Studying the Gospels Together: Mark Nine

As part of the ReMarkAble series at First Baptist Church, I will be releasing weekly posts with my notes for those who are using the Studying the Gospels Together (STGT) method in their Adult Community Group. You can read more about the STGT Method here and how this site is integrating the ReMarkAble series here.

Introductory Comments

This chapter is full of action and includes various stories and elements that help us further understand Jesus and what he is up to in the world. The first verse in chapter nine is a bit challenging to interpret well. Various scholars and theologians have different opinions of how to accurately understand the verse, and I do not have the space to fully explore the multiple options. If you want to engage with this verse more, feel free to read some commentaries in really dig into its meaning. Although, there is a lot of really great stuff to look at in the chapter, so don't distract yourself or your group too much by spending an undue amount of time on this particular verse at the cost of exploring the rest of the chapter. 

Following that initial verse, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain and is transfigured before them. Elijah and Moses also appear, and God the Father speaks from heaven. It is a powerful story, reminiscent of the theophanies of Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament. When Jesus, Peter, James and John return from the mountain, they discover the other disciples attempting to cast out an unclean spirit from a boy. However, the other nine were not successful in their attempts. There is a brief, but impactful interaction with the boy's father and Jesus proceeds to heal the boy with the unclean spirit.

Jesus again tells of his coming death and resurrection. The disciples still do not understand what is coming. Jesus is not fulfilling all the expectations they had for the messiah. They were likely expecting a messiah who would come as a mighty king and overthrow the Romans and their oppressive ways. Instead, Jesus has come to die. What follows is a series of stories and teaching that highlight the humble, sacrificial and meek attitude that is required from those who follow Jesus. The series of stories that closes out this chapter are not all together in the other gospels, but it is likely that Mark wanted to highlight the disparity between the disciples current understanding of Jesus and what it truly means to follow him.

Things to Note

In the STGT Method, we begin by noting five different activities of Jesus.

(P) Prayer

There is no specific reference to Jesus praying in this chapter.

(W) Reads or references God’s Word

There is no specific reference to Jesus reading or referencing God's Word in this chapter.

(F) Relates to God the Father

(9:7) "This is my beloved Son, listen to him." As Jesus is transfigured on the mountain with Peter, James and John, they are joined by Elijah and Moses as well. We don't learn much about the interaction between Jesus, Elijah and Moses, only that they were talking. Peter, not sure what to do in this overwhelming situation, offers to set-up tents. In the course of all this activity, a voice comes out of heaven, stating that Jesus is the beloved Son of the Father. The transfiguration and theophany both speak to Jesus' identity as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. It also speaks to the close relationship within the Trinity, here between the Father and the Son.

(HS) Relates to the Holy Spirit

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to The Holy Spirit in this chapter.

(R) Overflows in loving relationship with people

This will be the most common category we see. Jesus is constantly interacting with people through his teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, or discipleship. I will not list all possible ways that this is seen in this chapter, but only mention a few.

(9:14-29) Jesus heals the demon possessed boy: When Jesus returns from the mountain, he encounters an argument between his disciples and the scribes. Jesus has called his disciples to be representatives of his mission (Mk 6:7-13), and as a result both the father and the scribes talk with the disciples in Jesus' absence. The father came looking for Jesus (9:17), but found the nine remaining disciples instead. They were unsuccessful in casting out the demon, because they lacked faith (9:19). In their inability to cast out the demon, Jesus critiques them along with all the others who are part of this "faithless generation." At the end of this story, Jesus says that prayer was needed to cast out the demon. When we hear "prayer" we may think about the ways we have organized group prayer, or our prayer times in the morning. That does not need to be the case. Prayer can be representative of any sort of dependence upon God. In communion and communication with God, we must humble ourselves and seek his provision for the things we lack. In this case, the disciples lacked faith and dependence, and were therefore unable to cast out the demon. Jesus has compassion upon the father and the son and casts out the demon.

(9:38-41) Jesus acknowledges those who minister in his name: Jesus displays his love for others through his recognition of the legitimacy of those who were casting out demons in his name. The disciples were frustrated because there were people who were casting out demons but were "not following us." The spirit of the disciples may have had more to do with the fact that the people being discussed were not part of their group than their fear that they may be dishonoring Jesus. You may have sensed within yourself at times that you cheer and celebrate more loudly for the success of those within your own personal theological, ideological or denominational groups. And at times you may even celebrate the demise of those who are part of other traditions within Christianity. While there is certainly a call elsewhere in Scripture to guard the contours of our faith and maintain the truths that have been passed onto us through God's Word, in this passage we see that Jesus is not concerned with getting the credit or being territorial with the spread of his Good News. He is more than happy to acknowledge the work that others are doing in his name. He does not fear that they will tarnish his name, because "no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me." Jesus is a compelling and captivating person. When we begin to seek and serve Jesus, truly pursuing to do good in his name, we will be drawn into the most exciting, liberating and all-consuming relationship possible. Along with Jesus, we would do well to celebrate when Jesus' name is honored among others, even if we are not necessarily part of the same "clan."

