Dr. Rachel Coleman
“Repent and believe, leave and follow”—the grand invitation and costly imperatives of the gospel. We’ve been tracking what they look like in Mark’s Gospel, and asking about the implications for discipleship in our own here and now. (See the previous parts of the series here.) In this part of the series, we’ll look at how “repent and believe” looks in Mark 9.
At the end of Mark 8, we hear Jesus telling his disciples some really hard words about the cost of following him. Phrases like “deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life for my sake” are echoing in their ears. The very next episode Mark narrates is a literal mountain-top experience (we call it the Transfiguration), but he introduces it with a little phrase that caught my attention: “Six days later” (9:2). Between the costly imperatives and the astonishing glimpse of glory, Jesus gives them some time to ponder the truth of who he is and to do some hard thinking about what it means to follow him. Sometimes “repent and believe” means taking time to process the gospel’s invitation and to consider the cost. The initial bold enthusiasm must be paired with serious reflection that cements and anchors the commitment in a robust and resolute decision rather than in a momentary burst of emotion.
At the end of that glorious mountaintop scene, the already-stunned Peter, James, and John are further awed by a voice from heaven (Mark 9:7). “This is my Son, the Beloved,” declares the Father. “Listen to him!” There’s no punctuation in the Greek text, but I’m sure that if Mark were relating this on Facebook or Twitter, he would have written: “LISTEN.TO.HIM!” Sometimes “repent and believe” means that, in the midst of swirling confusion, awe, fear, and questions, the number one choice we make is to listen to Jesus, to hear his voice and heed his authority.
Wouldn’t you expect that the next episodes in Mark 9 would show the disciples living out that kind of listening? Unfortunately, by the end of the chapter, Jesus has to take advantage of a teaching opportunity provoked by their refusal to pay attention to the kind of life he is modeling for them. When he catches them in an argument about power and position, Jesus drops this word of correction into their shame-faced silence: “Whoever want to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (9:35). “Repent and believe” means giving up any jockeying for power, position, or privilege.
Questions to consider:
- Have you taken time to “count the cost” of following hard after Jesus, on a path that is inevitably cross-shaped?
- How are your ears? Are they tuned to Jesus’ voice—and is your will set to obey what you hear him saying?
- Where are you clinging to a “me first” mentality or to the sneaky, subtle temptation to promote your interests over the interests of others? (Paul gives us a beautiful, Jesus-shaped corrective to this tendency in Philippians 2:1–11.)