Is the Christian life really worth the risk?
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose” (October 28, 1949)
Jim became a missionary to Ecuador in South America and married Elizabeth on his 26th birthday (October 8, 1953). Less than three years later, in January 1956, Jim and four missionary companions were killed by the Auca Indians, when Jim was just 28 years old. He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Elliot, and a child not yet one year old.
Was Jim Elliot a fool? Did he lose everything? Or did he gain what cannot be lost? Jim Elliot staked his life, and his death, on these words of Jesus:
Mark 8:35 ESV For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Is the Christian life really worth the risk?
Jesus had called the disciples to follow him. They followed him through his ministry. They saw him heal the sick, open the eyes of the blind, cause the lame to walk, make the deaf to hear, and enable the mute to speak. Jesus’ disciples followed him as he taught, and forgave sins, and cast out demons, and calmed the storms, and fed the multitudes. It was an amazing experience to follow Jesus.
Everyone was talking about Jesus and trying to figure out exactly who he was and how he fit into God’s great plan. Was he Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets? Was he John the Baptist raised from the dead? Jesus had not said. He simply called himself the Son of Man.
But the disciples needed to know who he was. Jesus needed for them to know who he was. And yet, whatever they thought of him, they certainly had no idea of his mission. They had walked with Jesus for many months. He shared his ministry and authority with them. The disciples knew Jesus, but did they really know who he was?
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.
“You are the Christ,” Peter answered.
Exact. Jesus was the Christ. The Christ-Messiah. That means that he was the anointed one, the chosen one, the one whom God had promised to send. And he had come.
The only problem was that the people including the disciples, thought that the Christ-Messiah would be a freedom-fighter to set Israel free from the domination of the Roman Empire.
The Christ had indeed come to set men free, but the freedom that he offered was not political in nature. It was freedom from the slavery of sin. But to set men free, the Christ would have to pay the penalty for sin and break the power of sin by going to the cross. The Christ-Messiah would be crucified. That was a scandal for the Jews. That was not the kind of Messiah that they had expected or wanted.
As soon as the disciples declared that Jesus was the Christ,
Mark 8:31 ESV And he began to teach them [the disciples] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
The death of the Christ was not on the disciples’ radar screen. But they and everyone who would follow Christ, had to know that the way of Christ was the way of the cross:
Mark 8:34-35 ESV And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
The message was incomprehensible. The disciples could not understand. What kind of talk was that? Was Jesus talking in parables? What kind of mystery was this? Jesus will tell them two more times (Mark 9:31; 10:34) that he is going to be killed and after three days rise again,
Mark 9:32 ESV But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
This is not what they expected. This is not what they had signed up for. But then again, they had not chosen him; he had chosen them (John 15:16). “Follow me!” he had said. And so they did.
But now things were becoming clear. Or rather, they were more confused. Before, the disciples thought that they understood, but they had not. Now that they were beginning to understand, it seemed all too confusing. Jesus had talked about a kingdom, the kingdom of God. That sounded great. But now he was talking about suffering, and rejection, and dying, and rising. What did that have to do with the kingdom of God? Denying yourself? Taking up your cross? Losing your life in order to save it? Really? What was that all about?!
Was Jesus really worth the risk?
1. The Three Disciples
Mark 9:2 ESV And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves….
We sometimes have the idea that God loves us all the same, that there are no favorites with God. That seems to be a nice idea, but it flies in the face of the facts. There were the multitudes that followed Jesus. Within the multitudes, there were 72 disciples that Jesus sent out (Luke 10:1,17). Of the 72, there were 12 that followed him more closely and whom he appointed “so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). And of those 12 disciples, there were three who were the closest to him. These three disciples, Peter and James and John, were the inner circle. They saw things and experienced things that the other disciples did not experience.
- Jesus had only allowed Peter and James and John to be with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mark 5:37).
- The night before his crucifixion, Jesus took Peter and James and John to be with him while he prayed, telling the other disciples to wait and “Sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32).
- And here in Mark 9, just one week after telling the disciples that he would suffer and be rejected and die and on the third day rise again, Jesus takes Peter and James and John, the inner circle, to the top of a high mountain, leaving the other disciples below.
These disciples were the core within the core. They were the inner group. Jesus would show them things that he would not show the others. Peter and James and John would be the ones who would help to keep the other disciples together.
1.1. The Transfiguration
Jesus led Peter and James and John
“up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2).
Notice that the text says that Jesus was transfigured “before them.” Now before we consider the meaning of the transfiguration, we should note that it did not take place for Jesus. The transfiguration was for Peter and James and John. Jesus was transfigured “before them,” Mark tells us
Jesus knew what he was all about. He knew what his mission was. He knew why the Father had sent him. He knew before ever creating the universe, that he was “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV).
In coming into the world, he said to his Father, “A body you have prepared for me” so that we might be “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:5, 10).
John 6:38 ESV For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Jesus knew what he was all about. He knew what he was doing. He knew where he had come from. He knew what he had to do. And he knew where he was going.