Questions for Reflection

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

God's Son and Messiah: The transfiguration is particularly illuminating with regard to this question. The event harkens back to numerous Old Testament stories. The theophany, the mountaintop, the cloud that overshadows them, the transfiguration of Jesus, the appearance of Elijah and Moses all have some foreshadowing elements in the Old Testament. Jesus is the newer and better Moses. The new Elijah (John the Baptist) has already come and paved a way for the Messiah. All this, along with The Father's voice from heaven repeating the affirmation given at Jesus' baptism point to the reality that Jesus is the Messiah, and has come to save his people.

What does this passage tell us about why Jesus came?

He came to die and after three days rise again. As Mark's Gospel continues on, we will see an increased movement toward the cross. A considerable portion of the gospel has been devoted to establishing Jesus as the Messiah. Now that we have heard Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mk 8:29), we will see fewer miracles recorded and more teaching, activity and progress toward Jesus' eventual death, burial and resurrection. In this chapter, Jesus again foretells of his death and resurrection, and again the disciples do not understand (8:32). We know that eventually the disciples will come to an understanding of this teaching, but at our current location in the narrative, the disciples still have a blurry understanding. It will become increasingly more clear that Jesus has come to die and after three days rise again.

What does it say about what it means to follow Jesus?

Believe, even when you don't feel like it: In the story of the demon possessed boy and his father, there is an incredible statement in the middle. The father has asked Jesus to have compassion on them and heal his son. Jesus responds by suggesting that belief is necessary. "All things are possible for one who believes (9:23)." With an incredible amount of humility and honesty the father says, "I believe; help my unbelief (9:24)." In response to this statement, Jesus heals the boy. In the fathers statement we see two things about what it means to follow Jesus. First, it requires faith to follow Jesus. We must pursue Jesus. The father has already been seeking Jesus out (9:17). He recognized the place where true healing comes. The father had enough belief and conviction that Jesus was the place where hope is found, because he was seeking after Jesus. The second thing we see in the father's response is that we do not always need to "have it all together." It can sometimes feel like there is not much room in Christian community to have doubts, skepticism, questions, fears, etc. I think that it would be consistent with Scripture to say that we should pursue an increasing holiness and confidence in Christ, so that fear, doubt, etc. are reduced. Although we must also recognize that we are not perfect. We will not be perfect until Christ returns and sets all things right in the world. While we live in the tension between the already and not yet features of God's kingdom, sometimes we need to cry out, "I believe; help my unbelief." Sometimes we need to acknowledge that while we are pursuing Jesus, we also have some areas that lack confidence. The important thing is that we continue to pursue Jesus, the one who is the only source of hope. And while we do, ask him to help us with the areas we are lacking in our faith and trust.

Life of humility and service: It takes humility to follow Jesus. After Jesus again foretells of his death and resurrection, there is a series of stories that point to the need for humility when following Jesus. The first one is probably the most clear. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest among them and Jesus responds by teaching them about what is required to be great. Jesus says that, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all (9:35)." Greatness in God's economy is not measured in how much money we have, what sort of position we can secure or what sort of respect we can attain. It is measured by who is willing to humble themselves enough to serve those around them. Jesus is the supreme example of this when he humbled himself and served humanity by dying an innocent death on the cross for the sins of the world. Following Jesus is not about making a name for ourselves, It is about making a name for Jesus through our humble service of others.

Fight sin with intensity: Jesus teaches us to fight sin with a ferocity and intensity that matches the severity of sin. Ultimately, sin has the ability to send us to hell. That is quite severe. Jesus calls us to match that severity with a very intentional and sacrificial pursuit of holiness. This goes without saying, but the comments about cutting off our hands, cutting off our feet or plucking out our eyeballs is not meant to be taken literally. Jesus is not calling for self-mutilation, but the extreme nature of those examples is meant to call us toward extreme measures in fighting sin. This looks different for each of us, depending on our own tendencies toward sin and our own context in life. For example, a person struggling with pornography may need to sell their computer, cut off access to the internet or simply purchase an internet monitoring service. Whatever the sin area, Jesus is calling us to be vigilant in our fight against sin.

 

Questions for Application

In response to what you have read, what is one action step you believe God is calling you to make this week?

(1) Consider what sin area you might be struggling with that requires an increased level of commitment to combat its destructive results in your life. What practical ways can you fight the sin in your life? Even when it requires a great deal of sacrifice, are you willing to make those sacrifices in order to route out the sin?

(2) What ways is God asking you to exhibit more humility and service in your life? What can you do this week to increase your own humility and service to others?

(3) Like every chapter, there are a variety of applications that could be made. I would love to invite you to make comments regarding applications that you see for your own life. Please share with one another in the comments section below, and encourage one another as we seek to apply God's Word to our lives.

What is one thing you learned this week you could share with someone else? Who do you plan to share it with?

This question is meant to simply help us learn how to share what we are learning from Jesus. We see in this chapter that Jesus wants his message to spread. When we follow him, we become conduit of that message. We do not need to feel the burden of sharing everything we know about Jesus in every conversation we have, but it can be more natural to share something we are learning. What is something you learned that you could share with someone else? Think about who you might want to share it with.