The Servant King Up the Mountain and Down the Valley – Mark 9:1-32
A man goes to a doctor. He says he’s depressed. He says life seems harsh and cruel and feels all-alone in a threatening world, where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. The doctor says, “Treatment is simple. The great clown Pagliacci (pron. Polly-ah-chee) is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” But the man bursts into tears and says, “But doctor…I am Pagliacci.”
This was one of the gut-wrenching things circulating this week in light of in my opinion, one of the world’s greatest comedians and actors Robin Williams, who passed away this week from suicide. The Internet went into frenzy and I saw many articles asking the question, “Why are the funniest people sometimes the saddest?” Didn’t he know he was so loved by so many?
Sometimes we think these celebrities are jumping from one mountaintop to another. We see them repeatedly invited to talk shows. We see them out with another movie, winning another award. We see them on the covers of magazines and then they must be constantly basking on the mountaintop of money, success, fame and worldwide adoration. But this week I was reminded gain that sometimes all of that is not reality. Sometimes some, celebrity or not, are actually living in a perpetual valley.
There are no pat answers or quick fixes when you talk about depression. It is a serious issue. It is not often talked about and the church needs to care more and for people whether it is a chemical imbalance or spiritual warfare or poor choices or a mixture of all these things, it is complex and cannot be spiritualized away.
But even as believers, sometimes life might feel like you are in a perpetual valley. Some of us live looking constantly at the rear view mirror of life at our past. Some of us live looking at the gloomy circumstances of our present. Things aren’t changing. People we love aren’t changing. We aren’t changing. Others of us are looking hopelessly into the future paralyzed with fear. We are Pagliacci, a Robin Williams, so quick to bless and encourage others, make them laugh, push them forward, but we ourselves are hurting. Who’s going to make the comedian laugh?
Today in our series in the Gospel of Mark called the Servant King, Jesus the Servant King will take us up to a mountain and then down a valley. And it will be traveling to both places with Him today and then taking a third trip to another mountain that will hopefully give us some perspective and help whether we are on top of a mountain today or deep in dark valley. The title of the message today is “The Servant King up the mountain and down the valley” from Mark 9:1-29. Let’s start with this:
I. Glory on the Mountain (vv.1-4, 7-8)
This is the halfway point through the book of Mark. Jesus is now clearly telling His disciples why He came. He said it “plainly” (Mark 8:32). He MUST suffer. He must be rejected. He must be killed and then rise again. The disciples don’t get it.
Then Jesus gave them even a harder truth. Whoever wants to follow Him must also pick up their cross, a smaller cross than His, but a cross nonetheless that entails a giving up or a ceasing to make self the object of his/her life. There is a cost for discipleship. There is a cost to follow Christ and He soberly reminds them that the cost to follow Him is great, but the cost of not following Him is greater—judgment when He returns (Mark 8:38).
Gulp. This is a strong truth. This is a scary truth. You’re going to die Jesus and you want us to follow in your footsteps of suffering and if we don’t we will face judgment. I can imagine Philip then whispering to Peter, “What did we sign up for here? Was this in the fine print?” Then look at Mark 9:1. Take note:
a) Full Glory is coming (vv.1-4)
Truth was given, but hope and encouragement soon followed. It’s not all doom and gloom. Some of you, not all, Jesus says, will actually not die until you see “the kingdom of God come with power.” What does that mean? Some say it’s the resurrection. Some say it’s the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes. What is it? The answer is found in the next few verses. Jesus is going to give them a little preview of what’s coming: glory. It’s a little trailer.
So the inner circle of Peter, James and John take a hiking trip up a high mountain, most likely Mt. Hermon, by themselves. We are going to need Matthew and Luke’s account to fill in some details. Luke says they went up to pray. As Jesus was praying, the disciples, exhausted from the hike, fall asleep (Luke 9:32). The disciples always seem to get sleepy when Jesus prays (remember the Garden of Gethsemane? Mark 14:37).
While Jesus prays, He “transfigures.” This is not a dream or a vision, but really happening to Christ. The word for “transfigure” means, “changed into another form. It denotes a visible change of the outward form as expressive of the true inner nature.” His nature is not changing, just His appearance. Until now, the tent of Jesus’ humanity has largely concealed his identity. But now the flap on that tent is lifted, and these privileged three are given a glimpse of his glory.
Mark is impressed with the clothes (9:3). He must have had a bad experience with the cleaners as no one on earth could bleach His clothes that bright and white. Matthew tell us that Jesus’ face was shining like the noonday sun (17:2). This is a glorious event except that the disciples are sleeping. I wonder what glimpses of glory we miss in our lives because we are asleep to it?
