The Sea

7bfd144ad54db0b909fd94e25812cdd8“For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is for breaking a man, even though he may a very strong one.”― Homer

Odysseus has survived the Trojan war.  Ten years of battles and ten years since he last saw his family.  Just when the reader believes the most dangerous parts of life are behind Odysseus, he begins his journey home.  They sail home becomes more treacherous than battling the Trojans.  He was nearly lured into a ship wreck by the beautiful song of the sirens.  Poseidon sends a storm to punish him for blinding his son the cyclopes.  They safely navigate the whirlpool of Charybdis, but in doing so run into the sea monster Scylla.  it would seem that the sea is trying to kill him more so than the Trojans.

American’s are bombarded with Carnival and Disney cruises.  But on the backside of those commercials, Discovery runs the promotions for Deadliest Catch.  Now there is a show that shows the sea as trying to kill everyone involved.  It’s cold and wet and stormy.  It’s dangerous.  Peter has a similar experience on the sea.

In Matthew 14, the disciples and Jesus (and a lot of other people) have been in the countryside.  They have seen the greatness of Jesus in the 5 loaves and 2 fish; feeding the crowd of five-thousand.  They were surprised by this, but not in awe.  He sends the disciples across the Lake of Gennesaret/Sea of Galilee.  To the crowd; he sends them home.  Jesus head up the mountainside to pray (Matthew 14.22-23).

There are two types of storms this life brings.  The first is physical.  The boat is a “considerable distance from the land” and there wasn’t a whole lot his disciples could do about it because “the wind” was against it.  Storms can arise quickly, especially with the geography of Palestine.  It’s like a bad version of Gilligan’s Island.  A simple trip across the sea, has turned into a battle for survival.  This physical storm is evoking a crisis.  Scripture makes it clear that one battle that we must fight as we traverse this earth, its the physical one.  Bodies break down, thistles grow, pain and suffering abound.  We have to watch loved ones die and struggle.  There is definitely a physical battle.

The second battle is the spiritual one.  In the mean time, Jesus has walked out to them.  After a few words between the disciples and Jesus, Peter speaks up: “Tell me to come to you on the water.” To which Jesus reply’s: “come!”  Peter steps out of the boat.  The water holds him…for a moment.  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Peter was doing well and then a spiritual storm arises.  He looked around, lost sight of Jesus, saw the power of the storm; and he began to sink.  Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” was Jesus question.  Doubt had crept in and a storm arose.  Spiritual storms can arise just as fast as physical ones.  People deal with spiritual storms in different ways, but they only get resolved at the feet of Jesus, whether or not they’re in the water.

Jesus is the answer to the storm.  When the disciples first had to deal with the store and the confusion of seeing Jesus, it was the sound of his voice that calms them.  They are “terrified” and “gripped” with fear.  But Jesus calmed their fears: “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.” (27)  The greek renders the middle clause, “It is I”, as “I am!”  In the midst of this storm, “I am!” is present with them.  The importance cant be overstated.  The One who parted the waters, enacted the plagues, and walked with His people, is present.  “I am!” is with them.  This is the same book, Matthew that begins with “Emmanuel, God with us.”  And ends with: “Behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Here in the midst of the storm, Jesus is standing next to us.  When Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. (31)  “Immediately” it says that Jesus saved him from the storm.  “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down…”(32)  The physical storm is taken care of.   Jesus has calmed another one.  “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (33)  Now the spiritual storm is resolved.  

Look back on the storm and worship.  The importance of this story lies in the perspective.  In the midst of everything happening, the focus is on the storm or the reactions.  The focus is on the interactions between the guys and what was going on as the boat is rocking against the waves.  But verse 33 shows that the focus the whole time needed to be Jesus.  It was only when Peter began looking at the storm around him that he began to sink.  But in retrospect, the disciples and Peter are able to look back on their experience and worship.  Some of David’s finest Psalms came when looking back on serious trials.  The greatest speeches in the Bible, with the most passionate language of worship, come at the end of lives, as they look back on years of storms.

