With Jesus Off the Mountain
Before we get started this morning in Mark Chapter 9, I want to read something to you from somewhere later in the New Testament. It’s found in the book of 2 Peter Chapter 1, in verses 16–18 — if you want to turn there, 2 Peter Chapter 1.
We’ve mentioned this before, but I think it’s fascinating, that the Gospel of Mark is dependent upon the eyewitness account of the apostle Peter. So Peter did not write the Gospel of Mark; Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark; but Mark relied upon Peter’s firsthand report — Peter told Mark what happened.
And then later in his life, Peter did write some letters; and the letter of 2 Peter is the last letter he wrote; it’s dated between the year 64 and 67 — sometime before Peter was executed under Nero. So Peter wrote this letter in a Roman prison, awaiting his execution, and he wrote it to encourage struggling Christians. This is what he says, 2 Peter, Chapter 1, verse 16:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
Peter is recalling an event in Jesus’s life called the Transfiguration. He’s referring to what Mark shows us in Mark Chapter 9. Or another way to say it: here in 2 Peter 1, Peter is talking about what he has told Mark about, which is what we have just read about in Mark 9, verses 1–13. So turn back to Mark 9 if you can. This is our passage today, and there is a lot happening here.
The Transfiguration is a key event in Jesus’s earthly ministry, because of what it communicates about him, and there are three things I want us to see this morning. So the plan for the sermon is simple. It goes like this: First, we’re going highlight three messages about Jesus in the Transfiguration, and then second, we’re going to ask what it all means for us. So let’s pray and we’ll get started.
Father, this morning as we open your Word, we ask simply that you would show us your Son. Make us see Jesus truly; make us see Jesus for who he is. By the power of your Spirit, we ask this in Jesus’s name, amen.
So there are at least three messages about Jesus that the Transfiguration, and here’s the first one:
1. Jesus is the revelation of God’s character (verse 2).
Now in a way we see this throughout the whole thing, but notice right away a couple things in verse 2. Mark begins by referencing six days and a high mountain — verse 2: “after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
So Mark gives us a timeframe, a setting, and the company (which is not the crowd or even all the disciples now, but just Peter, James, and John). So it’s six days, a high mountain, and an exclusive audience. And when we put those things together with the fact that Jesus was transfigured, we start to pick up an allusion to the Old Testament.
When Mark says that “Jesus was transfigured before them” it means that these three disciples saw an unseen vantage of who Jesus is. Jesus’s appearance transformed and he displayed his glory straight-up, with nothing in the way. Jesus allowed these few guys to witness “his majesty” — that’s what Peter called it in 2 Peter 1. And so this is an extra special revelation, and it takes us back to Mount Sinai when God did the same thing for Moses. You don’t have to turn there, but it’s in Exodus 24 — let me set up the scene for you:
When God gave Israel the law, he gave it to Moses who he called up by himself on Mount Sinai. And so Mount Sinai in the Bible is seen as the place where God revealed his moral will. God is showing his people what he is like and how they should live, and this is how it’s described in Exodus 24, verse 12.
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.”
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
So Moses sojourns and waits on the mountain six days, and then after six days, on the high mountain, from a cloud, God speaks to him.
In Mark 9, after six days Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a high mountain, is transfigured before them, and in verse 7 “a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud.”
So the Transfiguration makes an unmistakable allusion to Mount Sinai, and in both events, in Exodus and in Mark, God is speaking. God is saying something about himself. At Mount Sinai, God gave the law. He revealed his moral will to Israel, which means, God revealed his character. And he’s doing the same thing in the Transfiguration. God is still showing us his character — he’s still showing us what he is like — except this time he doesn’t give the law, he gives his Son. Look at verse 7 again. Look at what God says:
And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
If you want to hear God, listen to Jesus. If you want to know what God is like — if you want to see who God is — pay attention to Jesus. Look at Jesus. Listen to Jesus.
Years ago I had a friend who was doing ministry with some inner-city kids in Compton, Los Angeles. She was sharing her life with these kids, and mentoring young girls, but over and over again she kept running into this same problem, and so she sent me and some others an email describing the dilemma and asking for help.
