Sunday 7th October 9am Worship
Sermon Series: The Journey
Title: Coming Down from the Mountain
Bible Reading: Mark 9:2-29
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
The word “journey” was sort of been ruined ever since the HSC English syllabus started to use it as a major theme … which is a little sad, because I think it is a great word. A journey is different from a trip or a holiday … a journey seems to have meaning and depth – you find purpose or significance on a journey. It is less about the destination and more about the experience or the learning that comes from … the journey.
Today we are starting a new sermon series called “the journey”. For the 5 weeks from today to the 4th November we are going to be walking with Jesus as he journeyed with the disciples from the top part of Israel down to Jerusalem as outlined in Mark chapters 9 and 10.
Why this journey? Jesus did many journeys with his disciples. Why study this particular journey for 5 weeks? (Besides being roughly based on the current lectionary readings). I think that there are two things significant about this particular journey.
- The Timing. This journey happened in the week before Holy Week. Commentators suggest that Mark 9 and 10 is probably covers about a week in time – and Mark 11 is Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. This is the last week that Jesus has with his disciples before it all goes down in Jerusalem. It is almost like Jesus – knowing that his time is short – packs into this week some of his most pointed teaching and well as showing his disciples how to continue his ministry after he is gone. This alone makes this journey significant … but I think that there is another reason why Mark 9 and 10 are so important.
- It is an important juncture within Mark’s . My NT biblical studies lecture explained the gospel of Mark to me like this. Mark is 16 chapters long – in the first 8 chapters the disciples are trying to work out who Jesus is – culminating in the critical verse in Mark – Mark 8:29. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” You’ve had 8 chapters of teachings, miracles, experiences, learnings … 8 chapters of being with me. Who do you say that I am? Peter answered, “You are the Christ”. You are the one, the Messiah, the one who has come from God to save the world. You are the Christ. My NT lecturer says that the gospel then almost turns on an axis on that line, and the last 8 chapters of Mark are all about the story of salvation – how Jesus goes about saving the world and establishing his church to continue this work or reconciliation and love. And so these two chapters – Mark 9 and 10 – are the first part of that process. The disciples have worked out who Jesus is … but now what does that mean? How does this play out against the reality of life?
Can you see how these two chapters are somewhat significant? Do you think that they might have some relevance to us as a church as we continue to work out what it means to continue Jesus work of bringing salvation, reconciliation and love to a hurting world? Are you ready to come on this journey with Jesus and the disciples?
Then let’s jump into today’s reading from the beginning of Mark Chapter 9 verse 2. “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and went up a high mountain” Six days after this amazing declaration by Peter, Jesus takes Peter, as well as James and John and headed up a mountain for what we now called the “transfiguration”. Jesus clothes are transformed before them into a dazzling white and they are visited by Moses and Elijah. AND the voice of God confirms to Peter, James and John what they themselves have just worked out … that Jesus is indeed God’s son – the Messiah.
This is literally a “mountain top” spiritual experience. Peter is so blown away by what he is seeing and hearing that he starts babbling about making 3 tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. We are not sure if this was Peter’s way of not wanting this mountain top experience to end … let’s camp up here forever! But after God spoke – everything went back to normal and they start heading down the mountain – back to real life again. And as we keep reading on into the chapter – real life hits them hard. Verse 14 says that when Jesus and the trio catch up with the rest of the disciples, they are arguing with the teachers of the law. Then a father of a sick child pipes in and says that he asked the disciples to help his son, but they couldn’t. You can just imagine the scene … there are raised voices, confused looks, a sick child having convulsions, disappointment being expressed, people feeling helpless, others mocking. It would have been total chaos and the mountain top experience would have been long gone.
Have you had one of this type of experience? When everything is going great, you are feeling close to God, you just had a beautiful quiet time or time of worship or whatever … you spirit is singing … and then life comes along a throws a wet blanket over the lot. The reality of life crushes out any residual glow of your time with God. Even Jesus is discouraged. Verse 19, “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
Not a great way to start a significant and life changing journey. It was like they didn’t just come down from their mountain top experience … they metaphorically walked off the cliff. It is like they stumbled and fell on the first step. What are we to learn from this passage? Let me back up and let’s step through this passage again coming from a slightly different perspective.
In Mark chapter 9 verse 1 Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” What did Jesus mean by this?
- Partly it is pointing to the fact that they will see the Kingdom of God revealed through the death and resurrection of Jesus in three weeks’ time.
- It could also be referring to how Peter, James and John were going to see the glory of Jesus revealed at the transfiguration six days later.
- Some commentaries suggests it points to Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit with Power
But, I also wonder whether there might be an element that something in this journey towards the cross that will impact the disciples – that they will have an epiphany or a powerful revelation and actually see that the Kingdom of God has indeed come with power.
Let me try and explain by looking at the transfiguration experience from a different perspective. This idea actually came from my thinking and pondering as a teenager. As a teenager I was a little nerdy and in my bible study group I would come up with these left field curly questions that arose from a passage. I remember as a 18 or 19 year old reading the transfiguration passage in our bible study and asking the question… “So in the transfiguration – was it Jesus that was changed to show his true glory … or was it that the disciples eyes were open to see the glory that was always there”. Do you understand what I was asking? At the transfiguration – who was changed? Was it Jesus or was it the disciples?
Yes, the transfiguration was about Jesus being affirmed by the very voice of God as his own son. But Jesus didn’t become the son of God on that mountain top … he had always been the son of God. And yes, the transfiguration was also about declaring that Jesus was greater than the Old Testament superheroes of Moses and Elijah – but Jesus had always been greater. In these ways Jesus hadn’t changed but rather it was the disciples understanding that had changed.
But what about the shinning glory … obviously in his earthly ministry up to this point Jesus face had not been shining like the sun and his clothes hadn’t been white as light. So I guess that is the point of transfiguration … Jesus’ appearance was transfigured to reveal his glory. Yes … but. But what about the story of Elisha and his servants from 2 Kings 6. The Israelites were under siege and Elisha servant was getting despondent because all he could see is the enemies’ army surrounding the city. Elisha tries to reassure his servant with these wonderful words, “Don’t be afraid, there is more on our side than on theirs!” (2 Kings 6:16)
But the servant was struggling so Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” And what happened? “The Lord opened the young man’s eyes and when he looked up he saw the hillsides was filled with horses and chariots of fire” (2Kings 6:17) These angelic hosts didn’t just appear, they were there all the time … the young man just couldn’t see it.
Or what about the men on the walk to Emmaus … they walked for hours with Jesus without realising who he was, but when Jesus broke the bread … their eyes were opened and they saw!
I wonder … was that a similar experience to the disciples on that mountain that day? It is not that Jesus had changed but rather it is almost like that the disciples eyes were opened to see the glory of Jesus that was always there … that their eyes had been opened to the wonder of what God is doing through Jesus. Their eyes were opened to see that the kingdom of God has indeed come in power. Maybe the transfiguration is less about Jesus being changed and more about the disciples seeing more clearly.
Now … you might be wondering why I was wondering this as an 18 year old in the first place? Why is it important to us whether it was Jesus that was transformed or whether it was the eyes of the disciples that were opened? Does it really make any difference? Probably not … but as an 18 year old, this idea was actually really helpful. You see, I didn’t want to be like the Pharisees whom in Matthew 23 Jesus accuses them 5 times of being blind and not seeing what was right in from of them. I didn’t want to be blind to the what God was doing, I wanted to see. And so when I read the transfiguration passage … and I wondered … if God could help the disciples see … if the transfiguration was not about Jesus changing but rather about God helping the disciples to see the glory of Jesus, to see the Kingdom coming in power … if that is what the transfiguration was about … then God could also help me to see too.
Can you now see where I am coming from? Because I think that this other perspective brings a new insight into what happens next – not only in the rest of our passage but on the rest of the journey to Jerusalem that we will experience over the next month.
Let’s hold onto this perspective as we travel with Jesus and the disciples as they come down from the mountain top experience and the reality of life crashes into them. They are surrounded by the chaos and crowd – with the sick child, the questioning father, the confused disciples, the mocking scoffers and Jesus says … “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”
Maybe Jesus is really saying, “Open your eyes and see! You just saw what was possible, up on the mountain you just saw the power that comes with the Kingdom of God … and now it is like your eyes have closed again.”
Have you had that sort of experience? When you experience in worship, in an answered prayer, in some divine circumstances – God at work and you feel that all things are possible. And then the next moment something happens and you being to doubt or close down with fear and uncertainty. Even when the father of the sick child is before Jesus asking for help, he premises it with, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus replies, “IF I CAN??? If I can? Can’t you see who I am and what I can do???”
2 Corinthians 4:4 says, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God”
There is some debate over that the phrase “god of this age” means … maybe Satan or other spiritual forces, maybe the things of this world or the worldly influence, or maybe it is just the difficulties and pressures that come from living in this age … or all of the above. But Paul is saying that the god of this age wants to blind us from being the light of the gospel and the glory of Jesus which is all around us. Maybe the god of the age wants to blind us from see the potential or difference that the power of the kingdom of God can make in the situation we are facing. Maybe it was the god of the age which stopped the disciples seeing the potential that the power of God could do in this chaotic situation? Maybe it was the god of the age which made the father struggle to see the saviour of the world before him. And maybe it is the god of the age which is stopping us see Jesus surrounding us, or from seeing the power of the Kingdom of God in our situation, or the glory of Jesus shining upon us.
I will say it again – I do not want to be like the Pharisee who were accused of being blind to what God was doing. I want to see. I want my eyes to be open to see the glory of Jesus – not only on the mountain top, but in the harsh reality of life. I want to see. Do you want this too?
I think this journey that the disciples undertook in Mark 9 and 10 was more than just a journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. I think it was a journey of revelation as their eyes were opened – time and time again – to see more and more of who Jesus was and that the kingdom of God was coming in power. We are invited on this journey to – over the next month. We are invited to – just like the disciples – have our eyes opened to see the glory of Jesus and the power of God’s kingdom. Are you ready for this journey? If this is the case, then we need to pray. We need to pray asking for Jesus to help us to see. Or like the father, asking Jesus to help us to overcome our unbelief.
Let me pray that for you …
Jesus – as we journey with you, please open our eyes to see you in all your glory, open our eyes to see the power of God’s kingdom at work in our lives. And open our eyes to see your presence surrounding us. Open our eyes Lord, we pray. Amen.