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Jul 9 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 6, 2014 – Mark 9:1-27

Faith That Does Not Fail

And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.
Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out fo the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, Listen to Him!” All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. 
Mark 9:1-8

Intro: The first few times I read story of Moses, I felt like God treated him unfairly
– that the punishment was overly harsh

Moses had not wanted the job God gave him in the first place
• regardless of his wishes, he found himself stuck in desert forty years
○ everyone in the mass of people he had to lead was in a miserable mood the whole time
○ uncooperative, they complained, rebelled and even threatened mutiny
• then one slip-up (and not unreasonable given the circumstances) and Moses got the axe
• he was denied entry into the land
○ this was the goal, the dream for which he had struggled forty years, now taken from him
– Moses even begged,

“O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand . . . . Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” But the LORD was angry with me . . . and said to me, “Enough! Speak to Me no more of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.” (Deut. 3:23-27)

• I could not help but sympathize with Moses

Later on, when I used to have long conversations with Steve Mays, he said,
“Moses made it into the promised land”
– he reminded me of the passage we just read and pointed out that “Moses got to see the land and Jesus!”
– finally Moses stood on a mountain west of Jordan in the land of milk and honey

Let’s try to see the big picture before we look at the intriguing details

This episode is unique in the story of Jesus
– during his lifetime, his divine glory was never before and never again revealed so visibly
• how did Jesus explain this event?
○ in the prologue in verse 1, he said it was about seeing the kingdom of God in power and glory
• this was the trajectory of the entire Old Testament
○ that God’s rule would break into human history, displacing all human kingdoms
○ but then came the “mystery of the kingdom”
○ that is, the kingdom entered the world in Jesus (Mk. 1:14-15; 4:11; Mt. 13:31-33)
○ not in its spectacular fullness, but invisibly and in seed form
– this episode teaches us that God’s kingdom can break into our lives anywhere, at any time
• but also that it comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ
○ God’s commendation of Jesus: “My beloved Son”
○ God’s command regarding Jesus: “listen to Him!”
(simply reading is not listening — listening requires silence, attention, and responsiveness)

Now we can ask the “fun” questions (the rabbit trails that generally distract Bible students)
– of all the Old Testament figures, why Elijah and Moses? (e.g., why not David?)
• answer 1: they represent “the Law and the prophets”
○ but Elijah doesn’t represent prophets the same way Moses represents the law
○ Elijah did not leave behind any prophetic writing
• answer 2: that their departures from the world were unusual
○ but their exits were not similar and do not form a strong link
• answer 3: they were both miracle workers
○ but those miracles did not define them or their ministries
• answer 4: Elijah has a definite role in the fulfillment of prophetic scripture (e.g., Mal. 4:5)
○ Moses, however, does not
– perhaps there’s another history here, besides the law and prophets, miracles, etc.
• a history already hinted at in Moses’ presence in this scene
• a history of failure, frequently reiterated in the Psalms and prophets (cf. Ps. 106 and Acts 7:51-53)
○ to the very end, Moses found Israel to be “an obstinate people”
○ for all his pains (and miracles), Elijah could not turn Israel back to Yahweh (1 Ki. 19:10)

Vv. 9-13, We catch up with Jesus and the three disciples as they descend mountain

Peter, James and John have a question regarding scribes’ teaching
– Jesus’ answer was that they were on to something, but did not have the complete picture
• he brought out scriptures (“it is written”) that had been overlooked
○ regarding the Messiah’s suffering and Israel’s rejection of “Elijah’s”
• the surprise here came when he said that Elijah “has indeed come”
○ they understood that he was referring to John the Baptist (Mt. 17:13)
– Jesus and John experienced the same resistance from Israel as Moses and Elijah
• it is subtle, but Mark weaves this theme into the story as it unfolds
• we need to pick up on this theme to understand what comes next

Vv. 14-19, Now they must come back to the “real world”

I am in complete sympathy with Peter when on the mountain he said,
“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here”
– they had to leave the fading vision of heavenly visitors and come back down to earth

The first thing they see is a big crowd and in the middle of it, an argument
– when Jesus asked what was going on, a father came forward and told his story
• the disciples Jesus had left below were powerless to assist the father and his son
○ they “could not”–that is, they lacked the “strength” or “force”
– now listen carefully to Jesus’ response:

