Transfigured/Metamorphosed

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,” (Mark 9:2, ESV)

Transfigure – “to change the appearance of a person or thing very much, usually in a very positive and often spiritual way.” (Cambridge English Dictionary)

What does it mean when Mark writes that Jesus “was transfigured before them.”   The Greek word that we translate “transfigured” is metamorphoo [ μεταμορφόω for Greek studs]. It’s from this Greek word that we get the word metamorphosis.  In the Greek the word means “to change the external form,” which is true so far as it goes in this case.  Jesus’ external form was certainly changed, Mark says that “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”  Matthew writes that “his face shone like the sun.”

It wasn’t merely that Jesus’ form was changed, however, because suddenly Moses and Elijah show up and begin talking to Jesus.  Luke says that they were talking about his “departure” [the Greek word is exodos ἔξοδος].  So we can say that the discussion was about Jesus’ exodus.  This is important because the events around what we have come to call “the transfiguration,” align very closely with an event in Moses’ life, his journey up to Mount Sinai, which happens during the exodus of Israel from Egypt. In both cases, Moses and Jesus, wait six days; in both cases the cloud of God’s presence is present (Ex.24.15); in both cases the events happen on a mountain, and in both cases the text points out that the physical appearance of Moses and Jesus changed (Ex 34.29).

The events surrounding Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai are supposed to point forward to Jesus’ transfiguration.  In other words, Jesus is leading the New Exodus, he is a greater prophet than Moses. Moses led the Israelites out of captivity into the Promised Land; Jesus came to lead mankind out of slavery to sin and into a restored relationship with God.  The events of the exodus explain the events of Jesus life and the transfiguration, but Jesus goes beyond just simply a new exodus because he is not just another prophet.  He is the God the Son.  The voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (ESV)

W. L. Liefeld comments:

The transfiguration is to be understood, therefore, as an affirmation by God of the messiahship and unique sonship of Jesus, who would indeed fulfill his mission as the suffering servant in accordance with the declarations in the preceding narrative in Mk. 8:27-9:1 and parallels. [New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology]

Stop and think about this event for just a minute.  Do you think Peter, James, or John would have made up this incident?

Peter/James/John: “Hey guys, guess what happened.  We went up this high mountain and all of the sudden Jesus became dazzling white and then Moses and Elijah showed up.”

Other Disciples: “Wait, what? Did you say that Moses and Elijah showed up?”

P/J/J:  “Yeah.  They just suddenly appeared.”

Other Disciples: “Um…they’ve been dead like 700 and 1400 years respectively, and they just showed up and started talking, eh?”

You see the difficulty.  This is an outlandish story and wholly unnecessary, unless it really happened.  Peter himself will say later when testifying of the events of Jesus’ life: “To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3.15).  John will write:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—” (1 John 1:1–2, ESV)

In other words it’s as if the disciples are saying, “Go ahead and look at the evidence and talk to the eyewitnesses and test what we say because we witnessed all of this stuff with our eyes and experienced it with our lives, feel free to try and disprove it, because we know it is true, and that is exactly what we are claiming to you, that this is all true.”

Whether we choose to believe the disciples or not, dear reader, is our own decision.  What they believed and witnessed, well they make it pretty clear don’t they.

 

 

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Tell No One

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.” (Mark 9:9, ESV)

Strange instruction, these.  I mean, if I were Jesus I would want to get the word out about myself.  Peter, James, and John had just been witnesses to something incredible.  Not only had Jesus been transfigured [more on this later], but Moses and Elijah had suddenly appeared and they had both been dead and/or gone for at least 700 years!  No wonder the three disciples didn’t know what to do, although interestingly enough they all understood with whom Jesus was talking.

Why didn’t Jesus want his disciples telling anyone what they had seen?  We have a little hint from Peter’s reaction to the transfiguration.

Peter exclaimed, “Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He said this because he didn’t really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.” (Mark 9:5–6, NLT)

I love the way that NLT translates here: “he didn’t really know what to say.”  There is a hint of humor in the text, and Peter must have embraced his own actions in humility after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension because church tradition holds that Mark wrote this gospel under Peter’s supervision. Bob Utley comments succinctly: “Whenever Peter did not know what to do, he talked!”