The storms that come in life are there to reveal where our focus and where our trust is found.  Peter found out a lot about himself on the sea, just like he found out a lot about Jesus.  In Hemmingway’s book, The Old Man and the Sea, the sea provided a place where the old man was once again asked to learn some things.  Peter is learning on the Sea of Galilee.  He’s learning the why? of worship.

 

Two Parades

Peanut-Thanksgiving-Macys-Parade-November-MACYSPARADE1117I’m not a parade person.  I don’t like crowds.  Kansas parade season is October-March which is usually cold.  Finally, watching a bunch of children run toward a bunch of moving vehicles chasing candy seems like a recipe for disaster.  Many others love parades.  North Topekan’s love parades.  By my last count, North Topeka has at least 5 parades between October and December and my friends love them all.  One thing is for certain, parades attract a crowd.  When a parade wanders by, heads pop out of windows, people stop and stare, and people crowd to the doors.  The same is true regardless of what century you lived in.  Every parade draws a crowd but every parade is essentially the same.  Animals, tiny cars, marching bands, clowns, floats, and candy.  But the two parades at the end of Luke couldn’t be more different.

The first one took place on Sunday; the other on Friday.  The first, came down the country road from Mount of Olives into the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19.28); the other began in the city and wound its way through the crowded streets to just outside the city.

They juxtapose each other.  The first being the idea of carried.  Jesus sent 2 disciples ahead of him to get a donkey colt for him to ride on.  Near as I can tell, this was the only time that Jesus rode.  But it was to fulfill prophecy:

See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9.9)

Zechariah is talking about how the King will ride in on a donkey, carried into the city on a colt.  That was the significance of the palm leaves that we often wave in church on Palm Sunday.  It was a sign of victory and this Parade is a celebration of the King.  In the second parade, Jesus is carrying his cross.  The soldiers pull a man from the crowd and make him carry the cross.  The greek word “made carry” [pheroo] is the same word that Mark uses in chapter 11 when they “brought” the colt to Jesus to ride.  In the first, the colt is bearing Jesus; the second, Jesus is bearing the cross.

The second parade is full of mourning and wailing (23.27); the first, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God…” (19.37)  The second parade chanted: “Crucify him!  Crucify him!; the first, “Hosanna!” (Matthew 21.9)  The irony is palpable.  The second cried out: “Kill him” while the first shouted “he saves!”  These crowds are as opposite as you could come up with.   They are as opposite as the direction they are heading and the purpose they serve.  The first parade was a victory parade with palm leaves, worthy of a King’s inauguration, the second was a death march with the condemned leading the way.

They each have a scripture, but they are at odds with one another. The first parade, the one of victory, quotes Psalm 118.26: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”  The verse that follows in Psalms reads: “The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.”  The crowd is relishing their connection with Scripture, interacting with and taking part in God’s word.  This day the Lord has saved those one thought to be rejected…and its worth a celebration.  The second crowd wasn’t shouting their scripture but heard Jesus quote it.  The weeping, wailing, and shouting of the second parade was met with this quote from Hosea: “they will say to the mountains, ‘fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘cover us!'” (Hosea 10.8)  It’s taken from a section of scripture where Hosea is laying out the sins of Israel and the punishment that is coming.  Jesus sees this future as well.  One is a celebration of the future, the other is a dreading of the future.

So many differences in the two parades that happened just under a week apart.

But one thing was the same.  This was festival time for the nation of Israel.  It was a week long festival where people would come to the city and stay.  What was the same?  The same voices who shouted “victory” on Sunday would be the one shouting “crucify” on Friday.  The same ones waving palm leaves the first day of the week would be holding hammers and nails by the 6th.  The same ones embracing Jesus as King on Sunday would be crucifying Jesus as criminal by Friday.

We want to judge those in the easily influenced and simple minded crowd until we realize the transition in my life doesn’t always take 5 days…it can happen in seconds.

Down the Road

100_6520_0010 On the road is where people mingle, meet, and interact.

