THE CALL TO SELF-DENIAL

Mark 9:38-50

BRIEF INTRO: We have just observed the disciples discussing who would be the greatest (9:34), their lack of understanding regarding the Lord’s death and resurrection (9:31), and their impotence regarding the ability to cast out the demon (9: 18), and their confusion over the transfiguration (9:5-6). And now we witness a weakness in their understanding regarding unity in ministry (9:38). They lacked humility, experience, and proper ministry perspective, and yet, time and time again, we see Jesus, the patient “teacher” (v. 38), instructing them.

I am so thankful for the patience of Jesus. Just like these men, I struggle at times with understanding His words. I am “slow” to grasp His will for me and walk in it. I require constant reminders and exhortations regarding His teachings to stay focused on what He would have me be and do. Perhaps you can relate to this as well.

38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 For the one who is not against us is [a]for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink [b]because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.

FOCUS ONE: A snapshot of unity

John calls him teacher, and rightly so because that is one of the roles He is filling now. Jesus has spent and will spend much time teaching these men about the kingdom and their role in it. He has also shifted a bit in what He has been teaching because the time for His death, burial, and resurrection is approaching, and they need to be ready for it (8:27-31). Over and over again, we witnessed the disciple’s lack of understanding of the things Jesus taught them (the previous post catalogs them). Sadly, that reality holds as they move forward into Capernaum.

In Capernaum, in “the house” (probably the one belonging to Peter and Andrew 1:29), Jesus assumes the posture of a Jewish rabbi; he sits down and begins teaching them. You can find our study on the previous verses HERE 

During this private time with Jesus, John speaks about an incident that occurred during their travels. He tells Jesus of a man they encountered casting out demons in Jesus’ name, AND he wasn’t one of the twelve (v.38)!

This person WAS casting out demons successfully

In the name of Jesus 

The disciples (we) tried to stop him!

The disciples thought that anyone that wasn’t in their small group couldn’t be serving Christ in the right way (v. 38). It’s as if to say that if someone is not in our particular church, following our brand of theology, or even doing things just like us, then they must not be “of us.” 

Jesus’ viewed it differently than the disciples

He tells them not to hinder such a person. Do not stop him. It appears evident that by this person using Jesus’ name, he is acknowledging a relationship with Him. He is just not among the called-out 12! He manifested by seeking to serve the Lord that he was “with Jesus” or on the same team by faith, even if he was not in their group. The disciples were quick to dismiss anyone that wasn’t in their “click” or doing things in a way they felt proper.

Application: We should not be too quick to dismiss or rebuke others serving Christ simply because they do not do things the way we do or are not in our church, our ministry team, or our denomination!

But, like Christ, we should appreciate others seeking to live for Christ and save the lost! This is what unity is. The “church” is far more vast than our local congregations. It is worldwide, which means many other people are living for Christ and serving Him in different ways than us due to their geographical situation and different cultural or societal realities. If Jesus recognizes that “he who is not against us is for us,” why can’t we?

41 “For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink [a]because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

FOCUS TWO: Rewards for service and condemnation for leading astray

In verse forty-one, we read about somebody exhibiting “kindness” to those who follow Christ and that they have a reward that will not be lost! This act of kindness seems small and insignificant compared to the previously mentioned exorcism. In our fallen minds giving a cup of water to our pastor who is parched from preaching is nothing compared to performing an exorcism. 

But we see in this verse that Jesus broadens His previous words (vv.39-40) to include activity beside exorcism. Even I would add other acts that we might consider more significant, excellent, and valuable. “Even one who performs the smallest act of hospitality in Jesus’ name, such as giving a cup of water to someone because he belongs to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. He will ultimately be recompensed by participation in God’s kingdom (v.47; Matthew 25:34-40), not on the basis of merit but because of God’s gracious promise to people of faith” (Luke 12:31-32).

42 “Whoever causes one of these [a]little ones who believe in Me to [b]sin, it is better for him if a heavy millstone is hung around his neck and he [c]is thrown into the sea.”

I place this verse in this focus point because it seems to contextually fit here better than it would with what follows. It appears to coincide or go along with the previous verses that spoke of the disciple’s attempt to stop an unknown man from removing a demon in Jesus’ name (v. 38). 

“Little ones” in this context does not appear to be speaking of small children; rather, it bodes well with followers of Jesus. As we read this statement, it quickly becomes evident that this offense is serious in the Lord’s eyes. So severe that “it would be better for one to be drowned than to commit it.” The verb “cause to sin” (skandalise) refers to enticing or provoking a follower of Jesus Christ to turn away from Him resulting in spiritual damage. 

To sum this up, scripture is saying to us: “1.The undeveloped faith of the exorcist (v.38) or anyone else who acts in Jesus’ name (v.41) should be encouraged rather than ruined by harsh criticism or sectarian  bias.” 

43 “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed, than, having your two hands, to go into [a]hell, into the unquenchable fire.[b45 And if your foot is causing you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life without a foot, than, having your two feet, to be thrown into [c]hell.[d47 And if your eye is causing you to sin, throw it away; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be thrown into [e]hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished. 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you [f]make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

FOCUS THREE: Self-denial for the sake of the gospel 

These verses teach that followers of Christ should be diligentvigilant, and radical in their fight against the sinful flesh, denying it all its wickedness instead of continuing to practice sin, satisfying the flesh, and going to hell.

That’s why we take notice of the language of mortification. If your hand—cut it off; if your foot—cut it off; if your eye—cast it out.

Why such harsh, violent language? Because our pathway to eternal life is riddled with our constant battle against our unredeemed flesh. Temptations abound. Our flesh is always hungry and wants to be satisfied, so we need to deny the flesh, which requires radical steps.

These divine words are telling us that self-denial and the “mortification” of our flesh with its enmity against God are worth the temporal cost or perceived and actual loss we suffer in this life for the glories of the next! 

“Self-denial expressed in the mortification of the flesh is evidence of a regenerated heart and such people enter into heaven. The opposite is true of those who do not bear such fruit worthy of or exhibiting a regenerative work within.”

How are we supposed to understand these words in verse fifty?: “salted with fire.”

“1Viewed in three different ways: (1) It could refer to every unbeliever who enters hell. They will be salted with fire in the sense that as salt preserves food, so they will be preserved throughout an eternity of fiery judgment. (2) “Everyone” could refer to every disciple living in this hostile world. They will be salted with fire in the sense that Old Testament sacrifices were seasoned with salt (Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 43:24). Disciples, living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), will be seasoned with purifying trials (1 peter 1:7; 4:12). The trials will purge out what is contrary to God’s will and preserve what is consistent with it. (3) Everyone” could refer to every person in general. All will be “salted with fire” in a time and manner appropriate to their relationship with Jesus— for nonbelievers, the preserving fire of judgment; for disciples, the refining fire of present trials and suffering. This last view seems preferable.”

