The Transfiguration – The Way Up is Down

Mark 8:27-9:13

The Transfiguration settled in the minds of Peter, James and John that Jesus was the Messiah. On a mountain top Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus as their clothes shone with heavenly glory. The three disciples saw it all. Moses appeared representing the Law God had given him. Elijah appeared representing the Prophets. The Law and the Prophets testified to the coming Messiah. And as if this were not enough, a cloud enveloped them and a voice said to the disciples “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
There was a need for the testimony of Moses and Elijah. Just prior to this Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought he was and Peter had said “You are the Christ (Messiah).” Jesus then explained that the Christ had to suffer and die, but Peter rebuked him for suggesting such a thing. Like the other disciples Peter believed in a victorious Messiah. But Jesus corrected Peter in front of them all saying “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” The Transfiguration confirmed that Jesus was the Messiah the Law and Prophets spoke of and that Peter and the other disciples needed to believe what he said about suffering, death and other things.
On the way down the mountain Peter, James and John were inquisitive about Elijah. The teachers of the law had been saying that Jesus was not the Messiah because Elijah was supposed to come first, but he had not. Jesus then explained that Elijah had come because John the Baptist came in the ministry of Elijah. But in the middle of this explanation Jesus asks a leading question, “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected?” Here he is showing his disciples that prophecies have numerous fulfilments and that a suffering Elijah and suffering Messiah comes before a victorious Elijah and victorious Messiah. This is what Peter and the others had failed to understand when Jesus said he would suffer and die.
The Transfiguration must have filled the disciples with joy. In many ways it was what they wanted to see – their leader looking victorious and glorious with the greats of the Old Testament. Peter was so taken by the sight that he suggested they stay. He wanted to put up tents for everyone. But this was not God’s plan. In fact a great trial was just ahead. Soon Peter, James and John would find themselves with Jesus at Gethsemane, a place void of glory and filled with sorrow. It’s almost as if the Transfiguration was designed to give Jesus’ closest disciples something to hang on to in their hour of trial. But as we know Jesus was the only one who stood strong at his arrest, Peter denied knowing him and the other disciples fled.
Gethsemane and the Transfiguration and are opposites, in a sense one is the cross and the other the crown. And the combined message is that if we do not carry our cross there will be no crown. Suffering comes before glory – the way up is down.
Peter rebuked Jesus because he said he would suffer. Like Peter many believers today say that we should believe that only the best will happen to us and reject all suggestions of the bad. But Jesus said, “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 the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Like Peter many believers today want to camp in the middle of glory, but there is work to do at the bottom of the hill. The glory will come, pictures of glory like the Transfiguration are given to envision us and drive us on. Hebrews 12: 2 says “For the joy set before him he (Jesus) endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” But like Jesus we must first carry our cross. James, his younger brother said “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (Ja 1:12). God is in the business of changing us and training us. But as every athlete knows, we do not get fitter when things are easy; we get fitter when we are pushed to the limit. No cross, no crown. And all God’s people should say ‘So be it.’

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