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Sermon Text: Hebrews 11:24-28
Date: August 26 & 27, 2017
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
Hebrews 11:24–28 (EHV)
24By faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter when he grew up. 25He chose to be mistreated with God’s people rather than enjoy sin for a little while. 26He considered disgrace for the sake of Christ as greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
27By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s wrath, because he persevered as one who sees him who is invisible.
28By faith he celebrated the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not strike them down.
The Invisible God Inspires Visible Faith
1. Christ is the greatest treasure
2. Christ is the greatest protector
This week, one of the side projects I’ve been working on is adjusting colors in some worksheets for Catechism to ensure that the colors will pop out when you look at the page. It’s frustrating because colors that seem bright and vibrant on the screen tend to look much more dull when printed on paper. And when they look dull and dark, the parts that are supposed to stand out from the rest of the black text do not. The special terms become almost invisible and difficult to see.
Things that are invisible can run the gamut from annoying to dangerous. You can’t find your phone because the black screen and bezel disappear on the black coffee table. You get sick, because there are invisible impurities in your water or in the air of your home. We tend to not like things that are invisible, but rather things that stand out and can either be appreciated or attended to as the need arises.
That poses a bit of a problem for us, though, as Christians. Our God is invisible. The temptation will be for us to value visible, tangible things more than the invisible God. Yet, by his grace, he produces in us a faith that trusts him, a faith that can be seen in action, though he himself remains invisible.
In our lesson for today, the writer to the Hebrews uses the example of the Moses. You remember the unique start to Moses’ life. He was born at a time when God’s people were slaves in Egypt. Because he feared the Israelites were getting too powerful, the Pharaoh ordered that all of the baby boys among God’s people be killed. Moses’ mother could not allow that to happen, and so hid the child as long as she could and then sent him down the Nile River in a waterproofed basket, leaving her baby boy entirely in God’s hands. God directed that basket to the Pharaoh’s daughter, and he was raised as an adopted son of the royal family.
It would have been easy for Moses to look around him at the gold and gems, at the position of prominence and privilege, and say “This is good. I should stay here.” But that’s not what he did. We don’t have all the details of how Moses came to know his heritage, but he chose instead to be known as he was, a child of Israel, rather than a child of Pharaoh. He chose to be mistreated with God’s people rather than enjoy sin for a little while. 26He considered disgrace for the sake of Christ as greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. Moses was able to look past all the pomp and circumstance of his adopted family and know that it was, in the end, meaningless. His God had something better for him than just the temporary pleasures of this life. He let his confidence, his faith, in God be very visible in where and how he lived.
How would you and I react in that situation? How do we react in that situation? We may not be in the same position as Moses, but we find ourselves in very similar situations. How do we react when a classmate is being made fun at school? Do we step up and defend him, and maybe even remind the bullies that this person too is someone that God loves? Or do we let our faith be invisible and let the bullying happen and perhaps even join in? How will we react when football season gets into full swing? Which altar will we worship at on a given weekend, God’s altar or the gridiron? How do we react when someone at work is mocking the Christian faith? Do we let it be known that we are a Christian and maybe take the opportunity to share more clearly what we believe from the Bible or do we stay silent, hoping no one knows that we come to church, hoping that our faith remains invisible?
God forbid that we should let the pleasures of this world or avoiding uncomfortable things in this world make our faith invisible! Rather, it should be known by everyone that we are a Christian. Because the things of this world and the relationships of this world are only temporary. They do not benefit us in eternity. But what does benefit us eternally is the love of God given most clearly in Jesus. Jesus did not keep his love and concern for us a secret. He didn’t keep hidden that we were his most valuable treasure. Rather, he publicly went to his death to make it clear just how much we meant to him. He defeated our sins (even those sins of not valuing him!) when he died and rose. Because of that love and those actions, we are free to be with him in eternity.
How could we even want to hide the fact that we are so loved by our God? Let’s share it! Let’s make that faith visible to those around us. When we don’t join in hurtful words and actions, when we help others that might not be able to help themselves, when we refrain from joining in crude jokes, when we seek God’s will rather than earthly praise, when we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others when we sin, we preach powerful sermons about what God has done for us, what he means to us, and that we want to share it with all people.