Salt is a good thing. Who doesn’t enjoy dumping it over corn on the cob, potatoes, and cucumbers? It seasons and preserves. “The main source of salt in Palestine was from the area southwest of the Dead (salt) Sea. The coarse, impure salt from the saline deposits of this area was susceptible to deterioration, leaving savor less, salt like crystals as residue. If it loses its saltiness (savory quality), it cannot be refined so such salt is worthless.”

These scriptures warn the disciples and all who will follow Christ because of them to maintain their allegiance to Jesus at all costs and purge out destructive influences.

Verse 50, “have salt in yourselves.” “2Jesus is warning His disciples not to lose that characteristic in them that brings life to the world and prevents its decay. But what is that characteristic that, if lost, will make the disciples of Jesus worthless? It is the disciples spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice (v. 49) to Jesus Christ and His gospel. It will only be possible for disciples to be at peace with one another where that kind of devotion instead of self-interest prevails (v. 34).”

So, in concluding this part of our study together, I want to point out three warnings that the Lord has given throughout His teaching, while in Capernaum First, there is a warning to humility in verse 35. Then an admonition to good fellowship within the body in verse 39. Lastly, a warning to maintain faithful allegiance to Christ at all costs in verses 43-49. 

How are we doing in these three areas? What can we take away from this teaching to aid us in our prayers in these three areas?

1 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pages 147-148

2. The Expositors Bible Commentary, pg. 709

Humility

Mark 9:30-37

BRIEF INTRO: We now find Jesus and His disciples traveling through northeastern Galilee (1:9), heading toward Capernaum (v. 33). Mark reveals that the Lord did not want anyone to know about it. Why? As we move forward in this study, we will again observe the incredible lack of understanding the disciples had regarding the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord, their Messiah. 

We see that the Lord taught them the very same things He had taught them before, i.e., what is about to happen to Him to fulfill prophecy and to be the propitiation for sin. They fail to comprehend His teaching, which leads to the discussion they have together when they arrive in Capernaum and are in “the house.” 

30 And from there, they went out and began to go through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know about it. 31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be [a]handed over to men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” 32 But they [b]did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him.

FOCUS ONE: Time alone

First, we should notice the secrecy that Jesus sought in His travels. He was a prevalent figure, and as we have seen in our study, the multitudes sought Him out (Mark 9:15,25; 6:34,54; 5:21; 4:1; 3:7; 2:1-2). It was not uncommon for Jesus to want secrecy (7:24). Perhaps He wanted some rest before He engaged with the multitudes again. Maybe He sought an opportunity to be alone with the Twelve to prepare them for His coming crucifixion fully. Whether or not it was one or the other or both, it is clear He desired this time alone with them. 

As they traveled through Galilee to Capernaum, Jesus taught them about the coming suffering that He would endure. His teaching is consistent with all His previous teaching regarding His crucifixion (9:9-12; 8:31). Similarly, their lack of understanding (6:52; 7:18; 8:17, 21, 32; 9:10, 32). 

It appears that the disciples are possibly gaining an idea of how woefully ignorant they remain after repeated teaching from Jesus (v.32). This time, they are afraid to ask what He means. We shouldn’t be quick to judge these men because we are like them. How much teaching have we received from the Lord through scripture and His pastors and teachers that He placed in our lives? How often do we scratch our heads in uncertainty and doubt? 

Information overload. I have acted just like this in the workplace as well. Maybe you can relate to me. I am thinking of the new job and the training that begins on day one! Remember how much information is meted out to you in big chunks, more on top of more on top of even more. Some of which are not grasped. And some things are a bit more uncertain, so we ask our trainer the same questions repeatedly until we become self-conscious about it and then become afraid to ask our trainer again for fear of making them angry with us.

A lack of understanding at times is part of our human condition.

33 They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them: “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.

FOCUS TWO: Who’s the greatest?

If ignorance and fear aren’t enough, now we read that the twelve our discussing which one of them was the greatest. John MacArthur points out that the dispute could have resulted from Peter, James, and John’s privilege in witnessing the Transfiguration. Reading through the New Testament, you will find that matters of rank were essential to the Jews (Luke 14:7-11). So this was possibly a genuine concern for these men in light of the coming messianic kingdom and their part in it.

Whatever the reasoning behind the discussion, one thing is sure: They did not understand the scope of what was about to happen and what it meant. Jesus asks them about their conversation, but they “kept silent.” I would venture to guess because of embarrassment. Think about it; the greatest among them is Jesus, their rabbi, friend, and Messiah! Which one of them could ever come close to Him? So, since they chose to remain silent, Jesus sat down (normal posture for a rabbi) and began to teach them.

35 And sitting down, He called the twelve and *said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And He took a child and placed him among them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever [a]receives [b]one child like this in My name [c]receives Me; and whoever [d]receives Me does not [e]receive Me, but Him who sent Me.”

FOCUS THREE: Humility

In this teaching of Jesus, we find that “the disciples concept of greatness, and leadership, drawn from their culture, needed to be completely reversed. Not those who lord their position over others are great in God’s kingdom, but those who humbly serve others” (10:31, 43-45; Luke 13:30; 14:8-11).

Notice the opposite way of thinking about such things: “if anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” And then Jesus, to illustrate what “servanthood” is, uses a little child demonstrate.

The meaning of the illustration seems clear. “True greatness entails caring about people-insignificant people like children-because Jesus Himself is concerned about them.” In doing so, we receive Jesus and the One who sent Him, the Heavenly Father (v. 37). 

Followers of Jesus Christ should be known for their selflessness, not selfishness. They should be known for their humility, not pride. They should be known for their fellowship with Christ, not men’s praises! These are three things I know I need to be more prayerful about. How about you?

MacArthur Study Bible

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF SELF-RELIANCE

Extended reading: 1 Chronicles 10:1-10

Devotional reading: v. 4

“Saul groaned to his armor bearer, “take your sword and run me through before these pagan Philistines come and humiliate me.” But his armor bearer was afraid and would not do it. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it.”

Here is a horrifying account of personal defeat. Saul had started out well. He had so much going for him. He was born into a wealthy family (1 Samuel 9:1). He was tall and handsome (9:2). He was chosen by God to be Israels’ king (9:16), and he had a heart that was changed by God (10:9)! At first, he was humble; he was willing to follow the leadership of the prophet Samuel. But then he began to take matters into his own hands. And that is when the name of Saul was turned into a synonym for “bad king.” 