He introduced himself as Santa Clause in the middle of the Frankfurt, Germany terminal.  It was 2-in-the-morning-ish but you couldn’t tell from his demeanor.  He had a banjo.  He was was a missionary headed to India to spread the gospel by banjo-ing.  It was 2011.

A few years later, wandering down a  crowded walkway at the International Conference of Missions, I bump into a portly man sporting a grey beard and a familiar banjo.  It was Santa Claus.  He says “I remember you!”   It was odd because of the two of us, I figured I would be the one more easily forgettable.  Had I not gone out on the road, I never would meet such interesting people.

The same can be said for Jesus.  Luke 9.51 reads:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

The NIV renders the phrase ‘resolutely set out’ translating a greek idiom.  The greek literally reads: he “established his face toward Jerusalem”.  The idea is that he would not be deterred from making his way to Jerusalem.  This verse begins a section of Luke that would be called the Travel Narrative by scholars.  The reason is that Jesus is continually traveling up to Jerusalem.  Along the way he keeps meeting people.  Also of note is that the material contained in Luke 9-19, the Travel Narrative, is largely unique to Luke and not found in other Gospels.  What fascinates me is what these people who meet Jesus leave with.

Some left with teaching.  “As they walked along the road…” (10.57), “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and loks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'” (10.62) They learn the cost of following Jesus.  He teaches them about prayer, the how and the why (11) and on worry (12.22ff).  As he “went through towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem…”(13.22), “he said to them, ‘make every effort to enter through the narrow door…” (13.23ff), teaching them the difficulty of salvation.  “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said…whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (14.25,27,33)  He touched on eternal life (10.25; 18.18); hypocrisy (12.1); and the Sabbath (13.15).  Some meet Jesus on the road and need some wisdom.  His message is clear, “here’s how to be a disciple!” which is the perfect message given that the stage is a road, where discipleship is shown.

Some left with healing.  There were some that shown up on this road with some physical baggage that needed to be handled.  There was the man who had the demon (11.14); a crippled woman (13.11); a man with swelling (14.2); and the Ten Lepers (17.11).  He was on his way to Jerusalem, but it was never beyond his time to show mercy and compassion to these people.  Healing would always have a place and time on this road.  These people knew that meeting Jesus would change their lives.  That is why the last healing, the blind beggar in Jericho, was one that was instigated by a man shouting out Jesus name and causing a scene.  When all you have known your entire life is blindness and begging, Jesus is your only viable option and you would do what you could to get to him. (18.35)

Some left with a story.  This travel narrative is full of stories.  Jesus is constantly telling these short stories that make a point.  Jesus knew that stories stick with people so he uses this method to change people.  The stories are the ones that everyone grew up with…

  • “There was a man who had two sons…” (Luke 15)
  • “A certain man was preparing a great banquet…” (Luke 14)
  • “The Kingdom is like a mustard seed…” (Luke 13)
  • “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them…” (Luke 15)
  • “Two men went up to the temple to pray…” (Luke 18)

And there are others on the road.  A parable is a simple story with a deeper significance.  Each of these stories were meant to teach a truth to the person(s) there.  The prodigal son puts the love of God and the pride of righteousness on display.  The great banquet is a meal open to anyone who will respond.  The mustard seed is 12 men who changed the world.  The lost sheep is the persistent love of God.  The Pharisee and Tax collector offer insight into pride and hubris.  I’m going to borrow a term from Aristotle to describe the literary device that Jesus employs.   The term is anagnorisis which means “discovery”.  Nearly every story begins by our identification with the hero of the story, the good son or the Pharisee, but by the end of the story, we realize that we have problems.  In an instant, we discover that maybe we don’t have it all together.

So there he is on the road.  Wandering back and forth between the countryside and Jerusalem.  He is meeting and walking with any who would take the time to come to him.  What is it that you need to meet Jesus on this road about?  Do you need teaching?  A reminder concerning worry, prayer, discipleship?  Maybe it’s healing?  Do you need his power to overcome depression or addiction?  Maybe it’s a story?  Perhaps you just need to meet him to get a good story?

