Faith, Prayer and Fasting
Matthew, Chapter 17: 14-21
“And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.’
“Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.’”
Last week we looked at the importance of prophecy in the Bible. Prophecy was used for many reasons, the first and foremost of which was God establishing that He is All Knowing and Ever Present. In so doing, He was able to tell us the past and the future as if they were one and the same, since He can see both. Prophecy was also used to establish that a situation was a God- ordained and God-sent situation. Prophecy authenticated a prophet; he had to be accurate 100% of the time.
God cannot be wrong; therefore, if the prophet is ever wrong, he is not speaking for God.
I encourage you to take the time to study Daniel 11, read it and then get out a good commentary or two and see how accurate that chapter is. God revealed things to Daniel that would happen after Daniel had been in the grave more than 100 years before they happened. In fact, one of the comments about the book of Daniel by Thomas Paine was about how accurate it was—and Paine is an enemy of the Bible. Even God’s enemies cannot get past the power of God’s sight of the future.
Today we will look at a lesson about ‘fasting and prayer’. We will also look at the idea of demon possession. In fact, we will see that Jesus dealt with demons a lot. The disciples also were able to command demons to leave people; and after Jesus left they had encounters with demons.
The question to be asked is how prevalent is demon possession today?
My wife and I had this discussion just yesterday as we drove to an appointment. It would seem to me that some of the issues that we see today in many of the mental institutions may be demon possession. Certainly there are those who are genuinely ill physically. Depression and anxiety were suffered by righteous men as well. Just take a look at the life of Elijah. In 1 Kings 19: 3-5 we see this,
“And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.’ He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, ‘Arise, eat.’”
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah had one of the greatest victories in his ministry, and yet here he is just a chapter later suffering depression. He is tired; he just wants to be alone, and he is tired of the war with evil. He just wants to die. Please God, he asks, kill me. It was more than 40 days before God would get Elijah back in the fight. But he had a serious bout of depression.
He could not be possessed by a demon, as he was a child of God. We know that Light and darkness cannot inhabit the same space. So, as a child of God, Elijah could not be demon- possessed; but nonetheless he suffered depression.
Demons Possession was/is real, verses 14-18
We are clearly told that Jesus rebuked the demon in verse 18, so there is no need for debate. This child was demon possessed. We are not sure how old he was, but he had been possessed for some time. The demon tried to throw him in water and fire often. We find this account repeated for us in Mark 9. In these verses we are told that Jesus asked the Father how long has this been happening, and the Father told him, from childhood. This tells us that children can be demon possessed.
In Mark 5: 1-20 we meet a man who lived amongst the tombs; he could not be bound, not even with chains, and the whole town feared him. When asked by Jesus, he said that his name was “Legion.” A Roman legion of soldiers was compromised of 6,000 men according to www.unrv.com – a website about Roman History. Imagine that in this man lived 6,000 demons. No wonder he was so overpowering! Yet Jesus simply commanded them to come out, and they did so immediately.
The NT is peppered with accounts of demon possession; we find accounts in Matthew 8, 9 and 12; Luke 8 and 13, and Mark 9.
One of the cool things about these demons is that they all knew who Jesus was; they knew He was God and they knew that He was going to judge them. We see that demons were able to speak, move, think, see, know their surroundings, and converse. They are actual living beings called ‘devils’ or ‘demons’ depending on what translation you read. They are not to be confused with the Devil himself; he is the ruler of these demons, and it is he who often took on Jesus.
We are told after the account of Jesus’ temptations in Matthew 4 that Satan left him for a season. This simply means that Satan did not give up all together; he went and came back to deal with Jesus often during His earthly ministry.
Demons are a bit more sophisticated today. I don’t think that the raving lunatics are always the ones who are demon possessed today. Based on their actions and the deliberate nature of how some of our leaders and elected officials have turned their backs on God, I have come to the belief that a lot of these men and women are demon possessed, such is their hatred of God and His ways.
I have also seen many interviews with some of the music- and Hollywood stars who state that they ‘sold their souls to the Devil’ for fame. When one then assesses their work, one can see that there is a deliberate hatred for God and His ways from their sexual behavior to even the way that they disregard the Laws of the land. Many, not all, are heavy drug users, alcoholics and unable to stay out of legal troubles.
Some of the situations that we see with people who are out of control, unable to be tamed and/or constrained, might be that they are possessed.
I have never had a conversation with a demon. There are still some who say that they can cast out demons. I am not sure about that. We are taught in the book of Acts to be careful; the demons know who we are and they know who has power and those who don’t.
In Acts 5:5-8 we see that as Philip was preaching, the people of Samaria believed what he preached; and their demons came out of them. This is a reminder to us that the Holy Spirit and demons will not live inside the same person.
