Review and Reflect on Mark 9:30-50 (Gospel-Centered Greatness, Part 4)

Jesus points us to the cross to gain proper perspective of greatness. He lays out the path to greatness before us in terms of humility and service. He also teaches that greatness is diverse, being found in different places and in different people. But there is something that hinders us from becoming great. Something that corrupts our desire to be great in God’s eyes and makes us desire to be great in our own eyes. The obstacle to greatness demands a serious response, and Jesus describes this response in Mark 9:42-50.

Here we have strong and confusing words from Jesus. I think it’s best to understand this passage as a parable in the context of Jesus teaching his disciples about greatness. Of course Jesus doesn’t literally mean that we are to maim ourselves. This would go against so much of what he teaches elsewhere about the role of the heart rather than mere external adherence to religious standards. Jesus teaches here that following him means forsaking this world’s understanding of what is great, and also forsaking the things that prevent us from living like people who belong in the Kingdom. In verse 42, Jesus has strong words for someone who would lead children or those who are easily influenced into sin. This passage builds on the previous verses in the overall context of Mark 9:30-50. Those who work in Jesus’ name will have their reward, but if they falsely proclaim Jesus and lead people into sin, their judgment awaits them.

When we consider some of the most horrifying things that we hear about on the news, verses like this give us confidence in the justice of God. But very quickly, Jesus moves to individual application in verses 43 and following. His instruction is that his followers would take serious action regarding our sin. Sin will hinder us from becoming great in the Kingdom of God. Sin hinders us because sin is regarding ourselves not just as important, but as the most important person. So, Jesus gives this parable on how his followers are to purify themselves. Some things must be destroyed so that the more important things can be preserved. This is how salt fits into the context. Salt played an important part in the preservation of food in our world until only recent history. Jesus is saying that purification and preservation are required to enter the Kingdom of God. Drastic measures should be taken to remove the obstacle of sin in our lives so that we might be pure and holy citizens of God’s Kingdom.

Our main obstacle to becoming truly great is our own sinfulness. This applies to those who have already risen to status in life and it applies to those who have very little status in this life. Our own sinfulness twists our desire for greatness and makes it self-centered not others-centered. Our sinfulness causes us to desire wealth, fame, influence for our own pleasure rather than to leverage for the weak, innocent, and downcast. For some, it causes us to avoid becoming great and instead becoming lazy. For others, it causes us to strive for a greatness at all costs leaving chaos in our wake.

The worst part about it is there is nothing we can do to overcome our sinfulness, we need someone to help us out of it. We can’t become great in the Kingdom of God without dealing with our sin and we can’t deal with our sin alone. This is why Jesus has come. His purpose was not to make his followers great in this world, but in the world to come. He subverts the world’s understanding of become great, what someone who is great does, and what hinders greatness. Our sin calls for a serious response. God responded to it by sending his son to pay the penalty for it. God calls us to respond to our sin with repentance. Rather than becoming great, our sin will destroy us, but God makes a way for us to be preserved. Though he is the great King of heaven and earth he humbled himself and went to the cross. He was destroyed for our sin and by our sin, in our place, so that we could be preserved and have life in God’s eternal Kingdom.

God calls us today to believe in this, to embrace what he has done for us, and to align our lives in repentance with him. We will only achieve greatness properly when we understand it in terms of the Gospel: A Gospel-Centered Greatness. We all need to consider who Jesus is and what he has done and how we have responded in our hearts and in our actions. He is the Great King, and he makes a way for us to be great in his Kingdom by believing that he has come and aligning our lives accordingly.