Its time we get out and meet him on the road.

 

Twix

DDFC98DD-975D-428F-AA77-8EC4A2E00DE9Dear Mars.com,

Since you began your right Twix vs left Twix campaign, this philosophical distinction has brought forth a serious question: what constitutes a Twix bar? Is it one candy bar made of two parts or two parts packaged together? If packaged for Halloween candy it is a single bar named Twix, but if it’s got two bars it is still Twix. This is a question with philosophical implications, so I come to the source! What is the real name of your candy bar and how should we refer to a single Twix candy bar? I humbly wait for your reply and will wait to rely on your expertise.

Sincerely,

Travis Long

Skittles are plural.  M and M’s are as well.  Twix carries with it an immense amount of ambiguity.  Is it one or two? (Or 4 in the case of King Size)?  If each side of Twix is going to obtain an individual personality, where does that leave us?  To sentient individuals or one scidzophrenic?

Where Resees seems to be uniting us (see the previous two posts); Twix seems content to drive a wedge in.  Let’s just say that in some instances Jesus brought the duct tape, but in others he brought a pry bar.

One key concept in the book of John is division.  John understands that sometimes discipleship is moved forward by people being added to the number, and other times it happens by others leaving.

John uses division as a iteray device.  The whole purpose of Johns book is found in chapter 20:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (30-31)

Johns gospel brings the reader to the crossroad where a decision needs to be made about “who Jesus is?”  But throughout the book, people have been brought to the line of decision.

  • John 6, Jesus teaches on the life that he alone can give and the people divide (6.60,66)
  • The crowds and even his family don’t know what to do with his abscence at the festival. (7.12)
  • Jesus teaches from God’s authority and above Moses’ in the Temple and the people are divided. (7.30-31)
  • The Pharisees are up in arms and division I’ve how Jesus can heal blindness.  The real issue is Jesus place of origin. (9.16ff.)
  • Then the apex of the book, the antithesis of the thesis statement in chapter 12, “after Jesus has done all these  miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe…”(John 12.37-42)

Like Col. Travis or Jean Luc Picard drawing a line in the sand, Jesus has clearly declared the two sides. But there is an interesting dynamic at work here.

When a line is drawn, battle, political, or ideological, the image at the forefront of your mind is often of two sides, yelling at each other while encroaching upon the line.  They are two opposing forces bent over the line with bulging veins in their forheads and necks, screaming obscenities at one another.  That is not the case here.

Certainly, the battle over the identity of Jesus is as real and vital as it had ever been.  John’s excessive use of metaphor shows this.  Life and death; light and dark; the city of God and the World.  But it is not two sides attacking one another.

Instead, it is two lines that are not attacking each other but ignoring one another.  It’s like everyone is standing with their backs to the line.  The groups never really enter debate about Jesus’ identity, but instead ask searching questions.  With each inquiry, individuals on either side of the line step backward over it, switching positions, or stepping forward strengthening their position and allegiance.

This “cross-the-line” mentality is paramount for Johns gospel because of his stance on culture.  Of the New Testament authors, John’s position on how a follower of Christ should interact with the world around him is firmest and recessive.  Jokingly it’s hard to figure out whether John turned his back on the world, “Do not love the world or anything in it…”(1 John 2.15), or the world turned its back on him, he was “…on the island of Patmos beacause of the word of God.” (Rev. 1.9)  Johns attitude is withdrawal.

Paul takes a much softer position.  “I have become all things…” (1 Cor. 9.22); using his political position (Acts 22.22-30; 25.11-12); and quoting the philosophers of the day (Acts 17.28) and referencing their gods (Acts 17.23).  Paul utilizes culture in order to transform culture (Romans 12.1-2).  But this study is for another time and place (and one that I hope warrants time and discussion here).

Johns division is between the followers of Christ and the world that surrounds them.  John is certain that believers are to be seperate from the world in far not ways than where they spend 2 hours on Sunday morning.