The point is that neither Peter, nor James, nor John was prepared at all to begin telling people about this great event which they had witnessed.  They didn’t understand it well enough and wouldn’t fully understand it for awhile.  We do know, however, that the time would come when they would understand and would tell anyone and everyone what they knew.  Indeed, when we look at what the disciples proclaimed when they did tell people, we discover how thoroughly they had grasped what had happened and what the purpose of Jesus life was.

Let’s watch Peter as he describes what the life of Jesus implies in Acts.  The events around the transfiguration were remarkably similar to the events surrounding Moses on Mount Sinai [more on this later].

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:13–15, ESV)

Peter preaches to the “Men of Israel” and tells them that God “glorified his servant Jesus.”  This was a glory which Peter, James, and John had personally witnessed at the transfiguration.  Notice Peter’s emphasis: “To this we are witnesses.”

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.” (Acts 3:19–22, ESV)

Moses pointed forward towards a greater prophet than himself who would come and accomplish what Moses alone could not accomplish: the blotting out of sins.

Peter and the rest of the disciples eventually understood the meaning of the transfiguration and the purpose of Jesus life.  When they did understand, then they would go out and tell others.  These twelve would change the world through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Amazing.

John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was at one time in his life a slave trader, indeed at one time he was a slave to slaves!  He was, by the grace of God, saved out of the misery of sin to faith in Jesus.  He eventually became a preacher of the gospel.  At the age of 82 he wrote: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” You can visit his tombstone today.  The epitaph reads: “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”

What was the purpose of Jesus life?  Why the transfiguration?  So that men like John Newton (and I…and you, dear reader) could have hope that in Jesus all that we have done is wiped clean with this simple message written across our sorry record of sin, selfishness, and self-love:  Paid in full.

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The Last Great Miracle Worker

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”” (Mark 8:27–29, ESV)

Bob Utley in his Study Guide on Mark points out that this section of Mark is a crucial turning point.  He writes:

This event is a watershed event in the Gospel of Mark. The miracle stories that affirm the power, authority, and deity of Jesus cease. From this point on the emphasis is the crucifixion. Mark’s Gospel changes from a focus on who He is to His great redemptive act (i.e. what He did).

Jesus asks the disciples who people are saying that he is.  They answer:

  • Some say John that Baptist – This was because they knew John the Baptist and had witnessed his ministry.  He spoke with boldness; Jesus spoke with boldness. John offended the elites; Jesus offended the elites.
  • Some say Elijah – Elijah [along with Elisha] was the last great miracle worker.  There had been no miracles in Israel since that day that were comparable to what Elijah had done.  Jesus had ushered in a new era of miracles and works of power, and wasn’t Elijah supposed to return before the Messiah showed up?
  • Some say one of the prophets – The prophets proclaimed God’s message to the people, surely this was what Jesus was doing.

Then Jesus asked his disciples “who do you! [“You” is emphasized in the Greek] say that I am?” This is what Jesus has been after all along.  It’s not that he didn’t know what people were saying about him, but that he wanted to draw the truth out of the disciples as to who they believed that he was.

Peter, ever the impetuous one and obviously one of the leaders, immediately weighs in:  “You are the Christ.” [Some translations have Messiah.  Christ is the Greek word for the Hebrew word: Messiah]  Ironically enough, Peter gets the answer absolutely correct and also fundamentally wrong at the same time [a feat which perhaps only Peter could accomplish].

Notice first that no other disciple disagrees with Peter, as if to say, “He is not the Messiah, Peter!  He is a great prophet.”  By their silence, they are all agreeing with Peter and no wonder.  They had seen demons compelled by his authority to obey him; they had seen him heal a blind man, and a deaf man; they had seen the wind and waves obey him as if they were little children reacting to the orders of a parent.  Who else could do all this except the Messiah.

When Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah, he had a specific idea in mind.  The Jews believed that the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom in Palestine.  In order to do this, he would first have to send the Romans packing and then he would establish a kingdom which would be filled with peace and in which the Jews could flourish while they worshiped God without fear of intervention by invading nations.  The IVP Bible Background Commentary comments here:

There were many different views of the Messiah (or messiahs) in Jesus’ time, but they all revolved around an earthly deliverance and earthly kingdom. Peter is right to call Jesus “ Messiah,” but what Peter means by the term and what Jesus means by it are entirely different at this point (see Mk 8:31-32).