Acknowledgments and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:30-50 (Gospel-Centered Greatness, Part 3)

Jesus uses the cross to frame our perspective of greatness. He teaches that the path to greatness is humility and service. He also teaches that Gospel-Centered Greatness is seen in different places and in different ways. He teaches that there is diversity in greatness. In Mark 9:14-29, the disciples tried to cast a demon out of a boy and they failed because they tried to do it without relying properly upon God through prayer. Well, it seems that since then, they have stumbled upon a guy who was doing this successfully, and believe it or not, this guy wasn’t one of the 12 disciples. There is an “outsider” succeeded where the disciples previously failed, so they naturally reject him. This little story in Mark 9:38-41 continues Jesus’ teaching on greatness from the previous passage. Here he teaches that there is and will be diversity among those he deems great in the Kingdom of God. There will be people we never expected that Jesus will say are great. And, there will be others we knew were great and Jesus will have no place for them in the Kingdom of God. The disciples’ status in the Kingdom is not contingent upon what they do better than other people. Verse 41 does limit this diversity though. The phrase “because you belong to Christ” is very important. This other man was working in Jesus’ name and performing miracles. Jesus says that those who identify with him are on his team, even if they are not one of the 12 disciples. He broadens this understanding in verse 41 to any who receive someone who belongs to Jesus on the basis of that alone.

In other words, he has just told his disciples to receive people of insignificant social status like and including children, and here he says that those who do this will be rewarded accordingly. Those who have believed in Jesus and repented will live this way and will receive the reward of entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God even if they didn’t begin their ministry with the 12 disciples.

To bring this forward to our day, I think we can simply say that there are churches that do things different from we do, and with some of those things we may disagree for good reason. But, if they have believed in Jesus as the King and aligned their lives accordingly, they are not working against God’s purposes. There are those who falsely understand Jesus and they can bring great harm. There is a story in Acts 19 where a man is using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and harm is brought. But, those who truly follow and proclaim the Gospel are included in the Kingdom and it is not our place to qualify their status. We have no biblical grounds to say we are greater than them and in fact, whether or not we are great in God’s eyes, has little to do with them, but only if we are obeying the Gospel. Our duty then, is to be sure that we are practicing the Gospel with humility and this is what he is calling his followers to in this passage as well. We are not called to critique other churches or Christians, but we should continually check our own hearts.

Greatness doesn’t come to us through critiquing others. There are enough obstacles to following Jesus within ourselves, we don’t need to concern ourselves with what others may or may not be saying and doing. Other people who are working in Jesus’ name will not hinder us from becoming great if we understand greatness the way Jesus is teaching it. The greatest obstacle to becoming great isn’t other people, but the sin that resides in our own hearts. We like being viewed a certain way, or living at a certain status, or having certain things and these can be obstacles for us if we are not careful. Pursuing the cross and humbly serving those who are undervalued in our world is what Jesus means when he speaks of greatness.

Acknowledgments and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:30-50 (Gospel-Centered Greatness, Part 2)

In Jesus’ teaching about a Gospel-Centered Greatness, we saw that his teaching gives us perspective for defining greatness. Any greatness me might pursue or achieve must be understood in reference to the cross of our King who died for us. He also teaches the proper way to achieve greatness. He lays before his followers a new path to greatness in Mark 9:33-37. Jesus’ disciples haven’t figured out what Jesus means when he says he is going to die and rise again. This confuses them, because their understanding of Messiah makes them expect Jesus to overthrow the oppressive Roman government and establish his own. This would get them in on the ground level of this new regime and they would be able to have very important governing positions. They would be great! They would have power, wealth, and influence. But, in complete contradiction to their understanding, Jesus tells his followers the proper way to aspire to being great is not by asserting oneself, but by serving others. In the Kingdom of God, the path to greatness is through humility and servanthood. The disciples didn’t understand the path to greatness was a cross and they were afraid to ask him about it, so Jesus describes for them the proper way to aspire to being great. He makes the Gospel applicable for their daily life. He says, you want to get practical? Humble yourselves and serve.

Greatness in our world is related to status. The way to become great in our world is to be better at what you do than other people. The way we can become great is by influence, or by leadership. You can become great through notoriety or fame. And the path to greatness is whatever will obtain you that status whether it’s right or not. But Jesus says, the way to become great in his eyes is to serve others in our world who don’t have that kind of status.

