June 9/10, 2018
Jason Meyer | Mark 9:9-13
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”—Mark 9:9–13
Have you ever seen one of those connect-the-dot pictures? You start with dots on a page, and they are supposed to combine to form a picture, but you can’t tell what it is until you connect the dots or numbers—you finish and you see that it is a cat or something.
Many Christians struggle to connect the dots when it comes to suffering in the Bible. It feels somewhat strange to talk about how a loving Father would want his children to suffer. It seems so counterintuitive, and sometimes it is hard to connect the dots.
Today we have a story in which other believers are scratching their heads over the idea of suffering. But in many ways, they have an even harder time connecting the dots because they are further behind. They can’t even picture a “suffering Messiah.” That concept seems so out of place that they struggle to even have a category for it. In this text, Jesus tries to connect the dots for the disciples so that they can see the big picture.
This process of connecting the dots has three phases.
We will walk through each point and then see the main point of the passage in the climax of the story.
1) The Command of Silence (v. 9)
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Mark 9:9 is the ninth and final time that Jesus commands silence in the Gospel of Mark. He keeps telling people not to talk about what they have seen. But this is the climactic command to silence because this is the first and only time he lets us know that this command to be silent is only temporary. They are to tell no one what they have seen “until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (v. 9).
Jesus is saying that until the “dots” of his death and resurrection are connected, none of the rest of the picture will make sense. The Resurrection is the crucial vantage point from which he can be understood. They can’t even begin to connect the dots until that happens.
Now someone may ask, “But how does the Resurrection connect the dots about suffering?” Rising from the dead can only come after being dead. It is a package deal! Death and resurrection. We are back to what Jesus said in Mark 8:31.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man 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.
You may remember what happened last time. Peter opened his mouth and rebuked Jesus and got rebuked in return by Jesus. Then Peter opened his mouth again in the last story of the Transfiguration and got rebuked by God the Father. Will the disciples do better this time? Have they learned their lesson?
2) The Problem of Blindness (vv. 10–11)
So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him,“Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”
They have not learned their lesson. Their blindness has not been removed. But they are not bringing their blindness to Jesus and asking for help. Phase 2 of constructing a category for a suffering Messiah is just keep it to yourself and ponder it on your own. They are still blind; they are just better at concealing it and hiding it—certainly not best practice for constructing a category for a suffering Messiah, because they can’t do it on their own.
They need Jesus to construct it for them. Let’s think about the progression thus far. The first time that Peter heard about Jesus’ death and resurrection in plain language, Peter tried the direct approach and rebuked Jesus (Mark 8:32). Peter did not do so well when he tried to teach Jesus, so the next time he makes a proposal (Mark 9:5). The problem is that the proposal was foolish and patronizing, and he received a rebuke from God the Father.
So they decided that this time they would try a different approach. No rebukes and no proposals. Together they think, “Let’s just not go there at all. Let’s not even open our mouth about it. Let’s keep it to ourselves.”
So they kept the matter to themselves.—Mark 9:10a
They still had the question, but they decided to ponder it on their own: “… questioning what this rising from the dead might mean” (Mark 9:10b).
The disciples are like a case study in how many different ways you can bumble something. First, they definitely shouldn’t try to be the teachers and correct/rebuke Jesus. Second, they shouldn’t be making proposals when they have no idea what to say because they are so terrified (but have to say something). Third, they should have brought their question to Jesus and asked him to remove their blindness about his death and resurrection. But rather than question Jesus, they kept their question to themselves and pondered it themselves. We aren’t going to ask you to connect the dots on this death and Resurrection thing—we are going to play this game on our own. They are still blind, but they are going to hide it and keep it from Jesus by keeping it to themselves until they can figure it out on their own. Bad idea!
They actually move away from the topic of death and resurrection altogether by asking about how to connect the dots about something else: Elijah. They ask, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (v. 11). They probably think that they are changing the topic of conversation. But their question does not really change the subject. Jesus will take them right back to it, because they can’t understand anything else without it.
The disciples see part of the picture: They know the prophesy about the coming of Elijah. This is partial sight and partial blindness. They could be thinking, “We know that Malachi prophesied that Elijah will return before the great Day of the Lord, and on that day God is going to put everything to right. We just saw Elijah up there. Isn’t the Day of the Lord near? Why are we talking about death and Resurrection still?”
The disciples have a partial blindness. They know about the coming of Elijah and the coming restoration, but that is only half of the story. They have missed the suffering part of the picture again! Jesus is going to point them to the Scriptures: Suffering must come before restoration.
And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
1. It Is Written That the Son of Man Must Suffer
Elijah does come first, and the restoration will happen, but have you not read the rest of the Bible? Why does it say that the Son of Man should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
Notice that Jesus calls himself the Son of Man once again. This was a favorite title that Jesus used for himself that does not merely mean that he is a human being. It comes from Scripture. Jesus explicitly tells the disciples he is helping them connect the dots of Scripture: “How is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things …?”
Son of Man is a title drawn from Daniel 7:13–14—a mysterious figure, “one like a Son of Man” comes to the Ancient of Days and receives a kingdom.
