The Transfiguration of Jesus – Mark 9:1-13
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Mark 9:1-13, this morning.
Last week, we looked at how Jesus had just told His disciples of His coming suffering, death, and resurrection. This is the first instance in Mark’s Gospel, where we see Jesus moving towards the cross, revealing what He came to do as the Suffering Saviour.
But then, we also saw that Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, wasn’t too keen on Jesus going to the cross, so Peter begins to rebuke Jesus, which doesn’t bode well for Peter, as Jesus immediately rebukes Peter for having his own plan for Jesus in view and not God’s plan.
And this leads to Jesus explaining what a follower of Jesus looks like. And we saw that it looks like self-denial. It looks like treasuring Jesus and the gospel above our plans and our comforts and our very lives. It looks like saying no to our old nature, which doesn’t want to give up our right to ourselves, and saying yes to Jesus.
And then, we saw that following Jesus looks like taking up our cross. It looks like suffering. It looks like opposition for the sake of Christ and the gospel. It looks like putting to death comfort and ease and safety, as we follow Jesus.
Following Jesus looks radically different than what comes naturally to us, because what comes naturally to us is to want to save our lives. We don’t want to give our lives for someone else; we want to protect our lives. And Jesus says that such an attitude will actually result in losing our life, forever.
We tend to think that the worst thing in the world is that I won't have time for myself or I will get burnt out or I will get sick or I will die, as a result of spending myself for another person. But the worst thing in the world is if that person goes to hell, because they never heard the good news about Jesus Christ. That’s the worst thing.
And when we begin to think in these terms, it takes the focus off of us and onto the God we worship and the people whom God has placed in our lives for us to serve. And by God’s grace, when we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus, there is a priority shift that takes place in us, where we count it a privilege to lose our lives on this earth for the sake of Christ and the gospel, knowing that we have been given eternal life.
I. The Attention Box ***CONTINUED***
The call to follow Jesus is costly. It’s not an easy or comfortable life. But it is also a calling filled with encouragement. And this morning, Jesus is going to give us a glimpse of what it is to come for those who choose to follow Jesus.
I’m just going to read our passage for us. Mark 9, beginning in verse 1: “And he said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.’ 2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
“9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?’ 12 And he said to them, ‘Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.’”
What we just read is one of the high points in Mark’s Gospel, and I don’t just say that because they are on a mountain, but because it is in this passage that we get a glimpse of the glory of Jesus, the Son of God.
One commentator writes that the transfiguration of Jesus “points to the fact that despite having the outward appearance of a mere mortal man, Jesus
of Nazareth is in His very nature and essence God, deity dressed in a body.”
We read this in Colossians 2:9, which says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” And Philippians 2:6-7 says that Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
II. The Answer Box
Christians believe that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is not 50% God and 50% man. He is 100% God and 100% man. And if you teach Math or love Math, don’t try to do the calculations, because it’s just not going to add up from a human perspective.
But what is particularly striking about this passage is that, up till this point, we have been more acquainted with Jesus’ humanity than with His divinity. And what I mean by that is that, up till this point, there has been no reason to think that Jesus is the Son of God, simply based on His appearance.
Isaiah 53:2-3 tells us that “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
There was a homeliness about Jesus. Outwardly, He didn’t look like the Son of God. Jesus is 100% God, which explains why He is able to do what He does, but He is also 100% man, which explains why people didn’t think He looked like the Son of God. But in our passage for this morning, Jesus takes off the veil of His humanity and reveals to His disciples and to us His divinity.
This is such a pivotal passage of Scripture. What we are reading here is unlike anything the world has ever seen. And yet, Jesus chooses to reveal Himself to only three of His disciples. Verse 2 says that “after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”
This was Jesus’ inner circle. He had the crowd of people who followed Him wherever He went. And in Luke 10, Jesus had 72 disciples that He sent out to prepare the way for Him. Back in Mark 3, Jesus called twelve disciples, specifically. But here, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ inner circle of three men.
It would be Peter, James and John, in Mark 14:33, whom Jesus would take with Him into the garden of Gethsemane, leaving the rest of the twelve disciples behind. For whatever reason, these were the three men with whom Jesus chose to share the intimate details of His life and ministry. And from what we know of Scripture, Peter, James and John would never be the same after this experience.
The apostle John, in John 1:14, would write, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” No doubt, talking about the transfiguration.
II. The Answer Box ***CONTINUED***
James, not the brother of Jesus, but the brother of John, was the first of the twelve disciples to be martyred. In Acts 12:2-3, it says that Herod the king “killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.”
Speaking of Peter, in 2 Peter 1:16-18, Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
Something happened to these three men on that mountain for them to write of witnessing such glory and majesty, and being willing to suffer and die for the sake of this Jesus. Something happened that would change their lives, forever.
And verse 2 tells us what happened. Jesus leads the three men up a mountain, and it says that “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”
I love how blunt Mark is. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, as we’ve been studying Mark’s Gospel, but Mark doesn’t give a lot of lead up to what he writes. Mark just gets right to the point. And here, Mark says plainly that Jesus “was transfigured before them.”
The Greek word used here for “transfigured” is where we get the word, metamorphosis. The word means “to change,” and here it speaks of a radical transformation, not of Jesus’ nature, because who Jesus is doesn’t change, but a transformation of His outward appearance that reveals His true nature.
We see the same word used in 2 Corinthians 3:18, which says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
We see an example of this with Moses. In Exodus 34, Moses goes up a high mountain himself, and his face begins to shine as a result of talking with God. And when Moses comes down from the mountain, he has to put a veil over his face, because the skin of his face was shining and the people were afraid.
II. The Answer Box ***CONTINUED***
Moses had experienced a kind of transformation. But the difference between Moses and Jesus is that Moses is reflecting the glory of God, whereas Jesus is producing the glory of God. In Matthew’s account of the transfiguration, in Matthew 17:2, it says that “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”
It’s like the moon. The moon doesn’t produce the light; it just reflects the light of the sun. In the same way, Moses doesn’t produce the glory of God; he just reflects the glory of God.
But on the mount of transfiguration, Jesus wasn’t reflecting the glory of God, like Moses. No, He was producing the glory of God. The glory of God was coming from Him, even so much as “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”
This is Jesus in all of His glory and splendour and majesty. This is the Jesus who, according to Revelation 19, we will see riding on a white horse to judge and to make war on the earth.
This transfiguration, this transformation, would have been so utterly terrifying. And just when you think it can’t get any more interesting, verse 4 tells us “there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.”
What were the three of them talking about? That sounds like an interesting conversation, doesn’t it? I don’t know if you’ve ever played the game where you pick three people, living or dead, whom you would invite to dinner, but I feel like these three would be a pretty good choice.
And where Mark is silent on the issue of what they were discussing, Luke actually tells us in His account, in Luke 9:31, that they “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
In other words, they were discussing Jesus’ coming suffering, death and resurrection. They were discussing how Jesus would free the people of God from their bondage to sin and death.
And why this is significant is because of who Moses and Elijah were. Most commentators agree that Moses and Elijah, here, are acting as representatives of the Law and the Prophets, which make up the Old Testament. They appear as witnesses that Jesus is He of whom they spoke about that was to come.
II. The Answer Box ***CONTINUED***
The Law and the Prophets find their fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ, who would rescue the people of God as the promised Messiah, by keeping the Law of God, perfectly. The appearance of Moses and Elijah affirms for us that there has never been and there never will be one like Jesus.
Moses and Elijah are only here to point the way to Jesus. They were not the point. The point always was and always will be Jesus. But Peter seems to miss that. In verse 5, Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Now, this looks like a reasonable request. Peter isn’t asking Jesus for something for himself. He’s asking Jesus for permission to make three tents—one for each of them—so that they can stay in this moment of greatness.
It’s a reasonable request, because the deepest longing of mankind is to have fellowship with God. We long to be face to face with God, like Moses was. It’s why we exist. But because of sin, we can’t have it.
Adam and Eve were created by God for fellowship with Him. They walked and talked with God in the garden of Eden. But in rebellion, Adam and Eve turned away from the fellowship they had with God, and as a result, sin entered into the world and now each one of us has a void that only God can fill.
And what we try to do is we try to fill this void with all these other things. We try to fill it with sex, pornography, work, food, marriage, children, popularity, and a thousand other ways. But no matter what we accumulate and treasure, none of it is able to satisfy the longing in our hearts that only God can fill.
Peter thinks that staying on that mountain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah will fill the longing in his heart for fellowship with God, but the reality is that, because of sin, Peter cannot have fellowship with God without a mediator. If Jesus stays on that mountain and does not go to the cross, then there would be no way for anyone, including Peter, to have fellowship with God.
Peter has forgotten about the mission of Jesus to suffer and die and be raised. He has forgotten that there are still nine disciples and an entire world that are at the bottom of that mountain and still living in darkness and who are as much in dire need for fellowship with God as he is. But Peter has forgotten. Satan is still manipulating Peter, even on the mount of transfiguration, trying to use Peter to deter Jesus away from the cross.
II. The Answer Box ***CONTINUED***
But notice that Peter says, “It is good that we are here.” While Peter is misguided in his efforts, in a way, he gets it. The comfort of being in the presence of such glory is good. The experience of Peter, James and John, in this moment, will one day be our experience.
It’s like the song, I Can Only Imagine, by MercyMe. If you don’t know the history behind the song, Bart Millard, the lead singer of MercyMe, grew up with an abusive father. But when his father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the relationship between Bart and his father changed for the better. Bart’s father started going to church and reading his Bible, and by the time his father died, when Bart was 19 years old, the two were very close.
Bart said, "I got a front row seat to see this guy go from being a monster to falling desperately in love with Jesus. By the time he passed away when I was a freshman in college, not only was he my best friend, he was like the godliest man I’d ever known."
After hearing his grandmother say that she could only imagine what his father was seeing in heaven, Bart began to pen the lyrics to the song, I Can Only Imagine, which he wrote in ten minutes.
The chorus of the song goes like this: “Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for You, Jesus, or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in Your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine. I can only imagine.”
Here is a man who, through the work of the Spirit, had beheld the glory of the Lord, and who was transformed “into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” as 2 Corinthians 3:18 says.
