River Corner Church

The Time Has Come: From Mountaintops to Valleys (Mark 9:14-29)

July 30, 2023 Jeff McLain
River Corner Church
The Time Has Come: From Mountaintops to Valleys (Mark 9:14-29)
Show Notes Transcript

On July 30, Pastor Jeff McLain continued our The Time Has Come series through the gospel of Mark, as we looked at the story of a demon possessed boy in Mark 9:14-29. We explored how our mountaintop experiences prepare us for life in the valley, and we also unpacked a posture Jesus models to bring about God's goodness and good news into the present.

Mark's narrative on the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus starts with Jesus declaring that it was time to change our way of living and to live into the way that the presence, goodness and good news of God (the Kingdom of God) had come tangibly into the present (Mark 1:15). In each of the stories told by Mark, after that proclamation of Jesus, we witness Jesus demonstrating how God's Kingdom was making a difference in their day.

The difference that God's Kingdom makes is more than just getting to go to heaven when we die. Through Jesus' inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth, God's eternal heaven is now bringing glimpses of God's future restoration into today. In the ministry of Jesus, Mark shows us that Jesus was bringing about God's liberation and healing to demonstrate how God's Kingdom makes a difference today. 

Throughout this series, we see what it means to repent and believe that God's transformative hope of heaven is still bringing God's liberation and healing into the present. The time has come to see what it means for us that God's transformative Kingdom longs to work in, with and through us to not only make a difference in eternity but also today.

 

River Corner Church is a growing church community of everyday people who gather to worship God, follow Jesus, and journey through life together. We gather on Sunday mornings, at 10:00 AM, at 524 River Corner Road in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. Learn more about our growing church community online through our website (www.rivercornerchurch.com) or our Facebook (www.facebook.com/RiverCornerChurch).

We invite you to gather with us on Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM.

You are welcome to come as you are, just be you. As a community of everyday people, we want to be a people who live and love like Jesus in the places we live, work, and play.

If you have a question about something you heard in this message, or you want to learn more about our growing church community, visit us online at www.rivercornerchurch.com.

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Mark 9:14-29

New International Version

 

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him”

 

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

 

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

 

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

 

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

 

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

 

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

 

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

 

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

 

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

 

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

 

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

 

            In Mark’s account of the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, before this story, Mark shares how Peter has a mountain top experience in his faith journey. That mountain top experience starts with a confession of faith and involves some otherworldly divine encounters.

As Jesus and his disciples are spreading the good news and the goodness of God through Caesarea and Philippi, Jesus asks his followers, “Who do people say I am?”[1] The disciples of Jesus give some responses that they have heard among the villages. It is after this point that Jesus turns the question, “But what about you,” he asked, “Who do you say I am?”[2] It is in that moment, through that line of questioning, Jesus is establishing what the foundations of their belief system is. At that point he is figuring out why they are following him. It is essential that their belief system is not formed by what others belief, or what others say, or what others have experienced. The only foundation to faith must be our own experience. The teaching, convictions, and experiences of biblical leaders, fathers of the faith, pastors, and others are not enough to build our faith on. Peter had experiences at Jesus’ side, and it was essential for him to wrestle with who Jesus was for himself, and for those experiences to inform him. We too must have our faith formed not on the back of others, but through experiences that we have had with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Peter answered with a confession of faith. Mark tells us that Peter answered, “You are the Christ.”[3]

         Christ – like Messiah – in the Hebrew means anointed one. In this moment Peter sees Jesus as sent by God. Peter sees that there is something special about him that God has ordained him to do in the moment. I am not sure Peter fully understood what him being the anointed one was. It could be that he saw Jesus as the Messiah, or at least in the role of a Messiah like character. However, the answer he gave was sufficient for Jesus who told him to not tell anyone about what he confessed. Jesus continues to want the other disciples to be shaped by their own experiences not his.[4]

