“One Degree of Glory to Another”

Carver’s Gap Trail, photo by Peter Nelson

Last week as I was reading through Mark 6 and came across a familiar story but noticed a detail that had never stuck out to me before. The story is in Mark 6:45–52. It’s Mark’s account of when Jesus sends His disciples across the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida, but Jesus stays back. While the disciples are rowing across the sea the water becomes rough. Jesus notices this and decides to nonchalantly walk across the sea. We all know the rest of the story: the disciples see Jesus, think he’s a ghost, Jesus tells them to “chill,” gets in the boat with them, and everything works out fine and dandy (in other Gospel accounts Peter steps out onto the water).

But in Mark’s account of this event there’s a bizarre detail I hadn’t noticed before. Verses 48 and 49 reads this way:

48) And He saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And very early in the morning he came to them walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49) but when they saw him they thought he was a ghost and cried out…

“He meant to pass by them.” What in the world does that mean? Did Jesus literally intend to just stroll on past the disciples to the other side of the sea? Why? Why would Jesus intend to walk past them? Why not just walk to them and ride the rest of the way, especially when He can tell they’re struggling against the wind? This small phrase, “He meant to pass them by,” is so intriguing because there just doesn’t seem to be any reason for why Jesus would mean to pass by His disciples.

In Exodus 33:18 Moses asks God to show him His glory. God responds by telling Moses that no human can see his face and live. So instead, God says He will cause His glory to “pass by” Israel so that they might better know Him and behold His glory. The interesting thing is that this phrase “pass by”, used twice in Exodus 33:22, is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek phrase “pass by” that we see in Mark 6:48 (a from of παρέρχομαι is used in both the Greek Septuagint and New Testament renderings). Is it possible that Jesus had the same purpose in mind as in Exodus 33? That He would intentionally pass by the disciples so that they would see Him on the water and be amazed at His awesome power and glory; but instead the disciples were foolish and when they saw Him thought He was a ghost?

Of course, we can’t know for sure. But to me, this seems to be the best explanation for why Jesus would mean to pass by them. Jesus meant to pass by His disciples, just as God passed by Israel, that they too would see more fully His glory. But why? Why would this be a concern for Jesus?

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another.” This is why God sends His glory passed the people of Israel, it’s why Jesus meant to pass by the Twelve: because when God’s people behold His glory, they themselves are transformed, by grace, into the glorious image of His son! God’s glory being rightly recognized results in His people’s ultimate good. What amazing news!

So what about us? It’s unlikely that Jesus is going to physically pass by us anytime soon. So how do we “[behold] the glory of the Lord” so that we too are “transformed into the same image?” I think there are three primary ways this happens. Three primary ways we behold God’s glory are through:

1) Creation, in which “His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made” [Romans 1:20]. By gazing at the complexity, beauty, and sheer magnitude of creation we behold God’s holiness on display, we behold His glory.

2) The Church. If God truly dwells within each believer, then worshiping together, serving together, mourning and rejoicing together — just walking through life together — can be some of the most tangible ways we witness God’s glory, because we are witnessing it being shown out to the world and being worked out within other believers.

3) Scripture. Bar none, there is no greater place to behold the glory of God. Scripture has been breathed out by God [2 Timothy 3:16]; it was all written that we might have hope in God [Romans 15:4]; it reveals to us who God is through his acts and through Jesus. [Psalm 106:7–8; Hebrews 1:3; John 1:14]. The list goes on, and on, and on. Scripture is an endless fountain of God’s glory.

When God’s people behold His glory, they themselves are transformed, by grace, into the glorious image of His Son. He gets the glory we get the grace! Therefore, let us not wait. Let us do all we can to behold as much of God’s glory as we can. Let us place ourselves where the Lord’s glory might pass us by. Let us behold His glory in creation. Let us witness His glory being worked out in His people. Let us seek it out in His word, the inexhaustible fountain of His glory. For if we do, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [will be] transformed into the same image, from one degree of glory to another.”

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