Week 2. READ: Mark 9:2-13
As we move to a new scene in the Jesus narrative, there is an abrupt shift of pace. The introduction to this story adds a new twist saying it is six days later. Bible scholars offer a variety of opinions on the origin of this story most of which include the possibility that it has roots as a resurrection story as seen in his dazzling clothing similar to his appearance in Revelation 1:16. While this is interesting, there is actually no connection between dazzling clothing in the resurrection accounts.
The location of the “high mountain” (9:2) is not identified. Tradition holds that it was Mount Tabor located six miles southeast of Nazareth in Galilee. Tabor is only 1,843 feet in elevation which is equal to the highest point in Wisconsin. Another possibility is Mount Hermon located northeast of Caesarea Philippi, named in Mark 8:27 as the location of the preceding account. A second reason for considering Hermon as the mountain on which Jesus was transfigured is because it is a snow covered mountain with an elevation of 9,100 feet. Psalm 133:3 mentions Mount Hermon in relation to a family that lives together in unity.
Six days later is a unique opening to this story. It may be referring to the sixth day of creation when God created humans. It could also imply that they arrived at the mountain after six days and began to ascend. In this way of thinking, the transfiguration of Jesus may have symbolically happened on the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of rest and worship in the presence of God.
Only the twelve disciples heard the exchange between Jesus and Peter when the Lord was correctly identified as the Messiah, the anointed one of God who has come to redeem the world. Perhaps to highlight the important of the revelation that took place on the mountain, Jesus took only three disciples with him. Peter, James and John become the inner circle of Jesus followers. Later, they will become leaders in Christ’s church. As a smaller group, the secrecy of what takes place on this mountain is easier to maintain (9:9). It is not until v. 14 that any information is given about what the other nine disciples were doing while Jesus and his leadership triad were off doing their thing.
The format of this story has a distant ring to it that echoes back to the days of Moses when he ascended Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. Similar to that story, a cloud covered them (9:7 and Exodus 24:15-17 or see Exodus 40:34-35). Accounts like these are referred to as a theophany, the appearance of God. While the glory of the Lord was like a burning fire in Exodus 24, Jesus clothes became a brilliant bleached white glow. Its placement here in Mark immediately following Peter’s confession of faith and in the midst of the three announcement sayings about the upcoming suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus suggests that this story gives further witness to who Jesus is and what is forthcoming in the story.
Not only does the transfiguration story have characteristics that remind a listener of the Sinai story but Moses and Elijah appear and have an undisclosed conversation with Jesus. For fans of Star Trek, this has a “beam me up Scotty” mystical apparition to it. Here beside Jesus is Moses the great deliverer who God used to set the Jews free from Egyptian slavery. This is the man of God who stood in God’s presence and received the Ten Commandments and other instruction for forty days on Sinai. This is the one chosen and called by God in the burning bush who led the Jews for forty years in the wilderness until it was time to re-enter the Promised Land. While Moses could see the Promised Land, he was forbidden to lead the Jews back home and he died atop Mount Nebo.
Also present with Moses and Jesus was the great Hebrew prophet named Elijah. Like Moses before him, Elijah faced many challenges for God’s sake. While Moses negotiated with Pharaoh for the Jews freedom, Elijah had to speak on God’s behalf of the powerful and evil King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. He prophesied a very unpopular draught in this agricultural economy because so few were following in the way of Yahweh and instead worshipped Baal. He faced a spiritual showdown with the priests of Baal to prove who was the true God. Elijah battled some depression in his life and ran away to hide in a mountain cave where God called to him. Finally, Elijah was taken by God direct into heaven by way of a chariot of fire.
The Jews had a holiday called the Feast of Tabernacles where they traveled to Jerusalem and made tents and sleep in them to recall how God provided for their ancestors in wilderness. Peter, James and John wanted to make tents and stay in them on the mount of Transfiguration because of this overpowering experience. It is reminiscent of Joshua who did not want to leave the presence of the Lord when Moses exited the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:11).
Despite all of this theophany stuff, the high point of this story is the voice of God who reminds Peter, James and John that this is God’s son, listen to him, v, 7. There is a strong parallel to the words God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, (Mark 1: 11). A follower of Jesus is called to listen to his word. How can we listen to him unless we read and ponder the gospels? The outcome sought is not simply listening, but obeying and doing what Jesus calls us to be about.
When it comes to experiencing the presence of God in worship, or in the study of the Scriptures or in prayer, many of the people who come to mind are leaders: Bible study leaders, pastors or worship leaders. They come to mind first because they are out front and visible. Leaders in prayer often times are more comfortable behind the scenes. One such behind the scenes person is Sheri.
In this woman of God you find a person of integrity who both prays with her heart and yet knows disappointment when hearts still hurt and sick people die. Sheri is humble and would never put her name forward as a champion of prayer. She is never satisfied with her faith in God, the words she uses to express in a prayer for someone or her witness on behalf of Jesus Christ. Yet her heart is always overflowing with love for God and others and looking for an opportunity to bring people who need God’s love together to receive prayer. Sheri will do whatever she can to be available when prayer is being offered.
One of the most tangible ways people experience God in Sheri’s presence is food. Jesus said that he was the living bread of heaven and he often fed people who were hungry. In fact, Jesus said when we feed the hungry we are feeding him (Matthew 25:35). In other words, when we are in the midst of hungry people, we are in his presence. Sharing a meal with hungry people is a tangible expression of love and respect for all of life. A meal shared is prayer in action. What can bless you more when you are hungry than eating?
The night before Jesus died, the last thing he did with all his disciples was to have a table ready so they could all eat one last supper together. He broke some bread and passed a cup of wine around and said that we are to eat and drink and remember him. What a concrete way to remember our Lord. We hear the words, “This is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” We see it before us as it is handed to us. We feel in in our hand. We smell the bread (likely not if it is a wafer!) but at least the wine as we bring it to our mouth. And finally we taste it as we put it in our mouth. All five senses are engaged in this meal at the table.
Sheri learned the power of food and the gift of the table for conversation and laughter from her mom. She also saw the importance of food at work through her dad who loved to prepare and serve food out of a spirit of generosity for hungry people. Sheri carries the presence of Jesus and his love for all people as she organizes the menu, involves a team to prepare the food and others to help serve at the Rockford Rescue Mission. What she has seen and learned through her parents and her faith, she now passes on to her kids and grandkids as well as others.
The experience of Peter, James and John on the mount of Transfiguration was literally a high point in their life together. The voice of God spoke in the midst of a cloud, the appearance of Moses and Elijah and a super illuminated Jesus was out of this world. The three disciples wanted to stay and linger. In a more down to earth way, the presence of the Lord in a meal shared at the Rescue Mission causes people to be filled with good food, much gratitude and oftentimes a desire to linger around the table and talk. Whether they know it or not, Jesus says he is present! Jesus taught us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is that prayer in action. Whether she knows it or not, Sheri is an instrument of the presence of the Lord when she offers up her prayer in action!
Questions to Consider:
- The voice of God spoke from the cloud and told Peter, James and John “to listen to Jesus.” One of the ways followers of Jesus listen to him is to study Jesus stories in the four gospels. How do you listen to a gospel a story?
- Are you more comfortable listening to Old or New Testament stories? Why? What would help you feel more confident to study any Bible book?
- We have spent the better part of 2017 in the gospel of Mark. Have you found new and helpful insights in this study? If so, what are a few of those important learnings?
- What is a take away for you from the story of the transfiguration of Jesus?