Here’s what she kept running into: the kids that she hung out with thought that God hated them. Because they had seen so many hard things, terrible things, they formed a view of God that said God was against them, and that view of God kept them from coming to Jesus. And so my friend was asking for some help — and I realized this was not an uncommon dilemma. Many of us do this, or have done this. This is how it goes: we have a view of God that keeps us from coming to Jesus, when actually, the only way we can have the right view of God is when we come to Jesus.
Our view of God can keep us from Jesus when really it’s only in Jesus that we see God for who he is.
If you want to know what God is like, not just your idea of him, but if you want to know what God is really like, look to Jesus. “Listen to Jesus” — that’s what God says.
Because Jesus is the revelation of God’s character.
2. Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory (verse 3).
And I mean that in a literal sense. Notice in verse 3 how Mark describes Jesus’s appearance:
And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them
The word for “transfigured” is the Greek word metamorphoomai which simply means to change or transform. It’s where we get the English word “metamorphosis,” which basically means the same thing. It’s when the appearance of something changes into something else.
And here in Mark 9, Jesus, who had the appearance of average-looking First Century Jewish man, suddenly changed into something else. His clothes became radiant and intensely white — and this was not your mother’s bleach. Mark says that. This was an other-worldly, intense, shining kind of white. And because we have an imagination, we can kind of get the idea. This would have been stunning to see.
We know from the Bible that God the Father is unseeable. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:16 that God the Father is immortal, and he “dwells in unapproachable light, who no one has ever seen or can see.” John says the same thing in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God . . . but [Jesus] has made him known.”
Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the seeable Person of the unseeable God — and yet in his glorified appearance he himself is almost blinding.
When Jesus appeared to Paul in Acts 9 it actually did blind him (see Acts 9:3–9; cf. 22:6). Paul talks about this in Acts 22, that at noon, when Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, a great light from heaven suddenly flashed around him, it made him fall to the ground, and because of the brightness of the light, Paul says he could not see for three days (see Acts 22:11). And this is the glory that you can see. So honestly, we just don’t have categories for this.
The glorified Jesus, the transfigured Jesus, is the radiance of God’s glory — he is communicated glory — and our natural eyes can’t take it. Normal people like us cannot look into glory like that, at least not yet.
Here’s why: it’s because when Jesus is transfigured in Mark 9, he is displaying himself in the full and final glory befit for the new creation. Jesus is giving us a glimpse here even beyond his resurrection and ascension. This is a glimpse into the glory that will be when the world is made new. This is a heavenly vision, which one day we will see with heavenly eyes (see 1 Corinthians 15:50–53).
I think that’s why Peter goes here in 2 Peter 1. Peter is at the end of his life, he’s writing to encourage Christians, and he could have gone anywhere, right? Peter saw everything. But he goes here, to the Transfiguration, because he knows that when Jesus was transfigured he saw a taste of the glory that is to come. Peter got to see the kingdom of God in its full power.
That’s Chapter 9, verse 1. Jesus says in verse 1 that “some standing here will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (9:1). And there’s some debate on what Jesus is talking about here, but in all the Gospels, this saying from Jesus comes right before the Transfiguration, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The full arrival of the kingdom of God is the glory of God reigning over the whole earth, embodied in the glorified Jesus, who Peter saw in the Transfiguration — and never forgot it.
Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory.
3. Jesus is the realization of God’s plan (verse 4).
Verse 4 tells us that when Jesus was transfigured there also appeared Elijah with Moses and they were talking with Jesus. And this was quite the scene. These are two Jewish Hall of Famers — these guys are Old Testament big deals — and they are standing with Jesus, talking with him, and we have to wonder what they’re talking about. Well, in Luke’s account, he tells us that they were talking about Jesus’s exodus. That means, they were talking about what Jesus is going to do to rescue his people — Jesus is talking about this with Moses and Elijah.
Now why these two? Well, in the Bible, Moses and Elijah are the two most prolific prophets in the Old Testament. Moses is at the top, and then Elijah with him, and together they represent the Old Testament’s witness to Jesus. They are the forerunners to Jesus, and they symbolize how they, and the entire Old Testament, points to and anticipates Jesus. So Jesus is the culmination of everything these two guys were about, and that’s worth a conversation, and so they’re talking.
