In this section a man came to Jesus seeking for his son to be healed. The boy was demon possessed and suffered often from the influence of the demon. The man had already made this request of the disciples, but they were unable to cast the demon out. Jesus says the demon could not be removed because it was of a particular type and because of the little faith. But whether it was the little faith of the disciples or the father is unclear. We see then that the power of prayer needed to come into play in this particular exorcism.
The detail of this event needs expansion, as the description here in Matthew does not provide the full evidence of the issues at hand. In the version of this event in Mark 9:14-29 we gain some additional insight. First we see that the father is lacking in faith, for he says, “…if you can do anything, have pity on us.” (Vs. 22) Jesus focuses on this statement saying, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” (Vs. 23) The father then cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Vs. 24)
So we see in this section that the father of the child doubted whether anything could be done for his child. He brought the boy to the disciples in desperation, but without sufficient faith that he would be healed until Jesus set him straight.
We then see also the disciples come to Jesus privately after the healing to ask why they could not cast the demon out. Jesus responds that, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Vs. 29 and some manuscripts suggest fasting also is required). Back in the Matthew version, verse 21 is included in some of the original manuscripts, but not all and as such is included as a footnote only in most modern translations. It too suggests that this kind of demon is removed only by prayer and fasting.
Now it is evident from this that there are different kinds of demons, some more persistent than others. That is also evident when we see that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is, “… the ability to distinguish between spirits.” (1 Corinthians 12:10) When Jesus walked the earth there was no issue with removing any kind of demon. Jesus gave the authority to the disciples to remove demons, but at that time we must remember they had not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit and so could not distinguish between demons. They were still being trained by the Lord on how to deal with matters of the spirit and their faith was not yet strong.
Even though the disciples had the authority to cast out demons, because of their lack of faith and this particular type of demon, they were unable to cast it out. But there is a lesson for us in this that applies to any situation, not just casting out demons. There is a message of faith and the power of prayer. Jesus showed the disciples that when we are unable to do anything ourselves, we need to use the power of prayer. We need to appeal to God himself through prayer. For even though we may be powerless over a situation, God is not. There is nothing he cannot do, and nothing he will not do is we ask in faith, including casting out stubborn demons.
If we have faith all things are possible. As Jesus said in a similar situation in Mark 11:22-24,
22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
So it is through faith in God and by asking in prayer with no doubting that our needs will be met. This was the method that Jesus was teaching to the disciples and which holds true today as well. James also attested to this matter saying, “…the prayer of faith will save the sick man.” (James 5:15) We will do well to remember this in our own times of need. To hold firm to our faith and to put all of our issues and matters before God in prayer, for there is nothing he cannot or will not do if we ask him.