Sermon from Sunday February 10th 2013 Transfiguration Sunday
Heaven Can't Wait!
Pastor Terry Defoe, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Copyright © 2013. Pastor Terry Defoe. All Rights Reserved.
Our sermon text on this Transfiguration Sunday is found in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 9. I'm reading verses 1 to 3:
2 After six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him, and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There, he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
New International Version, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
This morning, we turn to Mark’s account of the Transfiguration. We focus on a whole new way of seeing Jesus, different from what His disciples had seen up to this point in His ministry. In the Christian faith, we speak of the dual nature of Jesus – His humanity and His divinity. Jesus was fully human and at the same time, fully God. On the Mount of Transfiguration, we have a glimpse of His divinity. And we hear of His mission and His relationship with His Father. We are privileged to join three of his disciples to behold Jesus’ glory. May God bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
Our text this morning from Mark’s Gospel, chapter 9, begins with the words,
"After six days..."
That’s Mark's way of introducing the story. And for us to fully understand what Mark is talking about, there are two things we need to keep in mind. The first is something Peter had just said. Peter often acted as the spokesman for the disciples. And, sometimes, he spoke before he had fully thought something through. Six days before the events of our text this morning, Peter said something that was absolutely true and well thought out. Jesus and his disciples had been travelling from village to village, and on the journey, Jesus had asked the disciples a simple question,
"Who do people say that I am?"
They told him that they had heard some people speak of Him as John the Baptist. Others had called Him Elijah, returned from the dead. And still others had called Him one of the prophets. Jesus then asked His disciples for their opinion. You can be sure there was some murmuring in the group. And then Peter spoke up. He said, straight out, I believe that
"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
That was the most important thing Peter ever said. In this case, Peter's comment was absolutely true.
The other fact we need to recall before we speak of the Transfiguration is what Jesus said, just a few days before, about His future. He said that,
He must suffer many things, and then be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
I want you to keep these two things in mind – Peter’s confession, along with Jesus’ prediction of His death – as we speak of the Transfiguration. Remember that these two things are on the minds of the disciples in the days just before the Transfiguration. The disciples had mixed feelings. On the one hand, thinking of Jesus’ death made them uncomfortable, uneasy. On the other hand, knowing that He was the Messiah was exciting, empowering.
With these thoughts in mind, then, we can carry on. Within days of these two events, Jesus took three of his closest disciples on a journey. Jesus had something He wanted them to know. He took them to a high mountain. Bible scholars tell us that it could have been Mount Hermon, a 9000' mountain in the north of Israel, not too far from where they were at the time. Jesus took them far up the mountainside, perhaps to the point where snow could be found. There was no one else around for miles.
On the journey, Jesus stopped to pray. Suddenly, and without warning, a startling change took place in him. His garments began to shine with a supernatural brightness. He became so bright that the disciples could barely look at him. He was transfigured in their presence. The Greek word for what happened is the same as our English word METAMORPHISIS. There, on the mountainside, Jesus was transformed, changed into something the disciples had never seen before. And, while he was in that exalted state, Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. They talked with Jesus about his future.
All of this was just too much for Peter. Being Peter, he just had to say something. And so he blurted out,
"Teacher, it's good for us to be here!"
The experience was so powerful that he had to express how he felt. And then he went on:
"Let's put up three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
After that, a cloud appeared, and a voice was heard. The voice referred to Jesus and said,
"This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"
At that, everything returned to normal. Moses and Elijah disappeared. And the disciples and Jesus headed back down the mountain. Amazingly, Jesus told them not to say anything about what they had seen and heard until he had risen from the dead.
So let's take a few minutes to try to make sense of what we've just heard. First of all, think about the words spoken from the cloud:
"This is my son, whom I love."
We immediately recognize this as the voice of God himself. And we realize that He’s talking about the relationship between himself and his Son, Jesus. You may recall that this voice had been heard before, at another significant moment in Jesus' life. The voice had been heard when Jesus was baptized by John. Here on the mountainside, it's as if God is telling the disciples,
"Things are soon going to happen to Jesus, and to you, that will severely test your faith in him. I'm here to tell you that, no matter what happens, Jesus IS my Son. I love him. And whatever happens to him is part of my plan."
Consider the implications. Here we have God’s own voice telling us that Jesus is his son. Here we have God himself saying that there is an equality in their relationship – Father and Son. Here we have laid out before us the Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ. Many have denied that teaching over the years, and many still do, but we have God's own word – His literal voice – to tell us that it is true. But God said more than that. Jesus is God's son. And because he is God's son, there is something for us to do. We are to LISTEN TO HIM. And that means that we are to do what he says.
James Montgomery Boice, writing in a Christian magazine called Moody Monthly, says:
Obedience is an unpopular concept today. We betray disdain for it by our frequent use of a phrase like "blind obedience," meaning mindless adherence to authority. But without obedience there is no real Christianity. Those who are genuinely Christ's sheep obey his call from the beginning and thus enter a life in which obedience is a chief characteristic.
This is what we believe, teach, and confess: Jesus Christ is God's son. Listening to him is not an option, but a command for us as Christian people. The Transfiguration was Jesus' way of giving the disciples a whole new understanding of who he really was. Peter had started on the right path when he said that Jesus was the Messiah. But there was still a lot he and the other disciples needed to know.
For the last several weeks, we’ve been in the season of the Church year called EPIPHANY. And the word “Epiphany” is taken from a Greek word that means disclosure, or unveiling. Epiphany is the season of the year when we come to understand the full reality of Christ. And Epiphany ends with Transfiguration Sunday, a great revelation of Jesus' glory.