Of course, not everyone is going to like that, right? You might be mocked for standing up for someone else. You might lose face with people when you turn down an opportunity to join in some crude laughs that mock God’s creation or his gifts of sex and marriage. You might even make enemies at work when you stand up for what is right in the face of overwhelming pressure to do what is wrong. Should we be afraid in those times? What was Moses’ response to threats as a result of his faith? By faith he left Egypt without fearing the king’s wrath, because he persevered as one who sees him who is invisible. 28By faith he celebrated the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not strike them down.
God would call Moses at the burning bush to return to Egypt, to be his mouth piece to rescue his people from their slavery. This would not be well received by the king. But did Moses fear? No. Because he knew that the One who was invisible would protect him from anything the king could do. Even if Pharaoh were to kill him, he knew that his inheritance was safe in eternity. So Moses went forward, bravely, assured of the protection of the invisible God. He let his faith be visible by confronting trouble and hardship head on in confidence.
So, too, when the final plague in Egypt was announced, when the death of every first born in Egypt was imminent, he trusted God’s promise. That promise would have sounded ridiculous. “Every firstborn will die expect those in homes where the blood of a lamb is painted on the door frames.” What? How could that possibly be true? Because God said it would be. And Moses knew that when the destroyer came to wipe out the firstborn in every family, God’s people would be safe who trusted his promise and put that trust in practice by doing what God said.
We have a greater salvation than Israel on the night of the tenth plague. Like them, we too are saved by blood, not the blood of the Passover lamb, but of the Lamb of God. We are saved not from temporal death, but eternal death in hell. And like the Passover, the promises are unbelievable until God gives us the faith to believe them. Then, he is proven right. Nothing in this world can rob us of our faith and forgiveness. Nothing can take heaven from us. Nothing can do us any real harm because God is our greatest protector.
That leads us to rejoice in our God, invisible though he may be. He is invisible, but not absent. He is invisible, but not lacking power. He is our greatest treasure and our greatest protector. May God give us the strength to put our faith into practice every moment of every day, allowing us to be his witnesses like Moses and the innumerable faithful believers who have come before us. Thanks be to God! Amen.
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, 11-13
Date: August 13 & 14, 2017
The 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
1 Corinthians 10:1–5, 11-13 (EHV)
1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them—and that rock was Christ! 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them. He had them die in the wilderness.
11All these things that were happening to them had meaning as examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come.
12So let him who thinks he stands be careful that he does not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you except ordinary testing. But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it.
Learn from History
1. Israel’s history
2. Your history
One of those most frustrating things in the world can be having to have the same conversation with someone over and over. Whether it is a parent reminding a child that the same behavior is not ok, a child trying to explain a new concept to a parent, or coworkers working a new project, it can be frustrating to go through the exact same conversation over and over again. Sure, reminders are ok and often necessary, but having to come at a concept from scratch repeatedly means someone isn’t listening or someone isn’t communicating well.
There is that trite, cliché phrase, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It might be cliché, but it’s not untrue. If we don’t learn from our past, from the mistakes we’ve made, we can’t reasonably expect to improve anything. And that learning goes beyond our personal history. Careful study of history and the success and failures of other people can help us to navigate this life while making wise decisions.
The apostle Paul urges us today to apply that same thought to our spiritual life. Today, we want to spend a few moments learning from the mistakes and good examples of the past, and also seeing what God’s influence in our lives up to today can help us learn for the days that he gives us ahead.
Paul gives his Corinthians readers a high-level summary of the history of the Exodus from Egypt. He said, 1For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea, 2and they were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3They all ate the same spiritual food 4and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them—and that rock was Christ!” He takes an almost allegorical approach to some of the things that happened to God’s people in the wilderness, but the explanation is clear. Whether it was the Glory of the Lord, that pillar of cloud and fire, or the walking through the Red Sea on dry ground, eating the manna and quail and drinking water from the rock, or eating and drinking the spiritual food and drink that God gave them in his Word through Moses and Aaron, God united them together as his people.
Yet, despite this uplifting truth, what was the reality of their situation on the way to the Promised Land? “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them. He had them die in the wilderness.” We saw some of this displeasure in our First Lesson this morning. The people were told to not save any of the manna until morning, and what did they do? They saved some and it rotted. They were told to gather two days’ worth on the sixth day and not go out on the seventh day, the Sabbath. And what did some of them do? They went out to gather on the seventh day.
And it’s certainly not just those examples. We heard two weeks ago about Israel’s constant grumbling about water and food rather than trusting that God would take care of them. We know well about the golden calf they decided to worship while Moses was away. And perhaps foremost on Paul’s mind here was their lack of trust in God to deliver the Promised Land to them, which turned what should have been a several month trip through the desert into a forty-year wandering. That wandering lasted until the whole generation who lacked trust in God to do what he said he would do had died.
