February 22-23 sermon resource

Transfiguration

  • Main text: Mark 8:27-9:8
  • Accompanying text: Psalm 27:1-4

What this passage means to us

Who is Jesus?

By the time we get to Mark 8 & 9 (and the companion passages in Matthew 16 & 17 and Luke 9), different opinions had arisen as to who Jesus was. Some had begun to say, “‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world’”, but “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:14-15). The reference was to the idea that God would send a Deliverer, who was later called the Messiah, meaning the Anointed One. Some wondered whether he was “John the Baptist; others…Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14). A group of Pharisees thought, “This man is not from God” (John 9:16), and many Jews said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20). “When Jesus spoke, this immediately attracted his critics, often with some religious authority, to launch into accusations of madness in order to undermine his credentials” [1].

What, however, did the disciples think? Who did they think Jesus was? Even among them opinion may have been divided initially. Was he a charismatic rabbi (John 1:38), or perhaps he was a revolutionary who might lead the people against the Roman oppressors? From the beginning of his gospel account, Mark makes it clear who he believes and knows Jesus to be — “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Mark stresses time after time who Jesus is. Mark records that even the demons knew who Jesus was (e.g. Mark 1:34, 5:7). But again, what about the disciples? “…it is Mark who makes it clear that Jesus revealed himself to his followers gradually” [2]. Before Peter declared to Jesus that “You are the Christ” in Mark 8:29, he and other disciples had worshipped Jesus as the “Son of God” (Matthew 14:33), and Andrew, Philip and Nathaniel had declared Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God (John 1:41,45,49). What was so special about this time, “But what about you?” Jesus asked them, “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29) It appeared to be a watershed moment, especially for Peter. Was it a fresh assertion of his conviction, a deepening of his faith? Was it for Peter similar to what happened to Job, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you”? (Job 42:5). We can believe Jesus’ words and believe or think we believe that he is who he says he is, and there comes a time when belief moves to certainty, believing moves to knowing. “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced”, wrote Paul, “that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

More confirmation of who Jesus was (and still is) lay in store for Peter, James and John, who are sometimes regarded as the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. Who was this man who dared to question the religious leaders and challenged views about the Law and the prophets? Through the Transfiguration event God confirmed that Jesus was and remains of greater importance than Moses and Elijah. “…a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’” (Mark 9:7). For further reflection on the Transfiguration see last year’s lectionary resource at: https://lectionary.church/2019/02/08/march-2-3-sermon-resource/

The references in Mark 8:34-38 to denying oneself selflessly and to taking up one’s cross also concern who Jesus is. Jesus is the one whom Christians follow, and in so doing, we not only follow what he has said, but also who he is and what he does. Jesus denied himself, took up the cross, and sacrificed himself for us and for all of humanity: should believers be willing and prepared to follow in his footsteps? “In Christianity, grace is the central expression of the divine mystery, symbolised in the self-emptying love of Christ”, and, therefore, let’s “concentrate on following Jesus of Nazareth in living a passion-filled life; then, eventually, yielding to the passion of death” [3]. We too become self-emptying in and through Jesus for his sake and for the sake of the gospel. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).

Storyline and Context

“In Mark’s Gospel, hints that Jesus was the Messiah were linked with his imminent death (Mark 8:31). Jesus, and his disciples, claiming that he was the Messiah was not a boast, but proved to be a death warrant” [4].

When Jesus asked the disciples about who they thought he was, and when he prophesied concerning his death and resurrection, these events happened in Caesarea Philippi, which was also called Paneas (now Banias). It was a centre of worship of the pagan god, Pan, and the city was a dominated by a giant statue of this false deity. It’s against this background of both Jewish and non-Jewish religious confusion, that Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), “God’s Messiah” (Luke 9:20).

Scripture resources

  • Matthew 16:13-17:13
  • Luke 9:18-36
  • Philippians 2:1-8
  • 1 Peter 1:13-21

Other GCI resources

Footnotes and references

  1. Pablo Martinez and Andrew Sims, Mad or God? Jesus: The Healthiest Mind of All, (London, UK: INTER-VARSITY PRESS, 2018). 2.
  2. David Pawson, Unlocking the Bible, (London, UK: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2015). 793.
  3. Dave Tomlinson, The Bad Christian’s Manifesto: Reinventing God (and Other Modest Proposals), (London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014). 78, 214.
  4. Pablo Martinez and Andrew Sims, Mad or God? Jesus: The Healthiest Mind of All, (London, UK: INTER-VARSITY PRESS, 2018). 3.
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