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.”
And Jesus once again connects two dots that the disciples have not yet been able to connect. The first is the picture of the glorious Son of Man who has dominion and authority and glory and a kingdom that will never be destroyed. They have that dot. But the second dot they have not connected to the first. The Son of Man is going to suffer. He is going to establish the Daniel 7 kingdom through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Isaiah 53.
Are those dots connected in your Bibles? There is a Daniel 7 Person who receives an everlasting kingdom and whom all the nations will serve, and there is an Isaiah 53 suffering Servant who will be despised and rejected and slaughtered, and then is vindicated. Jesus brings them together and says that they are the same person—him. The disciples seem to think of death as defeat—not as a necessary means to victory.
Main Point: Jesus corrects the disciples’ blindness by connecting the dots in Scripture.
Jesus is relentless in making this point and making this connection. When the dots are connected, the picture they will see is his death and resurrection. He will not avoid it or hide from it or deny it (like the disciples). He brings it into the open and he never draws back from it. The question of Elijah leads to this same point.
2. It Is Written That Elijah Must Suffer
Now Jesus connects these dots to Elijah. He shows that the disciples’ question about Elijah is not a separate subject from His own death and resurrection. He connects the dot of the coming of Elijah with the dot of His own suffering.
The disciples are oblivious to the connection between John the Baptist and Elijah. These are two other puzzle pieces that they just have not put together yet. Yes, Elijah will come. But Elijah must suffer too. In fact (and this is the gotcha moment) he already has suffered, and so now it is time for me to suffer.
Let’s walk our way back through the story. This is now the third time that Jesus and John the Baptist/Elijah have been paired together. Let’s recall the first two.
First Pairing of Jesus and John the Baptist/Elijah
The Forerunner: Preparing the Way for Jesus (Mark 1:2–8)
First, Mark 1 presented them together. John the Baptist is the forerunner—his coming prepares the way for the coming of the Lord.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
This quotation is a mixed quotation from two main places: Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Malachi 3:1 warns that God will send a messenger to prepare the way before the dreaded day of judgment, called the Day of the Lord: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Isaiah 40 says that this will happen in the wilderness, and we learn that he will prepare the way for the Lord—who we learn is Jesus.
Immediately after the Malachi 3/Isaiah 40 quotation, we are introduced to John the Baptist—in the wilderness, preparing the way with a baptism of repentance as the people confess their sins (Mark 1:4–5). But then we learn who John the Baptist really is when Mark gives us a physical description of what John wore (camel’s hair, leather belt) and what he ate (locusts, wild honey) in verse 6. The point of the description is to identify John as a prophet like Elijah, as seen in 2 Kings 1:7–8.
He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
Mark tried to give us the connection to make that important conclusion. Imagine a movie on the Civil War. The camera moves to a person and there is a still shot of his features. He is tall, with a dark beard, and a big tall black top hat. The movie does not need to have anyone break in and say: “That is Abraham Lincoln.” Everyone recognizes him by his distinctive dress.
In fact, the Gospel of Luke does it more explicitly and emphatically. Remember what Malachi 4:5–6 says:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Luke 1:17 connects John the Baptist to this picture in the following way:
“And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
John the Baptist is not literally Elijah. They are two distinct people (Elijah is still alive—we just saw him on the Mount of Transfiguration). But in God’s plan they come together as one because John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah to accomplish Malachi 4:6.
Second Pairing of Jesus and John the Baptist/Elijah
The Foreshadower: The handing over of John foreshadows the handing over of Jesus.
“But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”—Mark 9:13
What does it mean that “they did to him whatever they pleased?” It is not surprising that Mark highlights the end of John’s ministry before moving to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. There is a natural progression. The time of preparation is over. When he moves out of the way, that is the signal for Jesus to begin. When the opening band is finished with their music, it is time for the main event.
Mark does not give us any editorial information to let us know what happened to John the Baptist. We have to wait until Mark 6:17–29 to find out what happened. John was not just arrested, he was executed.
All of this is foreshadowing. The story of John is intricately tied to the story of Jesus. In fact, Mark 1:14 makes a precise parallel by using a specific term that appears later. “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God.” The term translated “arrested” is really the word for “handed over.” I wish translators would keep the words translated in similar ways so they can see these connections. John was handed over, and Jesus will be as well (9:31; 10:3; 14:41). Jesus is essentially saying, “Elijah came and was executed; why does it surprise you that I am going down that same road?”
What does it mean, “as it is written of him” (Mark 9:13)? Where does it say that the Elijah to come will suffer? There is no singular text that says Elijah will suffer. We have hints from history because Elijah was rejected and suffered in his own lifetime (think of Ahab and Jezebel). Jesus is more specifically pointing to a pattern in Scripture that connects many dots together in this story. For example, in Mark 12, he tells the story of the history of Israel in a way that highlights the persecution and suffering of the prophets. He portrays God’s relationship to Israel as the owner of a vineyard sending servants to the vineyard, but the tenants keep rejecting them and killing them. At last, the Master sends his beloved Son (Mark 12:6). The Master says, “Surely, they will respect my son.” But they kill him, too. But Jesus in Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that the bloodshed and suffering of the Son is different in one very important way.