But the questions that this song asks. Are these not the questions that we have? Do we not also wonder what it will be like? Do we not also wonder what we will do when we are surrounded by the glory of God? We truly can only imagine.
And it’s as though this moment has paralyzed Peter. Verse 6 says that “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” It’s like Job in the book of Job. He goes through unspeakable suffering, and through the help or lack thereof from his friends, he opens his mouth, kind of like Peter here, which probably wasn’t the wisest thing he could have done, and begins to demand an explanation from God.
II. The Answer Box ***CONTINUED***
And after a long discourse between Job and his friends, God speaks, and begins to reveal to Job the complexities of Creation, to which Job is left speechless. It’s like Peter. He was so excited and scared about what was happening that he opened his mouth and spoke too quickly, but now has nothing further to say.
And in verse 7, God speaks, but not in the same way He spoke to Job. God says to them, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
This is now the second time that we have seen divine confirmation from heaven that Jesus is the Son of God. At Jesus’ baptism, back in Mark 1, when Jesus comes up out of the water, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove and a voice from heaven says, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
But here, God the Father adds the phrase, “Listen to him.” In other words, “Listen to Him, when He says that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” “Listen to Him, when He says that, if you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.”
The whole of the matter is this: It’s not what Ellwood says or what Fred says or what I say or what the Church says or what the historical councils and creeds say, but what Christ says that matters. Whatever you do, listen to Jesus.
We need to sit at Jesus’ feet. We need to listen to what Jesus says. We need to look to Jesus. We need to lean on Jesus. As flattered as I am that you want to hear what I have to say on a given Sunday morning, if what I say is not rooted and founded in Jesus, then none of it matters. He and He only will never fail or disappoint or lead us astray. He is the beloved Son of God. Listen to Him.
And then, as quickly as it started, it comes to an end. Verse 8 says, “Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”
And what this passage does is it reminds us that there is glory to come, but it is not here yet. Jesus said to His disciples, back in verse 1, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Peter, James and John have seen a glimpse of this. They have seen Jesus in all His glory: deity dressed in a body. They have seen the splendour and majesty and glory of what was to come. But it’s not here yet.
III. The Action Box
They will eventually come down from that mountain and into the valley, where they are going to be confronted with hurt and brokenness and pain and disease and death. The transfiguration of Jesus hasn’t taken all of that away. It hasn’t changed the state of the world. It hasn’t put an end to injustice. It hasn’t put an end to suffering. It hasn’t brought about restoration. But it has revealed that it’s coming. It’s coming.
In verse 9, it says that “as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”
Jesus is the Conquering King, who will inherit an everlasting kingdom, but first He must be the Suffering Saviour, who must suffer and die. This is the comfort of the transfiguration.
Jesus would eventually go to the cross on our behalf, paying the penalty for our crimes of rebellion against God. But He wouldn’t stay dead. Three days later, He would rise from the dead as the Law and the Prophets and Jesus said He would. And He would ascend to the right hand of God the Father, from which He will come again, but this time, to fully and finally restore all things. And if we have put our faith in Jesus, we will forever be in fellowship with God. That’s the gospel.
Colossians 3:4 says, “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
This is the hope and encouragement for the follower of Jesus: that, in the midst of suffering and persecution and pain and loss of your life for the sake of Christ and the gospel, when Christ appears in all the glory that we have seen just a glimpse of, in this passage, we will also appear with Him in glory. This time of suffering and sorrow and pain will come to an end, when Christ appears.
That’s the hope. But then, the challenge for us is this: Is Christ our life? I found a quote during my sermon preparation this week that said, “You become what you behold.” And isn’t that the truth?
I’m sure that each one of us in this room have experienced the negative side of this. When our gaze is on money, we become greedy. When our gaze is on power, we become harsh. When our gaze is on approval, we become fearful of man. When our gaze is on success, we become anxious. When our gaze is on created things rather than the Creator, we become ungodly.
III. The Action Box ***CONTINUED***
We become what we behold, but our problem is that we are often beholding the wrong thing. One of the songs that we’ve sung here a couple of times is called Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery. And here is the final verse in that song:
“Come behold the wondrous mystery, slain by death the God of life. But no grave could ever restrain him. Praise the Lord; He is alive. What a foretaste of deliverance. How unwavering our hope. Christ in power resurrected, as we will be when he comes.”
What are we beholding? Are we beholding the wondrous mystery of Christ our Saviour, or are we beholding all these other things? We become what we behold. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
How are we transformed into the image of Christ? By beholding the glory of the Lord. And where do we behold this glory? Through the Scriptures. As the Spirit of God speaks to us through the Word of God, bringing God’s truth to our hearts, we behold the glory of the Lord.
So, the question we need to ask is: Upon what is our gaze fixed? If we spend our time gazing on lesser things, then we will become like them, measuring our years in terms of human glory. But if we are gazed on the glory of the Lord, then we will become like Him, transformed “from one degree of glory to another.”
Will we follow Jesus? Will we trust Jesus? Will we listen to Jesus? May we all behold the wondrous mystery of Jesus, now and forever. Let’s pray…