Listen to Him
Mark 9: 1 — 10
There is a pattern in Jesus' life which is an essential part of his message. After a period of public ministry, Jesus withdrew to a wilderness spot (desert, sea, mountain) and there he prayed. The disciples and the crowds came to seek Jesus, and in such wilderness areas he revealed glimpses of his hidden glory.
We are going to read the account of Jesus' "transfiguration". The association of wilderness and mountain is especially evident in this event, and these two concepts convey much powerful meaning. The Exodus account of Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 24) and Mark's account of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration are strikingly similar. Moses withdraws from the people and elders. Taking three men with him (Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu) Moses went up the mountain. The cloud covered the mountain, and the glory of the Lord settled on it. On the seventh day the Lord spoke from the cloud. When Moses came down from the mountain, his face shone so that he put a veil over it.
Jesus is our model. When God tells us to "Listen to him!" there is a sense in which we need to pay attention to every detail — not just Jesus' words, but his actions and all the background and setting in which he chose to be revealed as God's son. This is especially true when meditating on Mark's account of the Gospel.
Some notes on our text
Jesus predicts that some with him would see the Kingdom of God come in power. Then, "after six days" Jesus, taking three apostles with him, ascends the mountain, and is transfigured before them.
The fact that Peter, James and John (the inner circle) were selected, highlights the importance of what takes place. The period of six days corresponds to Moses' six days on Mt Sinai before the Lord called him into the midst of the cloud. In both cases, the six days designate a time of preparation for the announcement of his approaching suffering.
There are three important words in the original text of this verse: high, apart, alone. This is a powerful threefold echoing of the wilderness isolation theme. Not just solitude, but wilderness, like Sinai in Exodus 24, and Horeb in 1 Kings 19.
"Was transfigured" may be understood as "was transformed".
The "dazzling white" imagery is from the Old Testament and is borrowed to describe the glory of the Son of God.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah is an exciting moment. They represent, of course, the Law and the Prophets: all that is great and Holy in God's Covenant. They help reinforce the idea of the expected fulfilment happening at this very moment.
So Jesus is the one in whom the promise of the second exodus is being fulfilled.
Verses 5 and 6
It is obvious the three disciples are stunned. But Peter finds within him the resources to respond. "Rabbi", he says — their usual term for him, "It is good for us to be here". These are beautiful words. He is not to be ridiculed. He instantly recognises the blessedness of the experience. However clumsily expressed, his desire is to prolong the ecstatic vision. In spite of his fear, he wishes to continue in this intimate companionship. His special qualities are emerging.
Peter, in his generosity, wanted to build a "dwelling place", a tabernacle of presence. God responds even more generously. And this is the real point of the event. A cloud appears and envelopes Jesus, Moses and Elijah. There is no doubt what that stands for; it is the Shekinah-glory, the manifestation of God's presence. The cloud is God's tabernacle, or dwelling place and it covers all present. Peter did not need to build any tabernacle; God did it for him.
When Jesus began his mission in the wilderness and was baptised God called him the beloved Son. Now on the wilderness mountain, the same voice of the Father declares the same love and gives the forthright command, "Listen to him!".
This echoes Deuteronomy 18: 15 and identifies Jesus as the end-time prophet like Moses to whom Israel must listen; for he is the final bearer of the Word of God. This gives weight to all Jesus says especially that they must participate in his humiliation.
For now it is enough to behold the Shekinah-glory and hear God speak to them personally. In time they would realise that the manifestation of God's presence was already living in a tent, a tabernacle, on earth in the person of Jesus.
Things quickly return to normal. The cloud had gone, but a new sense of presence remained with them.
Verses 9 and 10
The first subject Jesus refers to on the way down is his death and resurrection. The disciples will take time to realise that there is no short cut to the glory they have just witnessed. Their real concern just now is "What have death and resurrection got to do with the Son of Man?"
The gentle leadership of Jesus is at work, and the disciples are right on course.
Our regular readers know well how often we quote God's words: "Listen to Him!" They also know how often we link it with Matthew 28: 19 and 20:
The word obey means literally to carry out what you have heard. The great Christian writers through every century of the Church's existence have constantly emphasised that for the true disciple of Jesus this means listening very attentively to what he teaches, with a view to carrying it out faithfully, in all aspects of daily life.
Christians do not have an option to choose what book or books of the Bible will be their mainstay. If they are truly disciples of Jesus Christ they will meditate frequently on everything he taught and will seek to express that teaching in all of their actions.
For us the Gospels are pre-eminent with the rest of the New Testament (backed by the Old Testament) supporting them. Listening in this way reflects the Divine order of word and action: God spoke, and it was. (Genesis 1). When we seek to obey, we listen to the Word of God with a heart eager to hear the message which we then put into action.
This is the Biblical understanding of meditation. If any Christian or group of Christians do not give priority to God's only command recorded in the New Testament, and follow meticulously the final command of Jesus (Matt 28: 19 and 20) they cannot claim to be his followers nor can they be considered to be truly joined to his Body, the Church. These are sobering facts, but God's command in the text we are studying is not negotiable: "Listen to him!"
A Word from the Early Church
Without delay therefore hear him with whom in all things I am well pleased; in preaching whom I am made known; in whose lowliness I am glorified; for he is the truth and the life, he is my power, my wisdom. Hear ye him whom the mysteries of the law foretold; whom the mouths of the prophets proclaimed. Hear ye him whose blood has redeemed the world; who has chained the demon, and taken from him what he held; who has blotted out the deed of sin, the covenant of evil-doing. Hear ye him who opens the way to heaven, and through the humiliation of his cross prepared for you a way to ascend to his kingdom.
Why do you fear to be redeemed? Why tremble at being healed of your wounds? Let that be done which I willing Christ wills. Put away bodily fear, and arm yourselves with steadfast faith: for it is unfitting you should fear, in the passion of your Saviour, what, by his gift to you, you shall not fear in your own end.
These words, beloved, were spoken for the profit, not alone of those who heard them with their bodily ears, but in these three apostles the whole Church learns what their eyes saw and their ears heard. Let the faith of all men be strengthened by means of the preaching of the most holy gospel; and let no one be ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which he redeemed the world. And because of this let no man fear to suffer for justice' sake, or doubt of the fulfilment of his promises: for it is through toil we come to rest, and through death we cross over to life. Since he has taken upon himself all the infirmity of our humanity, in him we shall overcome what he has overcome, and receive what he has promised, provided that we persevere in faith and love of him. And so, beloved, that we may do what he has told us to do, and bear our trials in patience, we should have ever in our ears the voice of the Father telling us: This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.
(Sermon 51) St Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, Fifth Century
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