Afraid to Ask (Mark 9)

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Theme Verse

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And He did not want anyone to know, for He was teaching His disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him. (Mark 9:30-32)

Sermon Text

Teachers say, "There is no such thing as a stupid question." But we don't like to ask questions. We don't want to appear less smart than others. We don't want others to think that we need more help to understand. The Apostles were no different. They wouldn't even ask the most basic question: "Was ist das? What does this mean?"

The Apostles wouldn't ask this question. They asked the wrong question: Which one of us is the greatest? Which one of us is Jesus' favorite disciple? Jesus has told them about the greatest event in human history. They completely bypass this hard thing to discuss something a bit easier to decipher. Who is Jesus' favorite disciple?

I can see the discussion starting and developing into an argument among the Twelve. Peter, James and John, coming off the visions of the Transfiguration a few days before, could say one of them had to be the greatest. They had seen Jesus' divine glory shine through. They had heard His conversation with Moses and Elijah. One of them had to be Jesus' favorite. After all, why would He have shown these great things to them?

But all Twelve could say that Jesus had given them the power to heal diseases and cast out demons. Although they had just failed at casting out the same demon because they would not pray about it.[1] All of them were given the same powers and abilities. All of them were basically equal in standing. Jesus didn't do anything for any of them that He didn't do for the rest of them. He was the perfect "big brother" to each of the Apostles.

So who was Jesus' favorite? Who was the greatest Apostle? Who cares? Jesus brings them together in a huddle and places a young child in the middle of them. "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."[2] The greatest Apostle would be the greatest servant. Why bring the child into their midst? To show the Apostles' complete and total dependence on Him for everything they have, are and do. Nothing is done without Jesus being involved. Jesus is the center of everything in this world. Jesus' death is the center of everything in this world and the next.

So why won't we ask the proper question? We're afraid to ask the question. But anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian needs to feel comfortable asking this question. I begin every Sunday morning Bible class with the question, "Is there anything from worship this morning or life this week that anyone would like to bring up?" The opportunity is given to ask questions that you seek answers for. As Christians, disciples of Jesus Christ, learners of the great mysteries of the faith, we need to ask the questions when we have the opportunity. Some of them won't be successfully answered until the age to come. Some may not be completely answered until the following week. But there is likely a beginning to an answer we can find quickly in God's Word.

In Mark's Gospel, our text happens days after the Transfiguration[3] and the healing of the demon-possessed boy.[4] Both of these events left the Apostles with serious questions. Serious questions they were afraid to ask. Things kept going. Always more questions than answers. And still, none of the Apostles dare ask their questions.

Jesus once again says something that the Apostles don't understand. Once again, they are afraid to ask for the meaning. He had taken them away privately. He wanted them to concentrate on His teachings. He WANTED them to ask their questions. This teaching is the most difficult and most important of all His teachings: "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise."[5]

What does this mean? What are you talking about, Jesus? That's all the Apostles had to say. But no. None of the Apostles wanted to let the other eleven know that they didn't understand either. They wanted to look "wise and understanding."[6] But as St. James tells the Church decades later, "You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."[7] You don't understand because you don't ask your questions. You ask the wrong questions. Like the Apostles, we like to ask the questions that lead to favorable answers for us.

But you need not be afraid to ask the difficult questions. Jeremiah says, "The LORD has made it known to me and I knew."[8] Jesus says, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."[9] God does not want you to leave His house with unanswered questions. He wants you to know.

So, let's ask the question: What does this mean? "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and when He is killed, after three days He will rise."[10]Four phrases jump out at us:

  • "The Son of Man is going to be delivered"
  • "into the hands of men"
  • "They will kill Him"
  • "He will rise"

As Christians, we should be able to agree that Jesus came in the flesh primarily to die on the cross. Jesus is Jeremiah's "gentle sheep led to the slaughter" on our bulletin covers.[11] However, being God in the flesh, Jesus knew the schemes against Him. He knew who was devising them. He knew what they wanted. The chief priests, the Pharisees and the Sadducees wanted Him--their greatest enemy--put to death. He would die for the sins of the world. To offer His lifeblood as the price of salvation.[12]

Jesus pushed His enemies throughout His ministry. But they wouldn't take Him. Jesus had to be delivered into their hands. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He asks those who came to arrest Him: "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture Me? Day after day I was with you in the Temple teaching, and you did not seize Me."[13] Jesus was in their backyard all week and they did nothing. Judas Iscariot had to deliver Him to them.

Once He had been delivered like a Pizza Ranch pizza, His enemies stood in judgment over Him. Not believing what the Scriptures said about Him, the greatest of all God's creations became judge over the Creator. The Word of God silently stood trial in a human court. He silently awaited the inevitable guilty verdict. Man had been created in God's image. Man now stood in judgment over a God who didn't fit his own image.[14] This is the spirit of Antichrist: man setting himself up as judge over God.

Judging Jesus not to be good enough, the chief priests and elders demanded He be put to death. They forced their way through the political system to see Him put upon the cross. To receive the ultimate curse.[15] The creature killed the Creator. Not only did they condemn Jesus. They condemned God the Father. Jesus tells the Apostles, "Whoever receives Me, receives not Me but the One who sent Me."[16] The flipside is also true: Whoever rejects Jesus, rejects not Jesus but the Father who sent Him.

Even though His own people rejected Him,[17] Jesus would not stay dead. After three days, He would rise from the dead.[18] The grave would not be able to keep its hold on the "gentle sheep led to the slaughter." The Jewish rulers had said, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that His name be remembered no more."[19] They wanted to see His "rebellion" against the establishment squashed. Jesus needed to be put in His place.

Jesus made the cross His place. He made the grave His place. When we commit a person's remains to the grave, we have a wonderful prayer that reminds us of Jesus' resurrection. Not only His, but ours as well. "Almighty God, by the death of Your Son Jesus Christ You destroyed death, by His rest in the tomb You sanctified the graves of Your saints, and by His bodily resurrection You brought life and immortality to light so that all who die in Him abide in peace and hope. Receive our thanks for the victory over death and the grave that He won for us. Keep us in everlasting communion with all who wait for Him on earth and with all in heaven who are with Him, for He is the resurrection and the life, even Jesus Christ, our Lord."[20]

But Jesus' real place is in Heaven. Where He sits at the right hand of the Father. On the Last Day, He will come to judge the living and the dead. We need to believe this with our whole being. Unafraid to ask our questions. Unafraid because our heavenly Father wants us to come to Him as dear children come to their dear father.[21] To ask our questions, having a childlike faith that believes and trusts in our complete dependance on Him for everything. Unafraid so that we rejoice when we see Him on the Last Day. Unafraid because we know that He died and rose for us that we might die and rise with Him. Amen.


  1. Mark 9:29
  2. Mark 9:35
  3. Mark 9:2-14
  4. Mark 9:15-29
  5. Mark 9:31
  6. James 3:13
  7. James 4:2-3
  8. Jeremiah 11:18
  9. Matthew 7:7
  10. Mark 9:31
  11. Jeremiah 11:19
  12. LSB #851.1
  13. Mark 14:48-49
  14. Genesis 5:3
  15. Deuteronomy 21:23
  16. Mark 9:37
  17. John 1:11
  18. Mark 9:31
  19. Jeremiah 11:19
  20. Pastoral Care Companion p. 135
  21. SC III