         It is after this holy confession moment that Jesus first begins to hint at his death. Though he spoke plainly the scriptures say, and not in parables or prophetic imagery, the disciples struggle to understand what he is saying. In fact, Mark says that Peter pulled him aside and began to rebuke Jesus for the weird things that he was saying. Jesus responds to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!”[5] Peter goes from this huge moment in which he sees the uniqueness, the divine sentness and purpose of Jesus, and suddenly is now rebuking his teacher and Rabbi that he has just confessed to be the anointed one. This is why I question to what level Peter understood Jesus as the Messiah. The good news is we don’t need to have all our understanding together to still make a simple confession of faith, and Peter models that for us here. Jesus rebukes Peter, for his rebuke, in return. His rebuke in essence is calling Peter Satan. We tend to think of a singular being when we hear the word Satan, but Ha Satan, can also be one who sets himself up against the work of God, the one who opposes the way of God. Jesus defines a Ha Satan, as one who does “not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”[6] That had to be a humiliating experience, to move from being affirmed by Jesus for having right inside, to being rebuked by Jesus for thinking in a wrong way. Similarly, this had to be frustrating for Jesus who saw Peter go from trusting who Jesus is, to rebuking him for not fitting the expectations that Peter had for him. It is light of this, Mark shares that Jesus gives one of his most bold statements, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”[7] Jesus calls all followers of Jesus into a way of giving up our expectations and ways of thinking in order to understand the ways, words, and works of the Father. 

         Mountain top to valley, to mountain top again will be Peter’s experience. As Peter leaves that hard moment with Jesus, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John with him to the top of a mountain. This is literally a mountain experience, physically and literally, but it will also prove to be a mountain top experience, spiritually. As they are on the mountain, Jesus is transformed, or transfigured, into a bright white presence, that even seems to affect his clothes, and suddenly they are seeing a scene that is brighter than white brought about by bleaching. In that moment, Peter, James, and John see Moses and Elijah standing at Jesus’ side.  In that moment, an otherworldly cloud or presence takes covers them. In this moment, high on the moment, a high spiritual experience, Peter finds himself loss for words and frightened.[8] I am sure you have all been in a moment where something surprises, so you say something awkward. I have done this many times in my life.  Peter does that here, and he offers to build shelters for them, speaking out of his fear and awkwardness. In other words, Peter is ready to put roots down, to live in this mountaintop experience. In that moment God once again reveals and affirms the identify of Jesus.[9] As they come back down the mountain, Jesus warns them to not tell anyone about their mountain top experience. This seemingly means the other disciples too. This experience was just for them, and they were to sit on to it until Jesus rises from the dead. They are not seemingly shocked by their gag order, but rather by the fact that Jesus has once again mentioned death as part of the journey he is on. They get lost in a debate among themselves about what Jesus meant by that and by what the teachers of their day had said about the messianic implications of Moses and Elijah were.

         The story we just read from Mark 9:14-29, is what is happening as Peter, James and John are walking with Jesus to meet up with the rest of Jesus’ disciples. Quickly they walk into a situation that has become quite tense.  The scriptures tell us that they walk up to the rest of the disciples who are arguing with the teachers of the Torah, and there is a crowd looking on. Peter has left this mountain top experience, where he knows who Jesus is, then gets rebuked, goes up the mountain, experiences an otherworldly experience, and now comes down the mountain into an argument. Isn’t this how life is, a roller coaster of experiences, even spiritually? I am sure that Peter was thinking, can we just go back up the mountain where life is good? I am sure he thought that way because that is how we think – humans – when life is full of tension and trouble.

         It is important to have these encouraging, top of the mountain experiences. Often, we wish life could be a singular ongoing experiences like this so that we don’t have hardship, experience doubt, or face trouble. Yet, Jesus models that life is to have these encouraging moments of solitude and reflection that we pull away to experience, but the going down the mountain is always an important experience. Faith is not to be lived in the absence of others. It is not meant to be lived in some spiritual bubble of other evangelical followers of Jesus, but rather it is to be lived in the valleys where real people, with real problems, and little or no faith live their days.