O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? (v. 19)

Now, my tendency is to take this personally
– if Jesus asked me, “How long shall I be with you?” I would answer, “Forever!”
– if he asked “How long shall I put up with you?” – I would be broken-hearted
• my answer would be, “Unless You change me, I’ll always be this way”

There are three questions we need to answer or at least clarify

  1. Who was Jesus addressing?
    ○ the father? the disciples? the scribes? the crowd?
  2. What did Jesus mean?
    ○ that someone there should have driven out the demon?
    ○ that they needed his presence only because of their failure to believe?
  3. How are we supposed to interpret and apply this statement?
    ○ that if we mustered enough faith we could work miracles?

We’re at a disadvantage when we read these words because we can’t hear his tone of voice
– furthermore, we need to recall the subtle theme Mark has woven into the story
– do we hear only the first century voice of Jesus, the Son of Man?
• do his “How long” questions spring from this one event?
• or is this the voice of God through weary centuries?
○ God who had struggled with Israel all these years, calling to his people, “Where is your faith? When will you trust Me?”
– I do not believe this is a rebuke so much as a revelation

The story turns on the last line in verse 19, “Bring him to Me!”
– but we’re not quite ready to go there

Vv. 20-29, The father struggled first with Jesus, then with himself

Jesus reacted to the father’s question as if he were offended, “If you can?”
– two ways to take this:

  1. By placing the stress on the “if” and adding a question mark at the end
    • “What do you mean if I can? Why come to Me if you have no faith in Me?”
  2. By placing the stress on the “you” and placing an exclamation point at the end
    • “Oh I can, alright, if you can believe”

The father’s desperate response is both pathetic and perfect, “I do believe; help my unbelief”
• I do believe to a point, but I’ve lived with this a long time and my faith has given out
• I can come part way, but I cannot come the whole way–will You meet me where I am?
○ I believe, but I’m weak–help me through the weakness; help my unbelief

All these millennia of human history, what has God wanted?
– the one thing he cannot force from us:
our free and voluntary decision to show him our love by trusting him
• and God wants our trust whether or not he works a miracle for us

Last week my daughter, Karen, posted something on her Facebook page
– one young man responded, “If God loves me, why can’t I walk?”
• Karen was surprised to hear that he couldn’t walk and asked why not
○ he responded, “I have MS”
• my heart went out to him, because I have an idea of how much he suffers
(but only the “idea” of it and not the actual experience, which is a big difference)
○ I had a friend who eventually died from her MS
○ sometimes she came to church with a cane and other times in a wheelchair
○ I witnessed what walking with God did for her

I wanted to answer him, “It is exactly because you can’t walk that you need God. If only you would discover you are not alone or forgotten, that he is with you in your pain in a way that no one else can be there. I don’t know that it would relieve your pain at all, give you a respite of temporary remission, or even if you would find any comfort in God’s arms. I just know that it would somehow make a positive difference in your soul.”

• but we cannot say these things to someone who’s never met Jesus
– in the valley there was a father, and with him his son, the demon, and his hopelessness
• but also in the valley with him was Jesus
○ the One who joins every person who suffers; One who himself knows great suffering
• Jesus, who never doubted God’s existence, but whose pain forced from his body the cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Now we can come back to Jesus’ invitation, “Bring him to Me!”
– bring him or her, bring this or that crisis, bring everything to Jesus
• we do not have to go far, because he is already there with us–in the dark, in the grief
• the way to nurture the unswerving trust that God wants to find in us is to live close to Jesus
○ but it is crucial that we do not hide our spiritual and moral deficits or deny our weaknesses
○ we bring those too
“I believe, help my unbelief”

Fr. Romuald once counseled me, “Connect everything to God, even sin and the thought, ‘God, I hate this thing that has happened!’ If you can’t connect something with God, then you’re lost. So label your sin, your tragedy, your failure, your disappointment and in the same breath say the name of Jesus. How else can he redeem all these things if we do not bring them to him?”

Conc: It is noteworthy how casually Jesus walks through all of this

He is at home in the splendor of heaven on the mountain and casting out a demon in the valley
– he never jumps to panic mode
• and as long as we stay close to him–mindful of, and attentive to him, neither will we

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