As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” (New International Version)
Christ’s disciples, bless their wondering hearts, always seemed to be a few steps behind in following Jesus. And, truth be told, so are we, much of the time.
Since we know the end of the story, it’s easy for us to observe how clueless the original disciples of Jesus were, and how slow to the uptick they were on what their Lord was telling them.
The disciples were confused about Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain; puzzled about why they needed to keep their mouths shut about it; and betwixt about what the heck “rising from the dead” even means.
As they scratched their heads, trying to get a handle on things, they ended up asking about something they thought they knew about: Elijah. After all, if you don’t understand something, like a student in class, maybe you can ask about something else in order to get the teacher diverted from the thing you don’t understand. But bringing up Elijah only muddled their spiritual distraction.
The beauty of Christ is that he takes any discussion, any question, and turns it toward what must happen, what we must come to grips with.
What goes up, must come down
The disciples had the incredible experience of seeing a glorified Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. There is a time for bright illumined mountain top encounters, but there is also a time to come down off the mountain and walk through the shadowy dark valley.
Christ’s exhortation to stay silent about the mountain top meeting may be a reminder that following Jesus is not all glory; it also involves the hard slog of dealing with adversity because of one’s spiritual commitment.
A fundamental truth about the nature of God is consistency and constancy, much like a mountain. And we can always look up, remember, and find strength in our time of need.
I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. (Psalm 121:1-3, CEB)
What goes down, must come up
Just as life is not all mountain experiences, so it is not all about the valley. Jesus was letting his disciples know that they were about to face the darkest time of their lives. He would be rejected and suffer much – to the point of death. But the grave would not be able to hold him. A resurrection was coming; Christ would rise from death.
There cannot be a resurrection without a crucifixion – and the agony of the cross is not the final word. Resurrection, ascension, and glorification all result from the terrible suffering and ignominy of death. And since we have died with Christ, we will also be raised to life, as well.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5, NRSV)
What goes first, must come last
Jesus linked the Old Testament prophet Elijah with John the Baptist. Just as Elijah put the Lord first and was God’s servant, so also John considered Jesus as first, and himself as last.
John testified concerning him [Jesus]. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me…
I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie….”
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” (John 1:15, 26-27, 29-30, NIV)
What goes around, must come around
I’m not referring to karma, nor to a circular view of history, but to the reality that suffering and death is a result of life, and paradoxically, glory and life come from death.
Christianity is, I believe, inherently paradoxical. The way up is down; in order to save our lives we must give them up; to be great is to be a servant; and the last shall be first, and the first, last.
We neither need to understand every jot and tittle of the Bible, nor have every word of Jesus fully comprehended in order to be a Christian and serve Christ’s Church. There is a great deal of mystery to faith, and so much yet to discover and learn. We will spend an eternity getting to know God and never plumb the breadth and depth of comprehending the Lord.
So, we need to learn to enjoy this awesome God and embrace the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility so that we may worship, fellowship, and live in grace and freedom. In doing so, we are witnesses to a faith that transcends understanding, and allows us to serve within our churches, families, and communities without having every loci of theology nailed down.
All things shall eventually come back around to the Garden – a place of unhindered fellowship with God and one another without any sin or deceit to get in the way. Disaster, disease, and death are temporary; Love is permanent and shall come around to being the overwhelming and only force in this big universe.
We bless you, O God, for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
Give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts, we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory forever. Amen.