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From the Mountaintop to the Valley

October 7, 2012 Speaker: Allen Snapp Series: Gospel of Mark

Topic: Authority/Power of Christ Passage: Mark 9:1–29

If you’re visiting us this morning, we are in a series in the gospel of Mark, so let’s turn together to chapter nine. While you’re turning, how many remember 8 track tapes? 8 tracks were like VHS tapes only they held music rather than movies and they were popular for a short while in the 70’s. The thing that I remember about them is that they broke albums up into four programs and most albums had at least one time where a program would end in the middle of a song, so the song would fade out, and then you’d hear it switch to the next program, and the song that had been interrupted would fade back in. It was a little disruptive to the song and probably one of the reasons that they didn’t last long.

Well, when the good people who put the chapters in the Bible came to Mark chapters eight and nine, they actually faded out a discussion that began in chapter eight, switched chapters, and then picked the discussion back up in the first verse of chapter nine. Verse one of chapter nine concludes a discussion carried over from chapter eight, so before we begin reading in chapter nine, let’s remind ourselves of the conversation that verse one concludes.

At the end of chapter eight Jesus lays out the cost of being his disciple and concludes with this warning:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38

It’s a warning with a sharp contrast: If we are ashamed of Jesus now, in this dark and sinful world, then on that day when Jesus returns in blinding glory, he will be ashamed of us. Remember that contrast: dark and sinful world, Jesus’ glory. We’re going look at two stories this morning where these contrasting realities will show up again. Let’s read Mark 9:1-8.

I. The Mountain of Transfiguration - Mark 9:1-8 

After telling his disciples that there will be a day when he returns in glory Jesus tells them that some of them will not die before they see “the kingdom of God after it has come with power” – in other words, in some sense a few of them will see the glory of God come to this earth before the day when Jesus returns and everyone will see it. And then six days later Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain where he is transfigured, which is clearly what Jesus had in mind when he said they’d see the kingdom come with power.

Now at first we might not see how the transfiguration is the same as the kingdom of God coming in power. But in the gospel of Mark the kingdom of God is always equated with Jesus. When he preaches that the kingdom of God is at hand, he means that all of the kingdom of God is at hand in his person! It’s veiled by Jesus’ humanity, but it’s fully there.

What happened at the transfiguration is that, for a little while, the veil was pulled back and Jesus’ glory was allowed to shine through! Glory is a word that indicates the brilliant light or fire that shines from God – just as the sun burns hydrogen, converting it to helium through the brilliance of His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness, of all that God is. In the OT, Moses had to be shielded from seeing God’s glory directly because it would have killed him. The Bible says no man has seen God and lived – it’s His glory that would kill us. If we looked directly at God’s goodness it would incinerate us. In Revelation 21:23 speaking of the descending New Jerusalem it says, And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Think about that: no need for the sun because the glory of God will provide brilliant light 24/7 – and the lamp of that glory is the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

It was this glory that was simply the inner character of Christ shining through. It was a brief look at what was always shining within him and Mark says his clothes were whiter than anything could bleach them and Matthew says his face shone like the sun. He is the kingdom of God and the power and glory radiating from him was beyond any power this earth has ever known.

When two of the greatest figures in the OT, Moses and Elijah, appeared on the mountain talking to Jesus about his “exodus” or death they are representing all the OT – the law and the prophets – and yet the focus isn’t on them, it’s on Christ. When Peter suggest they build booths to honor the three of them, a cloud covered them (reminding us of the cloud that the Israelites followed out of Egypt) and God the Father spoke and focused their attention solely on Jesus with the words: this is my beloved Son; listen to him. Suddenly no one was with them but Jesus, and his glory was once again veiled by humble humanity, but the glory of his character was still burning like a million suns underneath this veil. That’s the mountaintop. Let’s pick up Mark’s account as Jesus heads into the valley.

II. The Valley of Shattered Lives - Mark 9:9-29

On the way down the mountain Jesus once again tells them not to tell anyone what they’ve seen, but now he puts a limit on their silence: until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. The story will be told, just not yet. As they arrive at the foot of the mountain, they find a scene that disrupts the peace and serenity of all they had just witnessed on the mountaintop. A crowd is gathered, the disciples are at the center of the crowd, some scribes are arguing with the disciples, and when Jesus asks what’s going on, a father steps forward and tells Jesus how he had brought his demon possessed son to the disciples hoping they could cast it out but they could not.

