Blog / Book of the Month / “Encouragement From the Finishing Line” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Transfiguration Sunday Sermon February 11th 2024 – Mark 9:2–9

“Encouragement From the Finishing Line” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Transfiguration Sunday Sermon February 11th 2024 – Mark 9:2–9

“Encouragement From the Finishing Line” Mount Olive Lutheran Church Transfiguration Sunday Sermon February 11th 2024 – Mark 9:2–9

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday February 11th 2024: Transfiguration Sunday / Mark 9:2–9 “Encouragement From the Finishing Line”

And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 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.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, He charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The writer of the Book of Hebrews teaches “Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 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.” Hang on to the word “hope,” we’ll return to it. 

For Saint Peter, James and John—the witnesses of the Transfiguration of our Lord—it was important for them to see and hear that Jesus was indeed greater than and counted worth of more honour than Moses and Elijah. In our Old Testament reading we heard about Elijah being taken up by a whirlwind into heaven in a chariot of fire drawn with horses of fire.[1] On the one hand we have the prophet Moses who Scripture testifies died and was buried[2] and on the other hand we have the prophet Elijah who did not die and was taken up into heaven: both paragons of the Old Testament record of God’s work in the life of His people; both shown here flanking Jesus as men not above the Christ our Lord but as ones who are below Him, of lesser glory than the Son of God, shown as mere servants in the house not as the one through whom the house was built.[3] Just as it was an encouragement for Elisha to see Elijah taken up so too would it have been an encouragement for Saint Peter, James and John to see Jesus over and above Moses and Elijah, to witness first hand that Jesus is in fact “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,”[4] the beloved Son of God who they are to listen to.[5] Here they are being shown that you do not look at Jesus through the lens of Moses and Elijah, you do not listen to the voice of Jesus through the words of Moses and Elijah, no, quite the opposite they are being called to look at Moses and Elijah through the lens of Christ Jesus and they are to consider and listen to Moses and Elijah through the words of Christ Jesus who, Saint John—one of the witnesses that day—would later describe as the Word of God made flesh alluding to the Transfiguration when Saint John writes in his Gospel “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.”[6] When John speaks of the glory of Jesus he is not only speaking of the Mount of Transfiguration.

Pointing to the coming Christ Jesus another one of the prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah writes,

“But the Lord GOD helps Me;

               therefore I have not been disgraced;

        therefore I have set My face like a flint,

               and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”[7]

These words are nestled into other words about the prophesied crucifixion of our Lord, “I gave My back to those who strike, and My cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not My face from disgrace and spitting.”[8] This face that today was transfigured in glory before Saint Peter, James and John would later at the cross of His Good Friday crucifixion be transfigured before Saint John’s eyes into a greater glory because of what Jesus was accomplishing, a face spit upon by the ones Christ came to save, a face beaten with His beard ripped out by the roots bloodied and crowned with thorns flanked not by Moses and Elijah but by two criminals likewise crucified. Yet Isaiah prophetically says that Jesus knows that He shall not be put to shame, and so we ask ‘isn’t the cross a shameful death?’ yes it is, Jesus took the shameful death that Moses who did himself die did not die in your place, Jesus took the shameful death that Elijah who did not die did not die in your place but here we have Jesus who also knows what’s coming after His Good Friday death. He knows that His resurrection is coming.

One of the reasons Moses and Elijah are there is that they are men sent from the finish line to Jesus in advance of Him setting His face like flint as He trudges His way to the cross. We count Moses and Elijah not as ghosts but as fellow believers come to Christ from beyond The Last Day and the Resurrection of All Flesh for the benefit of Saint Peter, James and John and you and I. These men are evidence of the life which is to come, of eternal life in the flesh; Moses resurrected from the dead and Elijah as one who changed[9] “in the twinkling of an eye, at The Last Trumpet,” men who both have been raised imperishable[10] and now appeared to Jesus and Saint Peter, James and John in glory to speak to Jesus of His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,[11] that is His Cross and passion, His death and burial and His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus goes to His death with full knowledge of what is to come and yet that doesn’t make His suffering in your place less painful, or His death in your place less biter. He still endures it and tastes it, still experiences it just as you will experience death. As Christians we do not make our way through life naive about what lay ahead of us. Think upon the words of Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;”[12] Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John all heard the voice of God the Father say, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Jesus went to the cross knowing that His Father was with Him through the valley of the shadow of death, we walk through the struggles of our life right through to the end knowing that Jesus is with us every step of the way, for He is The Way.[13] Now before you say, ‘yes, but even Jesus at the cross called out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”’[14] Remember to go and read entirety of the Psalm Jesus was quoting there in His prayer from the cross. In Psalm 22 you’ll find a prayer of trust even in the face of death; watch for the shift that happens between verses 21 and 22 where the psalmist pointing forward to Jesus’ crucifixion moves beyond the finish line of death to the resurrection of the dead.

