed and available through persistent and dedicated prayer. The evangelical revival of the 18th century was built upon a foundation of faithful seeking prayer. Any Church growth and significant advancement of the Kingdom is built on faithful, consistent and heartfelt prayer. This is why LYCIG has at its very core a solid commitment and vision for prayer. We are totally dependent for any growth – spiritual, numerical, or missional on the God who hears our prayers and who alone can equip us for service with his Spirit’s power and gifts. Through LYCIG, we will learn more and more about the need for the 4 P’s – Prayer, Presence, Proclamation and Persuasion in the weeks and months and years that lie ahead. But notice Prayer comes first, and Prayer covers and coats the other 3 P’s. Why must that be the case? Why must the Church hear Christ’s call to prayer? Only because;

This kind can come out only by prayer.

If we forget this or neglect this, we can only expect further decline and failure – but if we take this call to prayer seriously both individually and as a Church – then we can live in the light of the other great statement Jesus makes in this passage;

“Everything is possible for him who believes.”  Mark 9:23

For the ones who believe – all things are possible because Christ is Lord of all things – as Mark’s gospel demonstrates again and again. To Him belongs all power and all authority in heaven and on earth. And belief and faith are demonstrated most notably through commitment to prayer. Faith and prayer are interrelated and interconnected, which is why in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus answers the same question about why the disciples failed with the words; “Because you have so little faith.” (Matthew 17:19-20) Faith is specifically expressed through our clinging to God in prayer and then through obedience to his voice. Prayer, in the name of Christ, can expel and dismantle any evil, move any mountain of opposition, raise from the dead any helpless soul. This is why Paul urged Christians in Ephesus at the climax of his message about spiritual warfare, armour and resistance in this way:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 10:18)

 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.”

Hear this word of the Lord!

Hear this word also: Everything is possible for him who believes (and subsequently prays).




Revd Peter J Clarkson  (31.10.21)