But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. Mark 9:32
In God’s kingdom, up becomes down and down becomes up; but this is the only way salvation can occur. We who are down in sin and death can only be saved if we are brought up in forgiveness and resurrection. To save us we must be brought up, and to accomplish this, He who is the loftiest One must be brought down to the deepest depths.
Throughout the four Gospels Jesus predicted that He must be killed and then rise again. In our text He gives a sample of such prophecy: 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 [v 31]. As identified in our title quote, the disciples did not understand the saying. How could they? Sinful man can only discern such sayings by the power of the Holy Spirit. According to sinful human understanding, how can it be that the very One who raises dead people to life should die…even be killed? This is unthinkable. Additionally, who could hate this compassionate man, hating Him to the point of killing Him? And if Jesus is indeed the Son of God—identified as such by miracles such as stilling a storm—how in the world could He be killed? It is also unimaginable that Jesus could rise from the dead. Granted, He occasionally raised the dead, but who would raise Him from the dead? But the main question sinful man cannot answer is, Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?
“Up” must become “down” so that “down” can become “up.” The One who created this world to be an intertwinement of time, space and matter must Himself come “down,” becoming flesh—part of space, time and matter, in order to save His creation. The One who is all-powerful must come “down” to be a vulnerable baby, and then grow to be a vulnerable man. The very One who healed pain and misery must go “down” into utmost pain and misery in order to give final deliverance to mankind’s sin-caused pain and misery. The One who is without sin must go “down” and become sin to save the sinners. The very One who is the source of life must go “down” into death, to save those under the curse of death. In summary, the One who is master of all had to become servant of all. Thus, for the Son of God, “up” became “down”—for our salvation.
Then “down” became “up” when the horribly crucified Christ rose from the grave. In this resurrection we realize that all of our “downs” are now “ups.” Our “downs” of sin and all of its results are in Christ made into “ups” for He has paid for sin. This down-turned-up victory is summarized in Revelation 21:4: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.
By faith our “downs” have become “ups,” but by sight it does not yet appear so. Nonetheless, in the yet-occurring “downs” of this life, Christ keeps pulling us up. As Christians we still fall down in sin, but Christ through His Church repeatedly lifts us up in forgiveness. It appears as Christians that we are only going down, for we are not separated from the pain and travail of the present world, with the ultimate result that we go down into the grave. However in the midst of this “down” stuff, Christ’s Word and Promises repeatedly pull and prop us up, for in our trials He has promised never to leave or forsake us, and as we face death we cling to His promise that because He lives, we shall live also. The Holy Spirit, through the Word of the Cross, keeps bringing us up.
The ups and downs surface again as we are empowered by the Spirit in our Christian walk. In our Gospel text Jesus makes the “upside down” directive: If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all [v 35]. Simply put, we are to be like Christ who, though being the greatest One, became last and servant of all. If you want to be “up” in Christ’s kingdom, you must become lowly. “Up” must become “down” in our Christians walk. Even as believing in Christ’s up-turning-down work of salvation can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit, so, too, our sanctified walk of servanthood can only be accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, as He trains us to fix the eyes of our faith on Christ—the crucified and risen Son of God.