Everybody works for somebody, and most people have jobs that simply aren’t that glorious. Jesus says those who serve may not have high status in our world, but in the Kingdom of God the greatest ones are the servants. Then he gives his disciples an example in verses 36-37. He places a child in front of them. This seems like an odd thing to do when you are talking about being great. Think of someone you know who is great, who has achieved a high social status and has influence. Do you have that person in mind? Now I would almost guarantee that person is not a child. But in teaching his followers about greatness, Jesus sets a child before them. A child represents the lowest order in the social scale. A child is under authority and under the care of others. In terms of status, a child has none. A child may have a guardian or even belong to the state, but he or she has no rights or status themselves. Jesus sets a child before his followers to teach them about greatness.

Does anyone have authority or power which is not delegated by our sovereign God and Father? Does anyone ultimately have control over his or her own life or security? We love to think in terms of individuality and personal achievement, but God is sovereign over our lives. He numbers our days and determines whether or not the rain will fall. Jesus shows that the difference in our status and the status of a child is only in our minds, not in reality. In reality, we are all dependent, we are all under authority. We are all dependent upon God for sustaining our lives, similar to how a child is dependent upon his or her parents for providing and protecting them. And Jesus says, receiving a child is the same as receiving him. To receive a child is to reverse the conventional value-scale by making the unimportant important. Jesus says if you receive children who are my representatives, you have received me.

In this context, to “receive” is to treat someone as significant rather than ignoring or suppressing them. Jesus uses a child as an example, but it is certainly broader than this. In our culture children are often viewed as either an inconvenience, a new chance at accomplishing the greatness we could never achieve, or a fashion accessory that makes us look good. Christians are supposed to value children as the blessing of God, and accept the responsibility for their training in godliness. People in our workplaces and neighborhoods who are ignored or marginalized are people who Christians are supposed to receive. The insignificant and weak are representative of Jesus to us. Those we naturally push away represent Jesus to us. When we humble ourselves, recognizing our status before God, and welcome these types of people, we have learned how the Gospel works in our daily lives. Our world says we network with the influential to become great. Jesus says we serve the insignificant to become great. Our world says we obtain wealth or influence to become great. Jesus says we become servants for the weak to become great.

In our hearts, we know this is true. The Holy Spirit confirms this within us. But practicing this in daily living is so difficult. Kids are cute and amusing until they get tired, or hungry, or stinky. Loving some people is difficult and requires a lot from us with little return. It’s a good idea, but unless we do it, it remains an idea. Jesus says, when you receive them, you receive me. This is the path to greatness in his eyes.

Acknowledgments and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:30-50 (Gospel-Centered Greatness, Part 1)

In Mark 9:30-50, Jesus redefines what it means to be great. Jesus gives us an understanding of Gospel-Centered Greatness. If a person is achieves greatness it means that they have in some way proven themselves superior to others. A great person has achieved a level of wealth, fame, or influence. Greatness isn’t a description we give ourselves, but one others give us. Kenny Rogers had a song in 1999 called “The Greatest“. There is a business book that has been a phenomenal success in the church leadership subculture called “Good to Great“. But, for those of us who are simply trying to love Jesus and other people, we need to understand greatness in Jesus’ terms. Many poeople are more worried about just making it through this life, rather than being great. But that’s the funny thing about the life God gives us in Jesus. We either think to highly of ourselves with pride and arrogance, or we thing to low of our selves forgetting we are created in God’s image and that we are being renewed and restored in that image if we are in Christ. For those of us who are trying to just get through life, Jesus gives us something more than survival; there is a way you can be great in the Kingdom of God. For those who are too arrogant about the status we may have been able to achieve, Jesus redefines greatness so we ought to be careful in our assessment of ourselves. Greatness isn’t something we give ourselves, it’s something others recognize. We can avoid greatness or we can strive for it improperly, but Jesus took an occasion with his disciples to explain how it works in our lives in Mark 9:30-50.

