Between the Mountain and Me
The transfiguration occurs in Matthew, Mark, and Luke and marks a significant transition in the gospels, functioning as a key hinge of the life of Jesus, the end of his ministry of signs and the beginning of his ministry of suffering. The signs point to who Jesus is, but His suffering points to who we are and the path to life. Perhaps one of the greatest lies that runs rampant throughout human history down to the present is the claim that people are basically good and therefore deserve better. Everyone deserves… the Bible says, death (Rom. 6:23). But even more insidious than the lie is the fact that this lie is the driving force behind all violence and hatred and destruction in our world (Js. 4:1-10).
The Text: This tension between what we think we deserve and reality is presented dramatically between the transfiguration scene and what immediately follows. While Jesus takes His closest friends up on a mountain to experience His glory, to see a vision of Elijah and Moses, and to hear the voice of God (Mk. 9:2-8), his other disciples are down below failing to cast out a violent demon causing a young man to seizure (Mk. 9:14-18). On top of the mountain, the clothes of Jesus shine with radiance (Mk. 9:3); on the bottom of the mountain the son foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid (Mk. 9:18). On top of the mountain, stalwarts of faith and courage stand with Jesus (Mk. 9:4); on the bottom of the mountain, a desperate father begs powerless disciples to help him and crowds form around the embarrassing scene (Mk. 9:14-16, 18, 22-25). On top of the mountain, the disciples want to stay there forever (Mk. 9:5); on the bottom of the mountain, the disciples are confused, discouraged, overwhelmed, and couldn’t get away soon enough (Mk. 9:14-16, 28-29). The connection between these two scenes is in the word “son.” God identifies Jesus as “my Son” (Mk. 9:7) and when they come down from the mountain another father greets them pleading for “my son” (Mk. 9:17). One son shines in glory; another son writhes in agony. But the end of the story is the key: “And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose” (Mk. 9:27). And just in case you aren’t convinced that Mark (or Jesus) saw the significance of this moment, read on: “They went on from there… he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘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…” (Mk. 9:31).
Between the Mountain and Me
This juxtaposition resonates with us so strongly because we can all relate to the reeling feelings and emotions of these two scenes. What is your top of the mountain? Where do you say, “It is good that we are here. Let’s live here!” Is it on vacation? With the kids? Away from the kids? At work? With particular friends? At home in bed? What’s your bottom of the mountain? Your job? Your marriage? Your singleness? Your childlessness? Your losses, your pain, your sickness, your failures? Maybe you identify mostly with the disciples at the bottom of the mountain, and everyone else in your life seems to be those three special disciples who get to go up the mountain with Jesus and come back down with warm hearts. Are you tempted to resent it? There you are in the trenches wrestling demons and where’s Jesus? Why would He leave you behind to do something you don’t seem equipped to do? It’s getting old. You’re getting tired. Or maybe you identify with those disciples who were on the mountain with Jesus. You’ve experienced those sweet times of encouragement, refreshment, communion with God and godly friends, and then you have to go back to work, go back to school, talk to your wife again, your kids are difficult, your father is overbearing, your mother is critical. Maybe you’ve moved, changed jobs or churches, and it doesn’t seem like things have really panned out like you had hoped. Are you tempted to resent that? Notice too how this is exactly what played out with the disciples in the next scene: they argued about who was the greatest (Mk. 9:33-34). This is where quarrels and fights come from: your desires warring within you; you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel (Js. 4:1-3).
It’s rather astonishing what God says on the mountain: This is my beloved son, hear him. Listen to him. Obey him. This is an echo of the great Israelite credo: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord our God is one (Dt. 6:4). It’s clearly an affirmation of the full deity of Jesus, that He is the God of Israel, and as such, He is worthy of loving, grateful obedience. And what does He say? What does He command? He commands the unclean spirit to leave and never come back again (Mk. 9:25). In other words, our warring passions, our envy, our resentment, our bitterness, our pride – those are our demons and they deform us and seek to destroy us, and therefore, deliverance from all of our demons is grateful submission to word of Christ. Hear him. When Peter asked Jesus about John’s future, Jesus said: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that you? You follow me!” (Jn. 21:21-22). We are not the lords of our salvation. We are poor, foolish, demon-infested beggars, and salvation is found in the fact that we do not belong to ourselves any longer, but rather, we belong to Christ who suffered for us and purchased us with His precious blood. You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Your success is not your own, and your failures are not your own. Your mountaintops and your valleys are not your own. You are a man or a woman or a child under orders. And what Jesus commands often seems and feels counter-intuitive: “And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ (Mk. 9:26). Does obedience to Christ sometimes feel painful, agonizing, like dying?
Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25). Paul models this discipleship when he says that “whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ…” (Phil. 3:7-11). So my charge to you is to lay everything at the feet of Jesus. Lay down your victories; lay down your defeats. Lay down your hopes and dreams; lay down your shame. Consider it all loss “for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” The glory is Christ, and therefore wherever Christ leads us, we may confidently share in His glory there.