The Transfiguration is God's way of saying to Peter, and to us,
"You’ve said that Jesus is the Messiah. Let me help you understand what that means. Let me disclose him to you. Let me unveil his heavenly glory. Then you'll understand what it means for my Son to be the Messiah. Then you won't be tempted to walk away from Him when things get tough."
The doors of heaven opened a little for those individuals on the mountainside that day. The glory of the Lord shone in all of its brightness. Of course, that wasn't the first time heaven's doors opened, and it won't be the last. Do you remember the story of Moses when he returned from the mountain, after being with God? His face literally shone with the glory of God. Think also about the Christmas shepherds. They too saw heaven's door open. They saw the brightness. They heard the praises to God. John the Baptist saw it when Jesus was baptized. And we, too, will see the heavenly glory when Christ returns to this earth.
That brief glimpse of heaven and the revelation of Jesus' glory were meant to reassure Jesus’ disciples and prepare them for what was soon to come. They were upset by the talk about Jesus' death. They couldn't figure out what his "rising from the dead" was supposed to mean. That glimpse of heaven at the mount of Transfiguration was God's way of dealing with the despair they were feeling.
The Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration tell us that Moses and Elijah appeared with the glorified Christ on the mountainside. Moses represents God’s Law in the Bible. And Elijah represents the Prophets. So when you see Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus together at one time and in one place, you are seeing the beginning, and the middle, and the end of God's plan for the human race. Moses brought the Law and its call for perfection. Elijah brought God's call to faith and obedience through the prophets. And Jesus tied it all together with his death for our sins and his resurrection from the dead to prepare a place for us in heaven.
After the disciples had seen all this, their first reaction was:
"Let's tell everyone what we have seen! Let's tell everyone the truth about Jesus!"
But, surprisingly, Jesus told them not to do that. He warned His disciples that It wasn't the right time to do that. Why would that be? Because the people of Israel had all kinds of wrong ideas about Jesus – wrong expectations about who he was and about what he had come to do. They wanted to make him king – a political king. And they wanted Him to raise up an army and get rid of the Romans. If the disciples told everyone what they had seen, there was a good chance that God's plans would be interrupted. And so Jesus told His disciples to keep all this to themselves until AFTER the resurrection.
Let me give you some suggestions as to how we can apply the truths of our text this morning in our lives today. Christians sometimes have what we call "mountain-top experiences." They sometimes experience events that strengthen their faith. Experiences like that are wonderful. We all need them. And they are very helpful. But the majority of of the Christian life isn’t lived on the mountaintop. Most of the Christian life is lived in the valley bottoms, with conflict, and trouble, and sometimes even despair. Those mountain-top experiences strengthen our faith, especially when times are tough.
It’s obvious that Simon Peter didn't want his mountain-top experience to end. He wanted to stretch it out. We’re told that Peter wanted to build shelters for Jesus as well as for Moses and Elijah. He wanted a shrine where people could come and be blessed. He wanted to put God into a box for public display. But God will not be put in a box. God’s will is that we come down off the mountainside and carry out the Great Commission. God wants to meet us, but not in a shrine on a mountain somewhere. He wants to meet us in His Word, the Bible. He wants to meet us in the waters of Baptism, and in the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. Where two or three are gathered in worship, our Lord is there in our midst. Our mountain-top experiences will come to an end. But God has promised to be with us. Just like the disciples, what we learn on the mountain-top will serve us well in day-to-day Christian life.
In the Christian faith, the cross always comes before the glory. In the Christian faith, and in our salvation, there are no short-cuts to glory. Peter wanted the glory captured in shelters on a mountain side. But Jesus knew that he must first go to the cross. A lot of people in our world today want the glory of the Christian faith without the cross. They want the benefits of Christ without any of the responsibilities.
The God of the Christian faith is a God of surprises. He’s a God who acts; a God who takes the initiative in reaching out. God knew that the disciples needed reassurance before Jesus went to the cross. They had begun to understand who he was, but they needed reassurance and strengthening in their faith. They got it several thousand feet up a mountainside. God gave them the knowledge they needed – before they needed it. He does the same for us, today.
It’s as if the disciples were saying:
"Thanks, I needed that! My faith was weak, but you have fired it up again. Now I can go back into the world strengthened and prepared to face whatever comes my way. I have had a glimpse of heaven and of Christ's glory. And I'll never forget it.
The God of the Christian faith is in the "transforming" business. There’s a genuine METAMORPHOSIS involved in the Christian faith. God takes people in bondage to sin, and sets them free. He takes sinners, curved in on themselves, and transforms them into His children. We are no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, but we are transformed by the renewing of our minds when we allow Jesus Christ to control and direct our lives. That transformation is God's work. And he gets all the credit. He calls us. He enlightens us. He offers us many precious gifts. And he even gives us the strength we need to reach out and take what he offers. That transformation enables us to share Christ's glory. Jesus said in John 17:22 –
(Father), I have given them the glory that you gave me."
The mountain-top experiences sent by God are times when we come face to face with the real Jesus. They are times when we set aside old prejudices and faulty expectations. In those mountain-top experiences, the fog clears and we see Jesus as he really is. May God grant us many of them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Let's pray – DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER: Turn our eyes upon Jesus, the one whose Holy Spirit sparks our faith, and keeps it strong. Enable us to see and also to share His glory. Strengthen our faith for the challenges ahead. In Jesus' name. Amen.