But the disciples did not understand it. They were in great confusion about the matter. Jesus was not turning out to be the kind of Messiah that they were expecting or had hoped for. Even John the Baptist had asked,
Matthew 11:3 ESV … ”Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Now the disciples were wondering if they should look for another.
The transfiguration was not for Jesus; it was for the disciples. The transfiguration was for Peter and James and John. Again, Mark tells us that Jesus was transfigured “before them.” It was for the benefit of the inner three. It was for the benefit of Peter and James and John. The transfiguration was to strengthen their faith. The message of the transfiguration for the disciples was that though Jesus and his disciples would take the way of the cross, following Jesus was a risk worth taking. Whoever loses his life for Christ’s sake and for the gospel, will save it.
1.2. Jesus Was Transfigured
Mark 9:2-3 ESV …And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.
Luke tells us that
Luke 9:29 ESV And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
Matthew tells us
Matthew 17:2 ESV And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
John, who was one of the three with Jesus on that mountain — John sees something of Christ that he will see again when the resurrected and glorified Christ appears to him in the Book of Revelation:
Rev 1:16 ESV and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter and James and John saw something of the glory of Christ that was his before the foundation of the world. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed,
John 17:5 ESV And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
Luke tells us
Luke 9:32 ESV Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory…
These three disciples are seeing the glory of Christ, both his past glory before coming into the world, and his future glory.
The Apostle Paul says of him,
Philippians 2:6-8 NLT Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
But now, temporarily on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter and James and John are allowed to see the glory of Christ. They are given a vision of his majesty.
It was before these three disciples, Peter and James and John, that Jesus was transfigured, so that they might see the glory that was his before the foundation of the world, so that they would realize that following Christ on the way of the cross was a risk worth taking.
First we see the three disciples. Then we see the two prophets:
2. The Two Prophets
Mark 9:4 ESV And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.
Now this is most remarkable! For what reason do Moses and Elijah need to appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus? Once again, just like the transfiguration of Jesus was for the sake of the disciples, the appearance of Moses and Elijah was for the disciples.
Moses was the famed Law-giver. Moses had climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God. He had received the Law and had given it to the nation of Israel. But Moses had never entered the promised land before. Because of his sin of failing to obey God and honor God before the people, God had not allowed him to enter with the people that he had led for forty years through the wilderness. Moses had climbed Mount Nebo and looked over into the land, but there he died on the mountain, and God buried him. Centuries passed, and now by the grace of God, Moses stands in the land of promise with the very Son of God who had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
Elijah was the bold prophet who had called the people back to the Law. Moses had died, but Elijah did not die. Elijah was carried into the presence of God by a whirlwind. Now Elijah who had not died is back on earth talking with the one who would die for the sins of the world.
2.1. Passing Prophets
It is important that the appearance of Moses and Elijah was temporary. They appear with Jesus on the mountain, but soon disappear. They were not permanent figures. Their work pointing to the coming One, Jesus himself. Their presence on the mountain with Jesus shows the continuity between the Law, the Prophets, and Jesus. Their presence show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
After his resurrection, Jesus would appear to two of his disciples…
Luke 24:27 ESV And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Jesus would tell his disciples,
Luke 24:44 ESV … ”These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Peter would preach at the house of Cornelius,
Acts 10:43 ESV To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Here on the Mount of Transfiguration appear Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. But their appearance is temporary. Just as the Apostle Paul would say in Galatians, now that Christ has come, we are no longer under the Law (Galatians 3:23-25), Moses and Elijah will disappear. Their purpose was fulfilled with Christ. Christ has come.
Romans 10:4 ESV For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Campbell Morgan comments,
Moses’ presence signified that in Jesus the shadows of the law were all fulfilled and now withdrawn. In Jerusalem men were still fighting, not merely for the law of Moses, but for the traditions of the elders, and priests and leaders were still arguing about the tithe of mint and cummin, while here upon the mount was the great law-giver himself, by his presence acknowledging that this glorified One, Who should presently be crucified in the name of the law, did in Himself gather up all that was hinted at, suggested, included in the economy of the past.
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the mountain to show that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. But then, a cloud of glory overshadowed them and Moses and Elijah were removed. Their work was completed in Jesus Christ. “There was no further need for Moses, nor yet for Elijah.”
2.2. A Message from Heaven
In this appearance of Moses and Elijah, we see not only the temporary provisional nature of the Law and the Prophets pointing to Christ, we also see something of the nature of our future heavenly existence.
- We do not become angels.
Let’s also note that Moses and Elijah did not have wings. Only Luke spells this out so clearly:
Luke 9:30 ESV And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah,
Moses and Elijah are still men. We will ever remain human beings. God did not create us to become angels or gods. There is no evolution from one form to another. God created us to be men and women and thus we will ever be.
- Moses and Elijah are in a conscious state. They are not unconscious. They are not asleep. They are not dead, though Moses had died. As the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8,
2 Corinthians 5:8 NAU to be absent from the body [is] to be at home with the Lord.
Jesus told the Sadducees that…
Matthew 22:32 ESV …the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob…is not God of the dead, but of the living.”