Once he started on the downward spiral, he added rebellion to rebellion. But what led to his fall from glory? “His fall from glory can be traced to a single problem that many men face even today: fear of what others think.” First, Saul let his fear of a dangerous enemy lead him to disobey a clear instruction from God (1 Samuel 13:8-10). Second, he let his fear of his own people’s disapproval nudge him to disobey yet another clear command from God. He spared the life of a man God commanded him to kill (1 Samuel 15:9).

Fear of others led directly to Saul’s ruin and to this sad Old Testament judgement: “Now the Spirit of the Lord had left Saul” (16:14). The final outcome was the defeat described in these verses. We need to be careful! The fear of men can be a powerful driving influence in our lives. We are capable of starting down this same pathway toward complete disaster. We must seek God daily. And no matter how we may go astray, He can redirect our courseback to His ways and redeem us.

Adapted from Every man’s Bible NLT

UNBELIEF VERSUS FAITH

Mark 9: 14-29

BRIEF INTRO: You might remember that the several previous chapters in this writing revealed a sense of doubt and unbelief in who Jesus was, not only by the multitudes but, sadly, the disciples as well. In our previous study, the Lord was transfigured before the disciples, an act of tremendous patience and kindness shown by Christ to, once again, help these men (Peter, James, and John) understand more fully who He truly is.

These three men were part of the “inner circle” of disciples and needed to grasp the truth that Jesus, the kingdom’s King was teaching them. They had to comprehend and believe that He would die and rise again, so sinners could be forgiven and enter His kingdom! These men needed to help the other disciples understand that as well. Together they would be sent into the world to proclaim these truths to people who desperately needed to hear them.

“1The transfiguration is a revelation of the glory of the Son of God, a glory now hidden but to be manifested completely and openly at the end of the age, when the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father to render judgement on the world” (Mark 8:38). But, we read how they left the mountain discussing with one another what “rising from the dead might mean” (v. 10), clearly still struggling with doubts, questions, and a lack of faith.

14 And when they came back to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and some scribes arguing with them. 15 Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. 16 And He asked them, “What are you disputing with them?”

FOCUS ONE: What are you talking about?

As they were coming down from the mountain, they saw a “large crowd” gathered around the other disciples in the distance. They notice some scribes around them as well, arguing with them. What were they arguing about? Mark doesn’t tell us, and neither do the other gospel accounts. I speculate that if we stick to the immediate context, we’ll have our answer. They appear to be arguing with the disciples over the fact that they couldn’t heal the man’s son (v. 17). Notice that Jesus asks them, “what are you discussing with them?” And then a man from the crowd “answered Him.”

The scribes always seem to monitor Jesus. “1If the transfiguration took place on Mount Hermon, the presence of the teachers of the law [scribes] so far north in Palestine indicates their concern in monitoring the teaching and preaching of Jesus.” 

So Jesus’ inquiry about the heated discussion was answered by a man whose son was demon-possessed. “2The boy had a demonically induced inability to speak,” and the nine disciples left behind when they went on the mountain could not heal him. 

So why would the scribes be arguing with them over that? Perhaps they viewed them as fake, impotent, wannabes of their rabbi, Jesus. Maybe they just wanted to “rub-it-in.” Whatever their reason, Jesus’s rebuke of the situation was meant for all. The crowd, the scribes, and even the disciples. “O, unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you” (v. 19)?

We also notice in these verses that the crowd ran up to greet Jesus as He approached. “They were amazed” (v. 15). Amazed at what? He hadn’t said anything. Nor had He done anything. Were they amazed at an afterglow that resulted from the transfiguration that just occurred? Most commentators do not think so. “Was this the afterglow of the transfiguration lingered on His face? This is unlikely, especially in view of His instruction for the disciples to keep the event a secret.”

Most likely, they were amazed because His presence was unexpected, creating a sense of wonder about why He was there.

17 And one person from the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, because he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and [a]whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground, and he foams at the mouth and grinds his teeth and becomes stiff. And I told Your disciples so that they would cast it out, but they could not do it.” 19 And He answered them and *said, “O (unbelieving) generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” 20 And they brought [b]the boy to Him. When he saw Him, the spirit immediately threw him into convulsions, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. 21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to kill him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 But Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible for (the one who believes.”)

FOCUS TWO: Help my unbelief

Jesus is met by this man who describes what his son has been going through. This young child has been suffering from this from childhood. The father realized that what his son was going through was much more than a common sickness; he understood it to be demon possession. How did he come to that conclusion? Is he the appropriate authority to determine what demon possession is? I think so. After all, he states from childhood, “(it) has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him.” That certainly is evidence enough to any reasonable mind that something very odd, even evil, is taking place.

This is quite a list of symptoms the child is struggling with:

Speech loss

Seizures

Foaming at mouth

Grinding teeth

Rigid body

All of which points to demon possession (v. 17).

The man explains to Jesus how he brought his son to the disciples, in his absence, for them to heal him, but they couldn’t (v. 18). This man exhibits faith by bringing his son to these men. His appeal to the disciples was legitimate because Jesus had given them such authority (6:7). 

The disciples, the nine that did not go up to the mountain, could not heal the boy. They tried, probably several times (v.28), but to no avail. As I previously mentioned, they had been commissioned and empowered to do this (6:7), and they were successful at it (6:13)!

But this time, they failed. Why? Why was this time any different? According to Jesus, they failed to cast it out because of their lack of faith and prayer (vv. 19, 29). “Apparently they had taken for granted the power given them or had come to believe that it was inherent in themselves. So, they no longer depended prayerfully on God for it, and their failure showed their lack of prayer.”

So the boy is brought to Jesus, and instantly the evil spirit throws him into convulsions, rolling around and foaming at the mouth. This must have been a scary sight for the other parents in the crowd. The father, helpless and struggling to maintain some sense of hope, says to Jesus,” if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v. 22)!

Jesus responds, “If you can, all things are possible to him who believes.” The point is not about Jesus being able to heal (v. 22) BUT about the boys’ fathers’ ability to trust in God to heal (10:27).

And that is where the “rubber meets the road,” isn’t it? How do we respond when someone we love is seriously ill? When hope seems lost and the worst outcome inevitable? We need to be reminded from this event that the issue IS NEVER about whether or not God can heal; we certainly have enough evidence that shows He can. But it IS ALWAYS about our ability to trust Him, even if He chooses not to heal in His providence.

What was the father’s response? “I do believe” (v. 24). Now, take notice of the rest of his declaration: “help my unbelief.” I think he said this loudly (cried out) and honestly. Some may surmise that this man contradicts himself, but I think that would be a poor interpretation of what’s going on in his heart. Jesus elicited faith in this man, but at the same time, he recognized that his faith was far from perfect. Have you ever experienced that in your own heart? If we are honest with ourselves, we know that there isn’t one of us that has not experienced this in our own lives.

