As soon as Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the focus changes...the first half of the book of Mark centers on who Jesus is, the second half of the book centers on his purpose—what he came to do.
In the first half we see that he is both God and man, the eternal King. He is forgiveness, rest, power, and unbounded love. Yet at this point in the life of Jesus, readers of Mark are left with a lot of questions about what he has come to do and how he will do it.
- Tim Keller
Yestersay some of the VCC pastors took a tour of the Vatican. During the tour we saw the incredible and final painting by the Renaissance master, Raphael: the Transfiguration.
This huge painting depicts the scene of these two passages
It's all there - the mountain, the cloud, the glory of Jesus, surrounded by Moses and Elijah, overwhelming the disciples. And below: the boy surrounded by his family on the right and to the left, the disciples trying to cast out the demon.
It's all there because it's all connected.
Up on the mountain the disciples are given a glimpse of Jesus' glory that comes from a deep intimacy and communion with God. They experience something beyond what they knew and believed. After all, Peter believed and confessed six days ago that Jesus was the Messiah (Mark 9:29) but this was more than knowledge or logical belief.
It's out of this intimacy that Jesus is given strength for the challenges ahead of him (the cross). Jesus, out of this intimacy and connection to God, has power and authority to save and heal all who seek him out. It's that same power and authority that drives out demons and makes the boy well.
And Jesus invites us to know that same power and authority, through him, for our own challenges. This invitation is not about having a sufficient level of faith by its levels but by having faith in what Jesus can do in us. There's incredible grace here because we learn that Jesus responds to even imperfect, doubting, and humble faith and prayer.
Can you humbly ask Jesus, as simply and humbly as you can for help today?
Some things to keep in mind about the passage
1. Gospel Parallels
Clues from Luke's gospel of this same event help us see some helpful details:
Jesus went to the mountain to pray
"As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning". (Lk. 9:28)
And Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah about his departure (Luke 9:31).
2 . "So...what just happened?"
The transfiguration was something that was clearly beyond the ordinary. Peter, James and John would probably have had difficulty in telling us what happened.
But just from what we can read we know that Mark wants us to know that Jesus' appearance changed, and the disciples were experiencing something that was too much for them to fully take in. Mark points out how they were so scared that Peter, "did not know what to say" (Mark 9:6).
3. What Does It Mean?
There a number of elements to the transfiguration that could use some explanation:
- The Mountain
The mountain, in the Bible, is the place of divine revelation (Moriah and the sacrifice of Isaac averted, Gn. 22; Sinai and the giving of the law, Ex. 19; Horeb and reassurance for Elijah, 1 Ki. 19).
- His Clothes
His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
The brightness of Jesus’ garments evokes the Shekinah, the raw, divine, glorious presence of God.
- The Presence of Moses and Elijah.
Moses and Elijah are usually taken to represent the Law and the prophets. That only Jesus is present at the end points to how whatever the Law and prophets meant to the people, they will find it in Jesus.
Another point of connection between the three figures is that all three had unusual departures from life (Deut. 34:5–5; 2 Kings 2:11). Perhaps they are preparing Jesus for what's to come.
4. Key Verses
Mark 9:9 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.
Jesus is making clear that any knowledge of who he is and what he's come to do as the Messiah is incomplete without how he will give up his life on the cross. The pattern of laying down life to save life is central. The cross is central to who he is.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:34-35
Jesus has to repeatedly tell his followers that he is going to do this, a fact that is simply too hard for them to accept until it happened.
Mark 9:12, 13 "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things...But I tell you, Elijah has come"
There was an expectation that a sign of the final judgment of God was Elijah would return. Jesus explains that John the Baptist was 'Elijah' come again.
Mark 9:18-19 "'I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not...Jesus replied, 'Bring the boy to me.'”
Here's the central tension of this episode. Who is being asked? By whose strength are the disciples trying to do this work?
“ 'If you can'?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
I'll hand it over to John Stott here...
Does Jesus’ ‘Everything is possible for him who believes’ mean, ‘I, Jesus, can do everything because of the amount or quality of my faith’,
or ‘Everything is possible to you if only you had that amount or quality of faith’,
or ‘Everything is possible if you have faith in what I can do for you’, placing the emphasis not upon the degree of faith but upon the relationship of trust between the man and Jesus?
If it was the first then the man clearly misunderstands what Jesus means, and goes uncorrected, which would be unusual in Mark’s gospel.
If it meant the second then the man seems to be disqualifying himself.
The third fits best, since it allows for the battering the man’s faith has taken in the failure of the disciples (‘I brought you my son … I asked your disciples … they could not’, 17–18) The main point of this third way is that the miracle does not depend on the degree, quality or amount of the man’s faith, but only on his having faith to link him effectively with the ministry of Jesus. It is the ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ principle at work (Mt. 17:20; Lk. 17:6). The emphasis then is not on the quality of our faith but on the power of the Master with whom we are joined by faith
And that's what we need to remember, all of us who seek to love well, help well, build well, serve well. Who are we joined to in faith? Who invites us to pray and bring to him what we love and whom we love? Who invites to be strengthened for our challenges the way he was through his communion with God the Father? Who is, like the writer of Hebrews says, "the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word."