Day 20: Suffering now; Glory soon.
After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transfigured in front of them, and his clothes became dazzling—extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here. Let’s set up three shelters: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what to say, since they were terrified. A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept this word to themselves, questioning what “rising from the dead” meant. Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” “Elijah does come first and restores all things,” he replied. “Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did whatever they pleased to him, just as it is written about him.” Mark 9:2-12.
I remember singing a chorus as a kid that went something like:
“I’m inright, outright, upright, downright, happy all the time. Since Jesus Christ came in, and cleansed my heart from sin I’m inright, outright, upright, downright, happy all the time.”
Although I’m sure it’s not what the writers were meaning to communicate, this song could give folks the impression that the Christian life is one of perpetual joy and happiness. One where everything in the garden is rosy simply because I’m a Christian. However the Bible, and our own experience as Christians, tell us something very different. Yes perpetual joy will come but, until Jesus returns, it’s not here yet.
All of this (Christ’s suffering on the cross and our suffering whilst taking up our cross) is the context of this amazing episode in Mark’s gospel. Yes we live in a fallen world where we experience the same trials as everyone else, but a life following Jesus brings its own particular suffering and trials. Isn’t that what Jesus tells his followers in John 16:33; ‘In this world you will have tribulation’. The fact is the life of these disciples isn’t going to be all sweetness and light, singing Kumbaya round the campfire. Their lives aren’t going to be marked by comfort but by suffering. They, like Jesus, will have to bear a cross for the sake of the gospel, not to earn it (as Jim reminded us yesterday) but in response to it.
This is not much of a selling point for Christianity is it? Come to Jesus and suffer for the rest of your life. What if suffering is only part of the story though? What if, like the pain and suffering associated with removing a cancerous lump, suffering comes with a glorious promise of healing and restoration?
This is why Jesus gives three of his disciples (all of whom well partake in their fair share of suffering) a glimpse of the glory that awaits them. Jesus takes them up onto a high mountain and is ‘transfigured’ in front of their very eyes. This might not mean much to you at first but consider what the word transfigured means. Remember learning about the process of metamorphosis back in high school science? It’s the process of the rather ordinary looking caterpillar becoming the beautiful butterfly. That’s the picture Mark gives us here where he tells us that Jesus’ appearance literally changed from the ordinary to the extraordinary. He went from the one who the prophet Isaiah said “didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at him, no appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53) to someone who literally radiated like the sun in power and purity. Remember the advert for ‘Daz’ that said it got your clothes ‘whiter than white’? Mark tells us that’ Daz’ doesn’t have a look in when it comes to how white Jesus clothes were. He literally shone before their eyes.
On other occasions Jesus chooses to give an explanation to his followers to encourage them that their suffering would be temporal but that their glorification would be eternal. Here however he gives them a demonstration of his power and majesty as an encouragement. Yes, he’s the carpenter’s son who has said of himself that he has nowhere to lay his head, but he’s also the eternal son of God who has no beginning or end, and who spoke the world into being. In his transfiguration Jesus points forward to the day when everything will be transfigured. To the day when all that is wrong with the world will be made right. When sin will be no more and when the suffering we experience as his followers will be a distant memory that pales into insignificance when compared to the glory that we will enjoy with him forever. No matter what you are going through right now, if you’re following Jesus, then rest assured his death and resurrection have achieved for you a glorious inheritance that cannot be taken away. Your suffering is temporal, your inheritance eternal!
Written by Tommy Wright
Passage for today: Mark 10:2-12
Other verses to consider: Romans 8:16-24, Hebrews 12:1-3
A question to ask: Where in your life would keeping your eye on the future prize help get you through present circumstances?
A song to sing: Behold Our God