DISCIPLESHIP Mark 8–9
“Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2).Disciples who remain committed to Jesus despite opposition may well suffer. But we are also privileged to witness expressions of Christ’s power.
Now feeding the 4,000 (8:1–9), conflict with the Pharisees (vv. 10–21), and another healing (vv. 22–26) helped open the disciples’ spiritual eyes to a deeper understanding of who Christ is (vv. 27–30). Jesus explained the requirements of discipleship (v. 31–9:1) and displayed His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (vv. 2–13). In the valley Jesus cast out a demon (vv. 14–29), spoke of His coming death (vv. 30–32), and explained more of what it means to follow Him (vv. 33–50).
Understanding the Text
“The disciples picked up seven basketsful” Mark 8:1–13. Sometimes Christ’s wonders have more impact on His followers than on outsiders. That is surely the case here. The 4,000 ate—and were satisfied. It was enough to be fed. But later the disciples picked up the leftovers, and gathered “seven basketfuls.” Here the “basket” is a spyris, not as in the earlier feeding of the 5,000, a kophinos. The former is a very large basket: large enough to contain Paul as he was let down over the city walls of Damascus (Acts 9:25). The latter is like our “lunch bucket.” What Jesus intended in this miracle was not only to show compassion for hungry crowds, but to build faith in His followers! What a response to the disciples’ earlier complaint, “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (v. 4) At times even those of us most familiar with Christ will forget just how great His power is. And then, in grace, the Lord will act and remind us. When that happens let’s not be satisfied, as the crowds were, with His meeting of the immediate need. Let’s share the wonder the disciples must have felt as they gathered seven great baskets of leftovers that testified to the overflowing abundance of His grace and power. “The yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod” Mark 8:11–21. The Gospels describe Jesus’ miracles as dynameis, “mighty acts.” What the Pharisees now demanded were semeia, “signs” from heaven. These men who had refused to believe despite all Christ had done on earth insisted that God in heaven perform some obvious supernatural act to authenticate Jesus’ claims. Jesus’ sigh expressed grief and disappointment at their unbelief. And later He warned His disciples against their “yeast.” Here “yeast” is their dangerous and doubting attitude, which keeps asking for more and greater miracles as proof of Christ’s deity and powers. We too need to be wary, for our life in Christ is to be lived by faith. Christ continues to perform His “mighty acts” in our lives, as He transforms our hearts and relationships. Only unbelief can lie behind demands for “signs from heaven” as further proof of His love. “When He had spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on them” Mark 8:22–26. This is a unique story, not only in that Jesus adopted an unusual method of healing, but in that Jesus put His hands on the man twice while restoring his sight. Calvin commented, “He did so most probably for the purpose of proving, in the case of this man, that He had full liberty as to His method of proceeding, and was not restricted to a fixed rule.” This is a healthy reminder. God doesn’t have to work in any set pattern, but is free to express His grace however He will. Yet there seems to be more to Mark’s placement of this story here. Just as the physical eyes of the blind man were opened gradually, and his first glimpses of the world were distorted, so the spiritual eyes of Jesus’ disciples were opened gradually. In the events that follow we find their vision—and ours—becoming clearer still. “Who do you say I am?” Mark 8:27–30 The crucial question is still the same today. What other people think and say about Jesus does not count. When God asks, “But what about you?” we must give the answer Peter blurted out. “You are the Christ.” You are the Son of God. “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him” Mark 8:31–33. What an example of blurred vision! Peter recognized Jesus as the Christ, but when Jesus began to speak of suffering and death, Peter objected loudly! Two things are important here. First, suffering was not inappropriate to the role of Christ—and it’s not inappropriate for the Christian. If the Son of God suffered, we can expect God’s other children to experience suffering too. Only a person with blurred spiritual vision could look at our suffering Saviour, and then expect the Christian life to be all roses and no thorns. Second, to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ implies affirming Him as Lord. If Jesus is the Son of God, His will rather than ours must rule. Peter was completely out of line objecting to God’s will for Jesus, even as at times we are out of line when we object to God’s will for us! We need clear spiritual vision. We need to get beyond the stage of seeing with distorted spiritual eyes. “If anyone would come after Me” Mark 8:34–38. What are the requirements of discipleship? Stop making “self” the object of your life and actions, and instead choose to orient your life to God (v. 34). Surrender yourself, lose your life in service to Christ, and discover in serving the new and better person you will become (vv. 35–38). And take your stand daily on Jesus Christ and His words (v. 38). “There He was transfigured before them” Mark 9:1–8. Earlier Jesus warned His disciples against the attitude of the Pharisees, who demanded a “sign from heaven.” The believer is to live by faith, not propped up by a series of supernatural events. But here we’re reminded that sometimes some of us are given signs from heaven, not as aids to faith but as gifts of God’s amazing grace. Note that only three of the Twelve accompanied Jesus up to the Mount of Transfiguration. Not everyone experiences miracles. Yet even as here on earth Jesus was “transfigured before them,” so God can and sometimes does perform wonders here today. “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Mark 9:14–29 Mark’s report of this incident is longer than either Matthew’s or Luke’s. It clearly depicts Christ’s frustration with His disciples (v. 19), and the desperation of the father who believed, but doubted at the same time (v. 24). I suspect that we are often like both father and disciples. We believe, but yet doubt. We act in Jesus’ name, yet at times fail completely. When the disciples asked why they had failed Jesus said, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (v. 29). Yet when Christ arrived He had not prayed, but said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25). Why then prayer? I suspect because prayer serves to remind us of who God is, and our dependence on Him. “Why couldn’t we cast him out?” the disciples had asked. But isn’t any ministry performed by God through us, and not by us ourselves? When we pray we’re reminded of who God is, and our faith is increased. Prayer is an antidote to unbelief, because it shifts our focus from what we can or cannot do to the Lord, who can do all things.
Beneath the Cross (Mark 9:30–50)
Easily confused? You bet! Jesus’ disciples were. When Jesus told of His coming suffering and death, they just couldn’t get it through their heads (vv. 30–32). The Christ? Suffer? But, Christ was destined to rule! Only later, after the Resurrection, did Jesus’ disciples begin to see that there’s no real conflict between suffering and glory. That the Cross was a highway leading to an empty tomb. And the crown of thorns foreshadowed a crown of glory. Sometimes we’re confused too about the Christian life. We can’t see how suffering fits. Doesn’t God love us? Doesn’t He want the best for us? And, if anyone suggests that suffering is best, for now, we may very well shake our heads and walk away. Unless we take passages like Mark 9 more seriously. Here Jesus reminds us of the way of the disciple. A way that involves suffering, and the adoption of attitudes that seem foolish to selfish humankind. To become great, we become servants (vv. 33–35). To stand tall, we stoop to welcome a child (vv. 36–37). To protect truth, we give others the freedom to speak and serve as they wish (vv. 38–41). To experience God’s kingdom now we dedicate ourselves to guard others from sin, even at the cost of foot or hand or eye (vv. 42–48). To worship we accept suffering (v. 49). To keep from becoming worthless to God, we nurture a spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to God (v. 50). And, in living this kind of life, we expose ourselves to suffering, even as Jesus did when He chose the way of the Cross. That’s another reason to sit, from time to time, beneath the cross of Jesus. Not only to remind ourselves that Christ died for us. To keep from being confused. To remember that there is still no conflict of suffering with glory; that our highway to heaven may lead through valleys of pain.
Consider the Cross of Jesus, and remember all that it means for you and me.
“Why should I start at the plough of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? He is no idle husbandman, He purposeth a crop.”—Samuel Rutherford