In Matthew 17, we read that a certain man with a demonpossessed son had come to Jesus’ disciples for help, but when they could not cast out the evil spirits, they asked Jesus why they had been so unsuccessful. He said to them, “…Because of your unbelief ” (v. 20). This is a very clear and precise explanation that Jesus reiterated by going on to say, “…For verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (v. 20). The simplicity and clarity of this statement is often overshadowed by confusion at the next words out of Jesus’ mouth: “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (v. 21).
It almost sounds as if Jesus had contradicted Himself. When asked why the disciples had not been able to exorcize the demon, He said it was because of unbelief. But now He seems to be saying that it is because they had not fasted and prayed enough. Which is it? The confusion comes when we fail to realize the moral of the story.
At first glance, it may appear that the demon is the focal point of this account, but a closer look will reveal that the real antagonist in this story is not the demon, but the spirit of unbelief. The disciples were concerned about the demon inside the boy, but Jesus was concerned about the unbelief inside His disciples. The disciples’ question was about casting out demons, but Jesus’ answer was about casting out doubt, because Jesus knew that once unbelief has been cast out, exorcizing demons would
be a piece of cake.
Sometimes we have to pray long prayers and fast for many days before we get the victory, but it is not because our appeals coerce God into doing something, twisting His arm through many words. And it is not because we have finally earned the answer to our prayers by logging enough credit hours into our spiritual bank account.
Much fasting and prayer may be necessary and useful in helping us to get the victory over our own stubborn flesh and cast out the spirit of unbelief that blocks God’s power from flowing through us. It is this kind of UNBELIEF that goes out “but by prayer and fasting.” Any way you look at
it, faith is the key to powerful prayer. This is the point that Jesus made in this story.
Casting Out Unbelief
"But when the crowd had been sent out, He entered and took her by the hand, and the girl got up." Matt. 9:25 nasb
In Matthew 9:25, when Jairus’ daughter had died, Jesus had to send everyone out of the room before He could raise her from the dead. Why didn’t He allow all those scorning skeptics to see the miracle with their own eyes? Because He had to cast the unbelief out.
Peter did the same thing in Acts 9:40 nasb: “But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, ‘Tabitha, arise.’ And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.” Jesus taught His disciples a lesson: Cast the spirit of unbelief out and nothing will be able to stand against you; demons, death, and even the most formidable mountains will obey your command.