Series 56


by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Mark 9:28)

This incident is not only recorded in Mark 9:14-29 but also in Matthew 17:14-21 and Luke 9:37-45. Read through these accounts so that you have a complete picture of what happened. It was certainly a humiliating experience for the disciples. Crowds of people were following them and when they were faced with the boy with the evil spirit, they tried to deliver him from his demon-possession but found they were completely powerless. Everybody witnessed their confusion and humiliation, and it was natural that after Jesus had performed the miracle and set the boy free they should come to Him and ask: “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Let us look more closely at this incident, at the disciples and at the question they asked, and notice:-


Here was a boy who had an evil spirit, who was possessed by “a demon” (Matthew 17:18), “a spirit that had robbed him of speech” (Mark 9:17). The disciples faced a demon-possessed boy. It was common in those days, as it is in these days, for people to become possessed by evil spirits, and in a real sense the situation that faced the disciples is the same situation facing the Church today. Many people around us are gripped by sin and controlled by Satan. This is not popular doctrine and not universally accepted, but Ephesians 2:2-3 makes it clear that unregenerate men and women are living their lives under Satan’s domination. Every unsaved person is controlled by the spirit of evil. The boy’s situation was tragic – compare Mark 9:18,20-22; but this is a picture of the kind of situation that faces the Church today. What can be done about it? What did the disciples do about it?


The disciples sought the healing of this boy, but they failed completely. It was a tragic failure, and the words to underline in Luke 9:40 are “they could not” – they were helpless and powerless. This was more tragic because Jesus had expressly given them power to work miracles and they had exercised this power successfully (Matthew 10:1 and 8, and Luke 10:17). All around us there are needy souls and we, as the Lord’s representatives to whom He has given the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, are powerless (Acts 1:8). We see few conversions and little evidence of God’s power working through the ministry of the Word and through our churches. We have elaborate organisation, a large programme of meetings, all kinds of modern methods and we even have the money, but instead of an abundance of spiritual life and energy we are increasingly conscious of weakness, while all around us the need of lost souls is desperate. There is spiritual ignorance, an increasing moral drift, drug addiction, sexual perversion, increase in crime, and the tragedy is that the Church is failing to check these evil trends. The crowd says, “They could not…” It is a public failure and a humiliating experience for us. The Church of God in a Devil-possessed world seems powerless to cast out the devils of unbelief, immorality, increasing divorce and the mounting tide of evil. “Why…?”


Look at verse 28 and notice that the disciples asked Jesus privately. This indicates the shame, humiliation and disappointment they felt. But what a good thing it is if we can find grace to ask this question! How necessary it is, when we fail, to ask ‘What has gone wrong?’ It is important to ask why the Church is powerless and vital to make a right diagnosis when we come to the Lord in humility and confession, and ask Him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”


Notice verse 29; it is important to link with this something that is emphasised in Matthew 17:20. There were three reasons for their failure:-

  1. 1. There was lack of faith. Matthew 17:20 says, “Because you have so little faith.” The disciples didn’t have the faith to believe that Jesus could operate through them and give deliverance. We often fail for the same reason. We ask, “Can God…?” (Psalm 78:19), and we doubt the ability of Jesus to put forth His power. We are filled with unbelief – compare Matthew 13:58; Matthew 17:19-20.
  2. 2. There was lack of prayer (Mark 9:29). Certain situations require urgent and persistent prayer, and if this is deficient there will be a deficiency of power. Evidently the disciples had not prayed enough – they were powerless. How challenging when our own ministry may be powerless and fruitless!
  3. 3. There was lack of fasting (Mark 9:29). Fasting denotes such an intensity of desire and purpose that we are ready to put aside legitimate things to seek God’s face and get His blessing. It may mean denying ourselves secondary things for a time so that spiritual power may be released and souls who are in bondage may be delivered for a time – compare Exodus 19:14-15; 2 Samuel 12:16-17; Esther 4:16; Jonah 3:7-8; John 7:53; 8:1; 1 Corinthians 7:5. How far are we willing to make a voluntary denial of things, which of themselves are quite lawful and legitimate, in order that God’s face may be sought in earnest and persistent prayer and that souls may be delivered from terrible bondage?

Faith, prayer and fasting will achieve victory even under the desperate conditions we face today. But let us conclude on a note of victory; let us witness the putting forth of God’s power through the gracious ministry of our Lord Jesus.


Read Mark 9:25-27. If the disciples had been in touch with the Lord by faith, prayer and fasting He would have performed this miracle through them. It is His power that is at work anyway, for He does not delegate His power. Prayerfully read Mark 16:17-20 – particularly noticing verses 19 and 20.