Today we look at the heights of a Spiritual Journey as Peter, James, and John head to the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, at the opposite end, in the depths of spirituality is the loving father who cries out “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” Both situations are authentic expressions of faith by imperfect people. Thank God that I don’t need to be perfect to follow Him!
1. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.
This verse is a bit of an orphan as we see it now. Verse two begins another story and it doesn’t seem to have much context – unless you put it into the context of Mark 8:34-38 (and add 9:1). I think it makes sense to include it with those previous verses, because after Jesus gave them the “Do you really want to follow me?” speech where He discussed the hardships and sacrifices of following Him, He let them know that they would realize that following Him was well worth it. Around the world were followers of Christ are persecuted to the point of death, this is the kind of verse that gives believers the hope that following Christ may cost everything, but that everything is nothing compared to the joy and power of knowing Jesus. This verse is a reminder that no matter how bad things may appear to be, there’s an ultimate joy in following Christ through all circumstances.
2. And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.
If nothing else makes it seem like 9:1 should be read with the preceding verses, note that we have a six day hiatus in the action. It’s obvious, of course, that we don’t get a minute by minute, day by day recital of the story of Jesus, but we don’t see mentions of time like this often in the story of Jesus. I can’t tell you why we see it here, but six days after the call to give up everything, Jesus got Peter, James, and John off by themselves and took them up a mountain. I can imagine the three disciples trying to get a preview of what they were doing: “Where we going?” “Why is it just us?” “What’s going to happen?” I can also imagine Jesus ignoring the questions and continuing His trek up the mountains, or perhaps answering by saying, “You’ll see.” Once they got to the top of the mountain, amazing things began happening. Jesus changed right in front of their eyes. No longer was He wearing the road worn every day robes they were accustomed to seeing,now, His clothes were so bright that they couldn’t imagine an earthly launderer doing the cleaning. His clothes were so bright they made “whiter than white” seem dull and dingy. And once He was prepared, along came Elijah and Moses. Two of the greatest, most important figures in Jewish history had come back to talk to Jesus. Imagine how this must have affected the disciples! They were speechless. It must have been hard for them to imagine the honor it was for Jesus to meet them.
5. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.
You know that person who always feels compelled to speak when nothing needs to be said? Yeah, that’s Peter. Peter may not have always said the right thing, but he always said something. It’s possible that this event happened during the Feast of Tabernacles, which is why the idea of the tabernacles presented itself to Peter. Perhaps he was trying to find a way to make this experience continue, because they were in the presence of the greatness of the past with Jesus. Whatever happened, he didn’t know what to say, but he had to say it. Sometimes, we need to experience the events of life in silence, and only speak of them while reflecting back on them instead of spoiling the moment with words. Peter had a lot of great qualities, but knowing when to shut his mouth was not one of them! Sadly, I tend to be that same way.
7. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 8. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
I think there was an awkward silence when Peter blurted out his idea. Maybe Jesus gave him a questioning look. Perhaps Elijah and Moses chuckled as they looked at him. Then a cloud covered the mountain, making it impossible to see anything or anyone. Speaking from the cloud, God let the three disciples know that they needed to listen to the guy who was His beloved Son. I can’t help but imagine them wondering whether it was going to be Moses or Elijah. I imagine that they were excited that Jesus had brought them along to meet God’s beloved Son. When the fog cleared literally, the fog in their brains cleared figuratively: Jesus was God’s beloved Son. Moses and Elijah were great, but they were nothing compared to Jesus. It may have taken a few seconds for the truth to hit home. It may be that they had some problems fully comprehending that truth because this was Jesus, they guy they hang out with all the time. Whatever happened, though, they knew deep down that all the stories of the greatness of Moses and Elijah that they had grown up with were nothing compared to the understanding that Jesus was far greater.
9. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.
Then, it was time to come down from the mountain. Let’s face it: these three guys experienced one of the most wonderful things imaginable – but they couldn’t stay at the top of the mountain. They had to get back to every day life. And, lest they wonder about contacting their agents to get book contracts and TV appearances, Jesus told them that they couldn’t say anything until He was risen from the dead. As much as Jesus mentioned that, you’d have think it would have made sense to them, yet, while they talked among themselves they tried to figure out just what Jesus meant by that. Maybe they thought Jesus was using hyperbole to mean that they could never tell anyone about this event. Maybe they thought He was talking figuratively and they tried to imagine what “risen from the dead” might really mean. Whatever the situation, they knew they couldn’t talk about it with anyone else. If they took Jesus literally, they probably thought they would go to their grave not being able to talk about this amazing experience, little knowing that in a few short years, they could proclaim it to the world.
11. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12. And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.
As they were talking and discussing the idea of Jesus as God’s Son, they came up with an objection. “Wait a minute. The Scribes tell us that Elijah has to come before the chosen one. Why do they say that if, well, you’re here?” (Elias in the King James is equal to Elijah.) They weren’t ready to take this Jesus rising from the dead thing literally, but Elijah had to come back from the dead in their understanding. And, even though they had just seen him, no one else had, so that couldn’t count as Elijah coming back before the Messiah for everyone. Jesus responded by letting them know that Elijah had come back. He was, of course, referring to John who preached a message of repentance and a return to God. Jesus said that he put things right. Then, Jesus asked them a question: why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer many things? It was common practice in that day to see the passages where the Messiah was to be a conquering hero as truth, and ignore the passages that talked about the Messiah suffering. Jesus reminded them that those passages were important to understand. This seems to be a common practice among Christians even today. We camp out on the passages we like and ignore or explain away the passages that are too tough. Jesus then told them that when Elijah came back, in the person of John, they abused and eventually killed him as well. Just in case you were wondering, one does not accept Christ and then live happily ever after with no problems. We all have problems. We all have issues that cause us to struggle with our faith. At the same time, we have a God who continues to love us and uphold us in our worst times as well as our best.
14. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. 15. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him. 16. And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?
And then, the mountaintop experience was over. When they got back to the disciples, they were engaged in a full blown argument with the scribes. I have no doubt that they weren’t having a scholarly discussion. They were yelling and attacking each other over the issue we’re about to look at. When the people saw Jesus, they ran over and greeted Him, breathlessly waiting to hear what He would say. Jesus looked at the scribes and asked them what their beef with the disciples was.
17. And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; 18. And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
The problem: one of the people in the crowd had a son who was possessed by an evil spirit that not only prevented him from talking, it caused him to self-inflict wounds, foam at the mouth and grind his teeth, and to act like he was dead or dying. Since Jesus wasn’t there, he brought them to the disciples and asked them to cast out that demon and they failed. I imagine the scribes were attacking the disciples over the veracity of Jesus because He couldn’t teach His disciples to cast out demons the right way – even though they had done so in previous instances. Mind you, the scribes response wasn’t to say, “Move aside and let us show you how that’s done,” because they couldn’t do that either, but they enjoyed attacking Jesus as a fraud because His disciples couldn’t do the job. We still see that type of criticism of Christians, and Christ, today, don’t we.
19. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.
Who was Jesus chastising here? Was He attacking the disciples for their failure to cast out the demon? Was He attacking the scribes for attacking the disciples when Jesus wasn’t around? Was He attacking the father? I don’t know. Given the way Jesus dealt with people who were hurting, I don’t think He was attacking the father, unlike current members of so-called faith movements who blame sick people for not getting healed because of their lack of faith. Jesus reserved His criticism for the religious elite, the leadership who should have been able to handle such situations under God’s leadership. My guess is that He was directing His attack at the Scribes, but may have included the disciples. When He asked how long he had to endure them, I wonder if He wasn’t thinking to Himself, “Not much longer. Only a few more months!” He then told the father to bring the boy to Him.
20. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. 22. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. 23. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. 24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
They brought the child to Jesus and the demon put on a show. I have this picture in my mind of Jesus watching this for a while while stroking His beard before He turned to the dad and asked how long it had been happening. The answer was shocking: the kid had been like this since he was a young child and was known to throw himself into the fire or jump into the water to destroy himself. (Under the control of the demon, of course.) I have no doubt that the child was in such physical and emotional pain that he was doing anything he could to get rid of that pain, even if it meant ending his life. His loving parents did all they could to keep him alive, and then came Jesus and they, for once, had hope. Imagine their disappointment that they met first with the disciples, and only later did they meet with Jesus. I want you to take a minute now and think of the parents of children with physical or emotional disabilities that consume all their energy. Their lives are consumed in the care of their child. Often, they have no hope of improvement, but they continue their care with hearts full of love. You know parents like this. Stop reading this for a second and pray for them. Ask God to give them strength. Ask God to show them hope.
As the man described what the demon did to his son, he ended by showing how hopeless life had been for him by asking Jesus to show them compassion and help them IF HE COULD do anything. Jesus was his last hope, and he was so afraid of getting his hopes up that he spoke as though there was no hope; but there’s always hope with Jesus! Jesus looked at him and said, “IFI can? Of course I can. All things are possible to one who believes.” And then the man made the most honest statement of belief in the Bible through his tears. I can’t help but wonder if those were tears of frustration, despair, or joy because of the glimmer of hope that Jesus gave him. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I think what he meant was, “Lord, I believe in You. I really want to believe, but the idea that my son could be healed is too good to be true and I just can’t believe he could possible be healed. Help my unbelief.”
25. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. 26. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. 27. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
And now the crowd was getting into the action and they came running. Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, commanded him to get out and stay out. The demon came out with one last attack on the boy and he lay there on the ground as if dead. While all the people were murmuring that the child had died in this exorcism, Jesus walked over, took him by the hand, and lifted him to his feet. The boy was healed and he went off with his father. We must never forget that two were healed that day, because the father was healed of his unbelief as well. Should he ever have reason to doubt the goodness of God, he could look at his demon-free son and realize that God had not only touched his son, He had touched his heart.
28 And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? 29. And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
Later, back at the ranch, so to speak, the disciples were perplexed. They couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t been able to cast the demon out. Jesus answer was simple, straightforward, and mind-boggling: this can’t happen except by prayer and fasting. (Some versions leave off the fasting reference.) Why is that mind-boggling? Perhaps Mark didn’t include the full story here, but we didn’t see Jesus stop and pray, let alone fast in that situation. He came into the midst of the argument, whereupon the promise presented itself. Jesus dealt with the problem. End of story. When did He have time to pray and/or fast in that encounter. We didn’t even see a perfunctory, “Father, let them see Your glory,” type of prayer. Jesus was talking about a lifetime of prayer and constant communication with God. Jesus was talking about regular times of fasting to learn to depend on God. And I’m going to add my own editorial comment here. (That’s me saying that this could probably be wrong, but I’m going to say it anyway.) I think the disciples were so focused on the mechanics of the situation and how to get rid of the demon to heal the boy, that they forgot about the father. When Jesus healed the boy, He ministered to the father through the experience as well. Sometimes it’s easy to get so focused on the major problem, that we forget to be concerned about everyone involved. My sister reminded me of that this week (as of the writing.) When talking about how my wife has been doing in the hospital, she sent me a text with a simple, but powerful question: “And how are you?” She showed concern for me as the caretaker and I believe that Jesus showed that same concern for the father of the child where perhaps the disciples didn’t. Anytime people are dealing with issues, there are other problems associated with the situation, and we need to find ways to minister to people in all areas of the problem.