After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:2-9
This passage is fascinating to me. The Transfiguration is a powerful moment in the Gospel of Mark. It literally is a high point. Try to imagine what it must have been like for the disciples, standing with Jesus, and witnessing this remarkable moment. I’d imagine some sort of euphoric response, and we see as much when Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” His heart was right – He wanted to honor Jesus (and Elijah and Moses as well).
In verse 9, they descend the mountain, the experience is over. People see Jesus – and they are filled with wonder. But the most interesting part is this descent from the mountaintop experience down the hill, and toward what would soon be death on a cross. Not only is that down from the mountain, it’s really down from the mountain. Perhaps you’ve had a mountaintop experience that seemed beautiful and amazing, and then a really dark time afterward.
Jesus had already “gone down from the mountain” once (from glory) to the earthiness of a sinful world, to do what He was there to do. He modeled a concept that is so counterintuitive we often miss it: The way up is the way down. Jesus allowed the disciples to see Him in all His radiant glory, and then He came off the mountain and headed towards an ugly cross. Through the glory of the cross, He ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The Spirit now lives within us, guiding us each step of our journey. Because He descended in order to ascend, once and for all. This is the way of Jesus.
It seems counterintuitive, and indeed, it is – but the way of Jesus means the way up (eventually) is the way down (currently). Suffering is a part of the life of an apprentice of Jesus. His disciples in the first century suffered, and his disciples today do as well. Following Jesus isn’t all “up and to the right” – it often seems like (and is) a perilous journey. But as we face our brokenness, embrace suffering, and seek to live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, He begins to refine us, shape us, form and mold us, and slowly but surely, a masterpiece appears. It’s through the hard work of suffering that we see His glory, once and for all.
The way of the cross is earthy, rugged, and not always fun, despite what that TV preacher may say. Take a few moments and reflect on how a difficult season in life shaped you for the better. Ask yourself, “am I truly willing to embrace the way of the cross?” After all, the way up is the way down.
The grey, the icy rain that wraps itself around
Our broken dreams, our whispered destinies It shrouds
When all the empty bottles up along the wall
Can capture melodic reverberating sounds
It tells that the way up is the way down
I find it difficult to execute the hours
When our entire lives are spent ascending towers
To find out the way up is the way down
By Larry Boatright