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Mark 8:22-9:13: Opening Our Eyes to the Truth Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 September 2007

The disciples have consistently struggled in understanding exactly who it is that they are following.  We noted this in the text from last week, evidenced by their failure to understand Jesus’ warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.  Up to this point in his Gospel, Mark has focused on Jesus’ ministry to the crowds.  Through this ministry, Jesus has revealed much about Himself and the disciples have been there for all of this.  Yet, they still struggle in knowing exactly who Jesus is.

To help the reader understand this ongoing struggle for the disciples to see, Mark includes a story which illustrates this point.  Not that he made it up for literary purposes, but just that he sees in it the continual struggle of the disciples.  Look at 8:22-26.  For the most part the healing is pretty straight forward.  The crowds bring the blind man to Jesus and ask Him to heal him.  Jesus agrees and takes the man aside to seemingly avoid attracting too much attention.  As with the healing of the deaf and mute man (see 7:31-37), Jesus lays His hands on the man to heal him. 

Yet, what do we make of the fact that the man is not healed immediately?  Did Jesus lack the strength or power?  No.  Did the man lack enough faith to be healed?  Possibly.  What does seem to be the case is that Mark is using this event in Jesus’ life to illustrate the struggle of the disciples and their spiritual blindness.  In other words, just as the man was healed of his physical blindness progressively, so will the disciples be healed of their spiritual blindness over time.  In fact, it will not be until after Jesus’ death and resurrection that they will fully be able to see.

In this second major section of the Gospel of Mark (8:22-10:52), we will see Jesus focusing on His disciples in particular and on discipleship in general.  Thus, I want to consider from our text this morning how Jesus helps His disciples, and us, to see and understand exactly who He is.  I want to identify five ways that He does this.

First, He questions them about what they have already seen and known (v. 27-30).

Jesus questions them in verses 27-30.  Look at those with me.  It seems that Jesus is asking them: ‘In light of all that you have seen and heard, what conclusions have you made about me.’  Obviously we should note Jesus’ emphasis on what the disciples themselves believe by directing the second question at them: But who do you say that I am?  Here is one those profoundly important questions in Scripture.  It comes to us this morning just as it came to the disciples.  We cannot escape it by talking about others, or experiences, or difficulties, or whatever.  No, we too must struggle with and answer the question. 

Likewise, do not think that you can simply wait to answer, for waiting is answering.  If we wait to answer, then we will be denying the only correct answer to the question, which is, as Peter states: You are the Christ.  Although Peter and the other disciples will continue to struggle with exactly what it means for Jesus to be the Christ (see below), this affirmation is the correct answer to the question of who Jesus is.  He is the Messiah, the Promised One of God, foretold of in the Old Testament, sent by the Father.  He is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the One who has come to take away the sins of God’s people, the One who will forever reign as King.  All of this is not understood by the disciples at this point as will be clear, but it is nevertheless true.  Jesus is the Christ in every sense of the term.  This is what we are called to affirm as followers of Jesus.  Anything less is unworthy of Him and is therefore unacceptable.

Second, He teaches them about what is to come (v. 31-33).

Look at verses 31-33 with me.  Here, for the first time, Jesus predicts what will happen to Him.  He tells His disciples that the One that they have rightly called the Christ must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  Mark goes on to add that He told them this plainly.  He made it very clear to them that He was going to die and to rise again.  They will continue to struggle with exactly what this means, but it is not because He did not tell Him. 

Why do they struggle?  Why does Peter rebuke Him for saying such?  Because even though they believed Him to be the Christ, they still did not understand that the Christ must suffer.  They, like the scribes and Pharisees, had different expectations for the Messiah.  They were alright with the promised victory over all of God’s enemies.  They just misunderstood exactly who those enemies were and exactly what it would cost the Christ to defeat them.  They wanted victory without the cross.  Yet, Jesus makes it plain, through His stern rebuke of Peter, that they were not focusing on the things of God, but on the things of man.  Peter, like Satan in the wilderness, tempted Christ with taking the easy way.  But Jesus recognized the error and knew that the cross was necessary.  Only the cross could justly justify sinners.  Only the cross could defend God’s justice.  Only the cross could rescue those held under Adam’s curse.  Jesus knew this and is making it plain to the disciples as well.

Third, He tells them what following Him will cost (v. 34-38).