Then all of a sudden, there was Moses and Elijah in glory as well (Luke 9:31) starting to talk to them. Why those two? Well, the OT is basically called the Law and the Prophets. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets and both of those get fulfilled in Christ. I’m happy for Moses for two reasons. First of all, he had climbed Mt. Sinai asking God to show him His glory (Ex. 33). And God said, “If I showed you, I would have to kill you, so I’ll give you a glimpse of my glory as I pass by.” Moses said it was like I was seeing God’s back. Just hanging around that glory, made him shine for a few days. Later he had a temper tantrum and wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. Now Moses can see God’s face in the face of Jesus Christ in the Promised Land. I’m happy for Mo (though I am sure he doesn’t feel shortchanged in Heaven whatsoever).
What were they talking about? Mark doesn’t say, but Luke does (9:31). They were talking about His death on the cross. Finally the disciples wake up and they freak out. Of course! This is amazing. The real word for this is glorious.
Later John says, “He dwelt among us and we beheld His glory (1:14). Glory in the OT meant “weight.” It is the weight and immensity of everything that God is. When we say we have a heavy heart, we mean the weight of the struggle of some issue has taken over, consumed, has been put into prominence and has rocked your world. When we talk about God’s glory coming, we mean a day when who God is has finally become the most important, most real and most immense thing that could ever happen in the Universe. It means God’s perfect, brilliant, bright, infinite greatness and unimaginable beauty and He wants us to be captured by it.
We are glory junkies, says Paul Tripp. Some of us love that 360-degree, between the legs slam-dunk. I’m losing some of the sisters and some unnamed brothers here. Fine, think of that amazing piece of music arranged beautifully that causes you to just close your eyes and soak it in. How about that amazing hand beaded formal gown? Breathtaking. No? How about that seven-layer triple-chocolate mousse cake? Free diabetes, but hmmm soo good. Beautiful multi-hued splendor of a sunset?
That is glory. It is all-consuming, perfect, breathtaking, joy-giving, absorbing and captivating beauty. Jesus is saying here, “It’s coming to those who follow me.” The world you have always wanted…without all the isms, without hurricanes, genocide and war, terrorism, suicide and depression…is coming. The body you have always wanted…is coming. The life you have always wanted..is coming. The process has started with me breaking into the world and I will guarantee it with my death on the cross and my resurrection. Look at how I will look! Full glory is coming. Jesus will be vindicated. Evil eradicated. But the question however in the story of Mark is, “How can God end evil without ending us?”
b) Glory is beholding
Full glory is coming, but in another sense, glory is already here, especially as Jesus walked out of the tomb on Easter Sunday. We also see here that while we wait for the glory of Christ to be celebrated and fully revealed, notice what God says here (We will come back to Peter’s yet-another crazy remark in a moment). There is a cloud, there is a mountain, there is Moses. Last time this happened it was God giving the 10 commandments. This is huge. This is important. God speaks and says, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.”
This is different from Mt. Sinai. Moses reflected the glory of God like the moon reflects the light of the sun, but the glory of God emanates from Jesus. He’s the source of it. The unsurpassable and unapproachable glory of God comes from him. Jesus is the glory of God in human form and so “listen to Him”—center your attention, your life, your heart, put your whole weight on Him.
Notice that Moses and Elijah leave and they saw Jesus only. Through Jesus, the infinite beauty and glory of God can envelop you. They were surrounded by the reality of God. They were embraced by it, and they heard the glory of God speaking of love, the Father’s love for the Son, which is the gospel. Jesus is able to give what Elijah can’t give, what Moses can’t give, what no one else ever could possibly deliver. Through Jesus you can come into the very heart of the universe.
Paul later uses this word (for transfigure) to talk about how we change as Christians. He says in 2 Cor. 3:18 that when you gaze on the Lord’s glory you transform into His likeness with ever-increasing glory. Think of getting ready for work or school in the morning. You don’t glance, but gaze into the mirror. You’re looking in detail at your teeth, at your outfit. You’re poring over. You’re looking very carefully at every pore (that’s where the word comes from), every hair. Paul says to look at Jesus Christ, in particular to look at his glory like that, to gaze into, to see his glory, is the essence of how you grow. It’s the essence of how you become a Christian, how you become changed.
If you want to be like Christ, you have to behold Him as the most heaviest, most important, most captivating thing in your life. Gaze into His glory. We all pursue what we value. We chase it. It is more than simple intellectual agreement about something. It is something that grabs you, grips you as you pore over His beauties and excellencies. If you look at another human being and say, “You must love me and make me feel loveable.” When you do that, you are gazing into a feather and saying, “Fall down on me into my heart and knock me down with the weight of this.” Impossible. The weight, the glory of His love hasn’t truly gripped you.