What can we learn from this history? Paul said that these things are “examples, and they were written down to warn us, to whom the end of the ages has come.” So what warning do we receive from these things?
Do we take God seriously or doubt that he cares much about what he says? Do we think that God really wants us to avoid lust and sexually immoral actions, or do we look through pornographic websites and perhaps let our lives be filled with sexual immorality, assuming that God doesn’t really care that much? Do we trust that when God says he’ll provide for us, that he’ll actually do that, even when things look tight? Or do we assume that we have to take matters into our own hands and forget about God’s providence while we bite and scrape for more? Do we think God is serious when he tells us that we need to address sin with someone who has wronged us directly and lovingly, or do we instead choose to talk behind people’s backs and ruin their reputation while avoiding a conversation we do not want to have?
Could we, perhaps, learn something from Israel? Could we perhaps note that when God makes a promise, he’s serious about it and will keep it? Could we perhaps note that when God commands something, he’s serious and expects us to follow it? Or will we be doomed to repeat Israel’s mistakes and end up dying, if not in the wilderness, then spiritually and eternally in hell?
Thanks be to God he overcomes our lack of faith and our outright defiance of his will in Jesus. Unlike Israel, Jesus is not an example for us to learn from. He is the one that lived as we didn’t and couldn’t. Our sins overwhelm us, just like Israel’s sins overwhelmed them. Yet, just as Israel had the promise of a Savior to come to deal with all of their sins, we know what God has done in being faithful to that promise. He sent his Son as a human being to deal with sin in his body. Jesus paid the price our sins and Israel’s sins deserved by suffering hell on the cross. His death dealt with their sins of not taking God seriously and our sins of disregarding what he says.
But our learning from history is not limited to just ancient history recorded in the pages of Scripture. We can look at our own lives and see the continued history of God’s care, protection, and most importantly, his forgiveness. Paul reminds us: So let him who thinks he stands be careful that he does not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you except ordinary testing. But God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tested beyond your ability, but when he tests you, he will also bring about the outcome that you are able to bear it.
Paul begins with a warning that is perhaps healthy for us to have today. Maybe most of us don’t feel tempted to doubt God, but we perhaps become complacent of even apathetic towards what God has done for us. We think we’re fine—after all, we’re not continually rebelling against God in the wilderness. So, we should be ok with God, right? That attitude, though, can lead us to take God and his Word for granted. We let personal Bible Study, time in public worship and Bible class take lower and lower priorities in our lives. And whether it is a conscious decision or not, we begin starving our faith. It is in this situation that we should be careful that [we do] not fall. God forbid that our complacency and distractions lead us to forsake our faith’s health and lose it without realizing it!
But when we do value it, when we are in God’s Word, when we are rejoicing daily in the forgiveness God has given to us, then comes the blessed realization that God’s promises are not just some nice sounding proverbs in an ancient text. They are real, active, living promises that you can see being kept in your day to day life.
As you think through Paul’s reminder that God always provides a way out of difficulty, or consider his promises elsewhere to work good even from disaster, you can see this happening over and over again. And like learning to ride a bike through repetition produces confidence that you will be balanced when you head out on the road, seeing God’s care in times of trouble throughout your life gives confidence for the future.
When you are reminded of those things and then face some new trouble, you can have the confidence that in this, too, God will protect you. His history of faithfulness to his promises in your own life gives you the confidence of that. He will not leave you. He will not forsake you. In fact, the one who freed you from your sins is certainly able to handle the smaller problems of this life along with them. God proves his faithfulness that gives us the resolve that he will take care of us now and into eternity, no matter what trials or troubles we are facing.
So, stay invested in his Word. Let those examples from Scripture’s history and the promises that God has made lift you up. Learn from history these tremendous facts: God is faithful. God has taken away your sins. God will take care of you now. God will take care of you in eternity. Thanks be to God! Amen.
However, today is the real birthday of the Lutheran church because today is the day, 487 years ago, that the Lutheran church made it clear what we taught and what we stood against as it presented the original version of a confession of faith and teaching we’ve come to know as the Augsburg Confession.
Being a witness comes with a fair about of responsibility. If you’re an eyewitness to a crime, you’ll likely have to make a statement to the police and maybe even testify in court. If you are a witness for a wedding, you’ll have a sign a document indicating that you were there and saw the commitment pledged between two people.
