Read Mark 9:2-9
Mark brings us his version of a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life known as the Transfiguration. He and the disciples were somewhere near Caesarea Philippi, an old Roman city close to the borders of Syria and Lebanon, and at the bottom of Mount Hermon (my Zoom background). On the top of this mountain today is the highest permanently manned UN position in the world, 2800m high and known as the "Hermon Hotel". On the southern slopes which extend down to the Israeli-occupied bit of the Golan Heights, there is a ski resort.
I’m guessing that it was a little quieter when Jesus led Peter, James, and John up its slopes, particularly if there was snow at the top, as there often is today.
So, you get the picture? They obviously weren’t there for the skiing, of course! This strange and mysterious occasion had a much deeper meaning not just to the disciples but also to Jesus.
The passage from 2 Corinthians talks about our gospel being veiled – that is, sometimes you have to be patient in order for the mist to clear and those spiritual words to fall into place, to discover where you are and where you need to be. Once the mist clears, light comes, as Paul tells us.
Well, the same was true for the disciples. There really wasn’t much time left for them to continue scratching their heads and wondering a) who Jesus really was, and b) what it meant to their lives. Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem and a Cross. This was to be their moment when the mist cleared; even for Peter, bless him, who at times struggled to understand, and yet became such a powerful witness and evangelist in the early church.
So, they are on the mountain, there may be snow, it might be cold. Maybe that’s why Peter offers to build some shelters, who knows?! But on that high mountain, whether on its peak or a lower slope, they stand awhile and something amazing happens, which is what they describe as Jesus surrounded by this bright light and in the company of what appears to be Moses and Elijah. Moses, the giver of the law, and Elijah, one of the greatest of the prophets, who brought to people the voice of God and was expected to appear again at the end times. Malachi has this to say, ‘‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.’
But there’s even more to this story than is on the surface. At the risk of bring down the mist, let’s quickly compare a previous experience of Moses to where we see him now.
In Exodus 24, Moses takes 3 named people plus some elders up Mount Sinai (Jesus takes three disciples up the mountain). Moses skin seems to be shining after his conversation with God (Jesus also shines). A cloud falls on the mountain for 6 days before Moses walks into it to talk with God (Ex 24:15-16). We’re told Jesus waited 6 days before he took his disciples up the mountain, where a cloud covers Jesus, Moses and Elijah. God’s voice speaks from the cloud in both stories on the seventh day. The Jewish tradition is of seeing Moses’ climb up Mount Sinai as an enthronement, so are we being asked by Mark to see in this a parallel picture, with Jesus being hailed as a king?
Do you feel the mist coming down again? It seemed such a simple story and now it seems to connect with so much of the back story of God’s relationship with His people.
So, let’s try and blow some of that mist away and ask two questions, What does Jesus see in this, and what do the disciples see in it?
Firstly Jesus. We read that he had a conversation with Moses and Elijah. I wonder how that went, and what they discussed? We’re not told, but one commentator suggests that they both saw in Jesus the coming together of all that they had been a part of and looked forward to. So it’s as if they were saying to him, ‘OK, it’s over to you now, to follow the road to the Cross and victory!’ And that voice from out of the cloud says much the same, acknowledging Jesus’ sonship and that he is to be listened to, that is, he has my, God’s, authority.’
So, on that mountain Jesus knows that he is on the right path, even if he knows in his heart that this will mean the inevitability of the Cross. It’s what he talked to the disciples about in the previous chapter, before bringing them to this point.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. (Mark 8)
Secondly the disciples. They had been stunned by Jesus telling them that he was going to be put to death. That’s not how they understood the term ‘Messiah’. Here were three very confused people, Peter had even told Jesus off for talking like that.
But when they made their way off this mountain they might still not understand what they were a part of, but they would have that glorious image of Jesus bathed in light, with Moses and Elijah, and they had heard the voice of God acknowledge Jesus as his Son. An image and voice that would remain engraved up on their hearts. It would be something to talk about together and something to share with others. They had been witnesses of the glory of Christ being revealed to them. They were there, and when the time came, they would be ready talk about it with real authority.
So, what about us? Even if we stand at the top of that mountain and admire the view, we’re not going to see what Peter, James and John saw that day. But they are our witnesses, as they have been for generations past. And the Scriptures that we have are full of witnesses to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the empowerment of those who went out and shared the good news to the world.
If we find that faith-wise we’re struggling, walking through that mist, then we need to open our Bibles and start reading, maybe a gospel, the Book of Acts, and let God speak to us through the voices of those witnesses, so that, as Paul reminded us in 2 Corinthians, ‘God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.’