When you look at career success and say, “Career you must make me feel important and now I will not feel so much like a loser.” When you do that, you are gazing at a feather and saying, “Fall down on me and knock me down with the weight of this.” Impossible. The weight, the glory of His approval and significance of you hasn’t truly gripped you.
When you say, “Money, I need to have more and more of you. Then I will feel secure and happy.” It’s another feather. When you say, “Body image. Give me the perfect body. I will work out and obsess over every calorie so when I have you, I will feel beautiful.” It’s another feather. The glory of His security, which has true weight, hasn’t overwhelmed you and fallen down into your heart. Love, career, money and success are all good things, but not really weighty enough for our heart to be truly moved.
When we are anxious and overwhelmed by something, the glory of His wisdom hasn’t fascinated us. The Holy Spirit wants to pound this into us. The things we need whether love, wisdom, humility, patience do not come from trying to be like Christ. It comes from beholding Christ. Being comes from beholding.
This is worship when we behold Christ—when Jesus Christ becomes our supreme obsession, fascination and affection. We pursue what we prize. Worship is a foretaste of the thing all of our hearts are longing for, whether we know it or not. We’re longing for it in our art. We’re longing for it in romance. We’re longing for it in the arms of our lovers. We’re longing for it through family.
Are you beholding Him? When your heart is chasing these things and now you’re overwhelmed, are you saying, “If only I had that thing” and chasing glory there? Or are you saying, “Lord, if only I can taste and behold you here. If only I could see that you are more real in my heart than all my needs”?
But the reality is:
II. Suffering in the Valley (vv.5-6, 9-32).
It is nice to behold Christ and have amazing mountaintop experiences. But the reality is, right now we are in the valley. The mountaintop was glorious, but that experience was to help the disciples to be informed about living in the valley (see Raphael’s painting). One author described the painting this way: The two are one: below suffering, need, above, effective power…Each bearing on the other, both interacting with one another.” If you didn’t have the mountaintop, the valley might feel like an endless valley and a hopeless valley. If just the mountaintop, you are living in denial about the world, never really growing through the suffering. Glory was coming, but there is an order. Before glory, there is suffering. Before the crown, there has to be a cross. Exaltation comes after humiliation. There is an order.
Peter and the disciples never got that. Look back at v.5. First, he calls Jesus “Rabbi.” Jesus’ face is glowing and he doesn’t see the significance. But Peter is enjoying the glory: “it is good for us to be here.” Enough talk about suffering and carrying crosses. Let’s just stay here and camp out. He’s thinking of the Feast of Tabernacles, where the Jews had thanked God for carrying them through the wilderness. Let’s celebrate, party with the three greatest people ever. He’s putting Jesus, Moses and Elijah all on the same plane, each getting their own tent.
I picture Mark recording this as Peter is telling the story and I can see Mark stopping and saying, “Really? Three tents?” Peter sheepishly grins and says, “I was scared ok!” (v.6). Rule of thumb. If you don’t know what to say, just be quiet. Peter, we don’t need any tents! Before your eyes, God’s dwelling with humanity is present, for Jesus is the new tabernacle of God dwelling with humanity. Moses and Elijah are mere servants of God’s house, but Jesus is the Son, the Unique and Incomparable Son of God.
Peter is like all of us. We are allergic and averse to suffering. He doesn’t see it. Notice in vv. 9-13. Jesus, knowing the disciples do not get it, tells them not to talk about it and create false expectations in people. It will make sense later, after He dies and rises again. Peter says, “Rise?” The OT had said Elijah was going to come and then the end. And the disciples just saw Elijah on the mountain. Why do you have to die Jesus? Elijah showed up. We’re going to move into full kingdom mode now. Take over Jesus. Again in vv.30-32, the disciples are still clueless.
Their interpretational skills are shaky and Jesus corrects them. Someone like the prophet Elijah was in fact coming. Actually he already came. That was John the Baptist. And what happened to him? He was beheaded. Guess what? The same thing is going to happen to Jesus too. Suffering first guys. Then Glory. There is an order. Mountaintops and valleys go together. Jesus and his disciples come down to the valley and find the scribes, rest of the other disciples a broken father and a demonized son.
Notice the contrast between the Mountain and the Valley. In the Transfiguration, there is glory, here there is suffering. In the Transfiguration God dominates the scene. Here Satan dominates the scene. In the Transfiguration, the Father is pleased. In this incident, the earthly father is tortured. In the Transfiguration there’s a perfect Son. Here there’s a tormented son. In the Transfiguration, you have fallen men in holy wonder. In this story, you have a fallen son in unholy horror.