         William Barclay remarks, “The solitude is necessary, for each of us must keep contact with God; but if, in our search for the essential solitude, we shut ourselves off from others, shut our ears to their appeal for help, shut our hearts to the cry of their tears, that is not religion. The solitude is not meant to make us solitary. It is meant to make us better able to meet and cope with the demands of everyday life.”[10] We must remember this for our lives. We cannot and should not live on the mountain top. The mountaintop is so we can live our lives in the valley. As they walk up to this scene, coming down the mountain, the crowd, other disciples, and religious leaders are so lost in their argument that at first, they do not see Jesus and the three coming up to them. Though, the minute they realize Jesus is in their midst, they surround him. I love the contrast, on top of the mountain, Jesus was surrounded by the presence of God and supernatural experiences. On the bottom of the mountain, Jesus was surrounding by people who were hurting, hung up and in need of help.

         I think there are a few things that we see from the start. First, there are times for us pull back to rest so that we can be prepared for what is ahead. Secondly, we again see the importance of community, while some are resting, others are carrying the weight. We cannot and should not go it alone. All of us have a part to play in this journey together. Third, we see that it is quite normal for us to experience tension in life. Following the ways, words, and works of Jesus will put us in tension with the religious, cultural, and political spheres of society. If we follow Jesus, we will live in the valley moments, where there is pain and problems, and we will allow ourselves to be surrounded by them, to live in the middle of pain and problem. If we aren’t living in the midst of the pain and problems of others, of the world around us, then we must ask ourselves if we are living in the way Jesus modeled.  Take note, there is an excitement to see Jesus. There is something so special about Jesus, that people surround him. I don’t think most people today are excited to see followers of Jesus, and they certainly don’t seem to be gathering around us. Rather, most of the church is distracted gathering around celebrities within their own movements and subcultures. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is being present.

At the start of this story Jesus also models a way of caring for the pain and problems of people. Jesus choses to live out of his human side, and he asks the question, “What are you arguing with them about?” Jesus doesn’t use his prophetic, divine knowledge, to read the situation. Jesus doesn’t enter the situation with some Holy Spirit encounter. Jesus doesn’t show up and start teaching or preaching.  In this situation, Jesus shows up to this tension at play before him with a way of compassionately questioning. This is a chosen tactic of Jesus in many stories, he often asks what the individual wants, or what they believe, or what they want him to do for them. We come so many times with answers. Jesus had an answer, he had knowledge of what was going on, but he models what it means to show up with care and that is with questioning and listening, not telling, teaching, and dropping Holy Spirit miracles. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is done through listening.

In this story, Jesus diagnoses the problem like a doctor who asks, “what hurts?” When we find ourselves in moments of tension or being surrounded with the pain and problems of others, it is essential ask not to know. (Explain the five step model of prayer). In this story, a man speaks up, who is at the center of this crowd’s tension, and explains that this has all started because he brought his son to be healed by Jesus, and the disciples met him but were not able to do anything with it. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is done by dialogue.This story also shows us that we all have our limits. Sometimes we just have a limit to who we are or what we can do, or sometimes a limit that shows up and as we see in this story, it is a growth opportunity, a realization that there is more at play than we see at first glance. 

Let me make a statement, sometimes we read epilepsy into this. In this day, procession was diagnosed when a person’s lack of control over his own motor responses. Some writers have noted parallels between this form of demonized activity and epileptic behavior and many spirit-filled types and pastors do the same today. These are separate things, Epilepsy and demonic possession are distinguished in Mt 4:24); here we just see a parallel, and the parallels could indicate that the spirit gained access to the same centers in the brain where seizures could also be induced by other means.[11] The more we give darkness control in our life, the deeper it seems to be able to go and the more control it seems to get. 

