25 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.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
(Mark 9:25-29 NIV)
The backdrop of today’s story began when Jesus arrived on the scene where His disciples had unsuccessfully tried to cast out a demon from a boy. The religious leaders were at the scene, ridiculing the disciples instead of helping them. Jesus speaks with the father of the boy and teaches him a faith lesson before healing the boy.
As we step into our passage today, we see Jesus, the father, and the boy. While the text does not explicitly say they were away from the crowd, it is implied that they are off to the side of the main crowd. As the crowd heard the commotion, they started moving toward Jesus. Jesus quickly cast out the demon to avoid a public spectacle.
Mark comments that after Jesus cast the demon out of the boy, the boy lay silent as though he were dead. Many in the crowd mistook the boy to be dead, but Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up, to show that he was not dead and that he was whole again.
In many exorcisms before, Mark recorded that Jesus simply cast out the demon by commanding it to leave the person. In this instance, Jesus commanded the demon to leave and never come back. Since the demon was hard to remove, Jesus must have known it would try to come back into the boy. The demon was trying to destroy the boy; if its work was unfinished, it would likely try to return and complete its mission.
In verses 28-29, the disciples question Jesus privately about why they were not able to cast the demon out of the boy. They had been able to do so before; Jesus had even commanded them to do so and had given them the power to carry out His command (Mark 3:14-15). What had changed? Jesus’s simple answer was that this type of demon only comes out by prayer.
The implication of Jesus’ statement was that the disciples were not relying on God’s power to cast out this demon; they were relying on their own power. One commentator sums this up well:
“To pray is to totally give the situation over to God, allowing Him to redeem the situation. The disciples were trying to cast out the demon on their own power. Instead, they need to learn to completely depend on God’s power working through them. Jesus confesses that even He can do nothing without the Father.”
(Michael Card, “Mark: The Gospel of Passion” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), p. 120.
So how does this apply to us?
Whatever gifts God gives to us can only be used when we stay in constant contact with Him. These gifts are His, not ours, and are to be used for His glory, not our own.
If we use the gift for our own selfish motives, the supernatural part of the gift is gone, and what remains is a natural ability. When we take a natural talent and exercise it on our own, the joy leaves us, and the talent becomes a performance and not a ministry.
May we stay connected with Christ and prayerfully use His gifts for His glory, not ours. Only then will He supernaturally work in us and through us to bring about change in our lives and the lives of others.