Mark 8-9
(Who is the Greatest?)
October 16th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Messiah."

- Mark 8:30 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

Jesus continued performing miracles and teaching lessons, despite the obstacles described in the previous two chapters. Among other topics, today's chapters describe how Jesus sought to solidify the disciples' understanding of his identity. He asked the disciples if they know who he is and then explained to them the sequence of events that will culminate in his death and resurrection. He tells them that they must sacrifice their own lives if they seek eternal life for their soul:

Chapter 9 begins with a description of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Once again, he selects a subset of his disciples to witness a special event. Jesus took Peter, John, and James with him up to a high mountain. Once there they saw Jesus become dazzling white, then witnessed the appearance of Moses and Elijah, who spoke with Jesus. The disciples who were present then heard God speak from a cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him (9:7 - NIV)!"

Afterwards, Jesus was asked to heal a demon-possessed boy because the disciples who had remained behind had failed to do so. Jesus obliged by driving the demon out. Subsequently, he travelled by foot with the disciples to a quiet place in Capernaum where they could talk in private. He then explained to them again how he would die and rise again but they were still unable to comprehend and were afraid to ask for clarification. Instead, they argued about who was the greatest, so Jesus began to teach them again.

Reflection and Application

Maybe some of the disciples were jealous because of the trio that was frequently selected to go with Jesus for special events, such as when he brought a little girl back to life, or the Transfiguration, and perhaps additional events not recorded in the Gospel scrolls. Maybe this jealously is what led some of them to pester Jesus for a higher seat in the organizational chart as recounted in a subsequent chapter, or maybe they didn't need any extra reasons because they were perpetually ambitious. In either case, this jealously or ambition was becoming an obstacle, a log in their eyes that prevented them from understanding what Jesus was doing and saying, even when he was very direct.

The end of chapter 8 is a section that is often referenced from the pulpit and other places. For instance, Oliver Stone's biographical film, "Nixon", begins with a display of the words from the King James Version of Mark 8:36: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This was an apt quote to summarize the trajectory and tragedy of the life and career of Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 - April 22, 1994), 37th President of the United States of America. He rose from a humble life of hardship to become a congressman, then Vice President, and was twice elected as President, but resigned in disgrace on August 9th, 1974 because of the Watergate scandal and related alleged dirty tricks used to gain political advantage.

I remember that day when news of the President's plans to resign spread quickly among the parents and families at a summer swim meet. The generation of the parents at that swim meet had lived through a Presidential assassination eleven years earlier and were about to witness the first-ever resignation. Why did this happen? One could argue that Nixon was one of the most powerful men in the world, but sacrificed his soul. He had used unethical methods to tape record and discredit his political opponents so that he could win the re-election in 1972, putting his own unquenchable ambition above all other principles.

One of the other verses from the end of this chapter that is often quoted is "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Mark 8:34 - NIV)." The Rev. Connie Jordan-Haas delivered a sermon centered on this verse one April morning in 1997. She acknowledged the difficulty of denying ourselves and following Christ:

Jordan-Haas quoted the German theologian, pastor, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) to help with the explanation of what it means to take up the cross: "Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for Christ's sake. If in the end we know only him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto him (2)."

The Bonhoeffer book was originally published in German in 1937 as Nachfolge and was later translated and published in English as The Cost of Discipleship. It is widely respected as an excellent book on discipleship and provides an in-depth commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.

If we want to deny ourselves and take up the cross then we must be careful that our human weaknesses do not distract us from understanding and accepting what Jesus says to us. During the Transfiguration, the Father said everything that the disciples needed to know, as noted in Mark 9:17: "˜This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!' "

Mark included this explanation point at the end of the three word sentence: "Listen to him!" This could be three of the most important words in this Gospel. If we truly listen to Jesus, and allow the seeds of his truth to plant themselves in our hearts, then we will understand who he is and what he wants from us as a race of people. We are all asked to deny ourselves and carry the cross, but if we listen to him throughout our day, as we go about our business, then we will better understand the unique mission that he has in mind for each of us.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Where were you when Nixon resigned (or when did you first learn about it)?
    2. What steps can we take today to deny ourselves?
    3. Each of the original disciples had a unique mission. Bonhoeffer had a unique mission. What is the unique mission for which God is calling you?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father, we know you sent your son to teach us and sacrifice himself for us as a servant leader. Help us to listen and follow his example

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    World Leaders


    (1) Jordan-Haas, the Rev. Connie, "Is Christianity Hard or Easy (Mark 8:34-37, Galatians 2:20)," April 13th, 1997, The Noroton Pulpit, Sermons from the Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT
    (2) Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship, New York: Macmillan, 1966, p.78

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Mark 10-11 (Final Trip to Jerusalem)

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