The first thing that happens to Jesus, is he is distressed by his disciple’s lack of faith: O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? The second thing that happens to Jesus is that as he watches this boy be convulsed by the demon, rolling on the ground, foaming at the mouth, he is moved with compassion. His question to the father is a compassionate question: how long has this been happening to him? How long has this been going on? And the father answers from his childhood – even as a young child this demon has cast him into fire and water to destroy him.
There used to be a popular tract years ago that opened with these words: God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. What we see in the gospels is that Satan hates us and has one plan for our life: to destroy it. Demonic possession was death by increments. Luke’s gospel records a word that the father uses to describe the violent, destructive force of the demon’s possession, when he tells Jesus that when the demon seizes the boy, it shatters him. Like breaking an alabaster jar into a thousand pieces, this demon shatters this little boy. How heartbreaking, how helpless, this father must have felt!

And he is losing faith. He came with faith but the disciples couldn’t cast the demon out. So he says to Jesus, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. Jesus asks, if you can? All things are possible for one who believes, and the father responds with raw honesty: I believe; help my unbelief!

Jesus commands the spirit to leave and never return and the boy is left like a corpse, but Jesus takes him by the hand and gives him back to his father, restored.

Two stories intertwined that carry so much spiritual truth that I wish we could take a couple Sunday’s on this, but I want to distill this down to two points for us to take to heart:

1. In these accounts we have a beautiful picture of the gospel mission

Jesus left the infinitely high mountaintop of glory in order to descend into the valley of this broken, sinful world. He came to confront and overcome the demonic powers that held this world in their power, he came to touch and heal our shattered lives with his saving power.

ILL: tomorrow, Felix Baumgartner will attempt a mission he has been preparing for for the last five years. A 700 foot tall helium balloon will carry his pressurized capsule to the edge of space, 23 miles high, where he will step out of the capsule in a spacesuit and in an attempt to set a skydiving record, will plummet to earth at speeds reaching 690mph, becoming the first person to ever break the sound barrier outside an aircraft. The risks are enormous but Baumgartner is willing to face them because of the love he has for skydiving and his drive to push for ever-higher goals.

Jesus descended further than we could ever imagine, from the edge of glory to the earth, to the cross. Paul describes this descent in Phil. 2 though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Phil 2:6-8

And the wonderful thing is, Jesus’ mission wasn’t born out of a love for the descent to earth, but a love for the earth. A deep and rugged love for real people whose lives have been shattered by sin and the devil working together. When Peter suggested that they build three booths so Jesus, Moses, and Elijah could camp out on the mountaintop, he missed the point: Jesus didn’t come to stay on the mountaintop, he came to descend to the valley where little boys were being shattered by evil. In this we have a beautiful picture of the gospel.

2. Jesus calls his disciples to follow him in this gospel mission

Jesus said, as the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. A part of that is to descend into the valley where people’s lives are shattered by sin – just as ours once were, and bring them the hope of the gospel.

a. What goes up must come down

In other words, the Christian life is more than just going up to the mountain to be with the Lord. That’s precious and important and we’ll talk about that as we close, but there’s an old saying, what goes up must come down. The Lord doesn’t mean for us to live our lives always on some spiritual mountain, looking for the next spiritual high. Oswald Chambers, in his devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, writes:

…the test of our spiritual life is the power to descend; if we have power to rise only, something is wrong. It is a great thing to be on the mount with God, but a man only gets there in order that afterwards he may get down among the devil-possessed and lift them up. ~ Oswald Chambers pg 275

Jesus doesn’t mean for us to live primarily on some spiritual mountain, he calls us to live in the valley of ordinary life where, yes, lives are being shattered. Not everyone is being shattered as dramatically as this little boy’s life, but we don’t have to look far to find lives that are being shattered – all around us. Maybe even in our own homes. We live in a broken (shattered) world. The Bible tells us that we have a very real enemy of our souls, called Satan, whose goal is always to do deadly damage to every human soul on earth. Jesus said “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” That’s all Satan is about – wreaking destruction and death. And sin is his favorite IED (improvised explosive device) – he tempted Adam and Eve to sin, and he has been tempting humanity to ever increasing and ever darker sin ever since. But there’s another, even more sinister enemy among us: it’s our own hearts. It’s the indwelling sin in our hearts. We are betrayed to the enemy by our own hearts which like suicide bombers willingly strap on the bombs of destructive, sinful choices.

