Go Tell It On the Mountain
Why is a raven like a writing desk? This riddle is found in Lewis Carroll’s classic work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. No doubt every one of us here in the room has been exposed to Alice to one degree or another. Maybe you have read the book, maybe you have seen the play, or maybe one of the TV specials. I don’t doubt that most of us has seen one of the many renditions that Disney has put out. There are many many famous tales come from Alice’s Adventures – “Down the Rabbit Hole,” “Advice from a Caterpillar,” and of course “A Mad Tea Party,” which is where this particular riddle is found. Remember the Hatter, the Hare, and the sleepy mouse? All of these adventures begin when Alice travels down the rabbit hole. This initial decision dominoes from one kerfuffle to the next. It’s like in The Matrix where Neo chooses between two pills. It’s like Alice opens Pandora’s Box.
In Mark chapter 8, which we did not read from this morning, the disciple Peter makes what we call the Good Confession. Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter replies, “You are the Christ.” That is the same confession we made together this morning. I believe he is the Christ, Son of the living God. After Peter’s confession, if you read through Mark’s gospel, it’s almost like Peter has now opened Pandora’s Box on Jesus’ ministry. It is as if, Peter and Jesus and John and James and all of his disciples are now going to travel down the rabbit hole. The pace is going to pick up. Things are going to get difficult. They are headed towards Calvary. Jesus is more open about his mission. He starts speaking openly about a death and resurrection. Immediately after Peter’s good confession, in Mark 8, we come to this scene in Mark 9, the scene on the mountain. Jesus’ glory is revealed to the disciples straightaway after they confess who he is.
As you guy know, we are dedicating this summer to “The Gospel Applied.” How do we apply the gospel to everyday life? Pastor Kevin preached the last 2 weeks on guilt. How do we deal with guilt in light of the gospel? Before we move forward in this series to forgiveness, among other things, I want us as a church to hit the pause button this morning. Take a time-out. We need to pause at this scene on the mountain and simply behold the glory of Jesus. The glory of Jesus is your motivation to live the gospel everyday. The glory of Jesus is your fuel to faithfully follow Christ. This is the power of the gospel, church. The glory of Christ.
Six days after Peter’s confession Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Even in the details of the story, you can hear the reminiscent tone, can’t you? Remember, Mark’s gospel is basically Peter’s memoirs of his time with Jesus. It was 6 days after the good confession that Jesus led them up the mountain. It wasn’t a few days, it wasn’t a couple days, but Peter remembers that it was 6 days. James Brooks notes that outside of the Passion narrative, in Mark, this is the most precise chronological indicator in the whole gospel. Besides the passion narrative this is the most precise date. As you read, that stands out to you, right? Mark doesn’t normally give precise dates. It says here it was 6 days later which must be important, memorable. Jesus leads his 3 closest friends up the mountain and then out of nowhere Jesus is transfigured in front of them.
Some of you have grown up in church and you know what transfigured means. You remember the flannel graph from Sunday School of Jesus with white clothes and bright lines coming around him. But some of you here, I would wager, may have no idea what it means. When we were reading God’s word this morning you stumbled upon it and you were like, “That’s weird. That is not an everyday word.” Transfigured (μετεμορφώθη), you can hear where we get the word metamorphosis, it literally means to be transformed, and he is changed. Jesus didn’t look like the normal Jesus that they were used to seeing all the time. Mark says that his clothes were intensely white. All of the bleach in the world couldn’t make your clothes as white as the clothes Jesus wore on the mountain. Matthew says that his face was shining like the sun (Matt 17). This crazy memorable experience for Peter, James, and John, would’ve done 2 things for the disciples and for 1st century readers who are reading Mark’s gospel.
First, this narrative, this story, these details, would be like a Delorean that was taking them back in time. It would have jogged their memory. It would have made them think of something in particular, namely their freedom from slavery in Egypt. You see, after the Exodus, YHWH led Israel to another high mountain where there was another cloud. On that mountain YHWH made Israel his son (read Exodus 20 and on). He gave them his Word. They would have thought of that when they heard all these details. Now it’s almost like Jesus is a 2nd Moses leading a 2nd Israel (12 apostles / 12 tribes of Israel) up the mountain again. In fact, this is so important that God makes sure Moses is there to see it himself. Jesus is like Moses, the prophet from among the brothers of Israel (Deut 18.15). Jesus is the true and better Moses, who will lead his people out of the slave market of sin into the promised land of the New Creation. This scene, this story, would have jogged their memory. It would have taken them back in time to the mountain with the law, YHWH, and Moses.
