One of most important things about life is having a group of friends that you can depend upon. That is because no one can go through life alone. We need the support of a group of people, friends, who will love us unconditionally, be there with us no matter the situation, and will always find a way to make us laugh or to see the brighter side of life.
All of us need a group of friends who are there for us. That includes Jesus. Now, that might seem like an odd suggestion to make. Why would the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, the Savior, need people to support him? No one can do life alone or in a vacuum, and that includes Jesus who experienced all life has to offer including its challenges, difficulties, and obstacles. Jesus was very well aware that he could not do what was asked of him alone. He needed people to walk with him. He needed people who would support him.
That is one of the primary purposes the 12 Disciples serve in Jesus’ ministry. Not only does this eclectic group of fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots experience a time of teaching and training by the One who is the Word and true Authority, but they also provided strength and support to Jesus. They were there to walk with him wherever life took Jesus.
Among that group were three disciples – Peter, James, and John – who could be described as Jesus’ “inner circle.” They were the ones who were with Jesus the most. They were often asked to pray for Jesus, especially at the Garden of Gethsemane before Jesus’ arrest. They were the ones who were entrusted with the task of leading the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. They were the ones who Jesus spent the most time with and, in turn, built a deeper level of relationship and trust with.
As a result, Peter, James, and John were usually present at some of the biggest moments during Jesus’ earthly ministry. That includes this moment we receive from Mark 9:2-9. What we have is a moment where Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to go with him to the top of a mountain. It was just them. He brings them to this mountain top for an experience and to show them something important. At the same time, Jesus goes to the mountain because he wants to show us something and to invite us into an experience as well. He wants to show Peter, James, John, and by extension us, who Jesus truly is.
This moment began, in all honestly, about six days before Jesus, Peter, James, and John make the journey to the top of the mountain. That is when Jesus gathered with his disciples for something akin to a “define the relationship” conversation. One of those conversations where someone is trying to figure out what the relationship means and where the relationship is going. Perhaps the kind of conversation that many were having yesterday, but very much on a different level.
This “define the relationship” moment, however, came after Jesus had challenged the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. These were the two main groups within the Jewish faith of the time. Both groups tried to teach and interpret the Scriptures based upon their own perspectives. Jesus saw through their attempts of interpreting Scripture without applying it to their own lives, and often called them out on their poor approach to teaching and leadership.
It was a moment that led Jesus to ask his disciples whom they believed him to be. They had been with him for some time and, certainly, they had gathered some thoughts about who Jesus is and what his ministry meant. Peter spoke for the group by saying that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of the Living God. He makes a claim of faith of expressing who Jesus is, but it was quickly challenged when Jesus announced to the group what being the Messiah and Living God meant. He tells them that he would soon die, but would be resurrected three days later. Peter, and truly the entire group of disciples, could not accept this message. It wasn’t the message they were expecting or looking for.
Thus, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to join him for a time of prayer at the top of a mountain and to show them something. This was a normal experience, but this would not be a normal moment. When they arrive to the top of the mountain something unexpected happens. Jesus’s appearance suddenly changes. He becomes something completely unlike what they had experienced before. Mark tells us that his clothes became this dazzling white image. Jesus became a radiant image of glory.
What happens is that Jesus momentarily resumes his full divinity and shows his disciples who he truly is as God. When Jesus came into the world at his birth, he laid to the side his divinity as the Son of God so that he could take on the fullness of humanity. Jesus gave up this very important aspect of who he is so that he could walk with us in our trials and temptations and so he could do the work the Messiah needed to do in order to redeem the world through God’s love. On this mountain top, Jesus allows them to experience the glory, the holiness, the true deep nature of Jesus’ very presence and life as the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God.
It was an experience that took Peter and the others completely off guard. It wasn’t an experience they were expecting. We see this through Peter’s reactions not just to seeing Jesus’ divinity, but in seeing Jesus speak with Elijah and Moses. Peter sees all of this and begins to think that they need to build some tents for them. That is because there was an expectation that Elijah would return and usher in the end times during the Festival of the Booth, which was a time of remembrance of the wilderness experience. Peter responds based upon his own presuppositions of what was expected and, as well, what the Messiah would do.