• Love is shattered
• Hope is shattered
• Families and marriages are shattered
• Friendships are shattered
• Churches are shattered
• Reputations are shattered
• Emotions are shattered
• Health is shattered
• Finances are shattered
• Lives are shattered
• Most serious: our relationship with God was shattered by sin

We know all this very well, because it’s where we live. We are sinners, we’ve made sinful, destructive choices – we still make them. Jesus calls us to descend into the valley of our own home town, not with a message about ourselves, because we are sinners saved by grace, but with the message of Christ. Just as Peter, James and John were left with Jesus only on the mountain, we have only one hope to point people to: Jesus. When the crowds were arguing and the father losing faith, there was only One who could deliver this boy from the shattering power of Satan: Jesus. Paul says,

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. 6For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor. 4:5-6 (ESV)

Jesus sends us – we’re not perfect, we have our own issues, we struggle with doubt like this dad who said, I believe, help my unbelief! That’s real. That’s honest. That’s the valley we live in and who of us hasn’t struggled with doubt and unbelief at times? And so will people around us. Jesus wasn’t there to rebuke the father, he was there to help him. He made the father confront his flagging faith and when all the father could muster was an imperfect faith, Jesus in compassion delivered his boy and strengthened his faith all at once.

How do we make sure we’re descending into the valley? One thought: slow down. Look. Just this week, I saw the need for this twice:

• I was leaving HC the other day and saw an elderly woman sitting in the corner. I stopped to say hello and we got to chatting. A part of me wanted to get on with my schedule but I felt she could use a friendly ear and in just a few minutes I learned that she had buried not only her husband and recently her sister in law, but her two daughters as well, one of them over twenty years ago. She was a Christian and found strength and hope in that, but she confessed sometimes she thinks, it’s not fair! I couldn’t offer her more than she already had, but I think the Lord wanted me to slow down and be a listening and caring ear.

• I was talking to someone else – just small talk, but after I left the conversation I felt the Lord impress me that there was more, so I went back to them and picked it back up and had the chance to share about the Lord with this person.

It’s easy to get so busy, we move too fast to see or notice the lives around us and what’s going on. We all tend to hide the shattered parts of our lives. Slow down and ask the Lord to give us power to descend and eyes to see and ears to hear.

b. What comes down must go up

We need to descend to the valley, but we also need the mountaintop of spending time with God in prayer. When the disciples asked Jesus why they who had been given power to cast out demons were powerless in the face of this demon, Jesus answered, this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.

The disciples had grown cocky in their self-confidence that they were adequate for the job and found out they had nothing to give apart from Christ. No power, no deliverance, just an awkward moment when it was clear: nothing’s happening. I have nothing apart from Christ. You have nothing to offer apart from Christ. Nothing.

The point of this is that only Jesus is able to set the prisoner free and if we are to experience his grace and power flowing through us, we need to go up to the mountaintop in prayer. We need to spend time with the Father. We need to ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to work through us. We need to get out of the toxic fumes of doubt and fear and worldliness of the valley and breath the fresh air of faith and love of Christ in order to lift others up.

Conclusion:

Jesus came to earth with one mission: to save people from eternal separation from God. Once he saves a person, he gives us the same mission: to be his witnesses, to preach the gospel which is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. To do that we need to descend into the valley of where real people live real lives and with compassion tell them about Jesus. Not our job to save them – we can’t. Our job to tell them about Jesus and ask Jesus to save them.

But in fulfilling that mission, Jesus regularly needed to go to the mountaintop to be alone with his Father, and we need that too. If you don’t have a regular time to be alone with God in prayer, alone with God in His word, alone with God listening, please make the time. If we don’t, we’re not going to be much use in the valley either – and we will miss the purposes God intends for our lives. Let’s pray.