But this scene would have also pointed them forward. It is doing double duty. Every once in a while we take our 3 boys to the movie theater. We literally regret the decision every time. They are always bad without fail. One time, maybe one of the first times that we had taken them to see a movie, the previews come on and you know when the previews are coming on there’s that green screen that says it’s approved or whatever? So the screen comes on and I’m just sitting there having fun with Alex and Jack and I’m like, “Hey, are you guys ready? Are you ready for the previews?” And now every single time they see that green screen, they are like, “Are you ready?” Every preview, every movie, every single time. I think they think it is a requirement now. I love seeing trailers at the movies. I always want to be there early enough to make sure that I catch all of the trailers. I want to see them all; I don’t want to miss any. A good movie trailer will show you just enough of the movie to get you invested but not enough for you to really know what’s going on. That is what a good movie trailer does. When I see a good movie trailer at the theatre, I forget about the movie that I’m going to see and I get excited about the trailed movie and I want to see that one. Sometimes I’ve even been disappointed that the movies comes on that I paid to see because I want to see the movie from the trailer.
When Jesus is transformed, transfigured, changed, on the mountain, he’s giving the disciples, and now us the subsequent readers, a glimpse of the New Creation that is coming. He is taking us forward in time. Like YHWH on the mountain, Jesus is revealing God’s glory to his people. It’s like a trailer for the true glory of Jesus that we are going to enjoy when we see him as he is. I think that’s why Moses was invited. I think that is why God brought Moses to the mountain that day. Remember the 1st time, on Sinai, Moses had to turn and his when YHWH’s glory passed by. If he didn’t he wouldn’t live. Now, on this mountain, Moses sees Jesus face to face, the final glory that YHWH would reveal. Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. C. S. Lewis talks about how we long to be face to face with God, it’s built into who we are. It’s part of what it means to bear God’s image. Moses longed for that and here on the mountain he saw the true glory of God. So did the disciples, and so do we in Christ.
But you noticed Moses isn’t the only throwback Bible character that shows up; Elijah is there too. There are a couple reasons why God puts both Moses and Elijah on the mountain for this momentous occasion. First of all, he did it for them; he did it for Moses and Elijah, so that they would see the realization of their faith. Our journey back through Hebrews 11 reminded us of the saints, they did not yet see the end. They longed for the serpent-crushing seed of Eve and here on the mountain, Moses and Elijah just saw him in his radiant glory. But God did it for us too. You see, Moses and Elijah are both the personification of the OT – the Law (Moses) & the Prophets (Elijah). What God is doing here, what he is preaching through this providential action, is that everything of the OT finds its telos, its goal, its end, its perfection, its completion, in Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law & the Prophets. God, in his providence, brought Moses and Elijah to the mountain to encourage you and me this morning that your OT is all about Jesus Christ.
In the midst of this magnificent scene it shouldn’t surprise you that Peter is going to say something stupid. Remember, this Gospel is Peter’s recollections, and I’ll give it to Peter, he is brutally honest about himself. Peter, and the disciples in general, are never painted in a more negative light than they are in the Gospel of Mark. You can check me on that. Go home and read all four gospels, the disciples never say or do more stupid things than in gospel of Mark. That is because it is Peter’s memories. John MacArthur calls Peter the disciple with the foot-shaped mouth. Peter is seeing this magnificent scene, he is a witness to this new creation trailer that Jesus is revealing, and Peter gets nervous. He starts to get a little nervous, a little fidgety, and he feels like he has got to do something. Man, some of you in here have that problem, don’t you? You always feel like you’ve got to be doing something or you get nervous. Something always needs, there’s too much work to be done. Peter gets nervous. Peter feels like he needs to do something, so he says to Jesus, “Hey Jesus, this is great! That is awesome, super fun day on the mountain. I don’t want it to end. I want to stay here. Let’s go camping. I am going to build 3 tents: 1 for you, 1 for Moses, and 1 for Elijah. We will just post up here and chill, because this is too great to leave. We can’t go back down to real world. I want to stay here and do this. I want to stay at camp, I want to stay at my Christian retreat. I want to stay in this forever; I can’t go back to real life. This is too good.” Mark confesses that Peter was scared and people do dumb things when they’re scared.
Peter is missing the point here. He wants to build these 3 tents in order to keep the party going forever. The passage literally says that he wants to build three tabernacles but he doesn’t even realize that the true tabernacle of God is the one who let him up the mountain. John tells us, the word became flesh and dwelt, literally tabernacled, among us (John 1.14). That is the same word that Peter uses, “Let me build three dwellings. Let me build three tabernacles. Let me build three skénoó.” He is missing the point. God’s true temple is the one who is standing there in front of him. And Jesus can’t stay here in these tents with Moses and Elijah, Peter, because Jesus has to go to Jerusalem to die. If Jesus stays on the mountain then Moses & Elijah’s faith is not realized. If Jesus stays on the mountain, then Peter’s sin is not paid for. If Jesus stays on the mountain, then you and I are to be most pitied.