First of all, in verses 30-32 Jesus’ teaching give us perspective for defining greatness. At the end of chapter 8, Jesus told his disciples and a crowd of people if anyone was going to follow him they had to deny themselves and take up their cross. These three verses are a reminder of the nature of what it means to follow Jesus. Here Jesus speaks again about the way in which he is going to rescue Israel, he is going to do it through being rejected and dying, and then rising from the dead. But verse 32 says they still didn’t understand what he was talking about and in spite of their lack of understanding, they didn’t ask him to explain it because they were afraid. Jesus teaches us in chapter 8, here, and in many other places, that greatness is not framed by wealth or success or things this world offers that will not last. We must understand what it means to be great in reference to the Kingdom of God and the work of Jesus. Just because we think ourselves great, doesn’t mean it’s so in the Kingdom of God. Just because we think we could never be great, doesn’t mean it’s so in the Kingdom of God. The Cross enlightens our understanding of what is great. A definition or an understanding of greatness that has not been framed by the Cross of our Lord is a false greatness that is merely temporary. Jesus shows that there are much more important things than our status in this life, and he shows us this by going to the cross himself. He is the King of heaven and earth, yet he humbles himself on a cross. No one is of higher status, yet he humbles himself to the lowest status. And if the King humbles himself, then our understanding of being great ourselves needs to be adjusted.

If you want to be great in the eyes of your King, then be great in reference to the cross. This means our goals and pursuits in this life must be integrated with a thorough understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our careers, our families, our church, and our own personal aspirations should be guided by Jesus and should have the ultimate goal of honoring Jesus. However high our status might be in this life, it should bring us to humility when we consider the status of our King who humbled himself. And however low our status might be in this life, we find hope in our King who endured a cross to prove his devotion to us. The cross of our Lord frames our pursuit of greatness.

Acknowledgments and Sources.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:14-29 (Part 2)

The disciples have witnessed this whole scene and naturally they wonder why they were unable to heal the boy. So they ask Jesus about it in Mark 9:28-29. After the disciples’ failure, they see how this father responds to Jesus in faith, and they wonder why they couldn’t perform the miracle. So Jesus gives them a lesson in discipleship. He teaches them that if they are going to do what he has called them to do, they have to pray. There are going to be times when they can’t just coast. There are going to be times when they are going to have to fall on their face before God. There are going to be obstacles before them that they won’t be able to overcome unless they pray. He shows them that their failure to pray is failure to exercise faith. Prayer is the action brought about by faith. A person who practices faith in Jesus prays. It is a demonstration of dependence upon God rather than ourselves. The reason they failed to perform the work of healing the boy is found in their prayerlessness and faithlessness, not in Jesus’ power. Jesus’ followers will fail, but he won’t. Jesus was willing and able to heal the boy, but when his disciples attempted it in their own power, without relying on God, they failed. If we are going to be involved in the work God is doing in our lives, our church, our homes, our community, and our world, one essential way we involve ourselves is through prayer. If we fail to pray, we fail.

There is a great book called “the Autobiography of George Muller”. He entered into ministry in a round-about way and pastored a small church in England. He was moved to start an orphanage that had only a handful of children. By the end of his life, he oversaw the care of over 1000 orphans. Many times in his morning prayers he would ask God for the food or the rent that was needed that day, and as he rose from praying, a knock would come at the door and a person would be there to provide the need. He would pray for a precise amount of money to pay the rent, or for that day’s food for the children, and it was provided over and over. He put himself in a position where God had to come through for him and over and over he did. He didn’t strategize or market or fundraise or network. He prayed and God moved. If you struggle to trust God with your needs pick up this book. Reading it will encourage you greatly.

Everyone recommends prayer, but few devote themselves to prayer. MC Hammer sang, “You’ve got to pray just to make it today.” Even Justin Bieber has a song called “Pray“. But, we don’t take time to pray because we don’t believe that God would move if we asked him. We don’t pray because we don’t believe it works. So, we work harder, or we worry and we place everything on our own shoulders which cannot bear the weight. We rush quickly to worrying, and stressing, and complaining, and griping, but when it comes to prayer all we say is, “All we can do now is pray”. Jesus showed us a life of prayer and in this passage he is teaching his followers about it. This is crucial to learn for our personal walk with the Lord.