I love the honesty and simplicity of his cries. He has been facing terrible, heat-wrenching things in the life of his family and his child. He is growing weary, but as we see here, he has not given up what little bit of hope he still clings to. His faith is small, but it is still alive!

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was [a]rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I [b]command you, come out of him and do not enter him [c]again!” 26 And after crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him, and he got up. 28 When He came into the house, His disciples began asking Him privately, “Why is it that we could not cast it out?” 29 And He said to them, “This kind cannot come out by anything except prayer.”

FOCUS THREE: The authority of Christ

With the crowds rapidly increasing, Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit. It appears that the crowd mentioned in verse twenty-five would be in addition to what has been mentioned in verse fifteen when they came down off the mountain. A more literal reading of “rapidly gathering” would be “running together.” So we have many people quickly encircling Jesus and this man. It doesn’t take much wisdom to understand how forceful and energetic the crowds probably were.

Some people may credit this boy’s sickness to some disease, not demon possession. Epilepsy is one such disease that is noted in some commentaries. That might be helpful to us if it wasn’t for the fact that Christ Himself understands the child’s problem to be demon possession (v. 17 He does not refute it; In v. 25 He rebukes the unclean spirit, and in vv. 28-29, in His discussion with the disciples, He continues to affirm the demonic cause).

The demon that appears to have always wanted to destroy the child (vv. 21-22) is cast out. But not without a last, horrific display of his evil motivations. Why didn’t the demon kill him at some point over the years? He couldn’t. God is sovereign over all and everything; therefore, the demons can only do what God allows them to do (read the book of Job for clarity on this topic). 

The effect of the demon being cast out is such that the boy’s body lay lifeless on the ground in front of all the watching eyes (v. 26). But who has the ultimate authority over life and death? Jesus! He takes him by the hand, and the boy “got up.”

Now you can speculate how all of this has been working on the disciples’ minds. Notice how short yet direct Jesus replies to them: “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” It is paramount in their thinking (v. 28). Why couldn’t we do that? 

These men cast demons out before under the authority of Christ, but not this time. Why? What was different? The context suggests that they failed this time because they didn’t prayerfully depend on God for His power. Perhaps they trusted in previous successes. Maybe they figured that the power was given to them and is just innate within them now to use as necessary. It is easy to see how quickly they would fall into a place of not seeking God’s power for His work when they believe it is already a constant within themselves.

Jesus, with direct brevity, and great patience, reminds and reinforces the seemingly simple truth that they need God to do His work. So do we. How often do we move forward in our Christian walk living off of our past victories, bible reading, and church service, assuming they will be effective for our present experience? How often do we move forward without praying and seeking God? How much do we need direct patient reminders and rebukes from the Lord?

Nothing else is said about the conversation after Jesus’ reply. We are left to surmise how His words affected their hearts and minds. But we know by reading through Acts and the Epistles that it had a lasting impact!

  1. The Expositors Bible Commentary
  2. Macarthur Study Bible

QUESTIONS

Mark 9:9-13

BRIEF INTRO: Peter, James, and John were taken up to a high mountain with Jesus, where He was transfigured before them. These three men, out of the twelve that Christ called unto Himself, were the closest to Him, the “inner circle” that witnessed many things that the others did not. This was one of those times. 

To these three disciples, Jesus gave a special privilege of previewing His kingdom. But in this case, it wasn’t a repeat of the view presented in Matthew thirteen (“the kingdom of heaven is like). Rather, “it was a glimpse of the kingdom as it will be when it has been completely established, and Jesus is revealed to all as its King.”

These men were the key disciples that Jesus would use to motivate and encourage others. To these men, all twelve, the gospel would be entrusted. The gospel was to move forward and be proclaimed throughout the world. I think this goal, at least in part, was to encourage and motivate these three men. We have witnessed their doubts along the way, so something as grand as this would increase their faith and understanding of who Jesus is and why He came, lived among them, and would ultimately die and rise again!

As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, [a]until the Son of Man rose from the dead.”

FOCUS ONE: What happens on the mountain. . .

The central theme of this vision is Jesus, the king! He is the whole point. These men have just been given a glimpse of the divine nature of Jesus. Some of His glory radiated externally (that was within shined through) for them to see who He truly was and in such a powerful and memorable way so that they would understand more wholly why He would have to suffer and die. 

Can you imagine yourself witnessing such an event and then being told to keep it to yourself? Would you be able to? Jesus instructs them “not to relate to anyone what they had seen.” But this instruction or exhortation was limited in time. It was not to be kept a secret forever, only until “the Son of Man should rise from the dead” (v. 9). 

“Only from the perspective of the resurrection would they understand the transfiguration and thus be able to proclaim its meaning correctly.” It appears that they believed in a future resurrection (John 11:24), but their misunderstanding of His messianic kingdom’s nature was evident. And so…

10 “They [a]seized upon [b]that statement, discussing with one another [c]what rising from the dead meant.”

FOCUS TWO: Healthy dialogue 

They “seized upon” or kept those words to themselves. This “keeping” is similar to what Mary did (Luke 2:19) after she heard so many good things about her baby boy. One exception would be that while Mary kept those things to herself (pondered them in her heart), they kept discussing what Christ’s words meant with one another. Especially His statement regarding rising from the dead. What does rising from the dead mean? 

Again, it is clear that they were perplexed by Jesus’ words. What is instructive for us is that they wanted to understand what He was saying to them! They kept on discussing His words together. The dialogue and possibly debates about what He meant continued for some time, most likely even up to the events at Gethsemane, the trials, and then the cross.

I love their zeal to understand! I love the discussion, dialogue, and debates that ensued over His words. I am excited that they wanted to know truth, understand theology (although they may not have viewed it that way at the time), and even their willingness to engage in thoughtful debate over the issue. We can learn much from this observation. We are witnessing the demise of such things in our society. Rather than polite, thoughtful discussion to know the truth, we resort to yelling, canceling, and even violence. God help us.

What does rising from the dead mean? One commentator points out: “The disciples did not understand the distinction between “the second coming” (8:38) and “the resurrection” (9:9). The Jews of Jesus’ day expected only one coming of the Messiah into history and this coming was related to the military victory and supremacy of national Israel on a global scale.” 

11 And they asked Him, saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And He said to them, “Elijah does come first and he restores all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I say to you that Elijah has [a]indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wanted, just as it is written of him.”

FOCUS THREE: The authority of scripture

It is not odd for the scribes to come into the conversation. However, it is a bit unusual that the Pharisees are not mentioned with them. But it is rather insightful, especially when we notice Jesus’ response to the question. The Scribes and the Pharisees sat in “Moses’ seat. That is equivalent to a university’s “chair of philosophy. “The expression here may be translated as “[they] have seated themselves in Moses’ seat”-stressing the fact that this was an imaginary authority they claimed for themselves. There was a legitimate sense in which the priest and Levites had authority to decide matters of law (Deuteronomy 17:9), but the scribes and Pharisees had gone beyond any legitimate authority and were adding human tradition to the word of God (Matthew 15:3-9). For that Jesus condemned them (Matthew 23:8-36).”

