Welcome back as we continue working through the Gospel According to Mark. Two weeks ago we covered Mark 8, where we saw Jesus directly rebuked the Pharisees for demanding a sign from Him despite having rejected Him and the signs that had already testified of Him. Their demand for a special sign demonstrated their wickedness, it flowed directly from their unbelief, and He called them on it. We also saw Jesus feed the multitudes again, this time really driving home who He is… and Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ.
Today, we’ll resume reading, beginning in Chapter 9 of the Gospel According to Mark.
Mark 9:1-13 (ESV) | The Transfiguration
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus,“Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
Here, for a moment, Peter, James, and John got to see Jesus in His Glory. They saw Elijah and Moses speaking with Jesus (these 2 represented the Law and the Prophets) for they pointed to Him. The Kingdom of God had come to fulfill the Promise of Salvation. Understandably, the disciples couldn’t quite put a handle on what they were witnessing and made some poor attempts at capturing the moment to preserve it… but the Voice of the Lord God spoke to them and what did He say? “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” Jesus wanted them to start understanding why He came and what He needed to do. I can’t qualify this statement with any hard facts, but I tend to think that whenever the disciples heard Jesus speak of raising from the dead, they probably assumed He meant sometime way out in the future.
Mark 9:14-29 (ESV) | Jesus Heals a Boy with an Unclean Spirit
And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him,“‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
This is a tough passage for me, because I’ve been through so many bad sermons on it. Let’s focus on the clear, and leave the less clear for discussions with your pastor. What is clear here is the father lacked faith. He hedged his request not by “if you are willing” but by “if you can”. Jesus rebukes the mans lack of faith and the man repents, but notice in the repentance he makes a powerful statement, help my unbelief! It is God who gives us faith, by His Grace. Jesus saves us from the Kingdom of darkness. As for the last statement, what is clear is that what took place was nothing short of a miracle of God upon the boy. Much ink has been spilled in trying to parse out and dissect what Jesus really meant here, but I’m going to leave it now with the point that it is God who saves, and we should pray. I encourage you to seek out your pastor for more teaching on this point.
Mark 9:30-32 (ESV) | Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them,“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Jesus is preparing His sheep for what was coming, and they were confused yet afraid to ask.
Mark 9:33-37 (ESV) | Who Is the Greatest?
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them,“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
It’s good to see the humanity of these Apostles. Like kids, they got into a squabble over their relative greatness. We all do it. Jesus calls them out on it, and instructs them… and us… on what is most important.
Mark 9:38-41 (ESV) | Anyone Not Against Us Is for Us
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
Jesus isn’t making a blanket philosophical statement like the easily refutable “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”… the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a singular road, a singular Way to God. EVERYONE who is not for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is against us, because all who are not of Christ are against Him, for the world hates Him. This verse should in no way be used to stifle Biblical discernment or the rebuke of false teachers, false doctrine, or spirits of error.
Mark 9:42-50 (ESV) | Temptations to Sin
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
This is about false teaching. I hadn’t noticed it before, but this time reading through this text the words (emphasis mine) who believe in me really jumped off the screen at me. We deal with our own hearts tempting us to sin on a regular basis… woe to the one who tempts believers to sin. I think this particular warning is particularly aimed at the false teacher or one who engages in false doctrines. Jesus is speaking figuratively here regarding the cutting off of hands/feet/eyes since even doing so literally will not address the sin of the heart. From an individual perspective, it’s about dying to self, so that we might live in the Spirit. The references to being salted with fire is often explained as a reference to the Old Testament sacrifices, that they were salted before being offered up at the altar. In the New Covenant it’s the work of the Holy Spirit in us, salting us, and burning away sins and transgressions.
I’d like to offer up another way of reading it, but this is just me sharing my thoughts and I have yet to find a commentary that confirms this reading: I think this also points to church discipline if we read this not as an individual’s body but the local Church body. Reflecting back to the danger of leading those who believe in Christ away from Him, those within the Body of Christ who are preaching falsely and causing division by preaching falsely ought to be cut away rather than send the whole body to hell. I’m borrowing heavily from Paul’s treatment of the subject of rebuking and silencing false teachers as well as excommunicating unrepentant sinners so that they might repent, be forgiven, and restored.
Regarding the loss of saltiness, that isn’t something we can fix, because becoming salt wasn’t our doing in the first place. I think this is reflected in Hebrews 5-6 discussion of apostasy. Jesus ends with an encouragement to be salty and at peace with the Body of Christ. I think the encouragement of being salty is to trust in the Person and Work of God the Holy Spirit as He keeps us in Christ Jesus.
Until next week, spend time in the Written Word of God and do not forsake the gathering of the saints, hearing of the Preached Word… both Law and Gospel.
Hebrews 13:20-21 (ESV) Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will,working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,