If you want God to move in your life, or your home, or in our church, it begins and ends with prayer. If you want to be part of something great that God is doing it begins and ends with prayer. If you want to see someone in your life follow Jesus, it begins and ends with prayer. If you want God to set your life right, it begins and ends with prayer. Remember Jesus says that the proper response the Kingdom of God coming is belief and repentance. Prayer is one way we demonstrate belief and repentance. If you want God to move in your life, you have to believe in who he is and what he says, and you have to align your life accordingly. And this gives us plenty to pray about. So whatever it is that you see in your life that needs the hand of God to touch it, turn to him in prayer. If you’re tired of doing life your way because it isn’t working out like you expected, turn to him in prayer. If you want to be part of the great and eternal plan of God and what he is doing in redeeming and restoring his creation, it begins in prayer.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:14-29 (Part 1)

We are going to look at  Mark 9:14-29 in two posts today and tomorrow. This story highlights an important aspect of what it means to be followers of Jesus. People will not always, but will inevitably fall below your expectations of them and fail you. So, we shouldn’t let other people’s sinfulness cloud our trust in Jesus’ faithfulness. In other words, because Jesus’ followers fail, it doesn’t mean he fails. The first thing this passage teaches us is that Jesus’ followers eventually and inevitable fail, but he remains faithful.

The failure of Jesus’ followers is evident in the disciples’ inability to heal the young boy. In the previous passage, Jesus was transfigured or transformed before John, James, and Peter. And like Moses coming down from the mountain having been with God in Exodus 34, the people are in awe when they see Jesus approach. The crowd of people has been arguing about something related to healing a man’s son and the disciples’ failure to heal him. Whatever the argument was about, Jesus approaches to see his disciples in an argument with the scribes. Seeing the disciples’ failure, the argument with the scribes, the boy who needs healed, and the exasperated father, Jesus has had enough. He calls them a “faithless generation”. They didn’t understand how God was working in Jesus, nor were they demonstrating faith in Jesus’ authority. His remarks in verse 19 “how long am I to be with you?” and “how long am I to bear with you?” are probably best understood as expressions or figures of speech. Something similar to saying “AH, you’re killing me!” or “You are driving me crazy!” Jesus is at a point of frustration with his disciples, the scribes, and the crowds because they simply don’t understand either who he is or what he has come to do, or both.

But even with such frustration and the failure of his disciples, Jesus doesn’t abandon his work. He says at the end of verse 19, “bring him to me”, referring to boy who needed help. Jesus’ work wasn’t dependent on his disciples’ ability to move the ministry forward. In another place, we read Jesus saying “I will build my church”. On that day, and even in our day, God has a great plan that he is working. His desire is for us to join him in it and see the great and mighty things that he is doing. But if we fail to act in faith or if we fail to understand how he is working, it will not thwart his plan. God is calling us to join him in knowing and practicing the Gospel, but if we fail to follow him, the harm is brought to us, not to him or his plan. God is calling us as individuals and as a church to bring the Gospel to our community. His plan will be accomplished with or without us. We need to align our lives with his will through repentance, and follow him in faith and we will see what he might accomplish through our lives and the church. Jesus was going to bring healing to this boy, but he desired to do it through his disciples. When they failed to heal him because of their lack of faith, Jesus still brought healing to the boy.

After the disciple’s failure, the next thing we see in this passage is this father’s wavering faith. This father believed that Jesus had the authority to heal his son, so he brought him to the disciples. But because of their failure to heal him, his faith was weakened, it became an insecure faith. After the disciples’ failure, the man is hesitant to trust in Jesus’ ability to help him. He says in verse 22, “if you can do anything have compassion on us and help us.” This man didn’t see Jesus feed the 5000 or walk on the water, but his disciples’ did. Jesus had demonstrated his compassion in many, many ways and he has helped countless people. But this man didn’t see any of those things, all he saw was Jesus’ disciples fail to heal his son. So Jesus calls this man to a deeper faith. Jesus says, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes!” Jesus calls this man to genuine and deep faith in spite of the disciples’ failure to demonstrate that faith.

