“It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it. (40.59 – 40.60)” — Alexander Dumas
D’Artagnan was a young man whose dream was to join the Kings body guards. When he goes to Paris, he is given the run around. When he runs into a few of the Musketeers, unbeknownst to him, by challenging them each to duels. They end up teaming up to defeat the Cardinals guards who had interrupted their duels.
D’Artagnan befriends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, the Three Musketeers. Athos is a calculated man. “Athos…never gave his advice before it was demanded and even then it must be demanded twice. ‘In general, people only ask for advice,’ he said ‘that they may not follow it or if they should follow it that they may have somebody to blame for having given it’” writes Dumas. The strong, reserved, soft spoken leader. He becomes a father-figure to D’Artagnan.
Unlike the Disney version, Dumas’ novel paints a more chaotic plot. It’s not the Cardinal vs. the Musketeers in the book. The Cardinal, near the end of the book offers D’Artagnan the commission and leadership he has been seeking from the beginning…all he had to do was sign on the line. He paused as he left the room, weighing the results of his decision and this was the thought that went through his mind: “It was this fear that restrained him, so powerful is the influence of a truly great character on all that surrounds it.”. The great character was Athos he was thinking of. The influence was the decision not to sign the commission. He knew that should he sign, Athos would renounce him. Truly great characters change the actions of everyone around them!
Mark 9.2 begins with the words “after 6 days”. What is the deal with waiting almost a week? As discussed previously, Mark is a fast paced book. And also discussed elsewhere, Mark is all about identifying Jesus as the Son of God. His book begins with the statement: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”(Mark 1) and climaxes with the Roman Centurion at the base of the cross exclaiming “surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15). Right smack dab in the middle of the book, Peter makes the confession “You are the Messiah.” (8.29) So there is the confession.
Then Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his death. He would do so in chapters 8, 9, 10. Mark 8 serves as a tipping point in the Gospel. It is the fulcrum that balances the entirity of the book. The confession and the prediction are where the two purposes of Jesus come together. His action and identity. In Mark 1, Jesus declares: “I have come to preach.” (1.38) In Mark 10, Jesus says that he came “not to be serve but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many.” (10.45) The middle of chapter 8 begins a section of the book that serves as central teaching to Jesus’ ministry.
Finally, on top of the confession of Peter and the prediction of Jesus, there is the teaching of Jesus at the end of chapter 8. The confession and prediction mean little if there isn’t anything that becomes of it. Jesus reiterates that this is not just a teaching or a lesson, it is a pattern of life. Jesus wants his disciples to know that it doesn’t end with his cross, but ends with ours. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)
The whole book has been racing along and now all the information about Jesus that is needed has been communicated…then he hits the brakes for 6 days. For an impatient man like Mark, I bet 6 days seemed like eternity. If you have ever taught 6th graders or trained a horse, you would understand what Mark is doing. Its called “think time”. Letting the message sit and rest for a period, preventing overload of information. If you have ever tried to teach someone how to play pitch, you know the look of overload. So he takes a break.
Then the story picks up with the Three Musketeers. They head up the mountain, alone, with Jesus. Think of how many great moments have happened on mountain tops.
- The Ark came to rest on Ararat (Gen 8.4)
- Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah (Genesis 22)
- Moses was given the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20)
- The Blessings and Curses came from Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (Deut. 11)
- David built his city, Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion (2 Samuel 5.7)
- Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18)
- Jesus gave his sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5)
Every ancient culture, the pyramids of Egypt, the Ziggurats of Sumer, the temples of the Mayans, the gods on Mt. Olympus for the Greeks, believed that Mountains were where man met with God. So there is some theology wrapped up in their trek up the mountain.
When the reached the summit, Jesus was transfigured before them. Essentially, he started radiating. There isn’t a whole lot more to this word than what comes to your mind at first. He became really shinny. That’s when two other men showed up: Moses and Elijah. Neither were unfamiliar with mountain top moments as seen above. The list above, however, left off two very important moments. The first being Moses’ Mt. Sinai experience in Exodus 34. The second was Elijah’s Mt. Sinai moment in 1 Kings 19. I will deal with each in turn.
Exodus 34 recounts a 40 day stay atop Mt. Sinai by Moses. The purpose of this ascent was two-fold. Primarily it was to make good on God’s promise to Moses in the previous chapter to show him His glory. Second, it was to renew the 10 commandments and the stones Moses had broken in anger the first time he was up on Sinai. God meets Moses and “passes by” him making a statement about his identity.
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (34.6-8)
This meeting has been discussed more elsewhere, but for the purpose of this piec it can be said that Moses met God in Sinai.
On the same mountain, many years later, Elijah stands after a 40 day journey (1 Kings 19.8). He too meets with God. He is exhausted standing and speaking for God against a corrupt royalty and a stubborn nation. He had wished for death before coming to the mountain (19.4) but now he has a hearing with God where he offers his complaint. He says that he is the only faithful one in Israel and that won’t last long if Ahab gets his way. So God responds:
“Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (19.11)
And God did so in the following verses. He wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the subsequent whisper. There it is again; the idea of God “passing by” which brings us to Mark 9.
Peter and the guys are frightened by the dazzling sight before them. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking in front of them. So Peter speaks up while scared. He wants to build shelters for them.
God ends up speaking in verse 7, putting a halt to Peter’s idea, with His statement: “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The two men on the mountain with Jesus are no strangers to mountain top moments. And with each of their encounters there was the presence of the Lord and the voice of the Lord. Mark 9 has God speaking and God presence, through and in the person of Jesus.
The Three Musketeers were shown Jesus identity as the Son of God and his relationship with God.
And once again they were told to keep it quiet (Mark 9.8).