Peter almost misses what Jesus wants to show them to experience. Jesus wants his disciples to experience him for who he truly is – the Messiah who has come to redeem the people through giving his life for all people. Jesus brings them to the mountain so they could see who he truly is and to have it confirmed what he has taught them about the Messiah’s purposes.
We get this confirmation through the voice that is heard during the scene. The voice is not from Elijah or Moses, but comes out of the cloud that has hovered over the mountain top. The voice belongs to God. It is a moment that is very similar to what takes place following Jesus’ baptism. There the voice speaks directly to Jesus to identify him as the long-awaited Messiah. God speaks in this moment for all to hear. God confirms who Jesus is as the Son of God and commands those who would follow him to listen to him. God calls them not to just listen to Jesus’ teaching, but to take to heart what Jesus says about what his mission and ministry would look like. God confirms that Jesus needed to die and be resurrected for all to experience grace.
Jesus brings his disciples to the mountain top so they could experience this. In their understandings and own ideas about what the Messiah would look like, they were unable to understand or even accept what Jesus says about his coming death and resurrection. Their own ideas prevented them from experiencing the depths of Jesus’ own ministry and life. In this brief moment of a mountain top experience they see Jesus for who he truly is and for what he truly has come to do. The disciples would leave the mountain and see Jesus completely focused on this mission and work of fulfilling the Messiah’s call to redeem all people.
This morning, it’s not just Peter, James, and John that Jesus wants to his true mission and identity to. He also wants us to experience this. Jesus wants us to experience his true ministry and identity. Jesus desires for each of us to experience Jesus as he truly is, the Messiah, the Living God, the One who came to redeem us. He wants us to experience his redeeming love and to experience a deep and renewing relationship with the Lord. Jesus brings us to this mountain top so we can experience Jesus for who he truly is.
Yet, like Peter, sometimes we get in the way of seeing Jesus for who he truly is. We come to these moments of engagement and interaction with Jesus with our own ideas and thoughts about what Jesus should do and how we should relate to the Lord. Sometimes, though, our own thoughts and presuppositions prevent us from seeing Jesus as he truly is. Sometimes we get in the way of seeing Jesus when we want Jesus to fit into our comfortable ideas for what the Messiah should do or look like. We refuse to get close to Jesus because we would rather be comfortable with our own self than to experience what Jesus desires for us.
As we go to the top of the mountain with Jesus, today, we see that Jesus wants us to let our guard down. He wants us to simply come and to experience Jesus for who he truly is. He wants us to experience his love, his grace, his joy, and his redeeming work. When we do, we will see that Jesus is the gift of true grace and love. When we do, we will see that Jesus is pure joy. When we come to the mountain to see Jesus for who he truly is we will see our life completely changed and renewed by the Living Presence of Christ in our lives.
Beginning Wednesday, we will have the opportunity to experience Jesus for who he truly is. That is what Lent is about. It is a season of renewal and engagement where we have a time to experience Jesus for who he is and what he is willing and able to do in our life. It is a time of turning towards Jesus as he is and to be renewed by what the Messiah has done for each of us.
This season of renewal is a great time to let our guard down and to experience what Jesus wants to show us. Jesus has something for each of us that he wants to show us during this season. Something that will allow us to experience his love in a deeper way. Something that will allow us to grow closer to the Lord in a way that will renew our soul and renew our faith. Something that will change us and allow us to experience the glory of the Lord that was revealed to Peter, James, and John.
God has something he wants to show each of us. To experience it, we have to be willing to go to the mountain with Jesus and to see what he has for us and to experience his redeeming love in the ways the Lord desires.
I wonder what God will show each of us as we travel together to the mountain with Jesus and to experience this season of Lent together.