Mark 9: Sufferings and Glory
Introduction and Overview
This chapter puts a lot of emphasis on the disciples. He chooses three to witness the transfiguration (9:2), they don’t understand what he means by the resurrection (9:10), the disciples cannot cast out the demon (9:18, 28-29), his disciples still don’t understand Jesus’ words about his coming death and resurrection, they are confronted for disputing about greatness (9:34), they are concerned about other miracle workers (9:38), and finally Jesus warns his disciples about people and body parts that cause sin (9:42ff) and exhorts them to have peace with one another (9:50). Putting all of this together, it’s quite likely that some of the disciples believed they had been exalted to some higher position than others. Some had witnessed the glory of Jesus and others had failed to cast out a demon. And this supposed greatness seemed like enough to even forbid others casting out demons. Rivalry is emerging in the ranks of the disciples but all in a quite ironic way: they don’t understand what they are pushing in line about. They don’t understand that Jesus is pursuing death (9:10, 32).
If chapter 8 was the center of the book of Mark, the hinge upon which the book turns, chapter 9 is the second beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Here Jesus is claimed as the “beloved Son” by the Father just as in chapter 1:10-11, and while the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned, we can recognize the cloud as the glory cloud of the Spirit (Ex. 24:16). The event reminds us of Moses’ “transfiguration” when he returned to the camp of Israel with a glowing face (Ex. 34:29ff). Peter’s suggestion about building the tabernacles is probably related to this fact. He knew that the glory cloud came down off Sinai and filled the tent of meeting, and thus perhaps the same thing would happen here too (Ex. 40:34). The connection to Elijah may also be the exposure to God’s glory (2 Kgs. 2:11). We should also think of Stephen’s face before he died (Acts 6:15ff). This indicates that the transfiguration should not be viewed as a revelation of the deity of Christ, but rather the true glorification of humanity.
The Demon that Won’t
The Transfiguration is obviously also a kind of preview of what Jesus’ glory will be like. This being the case, the absence of Jesus and the ministry of the disciples is also a preview of what it will be like when Jesus is in His glory (the way things are now). The kind of life that Jesus calls his disciples to is a life of faith, prayer and fasting (9:23, 29). In our excitement to recover a culture of feasting and joy, we must not neglect the disciplines of prayer and fasting. We live in a culture that cannot understand going without food. But throughout Scripture, we see examples and hear exhortations to this kind of sanctification. When we pursue this in faith, looking to God to deal with us, He blesses His people and sanctifies them. We should also notice that Jesus returns from the top of the mountain to find a faithless Israel, rather like Moses returned and found Israel worshipping a calf. In this case the father is weak in faith and the disciples have not given themselves to prayer and fasting. Jesus addresses himself to this “faithless generation” (9:19) which reminds us of the generation that fell in the wilderness because of their unbelief.
Suffering and Loyalty
There are a number of things we could consider about the final half of the chapter, but I want to focus on just two themes. Jesus continues to bring up suffering, death and resurrection (8:31ff, 9:9, 12-13, 31, 35, 43ff). The final promise of the passage is “everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” Jesus is calling his disciples to be “living sacrifices.” Their saltiness, their potency is found in their willingness to be servants, receiving and nurturing children, and cutting off their weaknesses (9:43-48). The Christian faith is for people with the stomach to perform surgery on themselves. But the reason that all of Jesus’ disciples must be willing to suffer is that this is how Jesus will be glorified. And it displays our loyalty (9:40-41). The Transfiguration flowing right into the demon possessed son is the gospel wound up together. It’s the Son in glory coming down out of heaven to suffer under the power of evil, with many plots to kill him, and finally conquering evil in death (9:26). And finally being raised up to a new life of freedom (9:27). The disciples are deaf and blind and mute like the men that are being healed by Jesus, and yet the Father says, “This is my Son, hear him!” (9:7)
Conclusion and Application
Jesus is not a stoic. He did not come to earth to bestow happy feelings and the Zen to just “go with the flow”. Jesus came to be king. He came to be glorified. He came because He wanted to save the world from sin, conquer Satan, and establish a kingdom that would never end. And He did. But it’s important to remember that when Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first…” He isn’t saying that’s a stupid desire, or “You shouldn’t want to be first.” The Christian faith isn’t for people who want to lose. It isn’t for people who are apathetic about life, the world or good things. The Christian faith is for people who want power and authority. It is for those people who are hungry for honor and glory. It’s for people who want to dig riches out of the earth, and send people into the outer galaxies of the universe. The Christian faith is a universal claim, the claim that Jesus is Lord. But the point is that Lordship doesn’t come through bossiness or ego trips. You were baptized, Paul says into Jesus’ death, and that’s a glorious thing. As many of you that have baptized into his death are partakers in His sufferings. But these sufferings are for your glory and for your honor. The way up is down. The way to life is death.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!