Jesus, in this case, does not invalidate their teaching regarding Elijah. He clarifies it! The word “must” is a verb (dei) that in Greek speaks of the absolute necessity that this must occur. So this is a logical question being asked of Jesus in light of Malachi four and their recent experience on the mountain.

The question seems to be, how does the appearance of Elijah on the mountain relate to the scribe’s teaching? Let me sum up Jesus’ answer in this way:

“The sequence of thought is as follows: (1) Elijah is coming as the restorer (Malachi 4:5); (2) he came, unrecognized, in the person of John the Baptist, and was killed; (3) the Son of Man faces a like fate. The disciples seem to grasp only the first two points.”

We will witness these very words of Jesus coming true as we continue moving forward in our study of Mark. 

One last observation for our consideration. Did you notice the statement “just as it is written of him” in verse thirteen regarding John the Baptist, and again in verse twelve “how is it written” concerning the Son of man? Those statements should encourage our study of scripture and equip us in our daily walk and ministries because they reveal Jesus’ high view of scripture! He believes it to be authoritative, and so should we!

The Bible Knowledge Commentary, pg. 143

Preceptaustin commentaries, online

Macarthur Study Bible, pg. 1436

THE COMING KINGDOM

Mark 9:1-8

NOT SO BRIEF RECAP: In our previous study, we saw Jesus healing the blind man, which was assuredly for his good, but it also served as a very vivid object lesson for the disciples. Remember, they didn’t quite understand who Jesus was (cr. v.17; 6:52), and so after the doubt expressed by them when Jesus spoke about the “leaven of the Pharisees” (v. 15-17) was addressed, He healed a blind man that was brought to Him differently than He usually did (vv. 22-26). It was in the way that Christ healed the man that the “slowness” of the disciples to “see” who Jesus was in truth was portrayed.

Jesus then asked them specifically who they thought He was; at last, we witnessed some progress! “Thou art the Christ” (v. 29)! But quickly after that divine wisdom was imparted to Peter (Matthew 16:17), we saw him rebuke Jesus when He spoke of His suffering, death, and resurrection. “Suffering precedes exaltation.”

Peter appears to hear what Christ said in bits and pieces. He doesn’t seem to hear more than he wanted to hear. He heard that his friend and teacher would die, but the resurrection part was apparently missed! So, what does he do? Like us, Peter acts hastily on the incomplete information he heard and rebuked Jesus. Jesus, never missing a valuable teaching moment, proceeds to instruct the disciples and the multitude with them (vv. 33-34).

Most bible translations link 9:1 with the previous verse (8:38) ending that chapter. My translation is one of them. It makes good sense to do so because it naturally gives a reasonable conclusion to the discourse Jesus began in verse 34.

So, what does Jesus mean when He speaks of some not tasting death until they see the Kingdom of God? What aspect of the domain is He referring to?

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 when it has come with power.”

FOCUS ONE: Kingdom of God (with power)

Some questions seem necessary at this point in our study. When will this Kingdom arrive? What aspect of the Kingdom is in view? What does Jesus mean when He states that some “standing here shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power?”

Let’s begin by answering the question regarding what He is referring to; the rest will naturally follow. Many commentators address that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this remarkable promise immediately before the experience of Peter, James, and John on the mount of transfiguration, indicating that they understood the experience to be the fulfillment of the promise. We see the three disciples being translated six days later in a vision (Mt 17:9) to the glory of the future Kingdom.

For example: “Jesus’ words assert that the arrival of the Kingdom of God in power will transpire within the lifetime of the persons addressed (again, the crowd and the disciples in Mark 8:34). So this is a future event. While a number of possibilities have been mentioned, if one lets the context rule in interpretation, it would seem clear that this refers to Jesus’ transfiguration as described in the following passages, the three disciples saw the King of the Kingdom of God in His glory.”

Jesus is very directly making a promise that the power and glory of His Kingdom would become evident soon, and some there would see it! Because Jesus Christ the King is present, the Kingdom of God is at hand. “And when His glory is seen by a few who are present, they will get a glimpse at the glory of the divine, the God-man, Jesus Christ as He will be forever” (Hill). 

And six days later Jesus *took with Him Peter, [a]James, and John, and *brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was [b]transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

FOCUS TWO: The transfiguration (2-8)

If you have been studying this on your own, you most likely have been reading the parallel accounts in Matthew 16:28-17:3; Luke 9:27-36. One of them records the days differently than the others. Luke states in his account that it was “about eight days after these sayings” (Luke 9:28), while Matthew and Mark state that it was “six days later.” What are we to make of this apparent contradiction?

I do not believe that these accounts contradict one another. We must remember that in the Gospel narratives, we hear from several witnesses regarding the events. Each has a different group they are writing to; each has a different perspective that they are writing from, but with one goal: to reveal who Jesus is! And, never forget that they are being divinely led in what they report (2 Timothy 3:16-17)!

So, with all that being said, how do we explain the difference? It seems logical to conclude that while Matthew and Mark only count the days between Peter’s confession and the transfiguration happening, Luke includes both days in his numbering.

So, six days later Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain (v.2). This unnamed location, according to many bible scholars, was probably a southern ridge of Mount Hermon about 12 miles northeast of Caesarea Philippi (8:27; 9:30). These three men are part of the “inner circle” of disciples that Jesus allowed to witness things the others did not (Mark 5:37; 14:33). MacArthur points out that “Jesus took them with Him in accord with the Law’s requirement that two or three witnesses confirm truth (Deut. 17:6; cf. Matt. 18:162 Cor. 13:11 Tim. 5:19Heb. 10:28).

“And He was transfigured before them.” What does that ten-dollar word mean? Transfigured in the original Greek is (μεταμορφόω, metamorphoó). It means “to be changed into another form, not merely a change in outward appearance. For a brief time Jesus’ human body was transformed (glorified), and the disciple’s saw Him as He will be when He returns visibly to establish His Kingdom on earth (Acts 15:14-18; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28).”

 The word “Before” is essential to defining what took place on the mountain. It is “ἔμπροσθεν-emprosthen,” which means in front of them. Luke 9:29 indicates the transfiguration took place “while He was praying,” “In the transfiguration, Jesus exhibited a change on the outside which came from His inside, His true nature, His divinity. Christ’s nature, of course, could not change; only His appearance. Jesus’ glory shone through His humanity and His garments demonstrating to the disciples what Jesus really was on the inside. The glory which was Jesus’ essential and eternal divine nature, shone outward, for a brief time and to a limited degree.”

