Mark 9:17-29 NLT
17 One of the men in the crowd spoke up and said, “Teacher, I brought my son so you could heal him. He is possessed by an evil spirit that won’t let him talk. 18 And whenever this spirit seizes him, it throws him violently to the ground. Then he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they couldn’t do it.”
19 Jesus said to them, “You faithless people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought the boy. But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father. He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the crowd of onlookers was growing, he rebuked the evil spirit. “Listen, you spirit that makes this boy unable to hear and speak,” he said. “I command you to come out of this child and never enter him again!”
26 Then the spirit screamed and threw the boy into another violent convulsion and left him. The boy appeared to be dead. A murmur ran through the crowd as people said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 Afterward, when Jesus was alone in the house with his disciples, they asked him, “Why couldn’t we cast out that evil spirit?”29 Jesus replied, “This kind can be cast out only by prayer.”
Mark chooses to record this event in the life of Christ sort of like a script. The only thing missing would be the character names leading each line. Mark was inspired to capture and reveal to us all the nature of Creator God living in Christ and the purpose of Redeemer Christ in coming to humanity. First we read of the incidental characters, the father, the disciples, even the boy troubled by an evil spirit. Though the father's plea was genuine enough, the rest who brought the father and the boy to the disciples were merely looking for an incident to challenge this 'messiah' and discredit him. They would even use the pain of this boy and his father to attempt that.
Jesus immediately saw through their purpose but did not want the boy or the dad to suffer any more at their hands so he engaged the father's plea. Next we see a wonderful teacher, again teaching ultimate truth with questions. Who among us would not do as the dad did in asking the question with a conditional clause such as "IF." No one dared to expect such a request ever could be granted, and for one who possessed such power, no one had reason to dare to believe they deserved that he should exercise it just because they asked. So Jesus challenges the faith of the boy's father with a question. The father passed the test. 'Lord I believe (a little) but please help me to believe a lot!' No one looking on believed any better and Jesus challenged them as well.
Then, at his command the evil was driven out of the boy and he was lifted up whole again. No more is made of the 'he-said' 'she-said' crowed any longer. They had been put into their place, and revealed for their unbelief. But the father was rewarded even for the bit of faith he desperately held on to. The disciples were also among those needing further teaching. They had been given power over evil spirits much earlier in the ministry and had been sent out in teams, healing and delivering from evil spirits. But they had failed here, so they wanted to understand why.
Jesus' answer is our answer as well. "This kind can be cast out only by prayer." They were not praying but were exercising their personal authority. They were exercising their granted 'power.' They were motivated, not over concern for the boy but by the ability to heal or cast out a demon. In other words their ministry was motivated by a sense of 'self-importance' instead of obedient humble service. Our lesson in all this story is one we have discussed many times elsewhere in scripture. In the life of the body of Christ, it is always about God and never about ourselves. And prayer is the means for engaging with God, for God's purposes, according to God's plans, in God's time, and through God's power to do His will.