In this story, Jesus appears frustrated. He has begun to explain to his disciples that he will soon leave them, that he will die, and be brought back to life and the implied realization there is that they will be on their own. In leaving them on their own, and as he sends them out into the countryside as we saw a few chapters ago, they are being prepared to stand on their own, but it seems they fail to realize it. It seems that the disciples are realizing they have reached a limit, and perhaps they have just given up or tried to explain away with theology and teaching why this guy’s son could not be healed. We do this too often to, and sometimes perhaps we need to pray about it, explore this matter from another angle, and not excuse it away so often. Jesus even assumes remarks this statement that he can’t stay with them and hold their hand forever. Though Jesus is upset at the lack of the faith of his disciples, he is not afraid to still bring about God’s goodness and good news into the present. I think again we see the power and the weakness of community here. It might be okay if just one of the disciples felt they reached their limit, but it seems all of them reached their limit. Community should be a place where we bring accountability together, and not just resign together. Though frustrated with his disciples, Jesus till takes the problem on. Even when we are overwhelmed by the state of the church or other followers of Jesus, it must not distract us from the mission and taking the problem straight on. William Barclay remarks, “The surest way to avoid pessimism and despair is to take what immediate action we can—and there is always something to be done.”[12]  // The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is being persistent with our care.

As they bring the boy to him, something in the boy – an evil spirit - as it is confronted with the goodness of Jesus, reacts. Some years ago, someone who read people in a new agey, physic sort of way tried to read me and could not, and I believe that is because of something similar to what we see in this passage. When we are living by God’s Spirit, it naturally protects us from the evil around us, but it also confronts the evil around us in ways that we may not be aware of. In this story the reaction in the boy causes him to roll around and foam at the mouth. Again, Jesus asks, a question of care, a question about how long this boy has been like this. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is living by the power of the Spirit of God.

The man is obviously at the end of his rope, as many of us are at any point in life. From childhood, he has been carrying for his son that has had a problem that has affected his health. There are some many questions that come up in this text that we won’t have time to look at this morning, but we probably are wondering how a young child got an evil spirit, or if this was an evil spirit or just a health concern like epilepsy. Though we don’t have time to answer all of that today, we see the severity of the boy’s condition. The boy has almost died several times as he has fallen into the water and fire pits. Out of this man’s tiredness, he says, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”[13] There is a hint of faith in this man’s voice, a belief that Jesus can help, but he isn’t fully convinced. We see Jesus is able to respond even when there is just a little faith at play. Earlier in mark, in Jesus’ hometown we see that when no faith is at play, Jesus couldn’t do miracles, but Jesus doesn’t need a lot of faith to move, like faith healers today would want us to believe.  Rather, heaven can make a difference in the moment, when we live by faith – or by trust and belief. Jesus responds to the man asking about what he means by “if you can,” this is a challenge to tease the man’s faith out more. Jesus makes a teaching moment here. This is important to notice, now that Jesus has built relationship and relational equity with the individual, now he can speak into his life and teach. We so often lead with teaching. Jesus makes a teaching moment for this man, his disciples and the crowd that is watching. Jesus says, “Everything is possible for one who believes.”[14] Jesus teaches on faith and belief a lot. He speaks about faith being what allows God’s healing to come into the present. He speaks about faith can move mountains. In this story, he says faith unlocks the possibilities of what God can do in the moment. William Barclay says, “It was as if Jesus said, ‘The cure of your boy depends not on me but on you.’ This is not an especially theological truth; it is universal. To approach anything in the spirit of hopelessness is to make it hopeless; to approach anything in the spirit of faith is to make it a possibility.”[15] Perhaps it is true that most of us are cursed with a lack of faith, or a defeated sense of the impossible, and that is precisely why miracles do not happen in our midst.[16] Jesus seemingly makes this statement to bring about a deeper confession of faith from the man. The man says the most captivating line in this passage, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”[17] Jesus gets the man to be honest and transparent about his condition. It is then that the Kingdom can move. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is the way we live in the middle of pain and problems by trust in what God is capable of.Even if it is a little.