For some people death comes unexpectedly, an accident or some unforeseen event, for others it comes like the beginning of a marathon or sprint. The Transfiguration in the life of Christ Jesus is like the crack of the starter’s pistol, from there He comes down the mountain, with Peter James and John, His face now set like flint towards His cross and passion, toward the finish line of His Marathon of Salvation. And when the voice of His Father went quite and the overshadowing cloud passed “suddenly, looking around, [Peter James and John] no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” Moses would not walk the path to the cross, Elijah would not carry the cross upon his back through those roads to Golgotha; Christ alone would do that. It is Jesus only who saves you. And while Jesus calls you to deny yourself and take up your cross this isn’t a call to save yourself, it isn’t a call to forgive yourself; it is a call to follow Him, for Jesus is the one who saves, the one who forgives, the one who says “follow Me.”[15]

Finally for you today it is not Moses and Elijah who come to you on some mountaintop from the finish line of the resurrection to provide encouragement in the face of sufferings, hardships and death, no, rather it is Christ Jesus who comes to you in Holy Communion at the communion rail. The Body that suffered and died in your place, changed and resurrected in with and under the bread and the wine of the meal comes to you. Here Jesus comes to provide you strength for the road ahead, steadfastness, forgiveness of sins, and life. So every Sunday you have your little Mount of the Transfiguration preparing you and encouraging you for whatever is to come.  

Now I asked you to hold on to the word “hope,” I leave you with these words from Saint Peter who was one of the witnesses that day on the mountaintop, Saint Peter writes, “For when He [that is Christ our Lord] 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,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. 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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[16] Here you see the fruits of the encouragement Saint Peter received that day on the Mountaintop. While Peter ran from Christ as Jesus was being arrested, and denied Him three times while Jesus was falsely accused and tried, and while Peter was not at the foot of the cross with Saint John and the Virgin Mary as Jesus died this was not the end of story for Saint Peter which means that no matter where you stand today, today is not the end of your story either. Peter returned to the Lord and was forgiven as one carried along by the Holy Spirit, so dear ones be likewise carried along by the Holy Spirit as you walk the path laid out before you, as you follow Jesus through life, through death, into eternal life. There is hope for everyone. No one is without hope when their hope is Christ Jesus who has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses or Elijah or any that came before or after Him because He is before and after all, “the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” What did Saint Paul say in our Epistel reading today? “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,”[17] ... “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”[18] As the season of Epiphany wanes and Lent waxes into view, hold onto this promised hope and share it by word and deed with everyone you know, even in the days of Lent continue to shine the light of the season of Epiphany. We no longer live under the charge to tell no one what Saint Peter, Saint James and Saint John had seen, for Christ the Son of Man has risen from the dead and they are witnesses of it and we are the beneficiaries of this witness provide to us by the grace of God in His Holy Word and Sacrament.  Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 2 Kings 2:1–12
[2] Deuteronomy 34:6
[3] John 1:3, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”
[4] Revelation 21:6
[5] Mark 9:7
[6] John 1:14
[7] Isaiah 50:7
[8] Isaiah 50:6
[9] Elijah is evidence of what Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52b, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.
[10] 1 Corinthians 15:52
[11] Luke 9:30–31
[12] Psalm 23:4
[13] John 14:6
[14] Psalm 22:1
[15] Matthew 16:24
[16] 2 Peter 1:17–21
[17] 2 Corinthians 3:18
[18] 2 Corinthians 4:6

Photo Credits: Main Photo The Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah appear on either side of Christ on Mount Tabor from wikimedia commons.