Sermon Text: 1 John 4:7-11, 19-21
Date: May 20 & 21, 2017
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B
1 John 4:7–11, 19-21 (EHV)
7Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love has not known God, because God is love. 9This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another.
19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, love God, whom he has not seen? 21This then is the command we have from him: The one who loves God should also love his brother.
God Is Love
1. Love that loved us
2. Love with which we love others
“Love” is perhaps one of the most misused and misapplied words in all of the English language. Perhaps someone uses it to try to justify their actions that may have hurt or offended someone else, claiming, “I only did it because I love you.” Perhaps someone uses it to attempt to color any action or attitude that they don’t like as wrong by calling it “unloving.” Dating couples may say they love each other when they mean they lust after each other. Long-married couples may say they love each other when they mean that they just barely tolerate one another. We can use that word “love” in a variety of ways, most of which tend to be self-serving.
But we don’t need to do that anymore because God gives us his definition of love, and he doesn’t just take us through a dictionary definition. God actually shows what love is by who he is and what he does. God’s actions show that he is love, by loving us and showing us then how to love others.
The apostle John, who often uses the word “love” in his letters and Gospel, remind us that love as God defines it is clearly and completely summarized in Jesus. He says, “This is how God’s love for us was revealed: God has sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God shows that true love has absolutely nothing to do with emotions. Love is attitude and action. God shows us his attitude toward us through his actions, chief among them being his sending Jesus so that we had the sacrifice for sins which would enable us to live with him forever.
In many ways, this summarizes a lot of what we’ve heard from God’s Word throughout this Easter season. If Jesus came that we might live, that means that without Jesus we are dead. And truly, that’s what our sins are. They are death. Sin is the reason there is pain and sickness and even death in this world. Sin is the reason your body ached a little bit when you got out of bed this morning or you had the heated conversation with a family member earlier in the weekend. Sin is the reason for everything bad in our lives.
Sin is rebellion against God. Sin is defiance in the face of his commands. Sin is picking a fight with the Almighty. Sin is the ultimate in selfishness, doing what I want to do regardless of what God says or how it affects anyone else. And for as miserable as all of those previous effects of sins are—the pain, the strife, the sadness—none of it compares to the real result of sin: eternal death in hell. That’s the penalty that God attaches to sin: being separated from him forever, unending torment as a result of our rebellion.
God, of course, did not want that for us. He didn’t want us to suffer for our sins, but at the same time he also couldn’t just brush aside our sins and say, “Don’t worry. No big deal.” His justice demanded a payment for sin, but his love meant that he would send someone to take our place. God shows his love for us in his action of sending his own Son to save us.
Jesus is God’s love for us because he came as our substitute. John uses that phrase again, “atoning sacrifice.” We heard John use that earlier in his first letter a few weeks ago. To atone means to put two in-conflict parties at peace, to put two groups or people who had been separate back “at one” with each other. That was Jesus mission: to put us back at one with God.
So Jesus did that the only way possible, by sacrificing himself. Jesus himself gave that purest definition of love in our Gospel this morning: No one has greater love than this: that someone lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Jesus sacrificed his very life to pay for our sins. While he hung on the cross, suspended between heaven and earth, the Father punished Jesus for your sins and mine. He suffered so that you and I would not have to. Jesus gave his life to save ours. That is true love because it is love in action.
So now you and I, despite our sins, are the forgiven children of God. We have been rescued from hell and have been assured of eternal life with our heavenly Father forever. God assures us that our sins are gone, and Jesus’ cross and empty tomb make that fact inescapable. We belong to God and will forever. We benefit from our Savior’s love for eternity.
But that love doesn’t just have an effect in eternity. Your religion is not something that lays dormant inside of you until the final trumpet sounds and Jesus returns on the Last Day. John says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…. Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another.” John is not saying we should have bubbly feelings in our stomach toward people. He’s saying we should really love others, in the same way that God loved us. When you love others, it should be love in action, sacrificing of yourself to help others. Thus, your faith in Jesus changes the way you deal with other people.
So the question we are left with is: do I? Do I express my joy in God’s love for me by how I treat other people? Do I show love in my everyday life? Do I show real, Christ-like love to my fellow members here at church, to my fellow families in our school, to those people here today that I do not know, to my next-door neighbor, to the stranger on the BART train? Do I show empathy to other people who are different than me? What is my gut reaction to someone whose skin is a different color than mine or whose political ideology is at odds with my own? What is my reaction to the thoughts of people who are significantly older or significantly younger than me? What is my reaction to people who have problems I’ve never had or people who have never had my problems?