The crowd begins to run towards Jesus with even greater passion and intensity. As Jesus saw this, it seems he moves to enter this situation quicker, rather than play it out on a stage. Jesus values the dignity and privacy of these individuals. I have seen TV preachers put on wonderful shows, even have conversations with apparent demons in people, but here Jesus finishes the difference he can make quickly so that it doesn’t lead to a show. He demands the spirit leave, and never enter him again. It seems that demonic spirits have the ability to come back, and as we see in other stories of Jesus, maybe even come back worse and with more intensity. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is one that provides dignity and not a show to those in their pain and problems.

As commanded, the Spirit comes out and the boy collapses as he is liberated. Jesus makes a difference in this boy’s life by liberating him from the problem that has held him captive his whole life. There is a physical reaction in the boy to being set free, he appears dead, but eventually is able to stand up and stand firm in his new liberated life. Exorcists usually tried to subdue demons by incantations invoking higher spirits, by using smelly roots or by pain-compliance techniques. Jesus here uses only his command, showing his great authority.[18]The disciples are taken back by what they see. This liberation into a new life is encouraging, but they are confused why they were able to liberate other people but not this individual. In private, in a laid-back conversation, Jesus replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”[19] Mark ends this story here. I see that being done with great intentionality. Jesus’ disciples had given up when they reached their limits, because they were going on their own knowledge and experience, their own power and paradigm. Jesus’ point is that he was perfectly equipped to handle this situation needing a miracle because he had been praying on the mountain. He was ready to take it on. When we are run down and running on our own power, we will hit our limits. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in the moment is possible when we are engaging rest in God’s presence.They had been equipped with power, but it needed prayer to maintain it.[20] There is a deep lesson here. God may have given us a gift, but unless we maintain close contact with him it may wither and die.[21]

         Life is full of mountain top experiences. Experiences where we feel so close to God and moments we feel down in the valley. Most of us despise the valley. We try to run up the mountain. This story helps us make a paradigm shift about these moments. The mountain top experiences are not meant to be a place where we set up a tent and live, the truth is they are short moments to prepare us for life in the valley. Instead of looking back or forward, it is essential we look for what God has done to prepare us for the place we are in. It is about looking around to see who we can bring God’s goodness and good news through us to others. The passage in Mark 9:14-29 describes a moment when Jesus and his disciples meet a man whose son is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech and causes him to have seizures. The disciples had tried to heal the boy, but they were unable to. When the man brings the boy to Jesus, he asks Jesus to help him if he can. Jesus's response challenges the man's faith, and the man confesses that he believes but needs help to overcome his unbelief. May that be our prayer too from the valley, God helps us to believe we are here for a reason. In that moment, Jesus cast out the demon and liberates the boy from his affliction. The story teaches the importance of having faith and being persistent in our care for others and how to do that in valley moments. This passage also highlights the need to rest in God's presence and maintain close contact with God to maintain our gifts. The difference the Kingdom of God makes in us, with us, and through us when we are willing to listen, dialogue, care, and trust. Even more, we see the power of doing things prayed up, rather than from our own power.

 



[1] Mark 8:27 (New International Version).
[2] Mark 8:29 (New International Version).
[3] Mark 8:29 (New International Version).
[4] Mark 8:30 (New International Version).
[5] Mark 8:33 (New International Version).
[6] Mark 9:33 (New International Version).
[7] Mark 8:34 (New International Version).
[8] Mark 9:6 (New International Version).
[9] Mark 9:7 (New International Version).
[10] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 249.
[11] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mk 9:16–18.
[12] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 252.
[13] Mark 9:22 (New International Version).
[14] Mark 9:23 (New International Version).
[15] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 252.
[16] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 253.
[17] Mark 9:24 (New International Version).
[18] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mk 9:23–27.
[19] Mark 9:29 (New International Version).
[20] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 254.
[21] William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 254.


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