This is valley life: Satanic oppression, arguing, family problems, doubt, chronic issues, failed ministry (disciples could not cast out the demon), broken dad, pain, sorrow, disappointment, etc. It is a valley of suffering. We may have mountaintop experiences, but most of life is a long hard journey of suffering. It is really hard! Three lessons:
a) Suffering is inevitable
Jesus is saying, “Why isn’t suffering in your program? Anytime suffering comes up, the idea that to follow me means you’re going to have to suffer, you just freak out. It is through the suffering that you enter into greatness. But every time you hear there’s suffering involved, every time I let suffering happen to you, every time it looks like following me means suffering, you freak out. You go nuts.
You say, ‘No, no, no. You shouldn’t be letting this happen. Why is God letting this happen? Why is God letting that happen?’ In this world you will have tribulation, no matter who you are. There’s only one question. Will that tribulation, will the suffering you experience, make you wiser, deeper, stronger, sweeter, or will it make you bitter, hard, and joyless? Will it drive you closer to God or away from God? Will it make you more compassionate about other people, or is it going to make you harder and more cynical about human nature? In this world you will have tribulations. You have to see that,” says Jesus. “But there’s a way of going through suffering to greatness. I am, and if you follow me, you will too. How will you survive the inevitable suffering?
b) Real faith is to admit helplessness
Just like what you learned on the Mountain: behold me. Make me the center of your life and you will change. In this story with the demonized boy, we learn what it means to behold Jesus in the valley of suffering. Notice the scribes are arguing and accusing, pointing fingers like usual in the story. The disciples are rebuked because they were trying to cast out the demon, we find out, without prayer. In other words, without Jesus you can’t do ministry or really do anything. They were self-sufficient.
Only one person beholds Jesus correctly (though not perfectly). Keller says that only one figure in this entire scene is acknowledging his weakness. Only one figure is acknowledging he does not have what it takes to handle the suffering and difficulties and struggles that have been put in front of him. That’s the father of the boy.
In a very memorable interchange (I think one of the most important dialogues in all the Bible), he says, “Would you heal my son?” and what does Jesus say? “I can if you believe.” That’s what he says. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” He doesn’t use the word if, but it’s very clear. “I can heal your son if you believe.”
What does the father say? “I’m riddled with doubts.” He says, “I believe; help my unbelief,” which means, “I’m trying, but I’m riddled with doubts.” So Jesus says, “If you believe, I’ll heal your son,” the father says, “I’m riddled with doubts,” and then Jesus heals his son. What do we learn here? I think we learn the most important thing about what it means to behold Jesus.
The first is very good news, I think. Helplessness, not holiness, is the first step to accessing the presence of God. Isn’t this good news, everybody? Jesus does not say, “I am the glory of God in human form. How dare you come before me with your doubts? Purify your heart. Confess all known sin. Get rid of all of your doubts. Get rid of your double-mindedness. Go away, and when you come back and you have really surrendered to me totally and you’ve really, really, really worked all the doubt out of your heart and you can come before me with a pure heart, then you can come before me and ask for your healing and your blessing.”
He doesn’t do that. Boy, not at all. Jesus is telling us by this saving faith is not to say, “I’m faithful; now bless me.” See, when you say, “I’ve lived a faithful life; now bless me,” that’s faith in you. That’s being your own savior and lord. It’s not faith in him. But to say (which is what the boy’s father says), “I’m not faithful; I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges, but help me,” that’s saving faith. To say, “I don’t have faith, I’m riddled with doubts, I’m not faithful, but help me,” is faith in Jesus instead of you. Jesus says, “When you say that, my power is released into your life, because now, finally, you have faith in me.”
Jesus welcomes your doubts, your fears, your resentment, your anger and your bitterness. Don’t suppress them thinking you have to somehow get rid of them for Jesus to welcome you. Don’t vent them either. Don’t vent on facebook either. Don’t suppress these things, don’t vent them, pray them…come to Him with helplessness. It is the only way to come.
c) Surrender your glory
Also, if you want the strength to survive and even thrive in the valley, you have to give to Jesus the precious thing you are giving your life over to. Some of us its our children, or its our struggling marriage, or our need for a spouse, our career uncertainty, our fear of failure, etc. If you don’t know what your precious thing is, answer this: what would be your worst nightmare? Here the father, who was living a horrible nightmare, had to give his precious son over to Jesus. It was the heaviest thing in his heart. Notice that after he hands the son over, it looks like the son is dead. Sometimes it may look worse in handing our precious thing over to Jesus. But continually surrendering it will help you behold Jesus and the weight of who He is will fill your heart, but it might take time.