John directs us and motivates us: “We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, love God, whom he has not seen? 21This then is the command we have from him: The one who loves God should also love his brother.” Why would we show love to other people? Because Jesus first loved you and loved me by sacrificing himself for us. When we are truly thankful for that, how could we ever not love others?
And loving others doesn’t just mean loving people that are “easy” to love, like the friend that sacrificed so much for you, or the spouse who selflessly gives of themselves to support the family. It doesn’t mean just being kind to those with whom we see eye-to-eye on the social issues of our day. It means acting in real, self-sacrificing love even to those people we would naturally be at odds with. It means being willing to give of yourself to help those who are different than you. Your love cannot be dictated by someone else’s race, or politics, or even their religion. You and I, we want to love everyone in the way that Jesus loved us. He sacrificed himself for people like us who, in sin, were his enemies. That means that our love cannot just be shown when it’s comfortable. That means we love even when it hurts. That means sacrificing ourselves for the benefit of our fellow people, even those we may consider our enemies.
Why? Because supporting someone in their temporary, earthly needs can give us the opportunity to share what they truly need. Showing love to our fellow people is a way to testify to the way the Jesus has loved us, and has loved them. Jesus’ death paid for my sins, but he also paid for the sins of the stranger next to me on the train. How can I not love someone that Jesus loved? How can I not share Jesus with a person for whom he died?
I don’t want to make light of this and imply that any of this is easy. It’s not easy to put yourself in the shoes of someone very different than you. It’s not easy to understand their needs, fears, and concerns. It’s even more difficult to sacrifice your own time, skills, wealth, happiness, whatever, to help another person. But again, love is not emotion; love is action. Love is work. It’s work that hurts; it’s work that is self-sacrificing. But just because it’s difficult does not give us the right to not to do it. If we refuse to love our neighbor, our fellow people, how can we possibly claim that the love of God is in us?
So today, this very moment, start to view people, all people, as God himself sees them, as objects of your love. Branch out from the comfortable objects of your love and look for more difficult ones. Ask yourself, “How did Jesus love me? Therefore, how should I love this person?” Ask yourself, “How did Jesus love this person? Therefore, how should I love this person?” Give of yourself because Jesus gave of himself for you. Love others because he loved you first.
In all of this loving of one another, we can rejoice together. Not just in the earthly love and support that we can share here, but in the eternal life that we received from our God. God is love, and that love has removed our sins and given to us eternal life as a free gift. It has even forgiven us for those times where we have not loved as we should have. Since we are free from all those sins, let us have God’s love permeate every word we speak, ever thing that we do, and every thought that we have. Not just today, but every day, every moment of our lives until he calls us to our eternal home.
God is love. May that love be our life here and forever. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
If there’s one thing we’re really good at, it’s deceiving ourselves. We sit on the couch on a weekend afternoon watching sports while covered in potato chip crumbs and we say to ourselves or out loud, “Well, I could have done better than that!”
Ever just have “one of those days”? The car is really fussy and take 10 tries before it actually turns over and starts. An accident on the road creates traffic where there’s not normally traffic and you’re late for work.
Sermon Text: Mark 9:2-9
Date: February 25 & 26, 2017
The Transfiguration of our Lord, Year B
Mark 9:2–9 (EHV)
2After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain where they were alone by themselves. There he was transfigured in front of them. 3His clothes became radiant, dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. 4And Elijah appeared to them together with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.
5Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say because they were terrified.
7A cloud appeared and overshadowed them, and a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
8Suddenly when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Journey with Jesus
1. Enjoy the Future Glory
2. Prepare for the Present Suffering
Hiking can be a tremendously fulfilling activity. Perhaps you spend hours or more on a steep trail and through tough parts of the country only to come into a clearing to see a view that takes your breath away. Maybe you simply enjoy the journey along the way with no grand goal, but take in the exercise and the fresh air and time with loved ones or even in peaceful solitude. Sometimes, though, a hike can just be misery. Maybe you twist your ankle on the way. Maybe you’re being eaten alive by mosquitos. Maybe the humidity is so intense that you’re just one giant sweaty mess with nothing to show for it.
And really, that’s the way life is, isn’t it? Sometimes things are going along great and you feel great rewards and joy in your work or your family or your school or your church or almost anything you work on. Other times, it feels like you’re constantly being beaten down and crushed by your life or your work or your family or even the guilt of your sins. Life has many highs and many lows.