The presence of these men suggested not merely existence after life, but conscious existence, and not conscious existence only, but the continuity of the same existence with enlarged powers.
Peter, James, and John knew Moses and Elijah. Our existence and identity and personality on the other side of this life is not absorbed into a state of nothingness or nirvana. We will know believers that we have known and believers that we have never met before. And we will be known. Our personality and identity will continue in the world to come.
We have seen the three disciples, and the two prophets. Now we turn to the one and only Son.
3. The One and Only Son
Mark 9:5 ESV And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Peter frequently put his mouth in gear before engaging his brain. His method was to act now, think later. One week earlier, he had rebuked Jesus for saying that he would suffer and be rejected and be killed and after three days, rise again.
Matthew 16:22 ESV And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Now, as the three disciples see the glory of Christ, Peter suggests that they make three tabernacles: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
Immediately, Mark tells us,
Mark 9:6 ESV For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
Peter had misspoken. In his attempt to honor Christ and Moses and Elijah, he had dishonored Christ. By suggesting that they make three tents or tabernacles for them, Peter had put his Master on the same level these men of the past.
Today, people are still attempting to put up tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Buddha, one for Confucius, one for Muhammad, one for the Bahá’u’lláh. Some religious leaders are calling for unity. Unity is an important value for the Christian. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one. The Apostle Paul tells us to make every effort to maintain the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:3). God’s purpose is “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10).
But that is where some religious leaders have it so wrong. These leaders want the various religions to deny their distinctives. They call on Christians to deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. They say that if we can deny what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ, what Jesus said about himself as the only way to the Father, and what God has said about his one and only Son as the one that we must listen to and obey, then and only then, can we have unity. They tell us that only if we deny the teachings of Christ, can we be united. That is blasphemous.
Christ is the only one who is great enough to save and unite people from every nation, as Revelation 7:9-10 tells us he will, people
from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Peter was absolutely wrong. No one compares with Jesus. God the Father would rebuke Peter.
3.1. The Father Speaks
Mark 9:7 ESV And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
3.1.1. The Identification of the Son
First, God says, “This is my beloved Son.” Moses and Elijah were servants, but Jesus was the Son of God.
Hebrews 3:5-6 ESV Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
God says of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son.”
3.1.2. The Statement of Divine Satisfaction
In Matthew’s account, we read that God said,
Matthew 17:5 ESV … “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased…”
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he is baptized by John the Baptist and his private life draws to a close, God declares from heaven,
Mark 1:11 ESV … ”You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Now as he approaches the end of his public ministry, again, the Father expresses his divine approval of his Son, but this time God adds, “Listen to him.”
3.1.3. The Father’s Command
Mark 9:7 ESV And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
Build no tabernacles to Moses or Elijah. Their work is finished.
The message of the Book of Hebrews is the supremacy of the Son.
Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…
No other voice is needed. Let all others be silent. No one supersedes the Son of God. No one replaces the Son. Not Muhammad, not Joseph Smith, or Ellen G. White, or the Bahá’u’lláh.
No further prophets will be sent by God to add to his message or modify it or abrogate it or take away from his message. False prophets will come. But what further need have we of prophets when God has spoken by his Son and has told us to listen to him: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
3.1.4. Jesus Only
Mark 9:8 ESV And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
Peter, James, and John look, but Moses is gone. Elijah is gone. The Law and the Prophets had pointed to Christ, but their work is finished. Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. He alone remains. “They no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”
“Jesus only” churches will use this verse while forgetting the previous verse. The voice from heaven did not say, “I am my beloved Son; listen to me.” The Father clearly drew a distinction between himself and the Son: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
The Father makes a distinction between himself and the Son who because he is the Son is of the same nature as the Father. He is not a god, but is “very God of very God.”
Nonetheless, the message of the Transfiguration is “Jesus only.” Peter understood that. He boldly told the religious authorities of Jerusalem:
Acts 4:12 ESV And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
John understood the message of the Transfiguration:
1 John 5:11-12 ESV And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Jesus leaves no room for another other way to God:
John 14:6 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The testimony of the Word of God is this:
1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all…
3.2. The Testimony of the Three
Is following Jesus worth the risk? Peter and James and John certainly believed that it was. Seeing the Lord transfigured before the eyes with the glory that was his before the foundation of the world, convinced them that if they lost their lives for Christ sake, they would save them.
James would seal his testimony with his blood. He would be beheaded by Herod.
John would live a long life, but he would testify,
John 1:14 ESV And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:18 ESV No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Peter speaks of this experience in his second epistle:
2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
Do not ask for a vision. Do not ask for special revelations. Jesus only takes who he wants to take. In the next verse, Peter tells us,
2 Peter 1:19 ESV And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,
The glory of Christ convinced them that “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
The Transfiguration tells us that following Jesus is a risk worth taking.
 G. Campbell Morgan, Crises of the Christ, p. 238-239.
 G. Campbell Morgan, Crises of the Christ, p. 241.
 G. Campbell Morgan, Crises of the Christ, p. 243.
See also “Gospel of Mark”: