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Ransom for Many – Chapter 12. The turning point (Mark 8:22-9:1)
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Chapter 12. The turning point (Mark 8:22-9:1)

Chapter 12. The turning point

Please read Mark 8:22-9:1

On January 28th, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded in mid-air with the loss of all seven crew. It’s one of those unforgettable events where many of us can recall exactly where and how we heard the news. President Reagan had planned to speak live to the crew that evening during the annual State of the Union address to the American people. Instead he found himself leading the nation in their grief. There was, of course, an inquiry. Who was to blame? The inquiry panel did their work thoroughly. There were dramatic moments during its hearings as one key fact after another came to light. But when all was said and done, the conclusion was simple. The Challenger disaster was caused by a single, disastrous decision. The shuttle was launched with the aid of two powerful booster rockets. Each of these rockets was built up of sections which were joined together, and in each of the joins there was a rubber O-ring seal. If that seal failed, gas at a temperature of thousands of degrees would come spurting out, with potentially catastrophic consequences. When the air outside was very cold, this rubber would become brittle and won’t seal the gap. That day the shuttle was launched in a temperature of 2*#176; C – much colder than any previous launch. Less than one minute into the flight, gas began escaping from one of the joints on the right-hand booster rocket. A small flame appeared. Within another ten seconds, that flame had burned a hole in the shuttle’s fuel tank, causing the escape of a huge mass of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. Another ten seconds later, as all the world saw, the shuttle exploded in a giant fireball.

The bitterest side of the tragedy was that the NASA authorities had been warned that exactly this could happen. Engineers were aware that there was a problem with the O-ring seals. For the past year, an engineer named Roger Boisjoly had been writing memos warning his superiors that if this cold weather problem was not attended to, there could be serious consequences, up to and including the loss of a mission. On the night of January 27th, a meeting was held to discuss whether the launch should go ahead. As the experts sat late into the night arguing about what to do, the shuttle was standing on the launch pad in temperatures well below freezing. This was not just a theoretical exercise; this could mean life or death. The engineers urged a delay until the weather was warmer. The managers overruled them. The launch went ahead; the rest is history. They had the warnings: serious, sober warnings from people who knew what they were talking about; warnings based on the evidence in front of them; but warnings they chose to ignore.

In this story in Mark, the question that is raised is even more serious. Is it possible that a decision could be more important than life or death? Yes it is, if the consequences go beyond this life on earth. ‘Who do people say that I am?’, Jesus asks (v.27). For some people today, it’s a question for academic discussion; something to give their opinion on around a dinner table, or late at night over coffee in a university hall of residence, or a subject for glossy TV programmes. Does it matter more than any other question for idle discussion? Yes it does, because, bluntly, our answer will determine if we live or die in the world to come – whether we go to heaven or to hell. The question being discussed by Jesus’ disciples as they sit by the roadside is even bigger than the one the experts had to answer at the Kennedy Space Centre that night.

The prelude: a unique healing

We are now entering a new section of Mark’s gospel which I have called ‘Jesus shows he must suffer’. Like the previous section, it begins and ends with a pair of similar stories – in this case, Mark’s only two accounts of healing the blind. The story in vv.22-26, as we will soon see, prepares for the crucial account of Peter’s confession which immediately follows. The previous section ended with the disciples still baffled (v.21). So if after all this time, after all the evidence they have seen, they don’t understand who Jesus is, what will give them the breakthrough? Mark answers that question in a very distinctive way, by telling us the story of a most unusual miracle. It is a story that only Mark includes in his gospel – and that’s always significant, especially given that Mark’s account is the shortest of the four.

The disciples’ boat lands this time at Bethsaida at the northern end of Lake Galilee. Almost at once, as happens so often, a man is brought to Jesus for him to heal (v.22). The blind man is led along by his friends, who beg Jesus to touch him, to make that physical contact which they believe will bring healing. Maybe this will be another ‘routine’ miracle – if healing a man could ever be routine! Not so. First, Jesus takes his hand and leads him away from the village. Bethsaida, in fact, is not one of those tiny fishing villages – it has a population of over ten thousand; it will be bustling and noisy. Jesus wants to get this blind man away from the crowds – partly because he wants the man to hear what he says, and partly because he has a special audience in mind – not the crowd in general, but his slow disciples.

Usually when Jesus has healed someone, it happens instantly and completely. In fact it’s been a mark of his miracles up to this point – they appear effortless; he heals with a word, calms the storm with a word, multiplies bread simply by dividing it and watching it increase. But this time it’s different (v.23). In a quiet spot outside the town, in full view of the disciples, Jesus goes to work. Spitting on the man’s eyes sounds rather distasteful. But just as he did before with the deaf mute man at the end of ch 7, Jesus is conducting a mime for the man to understand. This man can’t see, but he can hear and speak; so Jesus does something that he can hear and feel; and then he talks to him. So far this is much like what we have seen before. But it seems all is not well (v.24). Hasn’t Jesus just laid on hands and healed him? Apparently not – apparently he can now see, but only in the vaguest outlines. Presumably he knows what a tree looks like: either he’s been able to see at some point in his life or else he can imagine a tree from what others have told him. But when he looks at the people in front of him, they don’t look like people! The picture he sees makes no sense.

Once more, then, Jesus places his hands on the man’s eyes (v.25). Now, at once, the man is healed and he can see. He looks around, sight fully restored; everything is clear and sharp; all is well. So what has happened here? Did Jesus run out of power to do miracles at the first attempt? Did he somehow forget how to do it? Of course not! So why go through this strange two-step process of tackling blindness? He does it for one simple reason: to point to the blindness of his audience – the disciples. For all that he has done for them so far, for all that they have been involved in his ministry, as yet all they can see is like trees walking. The picture they see makes no sense. On the boat, Jesus issued a three-fold rebuke of his disciples for their half-wittedness, their inability to see clearly. Don’t you understand? Don’t you comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? (vv.17-18). Now in Bethsaida there is a three-fold description of this man’s restoration; his eyes are opened; his sight is restored; he sees everything clearly. Thus the connection is made explicit: the only way they will be able to see properly is if Jesus heals their sight. Only God can open the eyes of the spiritually blind.

The right answer

We’ve seen that Mark’s concern in this part of his gospel is to show us how slowly Jesus’ own disciples arrive at the right answer. Mark has just shown us that only a miracle from Jesus can properly open someone’s eyes to the truth of who he is. And it’s only now, at last, that one of the disciples finally arrives at something like the right answer. In the next stage of the story, we follow Jesus and the disciples as they move further north from Bethsaida, twenty-five miles up to the region of Caesarea Philippi (v.27). As far as we can tell, they have never been here before. The gospel writers don’t record Jesus doing much public ministry in this region. It’s an interlude of peace where Jesus takes his disciples away on a kind of retreat; and it’s an interesting place that they go to. It’s a great place for a break, away from the crowds, a beautiful green oasis on the slopes of Mount Hermon around the headwaters of the River Jordan. At one time there was a temple of the pagan god Pan here; more recently the Romans have moved in, rebuilt the town, now renamed in honour of Caesar Augustus, who originally added this area to Herod the Great’s territory. The tetrarch Herod Philip, son of Herod the Great, has his palace here. It is here, in an area devoted to the pagan gods and a town whose name devotes it to lord Caesar, that the true identity of Jesus will finally become clear: here, perhaps as they pause for food sitting on the grass by the roadside; and it is Jesus who opens up the conversation. v.27: ‘Who do people say that I am?’ The crucial question.

Immediately it becomes clear that there are plenty of answers on offer (v.28). Jesus’ identity is a hot topic – it could hardly be otherwise, given all that he has been doing. Even excluding the miracles that only the disciples have seen, there have been a host of amazing events, some of them right under the noses of the authorities. Of course everyone is talking about Jesus, and not just because of what he has done, but equally because of what he has said. There is no doubt whatever – this man speaks with authority. He’s not just passing on other people’s ideas, which is all that an ordinary teacher does. The only doubt is whose authority he carries – a question which will follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem (11:28).

First, the disciples say, some people think you are John the Baptist. They would be in good company if they think that, because that’s what Herod himself thinks (6:16). That would be specially worrying in his case, since he is the one who had John beheaded! Everyone knows John was killed – he was a popular figure – so this answer has to assume that he’s somehow risen from the dead. Jesus and John had certain things in common. As cousins through their mothers, they may have looked alike. They were both popular preachers with a band of disciples and a radical message of repentance; they both appeared and disappeared rather mysteriously; and they both infuriated the authorities. But on the other hand, John never did any miracles. And if people actually listened, they would know that his main ministry was to prepare the way for someone greater who was to come, whereas Jesus never pointed to any other man. His ministry – both his teaching and the miracles – pointed people to himself.

What about option number two – Elijah? Now Elijah is a really interesting possibility. He was one of the most dynamic of Old Testament prophets, living during the reigns of some really terrible kings in Israel around 800 years earlier. But the key point is that the very last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, foretold that Elijah would be sent by God to prepare for the Day of the Lord, when he would intervene in human history and bring in his judgement and eternal reign (Malachi 4:5). Faithful Jews are watching for the appearance of this great prophet who will herald the dawning of the new age. Maybe this Jesus is the promised Elijah!

What people don’t seem to realise is that these two options are actually one and the same. Option 1 – John: a radical prophet who wears a hair cloak and a leather belt, has an eccentric diet, spends a lot of time in the desert and says he is preparing for a greater one who will follow him. Option 2 – Elijah: a radical prophet who wears a hair cloak and a leather belt, has an eccentric diet, spends a lot of time in the desert and was prophesied to return and prepare for God who will follow him. Doesn’t that suggest anything? Yes: John the Baptist is the Elijah who was to come – and that is exactly what Jesus says about him in 9:13. Perhaps we need to point out that this is not about reincarnation! It is Elijah’s promised ministry that is seen in John the Baptist. John is the Elijah who was to return to prepare the way for God’s coming – and what does that make Jesus? Here is one more jigsaw piece of evidence about Jesus’ identity.

Option three on the disciples’ list is a prophet, just ‘one of the prophets’. All these options place Jesus in the category of ‘prophet’. It’s a supporting role. The prophets were men and women through whom God spoke; but that is all. So, say the disciples, these are the options people are coming up with. They might well have added: There are other people who think you are demon-possessed, notably the Pharisees, and don’t forget your family, who simply think you’re insane. Perhaps they are too polite to throw that in, but they could have done. All sorts of people with all kinds of ideas: some basically friendly, some frankly unfriendly; some thinking they are doing you a great honour, Jesus, by saying you are a prophet.

Finally Jesus comes to the real point of the conversation (v.29a). Have you reached a decision yet, yourselves? After all, you have seen more of me, heard more of me, than anyone else. Let’s turn the spotlight on you: what do you say? Peter comes out with it (v.29b): You are the Christ. In a flash of God-given inspiration he recognises that here in front of him, this friend sitting there on that rock, is the unique messenger of God. Not ‘a prophet’ but ‘the Christ’. The word Peter uses is mashiach, Messiah. Like the Greek word christos, it means ‘anointed one’. In Old Testament times, a variety of special people were anointed with oil to represent their appointment to a special, God-given task. Prophets, priests and kings were all anointed. But later on, when people spoke of the Messiah, the Christ who was to come, they have in mind the promises God made about a future kingly ruler, descended in direct line from King David, who will answer the hopes of the nation and bring in a rule of perfect justice and perfect peace (e.g. Isaiah 9:6-7). Finally, after so long, after so much blundering around in the dark, the disciples have got there – or at least their leader has. It’s the right answer at last.

Even so, after all that we have read in the last few chapters of Mark, remembering how slow the disciples have been to get this far, we are not surprised to find that they still have some way to go! That is what Jesus clearly has in mind when he gives them the warning in v.30. This is exactly what he has said to people he has healed. Don’t tell anyone. He knows that even Peter’s moment of inspiration is still far short of the full truth. Peter and the others have little idea what Jesus’ Messiahship will actually mean. In fact with this verse we are at the very hinge point of Mark’s gospel. So far, the story has been all about identifying who Jesus is. Ever since Mark announced his message in 1:1, we have been waiting for someone to recognise Jesus. But now at last, Peter has got there. This is the turning point; and from here on, the story will be all about why Jesus came. What does it mean to say that he is the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus’ ideas on that score are very different from Peter’s. More about that shortly; for now, just look at v.31. Here is why Jesus doesn’t want the disciples spreading the news that Messiah is here: this is a Messiah they neither expect nor want. Literally the Greek reads: it is necessary for him to suffer. It cannot be avoided. If you don’t have a Christ who dies for our sins and rises again in triumph and glory, then you have no Christ at all.

Today, many people will follow Peter and the others up to v.29. Yes, Jesus is a prophet. That’s absolutely true – a prophet is someone who brings messages from God, and Jesus most emphatically does that. No-one ever spoke like this man, before or since. And yes, Jesus is the Messiah. Even Muslims go this far. They agree wholeheartedly with the idea of nabi Isa, the prophet Jesus – one prophet among many. They call Jesus Isa al-Masih – Jesus the Messiah. But the Messiah they believe in is not the one the Bible tells us about. He is merely a human Messiah who does not suffer, certainly does not die, and cannot rise from the dead. ‘Messiah’ then becomes just a word for someone special; and it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Plenty of people get called ‘Messiah’ in that sense even now – a statesman like Nelson Mandela, or your favourite sporting hero for that matter. Today we are constantly told of the similarities between Christians and Muslims – how we both believe in one all-powerful God, and how we both honour the name of Jesus the Messiah. But if you cut Jesus down to the size of a prophet, you do him no honour at all. If you say he is no God, but merely a man, you are insulting him and denying the truth God has revealed.

Who do you say Jesus is? This is not some academic discussion starter. As with that group gathered on the night before the Challenger launch, this is a life or death decision, a decision with deadly consequences. You can choose to call Jesus whatever you like. You can join those who said he was mad, if you like. You can join those who made him a great teacher or call him another in a long line of prophets. You can call him a special messenger, or your own kind of Messiah. But in the end, the time will come when you have to face the consequences of your choice. We can’t pretend this doesn’t matter, that one opinion is just as good as another, that your sincerity will save you. This decision makes all the difference. And if you do know the real Christ, then don’t be taken in. Don’t be deluded into thinking that there is any other Jesus than this one. Don’t be fooled by people who say they honour Jesus as a teacher, as a guru, as a prophet, as an inspired teacher. No-one honours Jesus like that, because that isn’t the real Jesus.

The turning point

When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain in May, 1940, we were eight months into the Second World War. It wasn’t going well and it was about to get worse. When Churchill stood up in the House of Commons to make his first speech as Prime Minister, he didn’t mince his words. Perhaps he could have said that everything was under control and the war was going to be won without much difficulty. Perhaps to make people feel better, he could have suggested that Hitler was about to give up. Churchill, of course, was not like that. His words on that day are still remembered: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ That doesn’t sound too encouraging. Did he say the war would be over by Christmas? Hardly. ‘We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.’ One of the reasons Churchill was respected and admired so much was simply that he told it like it was. He never claimed the war was going to be easy. No, the road to victory would be long and painful. To pretend otherwise would have been completely futile.

When the Bible describes the Christian life, it pulls no punches. The Bible says it is going to be tough – more like war than peace. Living as a Christian is going to involve toil, tears, sweat and maybe blood as well. It is a struggle: it will involve suffering. If we are Christians – or if you are not a Christian, but are wondering what it is like to be a Christian – then we need to understand what we are in for. The fact is that all sorts of people have misunderstood or misrepresented the Christian life. For some, being a Christian is like a crutch that you need only if you are weak – if you are too feeble to face life alone, you can believe all this stuff about God and heaven and going to church. For others, to be a Christian is just about having better morals – it’s a way of life, based on the Golden Rule and whatever else Jesus taught. You try your best; you live a respectable life; and in the end if it all works out you will get your reward. Sadly, even some church leaders and preachers have presented a very false and distorted notion of the Christian life. They tell us that being a Christian is about finding self-fulfilment, unleashing your full potential – or that if only your faith is strong enough, then God will keep you healthy, and God will make you rich.

Can that be right? Is the Christian life a pathway to health and prosperity? Here is Jesus to tell us the plain, unvarnished truth. Here in 8:31-9:1, he gives us the straight story. Although the disciples are finally thinking along the right lines as far as Jesus’ identity is concerned, they still have no idea what ‘Messiah’ will really mean. So the last thing Jesus wants is for them to rush off and start a misleading advertising campaign – like saying the war will be over by Christmas! This passage sets out the programme for the rest of Mark’s book, as Jesus answers two key questions about himself.

What does it mean that Jesus is the Christ?

Here is the first question. What does it mean that he is Christ? Look at v.31. He ‘began’ to teach them – this is a new start; Jesus hasn’t spoken like this before. This is the first of three occasions when Jesus explains to his followers what his mission is to be – the three ‘passion predictions’. He describes himself as ‘Son of Man’; and at this point that name won’t have sounded like anything special to his disciples. On the face of it, ‘Son of Man’ means little more than ‘human being’. It turns out later that it does have a special significance, as we shall see in full when we reach 13:26 and 14:62, but that is not yet apparent.

The mission of this Messiah is about suffering. Far from accepting him as their rightful Saviour, the Jewish authorities will reject him – the word that’s used in v.31 has the sense of testing something and deciding it is no goodGreek apodokimazo.. The ‘elders, chief priests and teachers of the law’ are the three groups who make up the official Jewish council, the Sanhedrin (13:53-55). They will reject the One who has come to save them and as a result he will be killed. Christ’s death is not an accident, or a miscalculation, but the focal point of God’s plan for him. He must suffer and die; and then he must be raised to life again, for death will not hold him.

This is a dying Messiah, a Christ who embraces death. v.32 tells us Jesus explains this very clearly: previously so much has been veiled in parable, spoken obliquely; but not now. Peter does not like what he hears (v.32b). We can easily imagine the scene: he takes Jesus by the arm and leads him away from the others. Jesus, what are you talking about? You’re upsetting them, talking like this. I know those Pharisees have given you a hard time, and the Temple authorities sent those inspectors to check you out, but what do you mean, you can’t let them kill you! But Jesus’ response to Peter is absolutely uncompromising (v.33). They’ve walked away from the group; Peter has tried to keep their discussion private; but now Jesus turns back to face them all. Peter is not just mistaken; what he has said is dangerous and has to be put right. Again the strong word ‘rebuke’ is used. Once before in his ministry, someone has tried to entice Jesus off course, tried to subvert his mission. Jesus beat Satan off that time (1:13), but now he hears Satan’s voice again, speaking through the chief disciple; and so he says ‘Get behind me’. That doesn’t mean ‘get out of my sight’. It means: your place is not to tell me what to do, Peter, your place is to follow me. So get in line, get behind me. What you are saying is just human ideas, man’s ideas. You must understand that I am following God’s programme. Jesus the Christ has come to lay down his life, in unimaginable love, at unimaginable cost; that is how he will save his people. The path this Messiah follows is a desperately hard one – a pathway of opposition, of hostility, of rejection and ultimately of death.

What does it mean to follow him?

This leads us on to question two. If this is what Jesus’ mission was like, what does it mean to follow him? This is what we need to know if we call ourselves his followers. Is this Christian life an easy option, as some tell us – a crutch? Is it about living a good life? Is it about being healthy and rich? Look at v.34. This scene probably takes place a little later while Jesus is teaching in public. Mark emphasises the presence of the crowd because what Jesus is saying here is not just for an elite group of twelve – it is for everyone who sets out to follow the Lord Jesus. Step by step now, Jesus explains what it means to follow him. It’s laid out for us in four steps.

Step one: the cold headlines (v.34). Jesus uses the same expression he used to Peter when he said ‘Get behind me’. Now it’s ‘if anyone wants to come behind me.’ What is involved? ‘Deny himself does not mean what many think it means today: to ‘deny yourself’ chocolate or to ‘deny yourself’ an extra holiday. This isn’t about giving up something you enjoy. It’s about giving yourself up. It means writing yourself off. The way we are all born and love to operate is to place ourselves at the centre of the universe. Instinctively, we all think we are the most important being in the world and everything else revolves around us. Instinctively, we actually worship ourselves and our achievements. Jesus says, No: my followers don’t do that. If you follow me, you are no longer at the centre. I am at the centre. The last thing that any follower of Jesus will be found doing is boasting about himself and whatever he or she has done. Following Jesus means taking up the cross. Now, however people use this expression today, in the time of Jesus it can mean only one thing. The disciples know exactly what this is referring to. The cross is the Romans’ chosen method of execution. When they sentence someone to be killed on a cross, they force him to take up that cross and carry it to his own execution. That is what Jesus himself will have to do literally, and it is the way that all his followers must be prepared to take. It means that we are prepared to follow our master on the path of suffering. It means that if we are called on, we too will literally be willing to die: blood, toil, tears and sweat. There are no detached observers here, no spectators. If you are a Christian, this is what you have already committed yourself to; for Christian discipleship is shaped and determined by the cross.

Step two, now: the commercial reality (vv.35-37). In language drawn from the commercial world, Jesus explains that following him is actually a good deal. Certainly, when you look at the alternative, it is an extremely good deal. In v.35 the Greek word used can mean either ‘life’ or ‘soul’, so what Jesus is saying is this. If you live for yourself, cling on to your own life, you will lose your soul. You may win here and now, in this life, but in eternity you are the loser. But if you give up your life for me and this message of mine, the gospel, then you will save your soul. You will gain eternal life. You may know the words of Jim Elliot, the missionary to the Auca Indians of Ecuador who was speared to death along with his four friends: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’ We cannot keep this earthly life – it is fleeting, it is passing by so fast. But the Lord Jesus says, if you lay down your life here and now, you will gain what you cannot lose – eternal life. The world may say you are a fool to follow Christ – your friends or family may say the same – but the truth is that he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. By the way, Jim Elliot was only just out of college when he wrote those words in his journal in 1949. He devoted what was left of his life on earth to proving he believed it literally.

In vv.36-37, Jesus reinforces the message. Even if you could gain the whole world, even if everyone loved you and thought you were great, it would do you no good at all if you lost your soul. There is nothing you can give, nothing you can earn or own that will compensate even a tiny bit for losing your chance of eternal life. That is the commercial reality. That is why following Jesus Christ is the best bargain we can ever find.

Jesus continues with step three: the clear warning (v.38). There is that name again – the ‘Son of Man’. Now the title begins to be invested with a fuller meaning. This Son of Man is returning one day, not now to be humiliated and shamed, rejected and killed, but in the glory of his Father God and with the angel armies. In this reference we begin to see the Son of Man figure that the prophet Daniel saw in his vision – Daniel 7:13-14 – the one to whom God gives authority, glory and sovereign power, so that people from all nations and every language bow down and worship him. This Son of Man is returning to the earth in glory as the judge; and he will judge everyone according to whether they have followed him or opposed him. When Jesus Christ comes back to the earth, there will be just one question. Were you with him or against him? That’s what he means by being ashamed of him and his words: it’s asking the question: Are you glad to associate with Jesus, or do you push his message away and say he’s not for me? If we say that, then he in turn will push us away when he returns. From that rejection there will be no appeal and no reply.

Finally, to step four: the comforting promise (9:1). Mark has his people in Rome, where he’s writing; and they know about the suffering, they know about the blood and sweat and tears; and Mark is telling them here, Look: this is normal. This is what the Master told us about. He told us, also, that he is coming back in power and glory as the judge of all the earth – and then, all your suffering will be rewarded. But their question would be, How do we know this? How do we know that this glorious return of Jesus will actually happen? Maybe we have the same question. Perhaps as a Christian you have your doubts that Jesus will ever return in glory. Here is the answer that proves it will happen.

Now what is Jesus referring to here? What does he mean that some of his listeners that day will live to see the Kingdom of God come with power? Commentators have reached different conclusions about that. But I believe Jesus is speaking of what is just going to happen. A week after this, Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain and there they see him revealed in heavenly glory (9:2-8). For Mark, the ‘kingdom of God’ (9:1) is always closely bound up with the person of Jesus himself. So Jesus might as well be saying, ‘You’re going to see me revealed in power’. The second pointer is the way that Peter writes about this episode later, in one of his letters. Remember that Peter is probably the source of Mark’s information. In 2 Peter 1:16-18, Peter talks about the future coming of the Lord Jesus in terms of the glory that they saw on the mountain that day. That event – what we call the transfiguration – looks a bit like what it will be when the Lord Jesus returns. So Peter links the two events closely together. The third pointer is simply the way Mark writes it: straight after Jesus makes this promise, he says: And six days later, this happens. All this suggests that the transfiguration is exactly what Jesus is promising. Three of the people he is speaking to will see his power and glory revealed – the power and glory which we will all see, in full, on the day when he comes to judge his enemies, save his people and welcome us into the home which he has long been preparing for us. It proves it: it is going to happen.

One day, Jesus will return, and we will be asked the question, What did you do with Jesus? Were you ashamed of him, did you reject him? Or do you belong to him, have you loved him, have you followed him? That’s the decisive question for all of us, for all eternity. Do we know what it means to follow him? Look back at v.34. Discipleship means Jesus Christ at the centre, not me; not me at all, not even a little bit. We set ourselves to follow the Master on a path of suffering, and sacrifice, and even death; we follow our leader through suffering to glory; and it’s worth it!