The Lord only says this to save you. If any of these precious things are the ultimate sources of your significance and security, then when things go wrong in life (and they will go wrong in life) and these things are threatened or even taken away, you won’t just be sad (which you should be). You won’t just weep (which you ought to). You won’t just be hurt (which you should be). You will be despondent. You will be hopeless. You will experience meaninglessness. You may kill yourself.
This is not a quick fix. Sometimes things get worse for a long time. But if you are worshipping, beholding Him through it, surrendering, you will find that suffering in the valley, has made you wiser, stronger, deeper, more loving, more joyful, more patient and more sweeter person.
But how can I just behold Him? It sounds so abstract. How can I really have His glory move me to become like that? Well, you have to go to another mountain. There is a Father and Son in the Mountaintop here, a father and son in the valley, but there is another mountain where all of this comes together. Notice that Jesus doesn’t just float away with Moses and Elijah following the Transfiguration. He comes down into valley of suffering. But that is a small picture of a more real valley He was about to walk into.
Actually it was the deepest darkest valley anyone has ever gone through and it happened literally on a mountain called Calvary. There on this mountain, God the Father handed over His perfect Son to death for our sin. No flashes of light there. Just darkness. No beauty and brilliance there. No, He became ugly, deformed because of our sin. No word of blessing and love enveloping Jesus. Just the opposite—the worst thing that can happen: God turned His face away. Jesus became a curse. Instead of the weight of the glory of God’s loving embrace, He experienced a different weight—the weight our sin. Why? For us who have placed the glory that belonged to Him on ourselves and things and other people. For us who have lived for weightless things and pursued them. For us who have loved the glory of man more than the glory of God.
On the mountain he’s surrounded by God; on the cross he’s forsaken. On the mountain he’s embraced, he’s clothed with the love and light of God; on the cross he’s naked in the dark.  Why? To let you and I know that because He was forsaken in that valley, now this glorious, all-powerful, resurrected, ascended, reigning Christ now goes with us down into our smaller valleys and when the challenges and the craziness of life in this fallen world hits us hard, He will always show up picking us up by the hand. To let you know that because God the Father handed over His most precious Son out of love for you, you can hand over your precious things to Him out of love for Him. To let you know that because God the Father gave Jesus the curse word in the valley, you will get His word of blessing no matter how hard your valley gets. To the degree that we behold the weight of this love gripping, grabbing and holding us, we will truly change and grow in the valley. God grows His best fruit in the valley, but only from beholding Christ’s greater valley!
Here this prayer from Ken Gire:
“[Lord], You could so easily have stepped off that mountain to heaven, escorted by Moses and Elijah. You could have lived out your days in the serenity of that mountaintop. Spending time with those who were closest to you. Shielded from the anger of those who opposed you. Sequestered from the ragged fray of humanity that fringed the streets below. But instead you chose to descend those slopes. Down to stitch up the strands of humanity that lay so threadbare on those streets. Down to offer your tender wrists to those terrible nails. Down to the coldness and aloneness in the pitch-black bowels of the earth.
Help me to see, O most glorious Lord, that this is the path to glory. That in shouldering my cross in this life, my neck is given the strength to wear a crown in the next. And that when my cross bends my back low, it is there I am given the humility to wear a crown without the risk of it going to my head.”
Norton, J. (2014, August 12). Why the Funniest People Are Sometimes the Saddest. Retrieved August 13, 2014, from http://time.com/3103256/robin-williams-dead-jim-norton/.
Hiebert, D. E. (1994). The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (p. 244). Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press.
Gire, Ken (2011-01-04). Moments with the Savior (Moments with the Savior Series) (p. 181). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Tripp, Paul David (2007-10-31). A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You (p. 18). New Growth Press. Kindle Edition.
Keller, T. J. (2013). From the sermon, “Jesus on the Mount, Jesus off the Mount,” preached July 2, 2006. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
“Transfiguration (Raphael)”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transfiguration_(Raphael)#cite_note-14 Retrieved August 16, 2014.
Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 266). Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.
MaCarthur, J. (2010, October 24). All Things Possible. Retrieved August 15, 2014, from http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/41-45/all-things-possible.
Keller, T. J. Ibid.
Keller, T. J. Ibid.
Keller, T. J. Ibid.
Gire, Ken (2011-01-04). Moments with the Savior (Moments with the Savior Series) (p. 185). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.