If you have seen a Christian demonstrate a lack of faith, it may have damaged your faith. We know that no one is perfect in our heads, but when others fail us, or fail to live up to the expectations we’ve placed upon them, it can damage our understanding of who God is or his love for us. We are still offended or shaken with we people fail us. There seems to be news stories all the time about a pastor that has embezzled money, or been unfaithful to his wife, or as recent as this week a pastor of a 30,000 member church was arrested and charged for allegedly hitting and choking his daughter. People see these things and it stokes the natural desire of their consciences and they are used as excuses to reject Jesus. But Jesus didn’t call this man to put his faith in his followers, nor does he call us to do that today. When a religious figure in your life fails or falls it can be tragic, but part of what causes people to lose faith is that they’ve spent more time and effort to follow that person than following Jesus. The church provides us with a context where we can have people who lead us in the faith, and who demonstrate life in Christ, but we have to understand that our faith was never supposed to rest in the ability of Jesus’ disciples, but in Jesus himself. Jesus’ followers will eventually and inevitably fail you, but Jesus will never fail you. We aren’t just imperfect, we are sinful. So we should strive to be examples to one another in faith and godliness, but more than this we should encourage one another to continually look to Jesus so that our faith will not waver because of another person’s sin.

In this story, this man had hoped the disciples could heal his son, and when they failed, his faith was shaken. So, Jesus calls this man to a deeper faith. And Jesus called him and he calls us today: to fully place our faith in him. And the man responds to the call by proclaiming “I believe, help my unbelief!” This is a prayer that I have prayed many times. It is the cry of a heart that wants to follow the Lord, but there is doubt, or problems, or circumstances that seem to be working against every attempt to follow. We know Jesus won’t fail us, but we are afraid to find out.

Look how Jesus responds in verses 25-27. He casts the demon out of the boy, who is killed in the process of the exorcism. Remember the story of Jairus’ daughter? They thought she was dead too. This passage uses the exact same wording as 5:41. Jesus takes him by the  and, lifting him up, and the boy came back to life. You may have many things that are holding you back from believing. You may have questions about why things have happened the way they have in your life. You may wonder what will happen if you decide to follow Jesus, and what that might mean for your life. You may only half-believe and you know in your heart that if you followed Jesus whole-heartedly it might wreck your life, but you also know it would wreck it in a good way. Today you need to cry out like this man did saying, “I believe, help my unbelief”. Jesus will call you to a deeper place. He will call you to a deeper faith. Don’t be afraid to follow him there.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:2-13

Let’s read Mark 9:2-13.

There is great significance to Jesus going to a mountain. This is part of what it means when he says the Time is fulfilled and God’s Kingdom has come. In Exodus 33 God meets with Moses on Mount Sinai. Moses asks to see his face, but he refuses because it would have killed Moses. Instead, God speaks to him out of a cloud. He allowed his glory to pass by Moses while he hid him and even though Moses only saw the remnant of God’s glory, his face shined brilliantly so the people were amazed by it.

In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is hidden in a cave on the same mountain Moses stood on and God passes by him. There was wind, then an earthquake, then fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. Then, there was a quiet whisper, and this was the voice of the Lord. Elijah was the prophet that was taken up into heaven in whirlwind with Chariots of Fire later in 2 Kings 2.

Mark paints this picture for us centuries later: there’s a mountain, a voice out of the cloud, and Moses and Elijah are even there. If you take the time to read those stories you will see that both Moses and Elijah were hidden so that they wouldn’t see God’s face. Moses was hidden in the cleft of a rock, and Elijah was hidden in a cave. But when Jesus takes his disciples up on the Mountain, he doesn’t hide. Instead, he is transfigured. There’s a metamorphosis. A transformation. Verse 3 describes this other-worldliness about Jesus’ clothes because they are so bright white. And Elijah and Moses are with him and they are talking to each other. The presence of Elijah and Moses in verse 4 points the disciples and those who read this story to the Messianic age where God dwells with his people. Both Moses and Elijah met with God on Mount Sinai and now Jesus meets with them on a Mountain.