It’s in the way we tallk;  the content of of our conversations.  Listened to two high school boys use the f-word 18 different times in 6 sentences and in four different parts of speech in 6 sentences, the other day.  I didn’t know whether to get me a dictionary so I really knew what the word meant, or to get them a thesaurus so the could learn a new word.

It’s the way we parent and serve in schools.  It bothers me that PTO is such poorly attended and how hard schools have too look when the numbers suggest how many Christian parents are connected to the school.  It is disconcerting as to how many single parents lack support from the church in raising their kids.  I struggle with how many parents feel like the are on an island in raising their kids.  Christians are called to be different.

It is in the books that are kept.  It’s the amazon accounts, credit card debt, Craigslist addiction, and Cabelas points.  “Stuff” is a currency all by itself now a days.  Followers of Christ, and their stuff, the amount, how it’s used, and how it is obtained, is one way that they are divided from the world.

Twix has it right, the followers need to be distinct from the world. We may be in the same package as the world, breathing the same oxygen, living in the same space, struggling with the same sins, but John knows we are not the same!

Ps.  Still no reply from Mars or Hershey!

Resees (part 2)

C35C32A3-95D9-4425-94E5-8BD84D0D4970The theology of today is the downstream result of the philosophy of 10 years ago.

I’m behind the times a little and I will admit that I originally didn’t see the danger of the movement.  I know that I have a book from about 10 years ago with the title: More Jesus, Less Religion. The more common statement was:  “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”

I got into a disagreement with a cowboy pastor a few years back over his gratuitous use of this bumper-sticker Christianity.  He told me that apologetics, doctrine, and religion were of little use today.  I asked him to tell me about Jesus.  He began by saying that Jesus was the son of God.  I then asked him who God was?  Every time he began a statement I reminded him that he was making a doctrinal statement.

Relationship is defined by doctrine.  Who’s in the relationship?  The identity of the two parties?  How do they interact, communicate?

Whether it is a spouse, parent, child, friend, stranger, or alien, whatever method of contact, relationships are based upon timeless truths and rules.

When we think correctly about God, our lives will align correctly in Him.

This thinking is what motivated Jesus to pray: “I am the true vine…remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15.1,4). Jesus knew that a key to unity is a common source.  It’s the same principle that unites our country every 4 years during the olympics, the same principle that unites college alumni all over the country, and the same principle that makes Texans so annoying!

A common bond, found in a common source, is what Jesus is identifying here.  He is the common source and he knows that when unity will be challenged, their connection to him will be in call.

I have seen it in Youth Groups.  When a youth group starts focusing on the youth band or what the next fellowship gathering is going to be instead of Jesus, their  unifying source has been eradicated.

I have seen it in churches.  When the discussions begin to focus on worship styles, or what the Pastor’s wearing (tie vs. no tie), or even the addition of a Sunday school class, the source has been severed from the people.

I have seen it in small groups when meetings turn into bbq’s and fishing excursions instead of opening God’s Word and looking for Jesus, the source, the vine has been weed whacked.

So Jesus prays: “Remain…”

The formula from verse 5 is pretty simple.  Jesus is the vine; we are the branches.  Apart from him, we can do nothing.  (15.5) As long as we stay connected to the source, unity will prevail.  Three legged races, under ware races, or blob tag is a living picture of what a common source can result in.  It may not always be pretty, nor will it be easy, but a common source will direct unity.

That is why doctrine is paramount.  And not just any doctrine, but sound doctrine.  Paul makes it a priority for Timothy and Jon makes it central to his book.  The question of “who is Jesus?” is every bit as much a doctrine question as it is a relationship question!  So before the touchy-feely people take over theology, let’s explore first how sound doctrine can provide unity, prior to radical inclusivity.

Resees

C35C32A3-95D9-4425-94E5-8BD84D0D4970.pngDear Hersey’s Inc.,

I commend you on your transparency.  On your packaging, you clearly state your name “Resees” followed by the number of cups contained in the package.  For this I commend you.  But that begs the question of what a resees really is?  Is it one cup?  Is it a package of 2 cups?  When I buy the package of two at the front of the store, am I buying one Resees or two?  An informed word of authority on your part would bring swift end to my dilemma and my own personal hell over this matter.

