Mark 9:2-8 – Shining the Light on Our Fears

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“Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him. They went up on a high mountain, where they could be alone. There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed.  And his clothes became much whiter than any bleach on earth could make them.  Then Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’  But Peter and the others were terribly frightened, and he did not know what he was talking about.

The shadow of a cloud passed over and covered them. From the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, and I love him. Listen to what he says!’  At once the disciples looked around, but they saw only Jesus.” (Contemporary English Version)

The transfiguration of Christ was a glorious experience on the mountain.  But we are told that Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of Christ’s disciples, were terribly frightened.  Peter, always the extrovert of the group, nervously babbled-on without making any sense because he was so nervous and afraid.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus would take three of his disciples with him to experience such an incredible vision?  Why did Jesus show these men something so otherworldly that they nearly soiled themselves?  I will tell you why I think Jesus put his close disciples in such a position as this:

Because the way to see Jesus as our only hope, we must face our fears, insecurities, and anxieties squarely without hiding.

Jesus did not relieve their anxiety.  He let them feel the full impact of their fear.  His glory shone show brightly that they couldn’t hide from what was happening to them and what was in their minds and hearts.  Only through shining the light on the shadowy place of our fears and insecurities will we accept that we need a savior.  That savior is Jesus, the light of the world, the Lord over fear, anxiety, and discouragement.

The invitation which Jesus extends to us is to move further into our fears so that we can see how desperately we need him.  Nobody seeks a savior when they don’t believe they need deliverance from anything.  But the one who sees what is truly inside of them – the fear of connection; the scary prospect of confrontation; the anxiety of what will happen; or, the discouragement of failure – is the one who is then able to hear the voice of God and listen to Jesus give the answer to our most pressing life issues.

Jesus Christ wants to change us from the inside-out.  He helps us by showing us not to avoid the fears which cause us to be beside ourselves, but through confronting those anxieties with him.  You and I are never alone; we always have the glorious presence of Christ with us as we walk through dark valleys and ascend high mountains.  It is the wonderful existence and omnipresence of God in Christ through the Spirit which makes all the difference.  We were created for connection with the divine, not for separation and loneliness in our fears.

Glorious Christ, you love me with a grace and mercy which always has my best interests in mind.  Help me through my most pressing fears and failures so that I might see your glory, hear your voice, and know your constant presence.  Amen.

The Transfiguration of Jesus

 
 
When Jesus is around, extraordinary things happen.  Yet, this did not mean that the three disciples of Jesus – Peter, James, and John – perceived the extraordinary and what it really meant, at the time.  The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain was incredible.  But Luke tells us that the disciples were confused, sleepy, and walked away silent about the whole affair (Luke 9:28-36).
 
            We are not always told in the Gospel accounts why Christ’s disciples often did not understand or perceive the significance of the miraculous, supernatural, and extraordinary events that took place right in front of them.  Maybe they were distracted.  Perhaps they were doing some ancient form of multi-tasking.  Maybe Peter was texting and driving at the same time on the way to the meeting on the mountain and had his mind elsewhere.  It could be that James and John were checking their e-mails from the other disciples while all this was taking place.  Perhaps they were just up too late the night before binge watching on Netflix.  Whatever was going on with the disciples, they were distracted.
 
            So, we actually have God the Father step into the scene at the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain and speak.  Now, we need to understand that God is not in the business of exhorting people to listen unless they are not paying attention.  The Father is quite clear, succinct, and to the point:  “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
 
            We are to listen to Jesus because he is God’s Son, and everything centers round him.  Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, the full representation of God on earth.  Jesus is Savior, Lord and Master, Teacher and Healer.  He is all that, and more.  Jesus is the complete fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises, and the one that will come again to judge the living and the dead.  Jesus is the mid-point of history, the one whom we must listen to when he speaks and acts.
 
            Our identity, then, is to be fully bent, molded, and shaped in Jesus Christ.  This spiritual formation of our lives happens as we intentionally seek to be with Jesus, listen to him, and do what he says.  Jesus took the three disciples up on the mountain to experience his transfiguration in a prayer meeting (Luke 9:28).  Extraordinary things happen in prayer meetings.  The early church gathered often in prayer meetings, following the example of their Lord Jesus.  As they listened to God and responded to him (a rhythm of revelation and response), they saw Peter miraculously delivered from jail, ordinary people delivered from empty lives and demonic influence, and guidance into how to proceed as a church.  Prayer is as much about listening to God as it is talking to him.  It is in listening to God that we are filled with God’s Spirit and empowered to come down from the mountain and engage in God’s mission.
 
            There was something that Jesus wanted the disciples to discern on the mountain.  Jesus was changed in front of them.  Moses and Elijah showed up and talked with him about his “departure” which is literally his “exodus.”  Moses was the one who listened to God and led the people in a mass exodus from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.  Elijah was a prophet who listened to God and led the people out of centuries of idol worship and dead religion into the freedom of spiritual and national revival in Israel.  Jesus listened to the Father and came as the final and ultimate agent of freedom from sin, death, and hell.  Jesus came so that people can experience new life, a life of freedom, hope, peace, and joy.  Changed lives are God’s goal for us.  And a changed life will occur when we listen to God’s Son, learn from him, and lean into faith in him, all of which takes humility.
 

 

            Taking a posture of listening is a prerequisite to obedience, fruitful ministry, and success in the Christian life.  Creating the space and time for this to occur both individually and corporately through private devotions and public worship is a must.  In so doing, we may just clear away the distractions and encounter a transfiguration.

Christ’s Transfiguration

 
 
            The last Sunday before Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent has been traditionally observed for celebration of Christ’s glorious transfiguration.  In this transforming event we see a fuller glimpse of Jesus’ identity and his ultimate end of ascension and glorification.  It is possible that in focusing on this account of Christ’s metamorphosis that it all seems very strange, even confusing.  Maybe you just have no categories of thought to explain such an encounter (Mark 9:2-9).
 
            In a Peanuts cartoon Charlie Brown and Linus were lying on their backs looking at the sky.  Charlie Brown says, “Linus, do you see anything in the clouds?”  Linus said, “Yes, I do.  For instance, that one over there bears a striking resemblance to Michelangelo’s depiction of the Creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  And that one, there over the school, looks like a map of Scandinavia, see; there’s Denmark and Sweden.  And that one over there looks like a helix.  Do you ever see anything Charlie Brown?”  Charlie Brown replied, “Well, I was going to say a ducky and a horsey but I changed my mind.”
 
Perhaps your spiritual life seems more like Charlie Brown than Linus.  Compared to the experiences of others, you may not have had any defining moments of ecstasy, no shining Jesus right in front of you, or no spectacular vision of Christ.  Maybe your life seems rather mundane and ordinary in light of the many stories we have in the Gospels of Jesus doing the miraculous. 
 
Most of our lives are lived in the daily grind.  In the week in and week out monotony of life we need a bit of hope, maybe even a lot of hope.  In fact, we need an occasional mountain top experience because those are glimpses into the future of what it will be like someday when the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness.
 
The event of Christ’s transfiguration came after a hard frank discussion Jesus had with the disciples about his impending death.  Jesus clearly taught them that he must suffer, be rejected, and killed.  But in three days he would rise again.  The disciples did not want to hear that, and Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying it.
 
            In response, Jesus said this to them all:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
 
Jesus identified himself as the Suffering Servant, as the One who must suffer and die.  However, he is also the One to be glorified.  For Jesus, there had to be suffering before glory.  And it is the same for us.  The Christian life is filled with the difficulty of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, but is also punctuated with mountain top experiences that give us hope to keep doing what Jesus did.  In other words, we must listen to Jesus and follow him.  The nature of our Christian walk is up and down; both the mountain and the valley are spiritual realities; both are important.
 
            Moses and Elijah were on the mountain with Jesus at his transfiguration.  In the Old Testament, Moses was the person used by God to deliver the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land.  Centuries later, when the Israelites had been in the land for quite a while, Elijah was the person used by God to bring about a great repentance from Baal and a mighty revival back to the exclusive worship of the Lord.  As good as those guys were back then, having them with Jesus on the mountain meant that it gets even better with Christ.  Jesus is the Messiah, the True Deliverer, who saves the people from their sins.  What is more, Jesus is the Ultimate Revivalist, bringing the true grace and love of God to people and calling them from legalistic religion back to the true worship of God.
 
            Deliverance and revival were what Jesus was all about in his ministry.  And he expects all who follow him to do the same.  In the ministry of every believer, there will be suffering because we must take up our crosses; and, there will also be glory, experiencing and seeing the deliverance of sin that comes from genuine revival.         
 
            A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to him!”  If you have had a mountain top experience with Jesus, let that encounter with him give you the drive and the hope to keep carrying the bucket of suffering through the valley, without living in the past.  If you have never been on the mountain, today is the day to listen to Jesus and follow what he says. 
 

 

The answer to all that is vexing us is not to be found outside of Jesus Christ.  Let us go to him, listen to him, and obey what he says.  Let us know the Word of Christ, and bank on it.  Let us understand that our light and momentary sufferings will result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus is revealed.  Let our churches be shaped by a vision of Jesus, exalted and glorified.