Peter was looking for an earthly Messiah, he will discover in short order that this is not what Jesus meant at all.

 

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Let Justice [as we see it] Roll Down

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”” (Mark 8:11–12, ESV)

Jesus seems a little peeved here doesn’t he?  As if the Pharisees caught him on a morning where he might have eaten some bad fish and his gut was bothering him.  Why does he react so strongly against the request of the Pharisees for “a sign from heaven?”

The NIV Application Commentary points out that it might be that a sign from heaven had a specific sort of request in mind:

Gibson argues that “a sign from heaven” refers to “apocalyptic phenomena which embody or signal the onset of aid and comfort for God’s elect and/or the wrath that God was expected to let loose against his enemies and those who threaten his people.”

We must understand the Jewish perspective here.  Their chief concern was the pesky Romans who had invaded their land and forced them to become subjects of Rome [if not citizens].  They wanted a Messiah who was going to kick the Romans and everything they represented right back to Rome.  This would usher in the era that they were looking for, an era of peace and prosperity for the Jews as they ruled themselves and worshiped God in the temple without harassment from foreign invaders.

Wouldn’t it be quite cool then, if this so-called Messiah who certainly did seem to have extraordinary power might wave his hand and cause all of the Romans in Palestine to drop dead?  That would certainly prove he had power, and even better it would get rid of the hated Roman occupiers.  What the Pharisees wanted was wrath to fall upon God’s enemies, aka “The Gentiles.”  “Let justice roll down,” they seem to be asking of Jesus, “on those whom we hate.”

The NIV Application Commentary goes on:

Ironically, this request comes after the miraculous feeding, a miracle that pointed to the blessing, not the destruction, of Gentiles. Jesus refuses to give the Pharisees a sign from heaven because God has sent him to give his life on the cross for all humanity, not to smash the enemies of Israel or to give the nation political mastery of the world.

Rather than kill all of the Gentiles and make Palestine safe for the Jews, Jesus fed them for Pete’s sake.  It was almost as if he actually cared about these unclean pagans!

As we might imagine by now, this incident doesn’t end well.  Jesus certainly is peeved, not because of health problems, but because of the spiritual blindness of the people who in theory should best be able to see.  This is frustrating and indeed, this will get him killed.

It’s interesting that the parallel passage in Matthew says that the Jews will indeed receive a sign, just not the one that they were expecting:

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  (Matthew 16:4, ESV)

What was the sign of Jonah?

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40, ESV)

As the NIV Application Commentary puts it: “Jesus will offer this generation no noisy sign from heaven, only the wind whistling through an empty tomb after his crucifixion.”

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The Case of the Forgotten Bread

When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”” (Mark 8:19–21, ESV)

One thing that you cannot miss as you read through the “Case of the Forgotten Bread,” is Jesus’ emphasis on the fact that the disciples do not understand.  He barrages them with a host of questions all related to comprehension:

  1. Do you not yet perceive or understand?
  2. Are your hearts hardened? [TEV translates this:  Are your minds so dull?]
  3. Having eyes do you not see?
  4. Having ears do you not hear?
  5. Do you not remember?
  6. When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?
  7. And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?
  8. Do you not yet understand?

Now, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but even I can figure out that Jesus is saying, “You guys are missing what you should be seeing!”

[Short rabbit trail:  Is this not yet another instance proving the veracity of these gospel accounts?  This gospel was written by Mark working under the authority of Peter (according to tradition).  Do you think Peter would have written how dull the disciples were if it weren’t true?  Nor do I.]

This seems to be the heart of what Mark is getting at in relating this story.  Bob Utley in his Bible study guide puts it this way:

This entire context of Mark reveals how hard it was for “friend and foe” to comprehend Jesus’ radically new message. His disciples, His family, His hometown, the crowds, and the religious leaders all did not have spiritual eyes or ears!