Sincerely,

Travis Long

This was the email that I sent to multiple levels of the Hersey organization last week in order to get the ultimate answer to a question that has plagued me for years.  The king size (4 cups), the regular size (2 cups), and the individual (1 cup), all bear the same moniker “Resees”.  Beneath the name they each state how many cups are included.  Do you see the ambiguity and dilemma?  How can one be many and many one?  How can unity and diversity co-exist?

It is most certainly a problem our country is facing on multiple fronts: racially, politically, and economically.  It is a problem facing the church as well: worship style, technologically, preaching style, etc.

What is fascinating about Jesus is how he embraced both unity and diversity.  I first want to focus on the unity.

In his discourse/small group lesson/prayer found in John 14-17, Jesus is addressing his disciples in what is known as the Upper Room discourse.  He is short one disciple as Judas has already left to betray Jesus and lead the mob. (John 14.27-31)

Jesus addresses the remaining 11 with the information they would need soon, when he would be no longer with them.  A major theme of this talk is unity.

One Way

“I am the way and the truth and the life” says Jesus (John 14.6).  One of the best ways to stay unified is to have the same goal and the same plan to get there.  Marines are a brotherhood because every Marine from their inception in 1775, has sweated and bled just like those who have gone before them and those that will follow.  Regardless of time period, their path remains the same because their end goal remains the same: to be the toughest fighting unit in the world!

When the path is the same and exclusive, unity is the result.

That is why empathy is so important.  Two books pointed this out to me.  The first was a book “Season of Life” by Jeffery Marx.  Marx was a towel boy for the old Baltimore Colts.  He grew up around the team but as he grew fell out of touch with the players, even his favorite, Joe Ehrmann, now a minister and high school football coach.  He coaches his teams to be tough, disciplined, and loving.  That’s right, he teaches them to love one another.  Marx follows Ehrmann and his team throughout the season, soaking in lesson after lesson.  Towards the end of the season Ehrmann shares this insight: “To me, the number-one criterion for humanity has to be empathy…when you have empathy, when you can understand the amount of suffering in this world, the pain that so many people are living in, and the causes of all that pain, then you can have a cause beyond yourself.” (128)

Empathy is the ability to travel the path of another, to walk in their shoes and to feel what they feel.  Which brings me to the second book:  Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville.  Rod Allbright is dealing with a problem every 6th grader deals with: a bully.  His bullies name is Billy Becker who counts the number of different types of bugs he can smash into the back of Rods head.  One day Rod is visited by 5 members of the Galactic Patrol sent to Earth to capture the universes most notorious criminal and suddenly hid bully issue seems insignificant.  They use his volcano project to fix their ship and they eat his math homework making his job of keeping them secret harder.  Finally it is realized that his bully and their suspect are one in the same.  When Billy realizes that Rod is helping the patrol, he kidnaps Rod’s twin siblings.  When talking to a worried Madame Pon and crew they reveal that he is wanted for the most heinous crime in the universe.  Rod begins to run through all the crimes he knows and doesn’t even come close.  The crew tells him it is cruelty. Rod wonders if he heard right.

”In the civilized galaxy, cruelty is the greatest of all crimes,’ said Madame Pong…’an intelligent being who takes pleasure in causing pain to others—well, such a being is considered dangerously bent.’

’You must understand,’ msaid Tar Gibbons, ‘that empathy is the heart of civilization…the ability to understand what another feels.’”

Our ability to walk the path of another until our paths meet in Jesus is part of the unity that Jesus applauds.

Think of the group he has assembled around him.  Zealots and tax collectors don’t belong together.  Day workers and the elite.  The poor and the kit cast.  These men are a picture of diversity, yet they came together because of the message, the person, and work of Jesus.  Their unity came from the identical path that they were walking.

by the way I’m still waiting on a new email…tbc.

Three Musketeers (part 2)

41855E78-5DFE-4CCF-A287-4C868050C67C“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).