Sermon Summary from June 25, 2017
Mark 9:2-29 (NIV) • Pastor Tim Tseng
Discipleship is a three-step journey to mission.
This week, I invite us to look at Jesus’ transfiguration and the following episode from the perspective of a disciple. From the mountain top experience to the valley below, Mark 9:2-29 shows us that following Jesus is a three-step journey to mission.
I. Step One: Encountering Jesus on the Mountain Top (vv 2-8)
Can you remember the last time you had a mountain top experience? For Peter, James, and John, the transfiguration confirmed their confession that Jesus is the Messiah. There may have been doubts since Jesus did not teach or behave like the vindicating, warrior Messiah that they expected. Instead, Jesus preached against the exclusivity and nationalism of the Pharisees. Instead, Jesus welcomed the marginalized by healing lepers and Gentiles and by casting out demons. Instead, Jesus practiced applied grace.
But on that mountain top, Jesus also revealed that he was indeed a powerful Messiah with divine qualities. At the transfiguration, his robes became whiter than bleached clothing as Moses and Elijah appeared by his side. Their appearance proved that Jesus was rooted in the history of Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promise to them.
In verse 7, a voice came from the cloud announced: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” This demonstrated to the disciples that Jesus’ teachings and authority now also superseded that of Moses and Elijah.
For us, our mountain top experience with God ought to confirm our faith in Jesus. For me, attending Urbana 1981 was my mountain top experience that confirmed my calling. For many college students, the exposure to Christian community and more substantive teaching creates a mountain top experience.
II. Step Two: Reflecting on the Encounter (vv. 9-13)
As Jesus and the disciples came down the mountain, they talked and talked. Jesus still wanted his disciples to keep quiet about what they saw. The disciples, in turn, wondered about the meaning of the resurrection. And then they got into a discussion about interpreting whether the prophecy of the new Elijah had been fulfilled (see Malachi 4:5). Jesus says that in John the Baptist, the new Elijah had come and, therefore, the day of the Lord was at hand.
To us, these conversations may not feel relevant, but what is significant is that Jesus encouraged theological reflection. He did not expect blind obedience. For example, Jesus understood that the teachers of the law, or scribes, were not completely wrong even though Jesus was opposed to them (v. 12). Not everything is “black and white.”
So, Jesus encourages all his disciples to take time to reflect on their faith and upon Scripture. Unfortunately, one of the biggest scandal today is the scandal of the evangelical mind. According to evangelical historian Mark Noll (who taught at Wheaton College and Notre Dame), “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that the is not much of a mind to begin with.” In too many of our churches, in order to avoid controversy and maintain harmony, church leaders had decided to reject critical thinking and theological reflection. Consequently, evangelical Christians have chosen to “check their brains at the door” in favor of passion and mission. The rise of Christian anti-intellectualism has led to an inability to discern the spirits of the day. And as a result, Christians have been “brain-washed” to follow both right, middle, and left wing ideologies.
I believe that Jesus’ willingness to permit and engage in difficulty conversations around biblical interpretation and theology is exactly the kind of attitude that must be renewed in our Asian American churches. And the best time to do so is now. Perhaps teens have the most time to learn how to think theologically, but I hope and pray that we’ll all invest time in reflection regardless of which life stage we’re in.
In addition to discernment, another compelling reason for reflection is to help lay the foundation for mission.
3. Step Three: Engaging the struggle to Proclaim the Gospel (vv 14-29)
The third step of discipleship is to come down the mountain and into the valley. In the valley, there are so many needs. Disciples must not stay on the mountain top because we all have a mission to do. And as verses 14-29 indicate, the mission is difficult. It is a struggle to see God’s power at work – and sometimes, we fail.
We fail when we don’t reflect carefully about how we do mission. How many times in the history of Christianity has the church failed to effectively share the gospel when (a) the gospel message is confused with the cultural assumptions of the evangelist and (b) imposed without giving the persons evangelized a chance to ask questions? One of the great failures of Christian apologetics today is the creation of and subsequent trashing of straw man arguments in order to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity truth. Good theological reflection and empathetic sensitivity to the people we reach out to makes all the difference!
So does prayer (v 29)! In fact, prayer, in the face of failure, forces us to open our hearts and minds to God’s leading. It forces us not to lean on our own power and wisdom,
4. Mission is at the heart of discipleship
In conclusion, this passage reveals the importance of a three-step process of discipleship and spiritual growth. At the heart is mission. My dream for Canaan’s English Ministry is for a revival of this understanding in all our encounters here. Can our fellowship and small groups make mission the purpose for gathering? Can we always think about reaching out to unchurched people first before thinking about our own needs for community?
And in the end, in order to stay focused on mission – and to sustain ourselves in mission – we must regularly encounter Jesus and do theological reflection. May it be so! Amen.
Addendum: Amy Grant’s “Mountain Top” lyrics for bridge
Still I’d love to live on a mountain top
Fellowshipping with the Lord
I’d love to stand on a mountain top
‘Cause I love to feel my spirit soar!
But I’ve got to come down from that mountain top
To the people in the valley below
Or they’ll never know that they can go
To the mountain of the Lord!
Go to: https://youtu.be/AqiFNierwQY