This HAD to be a fantastic event to behold! His garments were becoming so white that they could never be whiter, purer. His facial appearance changed! 

David Garland – “The Transfiguration, therefore, serves to confirm that (what)the suffering Jesus will endure is not incompatible with his glory. The scene functions like a hologram. For a brief moment, the disciples glimpse the truth as divine glory shines through the veil of suffering. It foreshadows the time when God will gloriously enthrone Jesus after the degradation on the cross. This white flash of the splendor to come brightens the dark cloud of tribulation that presently hangs over Mark’s first readers and confirms Jesus’ promise that those who follow and suffer for him will not have done so in vain.”

Elijah and Moses appear, and they are both walking with Jesus. In the role of Israel’s deliverer and law-giver, Moses represented the Law. Elijah represented the prophets. But why are they here? What’s the significance of their appearing on the mountain? One commentator writes: “If what the disciples saw was a glimpse of Jesus’ final state of glory, then Moses and Elijah’s function is to announce the end.”

Even more interesting is that both of these men had ended their lives on earth in mysterious ways (Deuteronomy 34:6; 2 Kings 2:11). “It adds to the appropriateness of their mysterious reappearance in this preview of the glorious climax of Jesus’ ministry.”

Peter responded and *said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here; let’s make three [a]tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” For he did not know how to reply; for they became terrified. Then a cloud [b]formed, overshadowing them, and a voice [c]came out of the cloud: “This is My beloved Son; [d]listen to Him!” And suddenly they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone.

FOCUS THREE: THE FATHER SPEAKS (7-8)

Here again, we witness impetuous Peter speaking when he doesn’t know what to say! His response is impulsive and based on fear, “for he didn’t know what to answer; for they became terrified.” This experience deeply moved Peter, but he was unsure how to react. It seems like he wanted to prolong the event, so he asks to make three tabernacles (tents of meeting, booths- Leviticus 23:33-43), one for each of them- Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.”

On the surface, it seems like Peter regarded all three as being equal (v. 5). “Unwittingly or not, Peter was again resisting the suffering which Jesus had said would precede the glory” (8:31).

 But, God’s response from the cloud would make clear the true meaning of the event (v.7)! This cloud formed almost out of nowhere. It dominated the mountain! It “overshadowed them” or, in other words. The cloud appears to have cast a dark shadow over them.

And then God’s voice Emanates from the darkness with unmistakable clarity “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” Like at Jesus’ baptism, the Father places His “unqualified” endorsement on His beloved Son. God tells them to “listen to Him,” but it is written in the present imperative in the original language and means to “be obedient to Him.”

“The uniqueness of Christ is highlighted by the fact that suddenly-as suddenly as they had appeared-Moses and Elijah were gone.” And the three disciples no longer saw anyone but Jesus.

Some food for thought:

  1. 1. Apparent contradictions are only that. Further study allowing scripture to interpret itself reveals the answers.
  2. 2. Jesus, the god-man, never ceased to be God but veiled His glory for a time. Imagine how limited this revealing of His glory must have been to them. No human being on this side of heaven could handle the complete revelation of His glory! Imagine your response if you were there.
  3. 3. Like Peter, we often “don’t get it.” We are slow to hear and even slower to comprehend. Often we speak when we should remain quiet. What have you learned from Peter that might help you in your struggle to walk by faith?

Bible Knowledge Commentary

Preceptaustin (verse by verse)

Moule, Gospel of Mark, pg. 70

Noses, anger, and Christ-like-ness

In my most recent readings I came across an article in Tabletalk magazine that I found to be very interesting. It was an article entitled: Being slow to anger.

What drew my attention immediately was this sentence:


“From the perspective of the Bible, however, a long nose is in fact a desirable trait for the disciple of Jesus Christ.”

Get your attention? What does our nose have to do with anything related to living the Christian life?

The article continues- “This is because the Hebrew phrase “long of nose” (APH, strong’s # 639) describes one who is slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6). “It is possible to understand this image in the sense that long nostrils take longer to “grow hot” and explode in burning anger. . . Nostrils are a tube through which air moves, and the longer the tube, the more gentle and controlled the air flow.”

Oddly enough, I later read this news item:

Scat spat: Argument over dog poop
leads to Lebanon woman’s arrest.

LEBANON, Ind. — “What began as an argument over dog poop led to one neighbor allegedly pointing a loaded gun at another in Lebanon.

The woman told police Ray’s dog had defecated on her porch, and the man was yelling at Ray about the poop when he decided to move the camera.

Ray got out of her car to scream at the man, then went inside the house to call 911 and came back out with a gun, according to court documents.”

Apparently no long nose here! Seriously though, we can learn a lot from these two articles. For example, anger can quickly lead to costly consequences.

“A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression” (Proverbs 29:22).

“A hot- tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger (long of nose) quiets contention” (Proverbs 15:18).

The positive aspect of being slow to anger is that when we are such, we are being most like God! “To walk in wisdom is to reflect God’s character, most beautifully revealed in His Son.”

LIFE APPLICATION

Mark 8:22-26

BRIEF INTRO: 

The correct application of knowledge in our lives is essential. Our days are filled with many issues, challenges, and temptations that require a certain level of wisdom to work through in a healthy, God-honoring way. 

In our study, we have witnessed the disciple’s “lack” of understanding of who Jesus truly was. We observed some “mountain top” moments in their lives, such as their success in ministry when Jesus sent them out to “preach and have authority to cast out demons” (3:14) and when Peter walked on water (Mark 6:45-51; Matthew 14:29). 

And we will hear Peter’s amazing confession of Jesus as the Messiah in our next study (Mark 8:29). But along with these moments, we witness many others that are not so positive! We constantly observe their lack of comprehension relating to spiritual truths (Mark 4:13; 6:52; 7:17,18; 8:1-5, 15-21).

These men seem to take one step forward, only to take two steps backward a little later. Can you relate to them? I sure can. Their understanding of spiritual things is gradual, not immediate. Their ability to get past previously held presuppositions is limited, so they desperately need Jesus to come alongside them and patiently teach them about the kingdom and its King, King Jesus! And this is what Jesus does. So far in our study of Mark, we have observed the fantastic patience of Jesus with these men that He called unto Himself. The patience of Jesus! That, dear reader, is something to be thankful about. 

22 And they *came to Bethsaida. And some people *brought a man who was blind to [a]Jesus and *begged Him to touch him.23 Taking the man who was blind by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting in his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he [b]looked up and said, “I see people, for I see them like trees, walking around.” 25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. 26 And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

FOCUS ONE: Do you see anything?