So, when the people believed the message of Jesus, they were redeemed. And immediately, when the Holy Spirit renewed their spirit, the demons moved out. If you want to cast out demons today, share the Gospel and lead people to trust in Jesus. In Acts 19: 11-16 we find this sober reminder,
“Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’
“Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
This is a reminder that the demons understand power and authority; they know who is in charge. These fellows thought that they could mimic the works that Paul did, not understanding that it was God who did it and not the apostle Paul. The demons confronted these seven sons of Sceva and explained that they recognized Jesus’ and Paul’s power but not these fellows. The seven men ended up in a fight with the demons that did not go well for them; they were soundly beaten.
Demons are not to be messed with. Jesus is the only One who has power over them, and they know that. The NT church has been mandated to “preach the Gospel.” This is all the power we need to cast out demons.
Faith Like a Mustard Seed, verse 20
The disciples who would become the apostles could not cast out this particular demon, though they had cast out demons before. In Luke 9: 1-2, Jesus sends out the 12 and gives them power over demons,
“Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”
This happened before the feeding of the 5,000, so they had already been out in the field and had cast out demons. So they were surprised that they could not deal with this one. Jesus rebukes their lack of faith in verse 17,
“O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?”
Then He commands the demon to come out, and it does so immediately.
One of the things that we learn about faith is that it is not a stagnant thing. You are either growing in it or your faith is waning. Faith, like a muscle, must be exercised.
When we begin to read the account of Jesus’ journeys with the disciples in the Gospels, we will see that He was constantly expanding their faith. He deliberately put them in situations that demanded Him to do something ‘supernatural’. He allowed situations to arise that put them at the end of what their abilities were, so that they had the choice to depend on Him or give up. Fortunately, these men all learned to depend on Him; and the 11 went on to transform this world with His power and their obedience.
According to an online food calculator, 1 teaspoon of mustard seed weighs 0.1 ounces. Truly the seed is very small. Yet this is the example of how big our faith needs to be to move mountains.
I can honestly say I am one who needs to have his faith pushed to the limit. I need to be put into situations where I have no hope but in Christ. I am so glad that Jesus is still in the teaching and transforming business; and he does to me, and hopefully to you, what we see Him do with his disciples in the scriptures. He pushes, rebukes and then pushes again. He asks us to step out of our faith in ourselves and abilities and to trust Him. The ‘just’, we are told, must live by faith. God will not permit any less in our walk with Him.
I hate being moved out of my comfort zone – Hey God, this is getting uncomfortable now. I can’t see where I am going to land. I can’t see my safety net and I can’t see the end.
At times, trusting God can be uncomfortable; we try to figure out all the scenarios and look for salvation from one of them. But Jesus then throws a loop, and someone or something that you did not even count on is directed by Him to take care of the situation.
God must take us to places where we have to step out of the faith in self. He must drive us to the end of our resources and make us depend on Him only! If we are able to do it all ourselves, then why have a God at all—furthermore, the All-Powerful One! But since we have an All- Powerful God, it is essential for us to live by faith in His abilities and not ours.
These disciples had a crash course in ‘faith’; they had to learn and experience in a matter of a few year things that take you and I a lifetime to figure out.
What we learn from this account is that God does get annoyed at our lack of faith. In verse 17, an exasperated Jesus asks, “How long shall I bear with you?” He then rebukes them and commands the demon to leave the boy. But not long after that, Jesus is back answering their questions and showing them what they need to do. Jesus may get frustrated, but He will always revert to teaching and encouraging you.
Prayer and Fasting, verse 21
Over the past few months, we as a family and we as a church have begun to understand and do ‘fasting’. We have corporate fasts, and there are individuals that fast throughout the week as well. Some fast all day, some fast from breakfast to dinner, and some fast from things or entertainment. But we have begun to make fasting a regular part of our faith and practice thereof.
We asked for God to grow us as a church. And, like most pastors, the idea of numbers came to mind. But, while God did grow our numbers somewhat, what He did was grow us as His children. He brought in people to challenge us and lead us into this. I can honestly testify that this was not pastor-led, but rather the church members have led; and now they have begun to grow even more in this. God continues to grow us and our outreach from this step of obedience.
Let me be clear that I have not yet begun to cast out demons, and I am not sure if I ever will. But I/we have begun to see the power of prayer and fasting, and we now see it as an essential part of our Christian walk.
Jesus prayed and fasted a lot. The disciples prayed and fasted often, and the early church practiced this as well.
When I was a boy in Barbados, my pastor fasted every Wednesday. I did not do much of it in the majority of my Christian walk, but now I am understanding that part of the maturity that God calls us to is that of learning to fast. What Jesus made clear to these men and to us is that there are some things in life that only prayer and fasting will deal with.
As we approach the End Times— and surely we are closer than ever—the Lord’s churches and surely His people need to be more diligent about prayer and fasting. This is so that we can be spiritually prepared to be discerning and able to have such a relationship with God that He is able to instruct us and teach us.
You and I need Jesus more than any generation before us. There are more false ‘christs’ who have come on the scene, some very well-represented with large congregations. And, as Jesus said, it is very possible for even the elect to be fooled.
Pray, fast and grow.
Sean Gooding, Pastor Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church