This scene is meant to portray the place of Jesus in the plan of God, fulfilling a dual role of Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah. This story unites two expectations which were alive in 1st century Judaism: the coming of the end-time prophet which is like Moses and the appearing of Elijah at the dawning of the end-times. Malachi 4:4-5 says that Elijah would return before the Day of the Lord, when God will appear and make everything right and he includes Moses in the context of this prophecy. It was passages like this that fueled the Messianic expectations of the Jewish people in the time surrounding when Jesus lived on earth. They expected a great teacher like Moses and a great prophet like Elijah in the form of a military leader like David. The disciples see Jesus standing there with Elijah and Moses and they realize that their assessment of Jesus as the Messiah was correct. But, rather than teaching about the role that Elijah and Moses would play in God’s judgment on the nations, God’s deliverance and restoration of Israel, and God’s ruling over his people himself, this is a picture of the roles of Moses and Elijah being fulfilled in Jesus.

Some of the literature that is found from the in-between period of the Old Testament and New Testament fueled these Messianic expectations, but they never foresaw anyone like Jesus coming. God wasn’t going to send Moses or Elijah, he was going to send someone with a much higher authority. He was going to send his Son.

This is another way of displaying that in Jesus, the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom has come. HE is like Moses and Elijah but greater, he is God’s son. This is the point of this passage. All of the prophetic and cultural expectations of the Messiah, and the roles of Moses and Elijah in God’s final act in history are summed up in Jesus. This scene is another way that Jesus depicts the Time being fulfilled and God’s Kingdom coming.

In verses 5-6, Peter is so scared he starts talking and suggests that places of worship be built to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter is so terrified, he has to do something so he suggests constructing some tent or building for worship. Verse 7 seems to interrupt Peter’s babbling. A cloud envelopes the mountain just like in the times of Moses and Elijah and a voice booms from it. “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” The disciples can stop waiting for a Messiah like Moses and Elijah, because the Son has come. This is an echo back to his baptism and a mark of the change in Jesus’ ministry. The Father speaks about his son when Jesus begins his ministry and now the Father speaks about his son as he goes to the end of his ministry. Verse 8 says this whole experience ended abruptly. Then just like that, everything went back to normal.

You can imagine the questions going through the three disciples’ heads: What was that all about?! But before they can ask him, and before he explains it, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the son of man rises from the dead”. Just as Jesus has told them to be quiet about saying he is the Christ, he tells them to be quiet here. If they told even the remaining 9 disciples or anyone else, it would no doubt fuel the misdirected misunderstanding of Messiah that were popular in their day. Remember that Jesus had said in verse 1 that some would see the Kingdom of God come in power, well, before the resurrection, James, John, and Peter have had a glimpse of it. But Jesus says, not to say anything about it until everyone gets a chance to see it when he is resurrected.

It’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that will calibrate the disciples understanding of Messiah, and Jesus tells them to wait until then. He refers to himself as “Son of Man” in 8:31 and also here in 9:1. This was a title from Daniel 7 which speaks to God’s vindication of his people through a coming ruler. Jesus had referred to himself in this manner before, but now the disciples have a new understanding of who the Son of Man is. After Jesus tells them to be quiet about what they have seen until he rises from the dead, in verse 10 the three disciples begin to ask one another questions about what Jesus might have meant when he referred to rising from the dead. The disciples still haven’t realized all that was going to take place.

They do know that they have just seen Elijah though, and that meant that Malachi’s words were coming true before their eyes. They were about to witness the “Great and awesome day of the Lord”. They were having trouble putting all of these pieces together, so they ask Jesus about Elijah’s coming in verse 11. Jesus’ explanation is not what they would have expected in verses 12-13. He says Elijah has come and the Elijah that was on the mountain is not the one to which he is referring. John the Baptist has already come fulfilling the Role of Elijah. He worked to restore all things through preaching a message of repentance calling the people of Israel to rightly align their lives. But the puppet king, Herod, had him arrested and later on killed. Jesus says, that this “Elijah” preceded him in ministry and in death, preparing the way. Elijah was the herald of not only the Lord’s coming, but his execution. Jesus again is teaching his disciples that the Kingdom coming has nothing to do with rebellion or military action. But it has everything to do with suffering and dying, and then finally rising. And Jesus will accomplish exactly that. He will be rejected, he will suffer, he will die, and then he will rise. This is how the Kingdom of God will come in power. But it is going to take some time before the disciples can understand this.