The two-step method of healing the blind man seems odd, as Jesus’ healings are usually instantaneous. We must never forget that Jesus, as God in the flesh, still maintains His sovereign choice to heal according to His timing. But along with that, we can also understand that it would be very reasonable for Him to use this miracle of healing as another teaching moment for His disciples. (assuming He took some with Him outside cr. 5:37). 

Our previous study ended with Jesus asking the disciples, “Do you not yet understand” (8: 17,21), and in the account that follows what we are discussing in this post, Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is, and Peter expresses boldly that He is the Christ (8:29).

We can see a bit of similarity in Marks writing between the disciples and this blind man. The blind man is like the disciples; at first, he sees only dimly, then when Jesus again puts His hands on the man’s eyes, he sees everything clearly! 

“1The disciples still have much to learn about Jesus after the disclosure at Caesarea Philippi. The difference between Jesus’ self-disclosure to His disciples before the healing of the blind man (vv. 15-21) and afterward at Caesarea Philippi (vv. 27-30) is as great as the two seeings of the blind man who is healed in stages.”

The similarities in the account regarding “seeing” or understanding are apparent. From all we read leading up to this point, we notice that the disciple’s spiritual eyesight is gradually being healed. These few verses about this man’s healing seem to serve as a bridge between Jesus’ “Do you not yet understand?” and Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah! Which then is followed by Jesus foretelling His coming death and resurrection!

Outside of the obvious healing of the blind man, there is another object lesson for Jesus’ disciples. Jesus completely transforms people’s lives!

Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. 26 And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

FOCUS TWO: Seeing clearly

The blind man’s life would never be the same again! I can imagine that he would not go through a minute, a day, or even a year, without thinking about the compassion and kindness shown to him on that day from Jesus. But what we don’t want to miss in this object lesson to His disciples is that “transformation” spiritually is also a work done by Jesus: the most critical work.

Do you remember these words from the grand old hymn Amazing grace: “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see?” How did that happen? It happens because of Jesus Christ! Jesus is not only the “way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), but He is also the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Light reveals things previously hidden by darkness. Jesus opens the eyes of sinners to see His truth and experience His wonderful redemption.

Physical transformation is a great gift that we shouldn’t take for granted. How much more so spiritual transformation? The disciples were being transformed in the “renewing of their minds,” but it was not an instantaneous event. It was more like a roller coaster ride at an amusement park! Just as this man received his sight back in stages, so will the disciples grow in understanding and see Jesus for who He truly is!

FOCUS THREE: Go on home

In verse 26, the man was sent home but warned, “Do not even enter the village.” Why such a warning? It appears evident throughout Mark’s writing that the multitudes were not yet ready to “see everything” clearly. This isn’t the only time Jesus gave similar commands to others. He told some not to tell anyone about what He had done for them (Matthew 8:4; Mark 3:12; Luke 5:14). 

“2There were certain points in Jesus’ ministry when He purposely tried to keep the crowds following Him from growing to large. Overly large crowds tended to be more disorderly and sometimes hindered Jesus from His more in depth discipleship and teaching ministry.” 

After sending the healed man away, Jesus and His disciples head to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way, Jesus questions them about who the people say He is, but more directly, Who do you say I am? This is where I believe all the things we have been meditating on are headed.

1 Evangelical Commentary on the Bible

2 Studyandobey.com

NOT ALONE

If I were to walk alone
Without you as my guide,
I wonder just how far I’d get
Before I’d lose my stride.

I can’t imagine trying that,
Even thinking it’d be wise;
For such a test of mind and heart
Would surely be my demise.

Who’s counsel would I walk in
If it did not come from you?
What wisdom could I gain
And be sure that it is true?

But you O Lord are my shield
The One that sustains me,
Certainly to you I yield
My heart eternally.

My soul rejoices in you O Lord,
Your Spirit is my guide;
No longer must I walk alone
When by faith in you I abide

Written by: Larry Stump Jr.

A SIGN FROM HEAVEN

Mark 8:10-13. Cr. Matthew 16:1-4

BRIEF INTRO: It should appear odd that the Pharisees would be asking for a sign, an “attesting miracle,” to validate who Jesus says He is. When we survey the gospel accounts up to this point, we are quickly inundated with many situations in which Jesus performed miracles. He cast out demons (1:23-27), healed Simon’s mother-in-law from fever (1:29-31), and healed many who were sick from various illnesses (1:34). He healed lepers, paralytics, and a man with withered hands, a woman with a bleeding issue (5:25-34), and many others. He even fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish! Who else but God the Messiah can do such wonders?

And yet, as often as we see the Pharisees in the gospel accounts, gathering together to test Him, observe Him, and even debate Him, with full knowledge of what He has done for the people, we still find them “seeking a sign.”

Do you need some sign before you trust in Jesus?

11 And the Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, demanding from Him a [a]sign from heaven, [b]to test Him.

FOCUS ONE: The problem with the Pharisees

Who were they anyway?

“After the Babylonian exile, the Pharisees organized with the express purpose of ensuring that the people of God would no longer stray away from the divine precepts. In an effort to do so, they became expert exegetes and interpreters of scripture. They painstakingly studied the law of God and created a sort of oral commentary on the law, which evolved over time and later was produced in a written form known today as the Mishnah. The parts of the Mishnah directly related to commandments or legal requirements of the law were known as halacha, which means walking through the law.”

“By New Testament times, the Pharisees had reached the height of their influence. They were well-respected by the common people because of their commitment to piety and dogged loyalty to the nation of Israel. They were bitter rivals of the Sadducees, a similar group that was made of mostly upper-class Jews, though with more liberal political views. The Pharisees, whose name in the original language signifies a literal separation from that which would defile, were the opposite of the Sadducees, who were highly motivated by any relationship or arrangement which would advance their political or economic aims. The Pharisees were deeply committed to doctrinal and personal purity. While the Pharisees did consider Sadducees to be compromising backsliders, we do see them leaguing together to entrap Jesus (see Mt. 22:15-16,22-23,34).”

So, they didn’t start badly, but over the years, the motivations of many of them changed. Their influence over the people was of paramount importance to them. Jesus called them out over this very thing in Matthew 23:6-7. “It seemed as though their primary qualm with Jesus was that He was detracting from their influence and thus diminishing the ability to maintain control of the hearts and minds of the people.” 

Some problems we notice regarding the Pharisees:

  1. They had an incorrect view of authority (7:6)
  2. They failed to acknowledge the inconsistencies in their hearts
  3. They were self-consumed and self-absorbed (Matthew 23:1-36)
  4. They were hypocrites (Matthew 23)

In our text, we find Jesus and His disciples had just entered the district of Dalmanutha and were immediately harassed by the Pharisees from that region. Where is Dalmanutha?

