Sermon \ February 15th, 2013 \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ Mark 9 \ The High Point of Faith
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. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. (N.I.V.)
Along with many Christians around the world, we Lutheran Christians follow the church year. Readings for each Sunday are assembled into a book called a Lectionary. The church year is designed to take us through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It starts with Advent, which runs from the end of November until just before Christmas. The weeks of Christmas are then followed by the season of Epiphany. Starting next week, with Ash Wednesday, Epiphany ends and Lent begins. Lent takes us on a journey to the cross – a journey that ends with Holy Week and the festival of Easter. Our text this morning from Mark chapter 9 sets the stage for the season of Lent. On the Mount of Transfiguration, three of Jesus' disciples encountered the fullness of Jesus’ glory. That experience stayed with them to the cross and beyond. It’s my prayer this morning that the glory of the Transfiguration would prepare us for Lent.
To better understand our text this morning, we need to consider two events that happened just before the Transfiguration. The first has to do with something Peter said. You may remember that the Apostle Peter was the spokesman for the disciples. Six days before the Transfiguration, Peter had said something very significant about Jesus. Jesus and his disciples had been travelling. Somewhere along the way, Jesus had asked his disciples,
Who do people say that I am? (Mark 8:27, N.I.V.)
The disciples told Jesus that some people were referring to him as John the Baptist, back from the dead. Others thought that he might be the Old Testament prophet Elijah, also returned from the dead. And still others thought that Jesus might be one of the prophets. Jesus then asked his disciples what THEY thought. After a moment's silence, Peter spoke up and said,
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. (Mark 8:2)
That’s the first thing we need to be aware of as we get ready to talk about Jesus’ Transfiguration. But we also need to be aware of something else. Jesus had shocked his disciples when he told them that he would suffer and be rejected by the religious leaders of the Jewish people. He said that he would be killed and that after three days he would rise from the dead. So these two thoughts – first of all, words about Jesus being the Messiah and secondly, shocking words about his death – were on the minds of the disciples just the Transfiguration.
According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus took three of his disciples – Peter, James, and John – and travelled with them up a high mountain. The mountain being referred to here is most likely Mount Hermon, a 9000' peak located in northern Israel. Jesus and his disciples travelled high up on the mountain. There was no one else around. It was most likely night time. As you might expect, the disciples were very tired. Jesus stopped to pray. Then suddenly, and without warning, a dramatic change took place in him. His garments began to shine brightly – so brightly that his disciples could barely look at him. On that mountainside that night, Jesus was transfigured. The Greek word for transfiguration is "METAMORPHOSIS." At that moment, there on that high mountain, Jesus was transformed, utterly changed into a form the disciples had never seen before. To add to the surprise, the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. The disciples heard the three of them talking about the salvation Jesus would soon accomplish. All of this was just too much for Peter. He blurted out,
Teacher, it's good for us to be here! Let's put up three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. (Mark 9:5, N.I.V.)
As Peter was speaking, a bright cloud appeared, and closed in around them. A voice was heard. It said:
This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him! (Mk 9:7, N.I.V.)
After that, things quickly returned to normal. Moses and Elijah disappeared. The disciples and their Teacher made their way back down the mountainside. Amazingly, Jesus strictly warned his disciples not to say anything about this incident until after he had been raised from the dead.
So let’s take a moment and consider the words God spoke on the mountainside, words heard by Peter, James and John. God’s own voice said:
This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him. (Mk 9:7, N.I.V.)
These brief words describe the relationship that existed between God and Jesus. You may recall that this same voice had been heard before, and that was at Jesus’ baptism, as Jesus’ ministry began. And now, here on that mountainside, it was as if God was telling the disciples,
Things are soon going to happen to my Son, Jesus, and to you, his followers, that will severely test your faith. But no matter what happens, I want you to know – and I want you to remember – that this IS my Son. I want you to know – and never forget – that I love him. And I want you to obey Him – do what he says.
Christians worldwide believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God's son, equal to the father – “very God of very God” – as we say so often in the Nicene Creed. Christians worldwide believe that, as Jesus’ followers, we must LISTEN TO HIM. Listening to him isn’t an option we can take or leave. It’s a command from none other than God Himself. We must obey Jesus’ will for their lives. As I say, Christians worldwide believe that Jesus is equal to his Father. We call this the doctrine of the "divinity of Christ." It's a doctrine that says that, in Jesus, all the fullness of God's divinity dwells in bodily form.
The Transfiguration brought Jesus’ disciples a newer, fuller understanding of their Rabbi, their beloved teacher. Peter was absolutely correct when he had confidently asserted that Jesus was the Messiah. But there was much more he and the other disciples needed to know. The Transfiguration was God's way of saying to Peter, and to us, today:
Peter, now you know that that my Son Jesus is the Messiah. My Holy Spirit revealed that critical truth to you. So let me help you understand what His being Messiah really means. Peter, let me disclose him to you. It’s time for me to unveil his heavenly glory for you before he goes to the cross to fulfil my plan of salvation!
The doors of heaven opened just a little for those three disciples that day. The glory of the Lord shone around them in all of its brightness – but just for a moment – and then it faded. Of course, that wasn't the first time heaven's doors had opened for God’s people. It had happened several times in the Old Testament. And it had happened in the New. The Christmas shepherds, for example, had seen a glimpse of the glories of heaven on the night when Jesus was born. Years before, Moses’ face had shone with heavenly glory when he came down from another mountain – in this case it was Sinai, where God gave his Law to His people.