The Son of Man will suffer many things … and so will you if you follow him. These two realities are distinct, but never disconnected. Let’s take them one at a time.
1. What Jesus’ Suffering Accomplishes: Propitiation
Here is where Jesus’ rejection, suffering, and bloodshed will be different. The next chapter makes it emphatic: This suffering and bloodshed will accomplish redemption. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He will suffer many things because he will be a ransom for many people. The blood is a purchase price. A slave could be redeemed by paying a purchase price for him in the market. Jesus is the Isaiah 53 suffering Servant whose suffering will set people free by paying the purchase price. It was the Father’s will to crush the Son as a payment for sin. This is propitiation—a sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt.—Isaiah 53:10
Watch the way Isaiah 53:5 connects the dot of his death with the dot of our life:
But he was pierced (the dot of his death)
for our transgressions (the dot of our life);
he was crushed (the dot of his death)
for our iniquities (the dot of our life);
upon him was the chastisement (the dot of his death)
that brought us peace (the dot of our life),
and with his wounds (the dot of his death)
we are healed (the dot of our life).
Here is a grid to show us the glory of Christ. Think of how authority and vulnerability are both necessary for flourishing. This was a staff devotional I gave for the Staff Day Away. Andy Crouch lays this out in his book Strong and Weak.
Imagine two lines producing four quadrants:
(only authority/no vulnerability) (both authority and vulnerability)
(no authority/no vulnerability) (only vulnerability/no authority)
Authority here is the capacity for meaningful action, while vulnerability is taking on meaningful risk. How do people use their power and influence? Do they use it so that they gain or others gain? What do we do with vulnerability—literally, “wound-ability”—the ability to be wounded? Slavery was a sinful example of how the slave owners profited by putting all the risk and burden upon the backs of another ethnicity. We have people with power making slaves of those who lack power.
How different is Jesus? The Son of God did not withdraw when he saw humanity faced with the wrath of God. The Father sent the Son and the Son took on flesh so that he could become vulnerable (wound-able; born to suffer and die as a sacrifice for sin). The Lord of all became the slave of all and he suffered to save his people from eternal suffering and bring many sons and daughters to glory (Hebrews 2:10).
2. What Our Suffering Accomplishes: Propagation
How can we push back against suffering and say we have no category for it? We have seen Jesus suffer on the cross to save us from eternal suffering. So how does our suffering fit into the picture—part of the plan and purpose of God? Jesus has already told us in chapter 8 that he is a King who carries a cross and if we would follow him, we must carry a cross as well. We are told that we should expect to be treated the same way as Jesus. If they treated the Master this way, so they will treat the disciples in the same way. Jesus promised elsewhere that we would be hated for his sake throughout the whole world. Listen to Mark 13:10–13.
And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
Do you see how our suffering is distinct from the suffering of Jesus, even if they are joined as part of the same plan and purpose? His suffering was for propitiation (the payment—the sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God), our suffering is for propagation (we proclaim the payment and propagate that truth throughout the whole world). We will be hated by all the world as we go and proclaim him throughout the whole world. His suffering paid the purchase price; we suffer in order to bring the good news that the price has been paid (and people will reject the message and the messenger). But this is not performance. The Holy Spirit is the gift given. We say what is given in that moment because we are being led by the Holy Spirit to speak of what Jesus has done. The Spirit is given to glorify the Son.
We are not under the command of silence any longer. We have the exact opposite: A Great Commission. We have a charge to go tell and make disciples. We have a charge to teach them all that Jesus has commanded.
This clarifies why we exist as a church. Jesus never called us to draw a crowd. He called us to make disciples. He does not call us merely to fill a room on Sunday. We want the room to be full of people who will leave that room and go make disciples. We don’t hire pastors to do the work of the ministry and reach people. We hire pastors to equip the people to do the work of the ministry.
Look what it was like to be chained to the apostle Paul. In Philippians, he lets the church know how the gospel has advanced even in prison because the gospel has become known throughout the whole imperial guard (Philippians 1:12–13). Sometimes they would chain a prisoner to a Roman guard. Can you imagine what it was like to be chained to Paul? You know that the guards are going to hear about Jesus!
What about you? What is it like to be in close proximity to you at work or among your family or friends? Do people hear about Jesus from us? Or are we more concerned about our personal rejection than their eternal condemnation? Do we care more about what they think of us or what they think of Jesus?
God has ordained that our suffering would be part of the defeat of the devil.
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.—Revelation 12:10–11
Our suffering, persecution, and death is not defeat. It is the demonstration of victory. Our willingness to face death for Jesus proves that we love Jesus more than we love our own lives. The devil keeps recycling the same temptations. Remember what Satan proposed as a way to test Job? “If you take away your blessings in his life, Job will curse you.” But that didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Suffering will not make us draw back from Jesus and curse our Savior. If the path to follow Jesus has hard things on it, will that make us turn the other way? We look at whatever may come down the pike and we say, “Jesus is worth it. I am not an idolator—loving my life more than I love Jesus. Jesus is my life. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life. We will overcome!