F. F. Bruce comments here: “For the time the Twelve are way-side hearers, with hearts like a beaten path, into which the higher truths cannot sink so as to germinate”

Jesus simply did not meet the expectations of anyone with whom he came into contact.  He was always, as it were, upsetting whatever apple cart lay directly in front of him without regard to family, friend, or foe.  This must have been quite disconcerting to everyone involved. [except for Jesus himself]

As I study this passage it makes me wonder where/how I am like the disciples.  What assumptions am I making about Jesus and his work that are incorrect?  Where am I not understanding his life and work?  Where are my expectations upset by the reality of Jesus himself?

If nothing else, this passage should humble us.  If the disciples who saw Jesus’ miracles and heard his teaching day after day were misunderstanding him, then it is quite conceivable that my own carefully crafted theological positions might be wrong also.

We should always be prepared for God to crash into our lives and change what we thought we knew about him.  If there is anything that the life of the disciples should teach us, it should be that.

 

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Jesus Loves People

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2, ESV)

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees was Jesus’ compassion for those whom he came to serve.  He recognized the need of the crowd without the crowd telling him that they were hungry and the reason he noticed was because he loved them.  Bob Utley comments:

This term “compassion” comes from the Greek term for inward lower organs of the body. In the OT the Jews assigned the seat of the emotions to the lower viscera.

Jesus loves people (cf. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Luke 7:13; 10:33). These people had been rejected by rabbis all their lives. They swarmed to Jesus’ care.

When we minister to people we need to love them, whether we are serving them, trying to help them meet their needs, or even teaching them.  I was listening to an interview of Jen Wilkins yesterday and one of the interesting comments she made was that it took her a long time when she first started teaching Bible studies to understand that she couldn’t separate the people she was teaching from the teaching that she was doing.  They had needs, desires, hurts, difficulties, and she needed to understand them in order to teach them well.  This is what Jesus does here.  He understands the people whom he is teaching.  He loves them.  He cares for their needs.

This is our God.

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Set Before: An Unearned Meal

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:1–2, ESV)

There are a couple of things that strike me about this story from the life of Jesus: [aside from the fact that it reads almost exactly like the story of the feeding of the 5000 and there is a reason for that]

  1. Jesus knows the needs of the crowd without the crowd telling him their need. This is significant.  He was the teacher/healer and could easily have never noticed that the crowd had been following him for three days and everyone had run out of food. [though they stayed to hear him which gives some example of the power of his message]  However, this is not the God whom we serve.  God-incarnate had compassion and noticed needs and acted to meet those needs.
  2. Jesus took the initiative to meet the needs of the crowd. Not only does Jesus notice their need, he takes the initiative to meet them.  The interaction with his disciples, exactly like when he fed the 5,000, is funny on one level.  The disciples are clueless.  The Message paraphrases the disciples’ response this way:“His disciples responded, “What do you expect us to do about it? Buy food out here in the desert?”” (Mark 8:4, The Message)

    He didn’t expect them to do anything about it, because he was going to do something about it.

  3. Jesus meets the needs of the crowds without requiring anything from them. Jesus takes the seven loaves and the few small fish and he blesses them and then he begins to break the bread and fish into small pieces and hands them to the disciples to give to the people.  He keeps on giving the bread and fish [the Greek verb tense is continuous action] to the disciples who keep setting them before the crowd.

    I wonder if the verb which the ESV translates “set before” is important.  Mark repeats the exact same verb three times in a couple of sentences.  It’s funny because the word is so unimportant [it means: “to set before” or “to place near someone”] that it isn’t even in the major lexicons where they do in depth study of specific, important Greek words.  It’s a common, simple, easily understood word.  Could it be that Mark wants to emphasize here that the crowd doesn’t do anything to earn this gift from Jesus?  They do not tell him they are hungry, they [or most of them anyway] do not contribute any food towards the meal that Jesus will serve.  Indeed, they just sit down and the meal is set before them.

    Is this not the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy?““Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1, ESV)

 

 

The Kingdom of God is introduced by God the Son in the Gospels.  Here we discover that this Kingdom doesn’t require anything from those who would enter.  Everything is given away freely without regard to race, tribe, tongue, nation, or gender.  This meal is a type of the salvation to come in Jesus.  Paul expresses the ultimate free gift in this way:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV)

 

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