“(1) A place on the west of the Sea of Galilee, mentioned only in  Mark 8:10 . In the parallel passage, it is said that Christ came “into the borders of Magdala” ( Matthew 15:39 ). It is plain, then, that Dalmanutha was near Magdala, which was probably the Greek name of one of the many Migdols (i.e., watch-towers) on the western side of the lake of Gennesaret. It has been identified in the ruins of a village about a mile from Magdala, in the little open valley of ‘Ain-el-Barideh, “the cold fountain,” called el-Mejdel, possibly the “Migdal-el” of Joshua 19:

In this place, we read Christ’s response to them regarding their request for a sign.

12 Sighing deeply in His spirit, He *said, “Why does this generation demand a [a]sign? Truly I say to you, [b]no [c]sign will be given to this generation!”

FOCUS TWO: Why a sign?

The Pharisees already had many attesting miracles (signs) that revealed the deity of Jesus. It wasn’t that they needed clarification of anything. No, it is evident in these few recorded words of Mark that they were there to “test” Him and did so while “arguing” with Him (8:12).

Those words: “sighed deeply in His spirit,” reveal the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ! They express how deeply affected He was by their “wickedness” and “hypocrisy.” It appears that their “obstinate unbelief” is the issue underlying His refusal to give them a sign of their asking. So, no sign at their request, in such unbelief, will be given to them, BUT Jesus will provide “one” sign of His choosing! Matthew 16:1-4 records Christ’s words regarding the sign He will provide: the sign of Jonah! It was NOT what they asked for and would NOT be given because they asked for it.

Now the question should arise: Is it always wrong to seek a sign? I guess the answer to that would be yes AND no! Confusing? Let’s focus on that answer for just a bit.

In our day and age, the definition of terms is very critical. While one person may understand a word to mean one thing, others may define it differently. So, we need to be careful here. There seem to be three different possible meanings being used when the word “signs” is used.

“2The first category for “signs” is biblical but should NOT be sought after by Christians. The second category for “signs” is biblical and should be sought after by Christian’s. And the third category for “signs” is not biblical and thus should not be sought after by Christians.”

The first category of “signs” is what I would label as “signs and wonders.”

In the Bible, there is clear evidence that at certain times in history, God has chosen to create “signs and wonders” to send a message, warnings, or to mark the fulfillment of a promise. 

An example of this would be in Luke 2:8-15, when an angel appeared to the shepherds and announced the supernatural birth of Jesus. Luke 2:12 states, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

“While these types of “signs” are clearly biblical, these are not the type of signs a Christian should look for to hear from God on a daily basis. Signs and wonders are rare and will not be performed by God whenever we want him to do them. God chooses to use these types of signs for special purposes and reasons. We should not ask God to speak to us through signs like this whenever we want to know his will for our lives. These types of signs and wonders are something God will choose to do when he wants to, but this is not something we should seek after.”

The second category of “signs” is what I would label as “evidence for what God wants you to do in your life.

“Unlike “signs and wonders,” this second type of “sign” is the kind I believe Christians should always be looking for so that they can fulfill God’s specific will for their life. The process of seeing these signs is less about asking God to send them to us and more about properly interpreting the signs God is already sending to us. God is always telling us what he wants us to do in life, and we need to properly interpret these “signs” so we are doing what God wants.”

“When certain things are happening in your heart and in your life, we need to interpret these things through a biblical lens. When I use the word “signs” in my videos and articles, I’m referring to this process of interpreting events through applying the Bible. If “________” happens, this is a sign you should apply “_________” biblical principle. Just like a doctor who looks at the patient and examines what symptoms are present before giving medicine, we need to look at the “signs” in life that would lead us to apply the correct biblical wisdom.”

For example, if you are a man and asked God, “Lord, do you want me to ask Ashley out on a date?”, it would not be biblical to ask God to give you a vision to tell you what to do. But, it would be biblical to look for evidence in your life and interactions with Ashley to help you rightly apply the word of God. So if you are talking with Ashley and it comes out that she is not a Christian like you thought she was, this would be a “sign” that God does not want you to date her because 2 Corinthians 6:14 states that God does not want his people unequally yoked.

Because our goal here is to apply biblical wisdom rightly, this is why we can use the language, “God wants you to do this” or “God wants you to do that.” The Bible is God’s word; therefore, when we rightly apply the Bible to our lives, we know we are doing what God wants us to do in our lives.

The third category of “signs” is what I refer to as “horoscopes and superstitions.” 

“When someone is using the word “sign” in this sense, they are attaching unrelated meaning to random events and situations in life.”

“For example, if a man was asking, “Lord, do you want me to date Ashely?” and then he instantly saw five grey cats walk in front of him, and he then interpreted this as a sign that God does want him to date Ashley, this would be unbiblical. Why? Because those five grey cats have nothing to do with healthy relationship principles found in the Bible. 

If this man prayed that prayer and then at church that night, he and Ashly have a great conversation together, and they get time to serve with one another, and it seems like they both are prepared to start a godly relationship – then that could be interpreted as a sign that God is telling him to move forward with her. But when we try to attach our meanings to random things in life, we are playing God and just making things up in our heads. This is not what God wants for us.”

“Or if a woman was asking God if she should breakup with her boyfriend and then on her way to work she literally got stopped at every red traffic light possible, and then she interpreted this as a sign that God was telling her to breakup with him, this would not be biblical because red traffic lights don’t mean anything biblically or relationally. However, if on her way to work she sees her boyfriend kissing another woman, clearly that would be a sign she needs to breakup with him because this man is not showing the character of a faithful man that the Bible requires for husbands.”

God speaks clearly through the Bible, through the Holy Spirit’s impressions on our hearts, and through the circumstances in our lives. God will help us rightly interpret the “signs” in our lives by showing us how to rightly apply biblical wisdom to the situations and relationships we experience in our lives.”

I trust these examples from a website on applying God’s word will help us better understand the importance of correctly defining terms and biblically applying scripture.

13 And leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side.

FOCUS THREE: Approaching Jesus

One other thing that stands out in this portion of scripture, at least to me, is the question of how we approach Jesus? To simply state it, there are only two ways to approach Jesus:

  1. Incorrectly (irreverent, argumentative, hypocritically) 10:2; 11:18
  2. Correctly (humbly, repentant, sincerely) 7:27-30; 5:21-24; 35-43

I encourage you to read the scriptures cited above for yourself because in them, you will see a stark contrast in the heart and behavior of each person represented. 

Once again, we read that Jesus leaves to go “to the other side” with His disciples. We see this many times leading up to our text today:

Mark 4:35

5:21

6:32

6:45

8:10

8:13 seems to be the last time

In verse twenty-two we find their destination: Bethsaida!

  1. (1) The Growth network (internet site)
  2. (2) Applying God’s word (internet site).