Life of Christ 89
Yesterday, Peter, James, and John walked up Mount Hermon toward a date with destiny. They got to see Jesus, unveiled of His flesh, transfigured in glory before them. Today, as they come back down the mountain they see a crowd of people gathered around the other nine Apostles (Mark 9.14-29). It turns out that a man in the area was father to a son possessed of a devil. This man brought his son to Jesus for healing, but He was away up on the mountain. The remaining Apostles took it upon themselves to cast out the devil, and they failed miserably.
The Jews of Jesus' day had a wide variety of quack cures for demonism. Josephus says that Solomon advised placing a certain root in the nose of the afflicted and that the demon leaving was proven when a pot of water placed nearby overturned. In a sense, the Jews viewed the casting out of a demon as a kind of magic. Most magic was forbidden them, though they believed some people practiced it, having learned it in Egypt. In fact, the Talmud written post-Jesus would credit His miraculous powers to a magic He had learned in Egypt as a young boy. Apparently He had written the formulas for it underneath His skin so as to be able to smuggle it back out of Egypt safely. So it was, that in Jesus' day, magical amulets and incantations were believed capable of controlling demons, such as this particular gem quoted by Edersheim, supposedly said in order to protect yourself when dealing with a witch:
Hot filth into your mouths from baskets with holes, ye witching women! Let your head become bald, and the wind scatter your breadcrumbs. Let it carry away your spices, let the fresh saffron which you carry in your hands be scattered. Ye witches, so long as I had grace and was careful, I did not come among you, and now I have come, and you are not favorable to me.
I can imagine that the young man's father had tried all of these, and more, and viewed Jesus and His group as just another in a long line of desperate attempts. Thus it is that Jesus so carefully sought to establish the facts of the father's genuine faith in Himself before healing the boy. Remember, He isn't doing miracles to authenticate Himself anymore, but He is still doing miracles of compassion – but He must needs find belief. 'Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth' (Mark 9.23). The father gives a completely honest answer, and one which has comforted my heart more times than I can count, since I have shared its sentiments so completely, 'And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief' (Mark 9.24).
Fasting is a lost art in American Christianity. For some reason, either through laziness, lack of self-discipline, or a misplaced sense that it belongs in the Old Testament we have largely placed it on the shelf. But to Jesus, fasting was normal and expected. He said, in the greatest of all sermons, 'when ye fast' (Matthew 6.16), not 'if ye fast'. He said that His own disciples didn't fast because He was still with them but after He left His disciples would fast (Matthew 9.15). Fasting was modeled by the early Church (Acts 14.23).
I'm not of the opinion that fasting gets you any more of God's attention. His attention, after all, isn't wandering. But it does give you more time to pray, and it does get your own attention. I am one of those guys who just likes to eat, and I freely admit it. Because of that, when I fast, every time I notice food, or feel a hunger pang, which both happen frequently, I am reminded again to ask the Lord for the request on my heart.
I think the best passage in the Bible about fasting is Isaiah 58. In it, Isaiah goes through a lengthy list of blessings and benefits that come to us when we fast. I would encourage you to spend some time studying it while preparing to fast, or during a fast.
I don't believe that God is up in Heaven laughing at your feeble prayers, and demanding that you pray harder, but I do believe in satanic opposition, and I do believe that God doesn't give away big things lightly. Hence, when you want to get one of those big things, and your requests don't seem to be getting anywhere, perhaps you ought to come back to Mark 9 and ask, with the Apostles, 'Why could not we cast him out?' The answer will still be the same. 'This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.'