In Mark 9 something bizarre happened. Mark tells us that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a high mountain where He was ...
“Transfigured before them, and His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to Him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”
First of all, I think that more than any other piece of writing in the Bible ...
More than the book of Revelation.
More than the words of Jesus in Matthew 24.
More than the words of the prophets concerning the End of Time.
... I think that this story is a picture of where everything is headed, an illustration of what the entire universe is moving towards.
It’s not headed towards destruction.
It’s not headed towards ruin.
It’s not headed towards fire and flames.
No - it’s headed full speed towards renewal. And I think the story of Jesus being “transfigured” is an illustration of that great promise.
After all, THIS is what the prophets spoke of long ago, all throughout the Old Testament. Right?
Like, in Lamentations 3 the poet says that “people are not cast off by the Lord forever, though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.”
Hosea 6 is about restoration.
Joel 3, restoration.
Amos 9, restoration.
Nahum 2, restoration.
Zephaniah 2, restoration.
Zechariah 3, restoration.
Micah 7, restoration.
I could keep going, but the point I want to make is that restoration is a dominant theme in the Old Testament. Yes, there is talk about fire and judgement and all of that, but the images of judgement and fire were not seen as devices that would lead the world and the godless people of the world to a place where they could never come back from, but to a place where the evil and darkness could be melted away, leaving them transfigured and “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
But what about Revelation?
And what about Jesus’ dooming words in Matthew 24?
The prophets and all the apocalyptic literature?
There’s a lot that can be said here, but I think the biggest thing is that we’ve really misunderstood what those words and stories and writings mean, have misapplied them to some future, far away setting, and have come away with a picture that is greatly different from the heart of God.
God isn’t waiting to burn the world up.
God’s hand isn’t on the trigger, waiting to release fury on the screw-ups of the world.
God isn’t waiting to send the masses to hell and just a handful of good ones to heaven.
God’s heart is for renewal, for transfiguration, and I think that the picture we see in Mark 9 is where the universe is headed. Sometimes it feels like it’s spiraling out of control, yes, and sometimes it feels like evil and darkness are winning, but Mark 9 is a promise and a reminder that renewal and restoration win in the end.
A couple of other things, too.
I think that the story in Mark 9 is a reminder that the words of Jesus trump all other words, from all other times, from all other people and prophets and writers and poets and preachers.
I think it’s kind of funny that Mark says that Peter didn’t really know what to say and so he suggested that they build some houses for Jesus and Moses and Elijah to hang out in.
I wonder what was really going on in Peter’s mind.
Remember last week we talked about how when Jesus told the disciples that He would soon die, Peter’s feathers REALLY got ruffled. Peter, the disciples, and all of Israel were waiting for the Promised Messiah who would come on a horse, holding a sword, and would kill all of Israel’s enemies. The Messiah was supposed to DO the killing, not BE killed. In Peter’s mind, Jesus had it a little bit backwards. And so he told Jesus to stop with the crazy talk, to which Jesus replied, “get behind me Satan!”
And so here, on the high mountain, Peter saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah and maybe thought to himself, ...
“Shoot. I knew I was right! Moses and Elijah have come down from heaven to show Jesus what’s up - remind Him of what the Messiah is supposed to do! Let’s make them comfortable and let’s not rush this. Jesus! I’m gonna build some houses so you guys can take your time and not rush. And that way Moses and Elijah can have a place to stay to make sure you do everything the way you’re supposed to do it.”
... I wonder if that’s what was going through Peter’s mind?
What I do know, though, is that God immediately cut Peter off, shouted down from heaven, and said, “this is my Son! LISTEN TO HIM.” Peter, you see, was trying to bring Jesus up to the level of Moses and Elijah by making them all houses to dwell in, but God elevated Jesus way above everyone else and declared that He (and He alone) needs to be listened to and obeyed. He didn’t say to find a healthy balance between the 3 or to listen to some of Moses here, some of Elijah there, and a good amount of Jesus over here.
He said, “this is my Son - listen to HIM.”
Where Moses says to practice capital punishment and stone adulterers (Leviticus 20:10), God says “listen to Jesus” and Jesus says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” and “let he who has never sinned throw the first stone.” (John 8:7)
Where Elijah calls down fire from heaven to destroy his enemies (1 Kings 18:38), God says, “listen to Jesus” and Jesus says, “love your enemies.” (Matthew 5)
The Pharisees would quote Moses and Elijah and others to condemn the people of their world who fell short of their standards, but Jesus said something else.
Even James and John, remember, encouraged Jesus to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans (Luke 9:54), but Jesus rebuked them (Luke 9:55).
And so I think the story of the transfiguration of Jesus is a reminder that if we read the Bible and come away with something concerning God and what God wants us to do that isn’t directly reflected in the life of Jesus, then we’re reading it incorrectly.
I say this because horrible things have been done by people who have taken Biblical words and stories from outside the life and teachings of Jesus and have misapplied them to contemporary settings, completely ignoring the things that Jesus said in response to them.
Wars of have be started.
Genocides have happened.
Hurtful things have been said.
Tribes have been destroyed.
Blood has been shed.
People have been tortured.
People have been excommunicated from the church.
... All in the name of “God” and “the Prophets” all the while the life and words of Jesus have been ignored. And so the lesson, again, is that Jesus’ words and life and teachings trump everyone else’s and that if we come away with something from the Bible concerning God and what God wants us to do that isn’t reflected in Jesus’ life and teaching, then we need to go back to the drawing board.
Jesus is the Only One who deserves to have a house set up in His honor and that house ought to be our lives, the place where His love and grace and mercy and compassion can be shared with the world.
And we need to read the words of the prophets and the words of the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ love and grace and compassion, not the other way around. He is the exact, 100%, representation of God because He is God and if the life of Jesus shows us anything about God, it shows us that God’s heart is for the restoration and renewal of all things, everywhere.
... Even the things and the people and the places that we thought or have deemed to be beyond help.
Much love, my friends!