Jesus told His disciples that some demons can only be cast out by prayer (Mark 9:29). Why is this? Today, Sinclair Ferguson considers how Christ calls us to absolute dependence on God as we seek to serve Him.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: We’re recording live from Ligonier’s 2022 National Conference. I’m joined by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, one of our teaching fellows here at Ligonier. Dr. Ferguson, why is it that Jesus said some demons can only be cast out by prayer?
DR. SINCLAIR FERGUSON: Well, I think if I remember rightly, the context of this is the three disciples who have been with Jesus being on the Mount of Transfiguration. They come down from that glorious experience, and they find that there’s a boy there who’s been under some deep oppression by the evil one, and the other disciples have not been able to do anything about it. And I think what Jesus is doing in that context when He says this is saying, “I have commissioned you to do this. This is to be your ministry. But you don’t have the power, the authority, to do this simply because I’ve commissioned you to do it. You can only do this through prayerful dependence upon God.” And so, He’s emphasizing to them, I think, the danger of thinking that because God has called you to whatever kind of ministry it is, you are therefore simply by that call enabled to fulfill that ministry, and that you can fulfill that ministry only by constant dependence on the Lord and in prayer to Him.
I think another element of it, although I wouldn’t be as absolutely certain of this as of what I’ve just said . . . You remember towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “There’ll be many coming to me on the last day, expecting entry into the kingdom of heaven and saying, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we do many mighty works in your name? Didn’t we cast out demons in your name?’ ” And Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me. I never knew you” (Matt. 7:22–23). And that does seem to imply a little like in Moses’ day . . . You remember when Moses shows works of power in Pharaoh’s presence, Pharaoh brings these magicians up who can do the same thing? And of course, they’re constantly defeated, but they seem to be able to work the same miracles by their tricks. And I think Jesus is saying there, it would beg a belief what human beings are capable of doing that would seem to be evidences of the presence and power of God and the gospel, but do not be deceived.
And I think there may be a reflection on that here, where Jesus is saying there are some extraordinary abilities that people have. And I think we see this today. I’ve seen people doing things on television that I think, “That would be pretty neat to be able to do that.” And then I remember on one occasion having watched that, the next program in television was a stage hypnotist, and he was doing exactly the same thing as the spiritual leader who was so impressive, and people were in awe of him. And I think in this instance, Jesus is saying people can do pretend things and false things, but for a boy like this in this kind of situation, for lasting deliverance to come, there needs to be absolute dependence upon God. So there’s a particular lesson about the casting out of demons.
And I think there’s the general lesson here that’s applicable to all of us, whatever our gifts are. And maybe I can make this application, Nathan. Sometimes people can be quite forward to those of us who are ministers and say, “Now my gift is, my gift is.” And I think this is a real reminder to us that maybe the Lord Jesus is saying, “Actually, there’s something more important than you thinking that you’ve got a gift. The real question is, are you depending on Me in order to exercise that gift?” So again, it’s a particular situation with, I think, widespread applications to us as Christians.
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