Well, Peter’s faux pas is leads to the most remarkable moment in this entire narrative. This is what we need to hear this morning, church. Jesus’ instruction to his bride. Suddenly, even while Peter is speaking, the group enveloped by a cloud and a voice rings out, “This is my beloved son; listen to him.” And then in the twinkling of an eye there was only Jesus standing there. Moses and Elijah were gone. It was just Jesus.
So what does this mean for us? What does this mean for CCC? How do we move from understanding God’s Word to standing under God’s Word? The answer is found in the words of our heavenly Father, “This is my beloved son; listen to him.” Church, we can only live out the gospel well, we can only deal with guilt, forgiveness, and everything else that we’re going to explore this summer, if we first look to Jesus and then listen to Jesus. “This is my beloved son; listen to him.” Look to Jesus and listen to Jesus.
We must behold the beloved Son of God. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. That was the declaration of the father. In fact that was the second time in Mark’s gospel that the father audibly affirms who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing. Do you remember when Jesus was baptized? The dove descended and the voice came from heaven. He’s the one who was transformed in glory. Jesus is the one who lived a righteous life. Jesus is the one who kept God’s law. Jesus died in our place on the cross. Jesus lay dead in the tomb for 3 days. Jesus resurrected on the 3rd day. He ascended into Heaven where he rules at God’s right hand, and he’s coming back some day to raise the dead, judge the world, and make all things new. The existential nature of the gospel begins with seeing Jesus for who he is. You remember that when God saved you. That was the first moment where you saw who Jesus is, you understood, you loved him. Let me ask you this morning, are you beholding Jesus? Do you love Jesus? I am not asking if you go saved one time, I am not asking you if you prayed a prayer or walked an aisle or went to camp or talked to your grandma, I am not asking you any of those things. I am asking you this morning, do you love Jesus? Are you captivated by Jesus? Is Jesus beautiful to you? Do you see his compassion and mercy? Do you want to follow Jesus? Church, if we ever want to faithfully live the gospel, we must look to Jesus. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. “This is my beloved son.”
Second, we must listen to Jesus. The Father’s command here is the best advice you’ll ever get. “Listen to him.” This imperative is really a single sentence summary of the entire Bible: listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus because he’s the Christ, the son of the living God. Listen to Jesus because He’s the eternal Word of God who’s come to show us life and how to live it. Listen to him because his ways are the keys to human flourishing. He has given us a pattern for the good life. Listen to him because he’s there for you. You know sometimes other people are there for us, and they should be, right? We are a church, we are a family, and we should be there for each other, not just for two hours on Sunday morning and not just when we have classes or studies or events. But we are a family; we should be there for each other. But we are tired sometimes, and we are weak and frail and we are sinful, and lets be honest, it is unfair for you and me to put our emotional burden on someone else 100% of the time. People need to sleep, people need to work, and people need to eat. We are not omnipresent. We are not omnipotent. Even in your marriage, your spouse cannot bear your sin. They cannot carry the weight of your cross. Jesus does! Jesus is there for you 24/7. He does not sleep, he doesn’t get tired, and it’s never too much for him. You don’t emotionally exhaust him. Jesus is there for you and he’s all you need. When Moses & Elijah disappeared, Jesus was standing there all-alone. That’s because Jesus is all we need. Simply to apply the gospel and everything we are going to talk about this summer, means to follow Jesus. Are you following Jesus?
Why is a raven like a writing desk? The answer: because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat. Lewis Carroll didn’t originally have an answer to that riddle when the work was penned. You know it’s interesting, in all of her adventures in Wonderland and the Tea Party in particular, Alice spends most of her time confused. It’s almost as if she’s having an identity crisis. She doesn’t know who she is, she doesn’t know how to get there, she doesn’t know where is there, it is too much, it is weighing down on her, the cross is too heavy to bear. She’s alone and she is lost. Mark first wrote this pericope two millennia ago, he was writing to a church experiencing persecution, experiencing pain, and experiencing tribulation. For the first time in a long time, followers of the Lord, of Jesus were being disowned by families and communities because their Jewish heritage said, “This isn’t Judaism. I don’t know what you are doing, it is different though. Get out.” They were experiencing persecution from the Roman empire, from their own family. They were somewhat in an identity crisis. Some of you this morning, if not all of us, are feeling the pain of what it means to live east of Eden: cancer, death, divorce, rebellious children, financial problems. The point is that Jesus is with us. On the road to Calvary Jesus is with us. And even though we can’t always see it, he bears the glory of God. Often times you may feel alone or abandoned as you try to live out the gospel. Taking up your cross is never easy. But hear the gospel proclaimed to you this morning church, Jesus is with you. Let us look to Jesus and listen to Jesus. Pray along with Jesus, in the pain, in the trials, in the hurt, in the sin, our prayer is the prayer of our king. Thy will be done.