We are not so different from the first disciples. They were significantly influenced by their cultural understanding of God and the nature of the Messiah. We are naïve if we think we are not. So it requires vigilance and devotion to the word of God to guard against being led astray by false beliefs. If you remember previously in Mark, some thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah or another prophet. On the mountain as Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, the scene would have spoken vividly to the disciples that he was not a reincarnation, but a new and distinct person from them and possessed a greater authority than they ever did or would. Our culture is going to tell us things like all religions are essentially the same. It will tell us that one idea about God is as good as any other. But Jesus spends much of his ministry explaining through teaching and action the difference between the culture’s understanding of God and the truth. His chief lessons are depicted in the cross and in the empty tomb. And he says following him will cause our lives to look very similar in their death to ourselves and our promised resurrection. We all need the Lord to calibrate our theologies. We all need the Holy Spirit to lead us into true and give us grace to understand how his word integrates into our lives.

Jesus shows his disciples a glimpse of the glory he is withholding and it terrifies them. The time will come when they will see him suffer and die and they will again be terrified. But when they see Jesus risen, they are no longer terrified, instead they worship and they understand. Our understanding of who Jesus is and what difference it makes in our lives grows when we worship. When we read, pray, sing, and listen the Holy Spirit works to bring transformation to our hearts and minds. This happens individually and when we meet together, neither to the exclusion of the other. It takes time and we will grow in our understanding of who God is from now into eternity as we pursue the Lord forever. But understanding who God is, begins with believing that what he says is true, and aligning our lives accordingly. Understanding and even worship begins with belief and repentance.

Review and Reflect on Mark 9:1

Chapter 8 is a turning point for the story of the book of Mark. Up to this point, we have seen the concern has been over Jesus’ identity. Who teaches like this, heals like this, has authority like this? And in 8:29, we see the question finally answered by the disciple Peter when he says “You are the Christ, the Messiah”. Yet, their understanding of Messiah wasn’t necessarily the type of Messiah Jesus was and is. Popularly, the scribes and religious teachers taught all kinds of things about the conquest of the coming Messiah. Jesus is leading his disciples away from that type of understanding of Messiah to something quite different. The focus is now changing from identifying Jesus’ identity to identifying Jesus’ purpose. He says he must be rejected, he must suffer, he must die, and he must rise again.

This is very different from the way in which the people of that era were speaking of the Messiah. But, this is what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. We finished chapter 8, but the context spill over to include 9:1. It’s anyone’s guess as to why the chapters are divided this way here, but let’s review the context and include 9:1 this time: Read Mark 8:34-9:1.

Jesus is speaking to the crowd, not only his disciples, and he says that some of them are going to see God’s Kingdom come with power. He is using military oriented words in 9:1, but he is not talking about rebellion. He is going to show that the Kingdom of God will come in power, after it has come in humility and weakness. This is where its power lies. The King submits to the kingdoms of this world and is rejected, suffers and dies. But, the Kingdom of God has such power that its King cannot remain in the grave. He is speaking here of the crucifixion and Resurrection.

The King will triumph over all the power that this world and the Kingdom of Satan has to muster in putting him to death. He will prove the Kingdom of God victorious when he triumphs over the grave. This is what it means for the Kingdom of God to come with power. It means resurrection. Many in that crowd remained to see Jesus rise from the dead. The resurrection is the demonstration of the power of God’s Kingdom. Bringing the dead back to life can only be done by the one who gives life. Jesus gives his life over to death and demonstrates his power by taking his life again. In doing this, he also demonstrates his authority to raise up all who believe in him.

He applies this understanding of the power of the Kingdom of God to his followers. He says triumph is found through dying to ourselves and pursuing the cross. The power comes when we realize that we can let our lives rest in the hand of God and live for the glory of God because even if we lose everything we can gain in this life, we will see our King at the resurrection.

In a time of turmoil and tragedy, we find hope in Jesus’ resurrection because we know that when we identify with him in his death, we also identify with him in his resurrection. Dying to ourselves, means living with Jesus. We have hope for this life and the life to come in Jesus.