Many monuments are being ripped to the ground these days in our country. Those monuments were erected to honor certain people for their contribution to the history of our nation or to the history of local places within it. However, the lives and viewpoints of these significant historical figures have been re-evaluated by some and found wanting. There are some who believe they no longer warrant such high acclaim. So down come the monuments.
In Mark 9, Peter wanted to commemorate the moment. I think that’s why he suggested to Jesus the disciples’ build three shelters – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. This was a significant event in history, and it should be remembered.
I always have a hard time imagining this moment of transfiguration. I wonder what it would have been like to be there. Was everything else blacked out from view except these figures of the giants of the faith? Mark used every tool to describe the intensity of Jesus’ appearance – “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”
What the disciples saw – which was no less than the kingdom of God in its power (Mark 9:1) – must have been stunning. And so it’s no surprise that Peter would have wanted to mark the moment in some way.
We have “religious experiences” sometimes. We have “spiritual moments” occasionally. And these can be quite powerful. They can have lasting effects in our lives. We can make decisions in those moments that serve, in a way, as monuments to the vision of God in our lives. These are singularly significant experiences for each of us. And they ought not to be discounted.
But they aren’t the most important thing.
Jesus brushed off Peter’s suggestion. In fact, he didn’t even seem to respond to it. It’s almost like he ignored it altogether. There would be no tents set up on that mountain. There would be no monument.
Peter’s voice seems to have been drowned out by another voice. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Well, that is interesting. After seeing this glorious scene – after seeing the kingdom of God – now the disciples were told to listen to Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t saying anything in that moment, but he had been speaking to his disciples quite often. In fact the last message he gave to his disciples was about his death and resurrection. Jesus had said that anyone who comes after him would have to take up his or her cross and follow. Discipleship is not about saving one’s life. It’s about losing it for the sake of Jesus.
And the voice from heaven – the voice of the Father – said, “Listen to him.” The most important thing was not the vision of the scene, although that was important. The most important thing was that the disciples lived out their lives in obedience to the words of Jesus Christ.
The disciples, of course, would have preferred to live out lives of power and prestige. They would argue with each other about which one was greater. They were struggling to listen to Jesus. He would tell them that the last would be first and the first would be last. In fact, the servant of all was the one who would be the very greatest. And to be a servant means sacrifice. But this was not a message the disciples were willing to hear. They were pursuing a different kind of vision.
This can be true in our lives, too. It is one thing to have our spiritual moments. It is quite another to settle into a life of steadfast obedience to Jesus Christ. God would tell us that the latter is more important than the former.
Jesus never told his followers to erect a monument to himself – although that hasn’t stopped many Christians from doing that very thing. Instead of a monument, Jesus wanted his disciples to live in his honor through their obedience. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
We don’t build a monument. We, as a church, become a kind of monument to Christ through our consistent obedience to his words.
“Listen to him.”
Some questions for your day: When the thought of being “obedient” to the words of Jesus Christ comes to your mind, what do you think about? Is there some area of your life where you know you aren’t being obedient to Jesus? What can you do today to change course?