Mountain Top Experience: Studying Mark 9

Is the mountain top worth the climb? You bet. Even when it meant a twenty-four hour bus ride from Memphis to Denver to the retreat center.

It was summer 1973. I was almost seventeen. I had been invited on the Young Life Retreat by a friend from my high school. At that point in my life, I assumed I was a Christian. I had been baptized as a baby in the Episcopal church, confirmed as a sixth grader, and remained a regular attender at the services. But I felt dissatisfied with my childhood faith. I was hungry for a God big enough for my teen years.

On the mountain, I met him.

There was something about the clarity of the air, the intense blue sky, the utter silence, and the wheeling hawks that helped me listen. During the evening sessions speakers explained the gospel in terms that the assembled teenagers could understand. During the day God brought those truths, one by one, into my heart. By the end of the week I knew that He knew me, and that I knew him. He had opened my heart to believe what my mind understood.

I needed the mountain top experience to see and hear God clearly, but I didn’t need to stay up there. When I went down again, he came with me.

Who Needed This Mountain Top Experience?

We’re continuing our study of the Gospel of Mark.

Mark 9 opens with Jesus and his three closest disciples climbing a high mountain, possibly Mount Hermon. The ascent took some time. Mark doesn’t tell us what they talked about on the way up. Perhaps they were each deep in their own thoughts.

I tend to think of this incident– the Transfiguration–as just another step in the disciples’ training course. Clearly, they were dumbfounded by a view of Jesus none of them expected to see. They saw his glory. They heard the voice of the Father. The cloud of the Presence enveloped them.

Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah, the two greatest Old Testament prophets. I assumed this trip was primarily for his benefit. But then the Father address Jesus’ disciples. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him (Mark 9:7).

“This is my Beloved Son; listen to him.”

Mark 9:7

At this turning point in the gospel narrative, it seems to be a preparation for what’s ahead. Tim Keller draws this comparison:

When Jesus was baptized in the opening chapter of Mark, the Spirit descended on him like a dove, and it fortified him to begin teaching and healing publicly. Now the Father envelops him with his presence–the light and the shekinah glory and the voice–to fortify him for the far greater test that awaits him as he moves resolutely toward his execution on the cross.

Suddenly I wondered if this mountain top retreat was also intended for these three disciples who had tagged along. Let’s join them this week as we tag along with Jesus to the mountaintop and down again.

Day 1: Context — Read Mark 8:27-38 and Mark 9:1-2.

  1. Who is Jesus? What does “the Christ” mean?
  2. According to Mark 1:38, what did Jesus come to do? What did he come to do according to Mark 8:31? What is the relationship between these two purposes?
  3. How does Mark 10:45 serve as the summary for both purposes?
  4. How much time elapsed between the events of Mark 8:27-9:1 and Mark 9:2?

Day 2: Observation — Read Mark 9 as 4 scenes, on the mountain, descent, down to earth, and on the road.

  1. Describe what Peter, James, and John saw and heard on the mountain. How did these things confirm or challenge their understanding of Jesus?
  2. On the descent they converse. What does Jesus teach them about the proper order of the things that must happen?
  3. When they reached the crowd below, what two realities became evident? What does it take for good to triumph over evil?
  4. Reflect on the conversations recorded on the road, Mark 9:30-50. What types of things did the disciples think? How does Jesus correct them with truth?

Day 3: Meaning — Reread Mark 9 as a single story.

  1. The Father said, “This is my Son, My Beloved.” How was Jesus strengthened by the Father’s love in the scenes that followed?
  2. The Father said, “Listen to him.” How would you summarize what Jesus says to the disciples in the rest of the chapter?
  3. In this chapter the disciples seem subdued. Gone is the boldness from previous chapter. What do you see instead? Why do you think they changed?
  4. From the raw data in this chapter, why was the cross necessary for the disciples?

Day 4: Application — Reread Mark 9 as a personal word to you.

  1. When you hear the Father call the Son his Beloved, you are getting a glimpse into the secret things of God. Ponder this picture and let it bring you to worship.
  2. “Listen to him!” What is Jesus saying to you personally in this chapter?
  3. “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” Use this prayer to seek God’s help for whatever is before you today. He will give it! Ask for faith, then act in the faith he provides.

Moses met God on the mountain and so did Jesus. The good news is that today we don’t have to go up on a mountain to hear God’s voice. When the Son came, he brought God down to us, into our carpools and kitchens and offices. The word in front of you is where you will meet him.

Today, ask the Spirit of God to bring the word of God to life. Ask him to bring it from a word you understand to a word you count on.

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