Problems Which Only Fasting Can Dislodge

June 5, 2016

A reminder to readers: We’re in the thick of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will continue to cover the Gospel of Mark over the next few months.

Mark 9:14-29

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure 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.”


Our text for this Sunday includes a collection of the teachings of Jesus just before his passion. The first passage involves a dramatic demonic deliverance. At first glance, this may obscure the deeper fact that this narrative does not function the way the earlier healing or deliverance narratives functioned. In other words, this is not yet another way to show the power and glory of Jesus. The focus of this narrative, like all three here, is on the disciples.

They have just come down from the mountaintop—from the glory of the Transfiguration. Still ringing in their ears is the divine commendation, “this is my beloved Son, listen to him” as well as Jesus saying that the Son of Man just suffer much and be rejected. They come down ahead of Jesus, and they encounter a demon possessed boy. The demon has violently possessed the young man, throwing him into epileptic fits as well as rendering the boy speechless. The disciples are unable to cast the demon out, and that is the real of focus of the narrative. Jesus appears on the scene, and the crowd runs to Him. The text says when they saw Jesus, they were “overwhelmed with wonder.” It is a very unusual expression. It reminds us of the reaction of the Israelites when they saw the face of Moses after he came down off the other mountain when his faced glowed with the radiance of God’s glory.

In verses 17 and 18, The crowd explains to Jesus what has happened and the inability of the disciples to cast the demon out. Jesus expresses a holy exasperation and then commands the evil spirit to come out. The boy is completely healed. The disciples ask Jesus afterward why they were unable to cast out the demon. This is the real point of the account. Jesus says that this kind of demon would only come out through “prayer and fasting.” The earlier manuscripts include “fasting” not just prayer.

This passage reminds us of the importance of our maintaining a regime of prayer and fasting. We are all engaged (whether we realize it or not) in spiritual warfare. The early church always understood that these battles cannot be won without prayer and fasting. It was a regular spiritual exercise. Many of you who are reading this pray, and you pray daily. But, how many of you have committed yourself to prayer and fasting over specific places where spiritual bondage or persistent problems occur? Set aside regular times for prayer and fasting because some things will not be changed without it!!


1. Have you ever intentionally given up a single meal, or an entire day of eating, to focus on prayer?
2. What deep bondages do you see in the world which might not be changed without prayer and fasting?


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The Sunday Daily Text through Mark’s Gospel is written by Timothy Tennent. Visit his blog here.

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