One Christmas we put a poster on our church noticeboard which read: “Jesus who came as a baby will return as a king.” And the words “Will return as a king” were scratched out by a local person who didn’t believe in that sort of thing.
The most popular image of Jesus is probably as a baby lying serenely in a cradle. That’s quite a safe image: it’s nice to admire babies, especially if they’re somebody else’s. They make no demands on you.
Then there’s the image of Jesus the nice man pictured in some Victorian paintings. He often has blue eyes and long blonde hair (both of which were untrue in reality) and he loves children. Again this Jesus is safe: a sort of benevolent children’s social worker. He doesn’t make demands either.
The other popular image of Jesus is as a dead figure on the cross. This image is both sad and safe. Dead men don’t make demands.
In Mark chapter 9 a very different image of Jesus is portrayed. He took his inner circle of three: Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Traditionally this was thought to be the 1800’ Mount Tabor in northern Israel. But it seems more likely to have been the 9000’ Mt Hermon further north.
There, high on the mountain something awesome happened. Mark writes: “There Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Luke says they were as bright as a flash of lightning. It reminds me of John’s vision of Jesus in the Book of Revelation: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. … His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”
The Old Testament describes how on one occasion the sense of the glory of the Lord in their place of worship was so overpowering that Moses could not enter it.
This image of Christ is awesome, overpowering and frightening. Mark writes that Peter, who was never normally lost for words, “did not know what to say, they were so frightened”
Christ is, after all, the one through whom and for whom the whole universe has been created. And he sustains it by his word. He is the cosmic Christ. And Peter, James and John got a slight glimpse of this high on that mountain.
This isn’t a “safe” image of Christ. Rather it is disturbing and challenging. One day we shall stand before this majestic, cosmic Christ – to give account of our lives.
The three disciples also saw Moses, the law-giver, and Elijah, the prophet, speaking with Jesus. This was to indicate how Jesus fulfilled the law of the Hebrew scriptures and the prophecies of the great prophets.
“Then,” says Mark, “a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked round, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.”
After this mysterious and breathtaking experience, as they came down the mountain, Jesus began to predict his suffering and death. He eventually said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”
It was this glorious Christ, ruler of the universe who became the dead figure on the cross, dying for his human creatures. But, as he also predicted, coming down the mountain, on the third day he rose from the dead. Hallelujah, what a saviour!
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction