Who is the Son of God and what does it mean to follow him? The cliché church answer is easy to blurt out and the skeptical answer easy to say mockingly. But, truly, what are the implications of Jesus’s claims to be God and to his announcement of the Kingdom of God? Certainly if his claims got him killed we should give more than a passing thought to what his message was all about. However, giving Jesus a sincere moment of our attention is easier said than done.
Humanity has done wonderfully at finding ways to subvert honest conversations about the most important things in life. A most vicious diversion to the discussion is the argument. Not the academic argument where rhetoric, logic, and discourse are used to make a point. Rather the down and dirty, name calling, back biting arguments that plague school yards, office spaces, and living rooms alike. Rather than talk with intelligence on a subject we quickly find cracks in what the other person is saying simply to assert our position without regard to our own fractured positions.
Jesus claims to be the Son of God. He claims to be inaugurating the Kingdom of God. He even claims to offer forgiveness for sins that we have committed against his Father. In Mark chapter 9 these claims of Jesus are reinforced. Yet simultaneously these claims are over looked because of diversion. Throughout this text the disciples of Jesus find themselves arguing with the Scribes, with each other, and with other believers. Yet Jesus still does not allow these diversions to stop him from his purpose to make the Glory of His Father known through his suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day.
In this text there is the potential for a convoluted mess of bad theology. Those seeking an argument will quickly see the parts and the points that I am not making. My purpose for this discourse is to show who the Son of God is and what is required to follow him. That is because this text is a call to put down our pride. This text is a call to put our faith in the Son of God. When we fail to see who Jesus is and why he came then we begin to argue and try to position ourselves above others. And consequently we position ourselves over the fires of Hell.
We will first start in the middle; Mark 9:30-32. The Son of Man will be handed over to the hands of men. It is depressingly ironic that the creature that Jesus became is that same creature that will seek his life. But this is what has been prophesied since the writings of Moses in the Old Testament; prophecies that the Son of Man will be delivered to his enemies, killed, and then he will rise from death on the third day. This is the same message we see in Mark 8:31-32.
If we do not understand what Jesus is saying in verses 30-32 then the rest of the text will be lost on us. In plain speak, Jesus is God himself. Jesus will die on behalf of sinners to pay the wages of our sin. And we know that he is God because on the third day he rose from the dead. Our faith is rooted in who Jesus is; not what he does. This was the major source of opposition that the scribes in Mark’s Gospel had with Jesus. They were furious that Jesus was making himself out to be God. So at every opportunity they sought to argue with Jesus and his disciples.
This brings us back to Mark 9:14. Jesus is coming off the mountain where God the Father told Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus. As Jesus approaches his other disciples there is an argument taking place. This is the first of 3 arguments that we will see in this text.
A father brought his demon possessed son to Jesus to be healed. The disciples of Jesus were unable to heal the boy. So the scribes use this moment of the disciples’ inadequacy to start an argument. As Jesus intervenes he learns of the situation. Jesus even rebukes the crowd of being a faithless generation. Still in distress the father of the boy asks for mercy with the poorly chosen word ‘if’. Jesus leans back on what we have already learned, he is God. He can do anything for one who believes.
The father then makes a cry that rings deep in the soul, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’. In light of this cry commentator James Edwards writes, “True faith is always aware how small and inadequate it is”.
In relation to what happens next I will make some secondary observation but then refocus back on the point of the text. First, unlike other demons this demon doesn’t speak. Second, although the father only said the demon made his son mute Jesus calls the demon a mute and deaf demon. Thirdly, only prayer was able to heal the boy. Lastly, it would seem that the reason why only prayer would work is because the demon could not hear anyone talking to him. As intriguing as these things are it pales in comparison to the thrust of what the point of this event was about. Where the disciples failed, Jesus succeeded. Although the followers of Jesus fail, Jesus is still undefeated in his confrontations with evil.
Moving forward in the text we come to Jesus’ second announcement of his suffering, death, and resurrection. Jesus spares no time to assert that his purpose isn’t to heal but to save.
The first argument we saw was with believers and unbelievers. The next two arguments are among believers. Just like Jesus’ first announcement of his suffering, death, and resurrection we see the same events follow. The disciples once again misunderstand what is mean to believe and follow Jesus.
Who is the greatest? If you are walking next to God and then decide to argue with your friends about which of you is the greatest, you are dumb. Jesus squashes this argument real quick. The greatest is the least. By the way, it is Jesus who is the least, not one of his disciples. In a culture that despised children Jesus pulls a child on his lap and says whoever receives a child in his name is actually receiving Jesus, but more importantly that person receiving the Father. In the most humble way Jesus turns an argument among his disciples about who is the greatest and shows that ‘he is the greatest’!
Without regard to what was just said John chimes in and talks about an argument that he had with some other believers who were following them. John and the disciples saw some other believers casting out demons (successfully) in the name of Jesus. Because this upset John, he and the disciples tried to stop these guys. Instead of focusing on who Jesus is and what it means to follow him another diversion is created. Jesus points out the ludicrous actions of his disciples and lets them know that those that work for the spread of the Gospel are not against Jesus. And not only should we let other believers carry on with their work but we should also serve them by taking care of their physical needs.
When we are so caught up in our petty diversions from the truth we are becoming stumbling blocks for those who are young in the faith. And if we cause those young in the faith to stumble then Jesus says in very serious terms that that person should be killed for his actions. Using hyperbolic language Jesus then goes into talk about what is at stake in all these arguments—Hell. If something is going to cause us to sin it would be better that we part from it than be cast into the fires of Hell. The driving point of what Jesus is saying here is that we need to be at peace with one another. In light of who Jesus is there is no reason to find ourselves willing distracted from the task at hand. It brings no glory to God to focus on temporal things. Rather it forces us to choose heaven or hell, death or life. Salt is a biblical image of purification. And like salt we should be purifying agents of glory instead of being stumbling blocks.
James, the brother of Jesus, says in his letter to the Church,
4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
This is a stern rebuke and solemn warning of what our weak arguments are costing us. They blind from who Jesus is and they paralyze us from moving forward on what is required of us. We are called to have faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. We are called to live in obedience to that reality. Without being submissive to this truth we will find ourselves being warmed by the fires of Hell. And I beg you; please do not give in to the distractions. Rather choose life by putting down weak arguments. Live your life to the glory of God knowing that just as Jesus rose from the dead, one day he will return again to gather those who are his into eternal life. And those who are not his w
 Edwards James, Pillar New Testament Commentary: Mark, p 280.
 Purification – Luke 2:13; Numbers 18:19; Ezekiel 16:4; Ezekiel 43:24
 James 4:1-4 – The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.