Not only is Jesus going to suffer as the Christ, all those who follow Him must tread the same path.  Look at 8:34-9:1.  This is one of the clearest statements in the Gospels about what it will cost to follow Jesus.  What exactly is Jesus saying? 

He is making it clear that His disciples must be willing to give their lives.  Does He mean literally dying for our faith?  Yes.  Jesus is telling us that we must be willing to suffer and die for the gospel.  To deny this is to miss the straightforward statement by Jesus and its connection to His own death on a cross.  Is this all that is meant?  Is He only referring to us being willing to die?  No, I actually think there is more than just that.  In other words, I do not think that Jesus is just saying: ‘All must be willing to die, but only some of you will actually have to die.’  That may be the case for actual martyrdom, but Jesus says that we all have to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.  Thus, in a real sense, we all have to die. 

What does this ‘death to self’ mean?  It means that we are no longer in charge of our lives.  We no longer serve ourselves for our own good and glory.  No, we willingly sacrifice our ‘wants’ to the desires of God.  As this happens, as we die to ourselves, God’s desires become our desires, His wants our wants, and His commands our pleasure. 

This passage always reminds me of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who writes: “As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death.  Thus, it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.  When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die…Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ.”   We must daily die to our own will and joyously embrace the cross.

Before we move to the next point, we should note what disciples of Christ stand to gain.  We are not called to give up everything for nothing.  Rather, in some sense we are called to give up nothing for everything.  How is this the case?  What we give up in following Christ cannot compare to what we gain.  We give up sin and we gain righteousness.  We give up the pursuit of self and are given the pursuit of God.  We give up our earthly lives and we gain eternal life.  Likewise, the alternative to following Jesus is judgment and rejection on the final Day.  If we are ashamed of Him now, then He will be ashamed of us then.

Fourth, He reveals to them His greatness (9:1-8).

Look at 9:1-8.  Some see verse 1 as concluding the previous section and I agree with that for the most part.  I include it here simply because it relates to the idea of Jesus making His greatness known.  Of course, the difficult question with this verse is when did the Kingdom of God come with power. 

Probably the best answer is that it does not refer to a single event (like the resurrection or Pentecost or even the transfiguration) but rather to the sum of those events.  Through the life and ministry of Christ, the Kingdom has come with power.  Thus, the most immediate way this is fulfilled is with the transfiguration found in verses 2-8.  Here, Jesus reveals to Peter, James, and John His glory, at least in part.  The veil of humanity is lifted for a moment and they see the divine.  He meets with Elijah and Moses, signifying His prominent place in the History of Redemption.  Likewise, the Father pronounces that Jesus is His Son. 

Again, the disciples continue to struggle with exactly what all of this signifies, but after the resurrection it will become clear and then they can, and will, declare it.  Jesus is the divine Son of God in human flesh, who came to set His people free from their sins by giving His life at the cross and being raised three days later.  All of this is coming into focus for the disciples.

Fifth, He explains to them the fulfillment of prophecy (v. 9-13).

On the way down the mountain, the disciples have some questions for Jesus.  Look at verses 9-13.  The seeing of Elijah prompted a question about how the scribes say that he must appear before the Messiah.  Jesus explains to them that Elijah must come and has indeed come in the person of John the Baptist, even though He does not name him.  Yet, Jesus puts an even more interesting question to them, namely how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  Seemingly what Jesus is doing is showing them that Elijah came and was abused just as the Son of Man, the Messiah, will be abused.  The suffering of the Messiah will continue to be something that the disciples struggle with.  Yet, Jesus teaches them plainly so that after the resurrection they will be able to fully understand.

So, we see in our text this morning five ways that Jesus is continuing to help His disciples (and us) understand who He is and why He came.  Thus, how can we be His disciples?  First, we must understand who we are following.  Jesus is not just a good teacher giving us suggestions for how we should be nice to others.  No, He is the Son of God deserving and demanding our obedience.  He is the One who suffered at Calvary for our sins, just as He said He would.  He is the Savior.  Second, as He tells us, we must die to ourselves daily. 

The Christian life is not a combination of our will and the Lord’s will.  We either abandon all and follow Him down the difficult road to Calvary, or we do not.  Thus, let me ask you: are you a disciple of Christ?  What is it that you are clinging to in your following of Him?  What is it that you are holding back?  Is any of it worth eternal life?  Listen again to the words of Christ: If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  O Lord, grant us grace to follow Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 11 October 2007 )

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