The revealing of Jesus’ glory at the transfiguration was God’s way of reassuring the disciples of who Jesus was and what he had come to do. They were understandably upset by what they had just heard about their Master’s death. They didn’t have a clue what "rising from the dead" was all about. That brief glimpse of heaven there on the mountainside was God’s way of preparing them for what was yet to come – for a brutal and bloody cross and for an empty tomb. This is what we believe, teach, and confess: On the cross, Jesus took our place. On the cross, He took the punishment we deserved. When we trust him, as the Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion, Christ’s “cross-work” if I can call it that, is credited to our account. His strength replaces our weakness. His righteousness is exchanged for our sinfulness.
Through him, we can do what we would never have been able to do on our own. Through Him and through what He has done for us, our sins are forgiven and we are promised a place in His Heavenly Kingdom. Weakened by sin, we fall short of God’s will for us. Christ, however, has accomplished for us what we could never do on our own. He offers his blessings to us, by faith – as an act of pure grace. As a well-known children’s hymn says, “we are weak, but he is strong.” To use a sports analogy, Jesus takes the gold medal from around his neck, and places it on us. By faith, his benefits become our own. And for that, we offer Him our thanks and praise.
Our text this morning tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus there on the mountainside. It’s important to remember that both Moses and Elijah are central to a true understanding of a Biblical faith. Interestingly, both of these individuals had spoken with God on a mountainside.
Moses represents the Law, and, in his day, the people of Israel considered him to be a forerunner of the Messiah, who would be a prophet LIKE MOSES.
And Elijah represents God’s Prophets – His spokesmen. And Elijah, too, in his own way, was considered by the people of Israel to be a forerunner of the Messiah. Note carefully the true significance of what’s going on here. When you see Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus – all together, at one place and at one time – you are seeing the beginning, and the middle, and the end of God's plan of salvation. Let me repeat that…
Moses brought God's Law to the people along with its demand for perfection.
Elijah brought the prophet's call to faith in God and obedience to his will.
And Jesus tied it all together with his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and his resurrection from the dead, which proved, once for all, that the power of death had been broken.
As you might expect, Jesus’ disciples wanted very badly to tell everyone what they had just seen and heard. But, amazingly, Jesus told them not to do that. Why would that be? Because it wasn't the right time to do that. Many in Israel expected the Messiah to be a political ruler. A good number of Jews expected their Messiah to raise up an army and sweep away the hated Romans. But none of that was on Jesus’ agenda. Jesus didn’t want to be distracted from his mission. And so he warned his disciples not to say anything about what they had seen and heard until after he had been raised from the dead. Peter, James, and John literally had a "mountain-top experience" that day. Peter, James and John experienced an event that would stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Most Christians have had experiences that they know have strengthened their faith. Mountain-top experiences are wonderful and we certainly appreciate them when they arrive. But you know, as well as I do that most of the Christian life is not lived on the mountaintop. Most of the Christian life is lived down here on the world’s spiritual battlefield, with conflict, and trouble, and sometimes even despair. It’s true. We as God’s people meet him on the mountain-top. We meet him in the waters of Baptism. We meet him in the bread and wine – in the body and blood – of the Lord's Supper. We meet him in His Word, the Bible. We are strengthened in the blessed community of believers called the church.
Jesus said in John chapter 17, verse 22 The apostle John, most likely referring to what he had seen that day on the Mount of Transfiguration, later wrote,
We beheld his glory. (John 1:14, K.J.V.)
(Father), I have given them the glory that you gave me.
It’s quite clear that the Apostle Peter wanted to capture the glory of the mountain top. But Jesus wouldn’t let him do that. In our day, many people want the glory of the Christian faith without the cross. They want the benefits – without the responsibilities. They want the glory without the suffering. But that’s not how it works. When you think about it, the God of the Christian faith is in the "transforming" business. That’s what he does best! There’s a METAMORPHOSIS – an incredible transformation – that takes place when people come to know and trust Jesus Christ as their Saviour from sin and the Lord of their life. God takes people like you and me – people in bondage to sin, and sets them free.
He takes sinners like you and me, individuals curved in on themselves, individuals dead in sin, and makes them alive in Christ. That incredible transformation is God's work of grace – from beginning to end. And he gets all the credit. His Holy Spirit calls. He enlightens. He sanctifies. He offers us many precious gifts. He gives us the ability, by his Holy Spirit’s enabling, to reach out and take his gifts. That transformation – brought about by faith – enables each one of us to share Christ's glory.
Once in a while we see, in nature, an example of a great transformation. One of the most memorable for me, and I have it as a desktop image on an old laptop at home, happened in the year of 2005, at Death Valley, California. For me, this transformation helps me understand what God does for us through His Son. A news article explained what happened:
Normally the hottest and driest place in North America, [in 2005] Death Valley California … experienced the wettest year in a century. As a result, colorful wild flowers bloomed.
“Vast fields of desert gold poppy, desert star, and evening primrose (along with many other types of flowers and plants) have sprouted in the usually barren moonscape, which includes the lowest point in the Western hemisphere.”
In the winter of 2005, heavy rains … resulted in disaster for other parts of California through flooding and mudslides. But the rainwater … brought the desert to life.
It brought about the wildflower show of a lifetime.”
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,11069-1518356,00.html (3-10-05); submitted by Michael Herman, Lisle, Illinois. From www.preachingtoday.com
On this Transfiguration Sunday, we come to the transition from Epiphany to Lent – from the appearing of our Savior, to His road to the cross. May our Gracious God be with us every step of the way, just as he most certainly was with Jesus. Amen.
Let's pray – DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER: Turn our eyes to Jesus- the author and finisher of our faith. Give us eyes to see his glory. Spark faith in our hearts. Transform us into the kind of people you want us to be. May the light of Christ shine through us to others. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.