God’s plan has finally been realized. Jesus is here.
I told them — Moses says — I told them back in Deuteronomy 18, that God was going to raise up a prophet like me, but better, and I told them that they should listen to him. I wrote that down, and finally here you are.
And I really doubted — Elijah says — that time in 1 Kings 19 when Jezebel was hunting me down, and I went up on Mount Sinai, and I complained: ‘God, they are wiping us out. This whole plan is going to be lost.’ But then God passed by, and he spoke to me, but it wasn’t in the wind, or in the earthquake, or in the fire, but God spoke to me with his voice, and he told me, “I will leave seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” And he did. Year after year God did. And now you’re here. It’s happening. The culmination of God’s plan has come.
Elijah with Moses, talking to Jesus, having gone before him, now they stand in his presence and defer to him. All of redemptive history has been waiting for this.
Jesus is the realization of God’s plan.
The Disciples’ Response
And Peter has an idea: Let’s build three tents for each of you, he says in verse 5. Now why did Peter say that? Well, Peter said it because he didn’t know what to say. And I love that Mark tells us this in verse 6. Remember that Mark got this story from Peter — and I like to imagine how that went:
Peter gets to this part of the story, and Mark stops him and says, “Wait, why did you say that?” And Peter says, “Because I didn’t know what to say!” And Mark is like: “Yeah, I’m including that.”
Man, I love Peter. He’s just talking, and then as he’s talking, a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came out: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
Just like Moses had said, listen to Jesus. All eyes should be fixed on him. All ears should be hanging on his words. God the Father here, like he did at Jesus’s baptism, and like he will do at Jesus’s resurrection, he is honoring Jesus. He is putting Jesus forward, he lifting Jesus high, and he is telling us with divine certainty that Jesus is the One.
And in a moment, everything is back to normal and it’s just the three disciples with Jesus again, and they’re coming down the mountain, and Jesus told them not to say anything about this until he is raised from the dead. And in verse 10 Mark says this confused them because they didn’t understand the resurrection part — because they still didn’t understand how Jesus was going to die. And so, they’re trying to figure it out, and they ask Jesus about Elijah: “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come?”
Holding It All Together
And this is a leading question, see. Malachi 4 in the Old Testament tells us that before the Great Day of the Lord Elijah must come. The disciples knew that. And they also knew that when Elijah comes he is going to restore righteousness in the land and bring harmony to human relationships, which sounds a lot like peace. And because they were taught this, and expected this, they didn’t see how it fits in that the Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and be killed (see 8:31). Because that doesn’t sound like peace at all. So their question subtly counteracts the idea that Jesus will suffer.
And so Jesus responds, Yes, Elijah does come to restore all things, verse 12, “And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
Once again, Jesus is coming back to suffering. He’s telling them not to overlook the suffering. It’s going to happen. God planned it that way, and to drive home his point, in verse 13 he says that Elijah has come — he’s talking about John the Baptist — and he says, “they did to him whatever they pleased.” And he’s right. John the Baptist lost his head. So the goal is indeed righteousness and peace and the restoration of all things, but that’s not here yet. First, there is suffering.
And now the suffering part has become even more difficult for the disciples to understand — because now Peter, James, and John have to hold together Jesus’s suffering with his glory. They have just seen the incomparable glory of Jesus — they saw him radiant, shining in majesty — and now they’re supposed to remember that he is going to be treated with contempt and killed. They have to hold that together now: majesty beyond our dreams and suffering we do not want. Glory and cross. Glory through cross. It’s both.
And that’s hard. It’s hard to hold that together. It’s a struggle to understand the ways of God, and so it is with life off the mountain. Which is where we all live.
It’s not so easy. So how do we do it? What does all this mean for us?
I think we see it in this story here right after the Transfiguration.
Life Off the Mountain
It starts in verse 14. Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, come down from the mountain and step into a commotion. There’s the other disciples, and a crowd of people, and then the scribes are arguing with them. And when Jesus asked what’s going on, a man from the crowd spoke up and explained that he had brought his son to the disciples to be healed, but that they couldn’t do it.
His son was possessed by a spirit that made him mute, and whenever the spirit seized the boy it would throw him down, make him foam at the mouth, and grind his teeth, and his whole body would go rigid — and this was a bad thing. This father was looking for some help, and so now he’s talking to Jesus, and they bring the boy to Jesus in verse 20, and right away, when the spirit saw Jesus, the boy started convulsing. And Jesus, like a doctor, asked the dad more questions.
How long as this been going on?
And the dad said since he was a child (which probably meant a long time by now), and then the dad said that oftentimes the demon would throw the boy into fire or water, trying to kill him.
And that actually gives us a little more perspective on what this dad has been dealing with. It’s this constant worry. It’s this perpetual anxiety that something is going to go terribly wrong with his son, that maybe today is the day he’s going to get hurt, that maybe today is the day that he is going to fall into the fire, or drown in the water, or have some kind of seizure when neither of his parents are around. This father is concerned for his child — which sounds a lot like motherhood all the time. Moms, I see you. I’m thankful for you.
So much of motherhood is this consistent, low-grade worry — it’s this lump in your throat about whether or not your kids are going to be okay. It takes courage to be a mom. And so you understand where this dad is coming from. He wants Jesus to help his boy.
And so he says, verse 22: “Jesus, if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us?”
And now we shouldn’t rush past verse 23. Because Jesus puts it back on the man. He says: “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”
Does that mean, then, that what is standing in the way of his son being healed is neither the sickness nor God’s refusal to heal, but the father’s own faith? Is this the moment when the dad, who has pointed his finger at other things his whole son’s life, perhaps even at God, is now staring down the finger pointing at him? Is it because his faith is too small?
What if I were in his shoes? Maybe, in a moment like this, if we could imagine ourselves, we would be crippled by a table-turning statement like this from Jesus?
Wait, you mean, it’s me? You mean I’m part of the problem? I’m asking for you to heal my son and you’re telling me I need to have faith.
And so maybe we’d ball up in self-pity, and be debilitated by the fact of our own brokenness after we’ve been staring at the brokenness of others for so long. Maybe we’d do that. Or maybe, like this father, we love our loved one so much, so deeply and fully, that rather than get lost down the rabbit trail of our own weaknesses, we cling to the possibility of healing, and that’s the only thing we can think about, and we’ll do whatever it takes.
That’s what the father does here. Jesus said healing was possible. Healing could happen. And the only thing standing in the way is me. I just have to believe.
And so this man, in this moment, says what we all would say: Okay, I believe, help my unbelief!
“I believe, help my unbelief” — that is life off the mountain. That is where we all live.
It’s that we know Jesus — we’ve read about him in the Bible; we know that he is the revelation of God’s character, and the radiance of God’s glory, and the realization of God’s plan. We’ve seen in the Scriptures who he is and what he can do — and so we believe; but we also know what we’re up against — help my unbelief!
We know that Jesus is good and able, and we’ve seen his heart at work — I believe!
We know that we are prone to wander, and we’ve seen how our hearts work — help my unbelief!
And so we live here — believing and asking for help; trusting and wanting to trust more; resting in his sufficiency and getting squirmy in our souls. Jesus, I believe. I believe. I believe. I believe! Help my unbelief! And Jesus heals the boy. Jesus answers that prayer. Jesus meets us there.
Come to the Table
That’s what he does each week at this Table. It’s at this Table that Jesus reminds us that he has us — that he’s got this. It’s his body that has been broken for us, and it’s his blood that has been shed for us, and he is reminding us as we eat and drink that: Yeah, fight to believe in me, but remember I’ve already fought for you, and won.
At the cross Jesus took all of your sin and guilt, and he died in your place, and then three days later he was raised from the dead and by that he accomplished your redemption so that right now, all things that stand against your soul have been defeated. Jesus has conquered them, and he holds you. He holds you. And he will not let you go. I believe, help my unbelief.
If that is your confession, we invite you to eat and drink with us.