We see that play out for us this morning in our celebration of the Transfiguration. This is perhaps one of those “forgotten” festivals of the church year, paling in comparison to the deserved popularity of events like Christmas and Easter. However, the festival of Transfiguration (historically, actually a Lutheran addition to the church’s calendar) has everyday meaning and application for us in our walk as Christians.
Mark tells us that we meet up with Jesus, Peter, James, and John “after six days,” which naturally leads to the question, “Six days after what?” If you page back in your Bibles to Mark 8 you run into one of the highlights and lowlights of Jesus’ time with his disciples. Jesus had asked his dear friends who people said Jesus was. They knew and recited the popular options that had been drifting through the crowds: John the Baptist raised from the dead? Elijah or one of the other Old Testament prophets? None of these answers hit on who Jesus really was or what he had come to do. So Jesus turned the question to his friends and followers, “But who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a). To which Peter gave the beautiful, to-the-point answer, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29b).
There’s a lot wrapped up in those four little words. Peter was clearly and boldly confessing that Jesus was the promised Savior, that Jesus was the fulfillment of the whole Jewish religion. Everything from the first promises made in the Garden of Eden to the promises confirmed to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the whole nation to come from their family was leading to this point—to this man. Jesus was the one who was going to finally bring about the forgiveness God had promised for so long. Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed and Chosen One of God.
But then Jesus said something troubling. He said that he must suffer, be arrested by the leaders, and eventually be put to death by crucifixion. Peter wouldn’t have any of that. He rebuked Jesus! “Never! This will never happen to you!” Peter pleaded. How could God’s Chosen One endure that torment? How could his dear friend and teacher go through that? And how did Jesus respond? “Get behind me, Satan. You do not have your mind set on the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8:33).
Ouch. Peter didn’t want to face the reality of what was coming, even though Jesus was clearly not lying to him. Jesus’ rebuke is harsh yet on-point. If Jesus had listened to Peter, the salvation of mankind would be undone. Jesus had a mission from which he could not veer.
So that takes us, six days later, to a hike that Jesus took with Peter, James, and John up a high mountain (for that region, think less of Mount Everest and more of a tall hill). And what happened? “Jesus was transfigured in front of them.” We don’t use the Latin term “transfigure” very often, but perhaps we are more familiar with the original Greek term, “metamorphosis.” Jesus was changed, or more, he was revealed for who he really was. They had known him as Jesus their teacher. Sure, the miracle worker, but he was from the carpenter’s family and the son of Mary. He taught well, but he looked like them. But not here, not now. Mark records, likely from Peter’s eye-witness account, His clothes became radiant, dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. Matthew’s account describes his appearance as brighter than the sun and Luke as brighter than a flash of lightning. This is not a normal human appearance. More than any authoritative sermon and understanding of the Scriptures show, more than any miracle could hint at, Jesus was showing himself as he really is—true man and true God.
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. Luke’s account tells us they were talking about Jesus’ impending suffering and death. Peter and the others don’t know what to make of any of this, so Peter sputters out the first thing that comes to mind, “Lord, I’ll make three tents so that we don’t have to leave. It’s good for us to be here.” And truly, it is good for us to be here. For here, on the top of this high hill we have a brief glimpse of what we will see in eternal life. The apostle John who saw Jesus’ glorious majesty at this moment would later write in the book of Revelation that eternal life will have no sun or moon because heaven doesn’t need them. God himself will be the light we need forever.
That’s something that we could never have dreamed of ever being a part of. We could never have even thought that we’d ever be able to see Jesus like he is here on the Transfiguration Mount, let alone in all his fullness that he’ll reveal in heaven. Our sins should bar us from that. And yet they won’t. Because as Peter is struggling to spit out sentence fragments and arguably even more amazing thing happens—a cloud, the very glory of the Lord that surrounded the shepherds on Christmas night, the pillar of cloud and fire that led the nation of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt, descends on the mountain and the voice of the Father booms from that cloud, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.” Why should we listen to him? Jesus is the one whom the Father had chosen, the one he loves, the one who does all things well, the one who would accomplish our salvation.
That death that he said he would have to die that Peter wanted nothing to do with, that would be the way that we could eventually see this glory. That inglorious and gruesome death would be the solution that we so desperately needed. Jesus would forgive those sins that so completely separated us from God. So when Jesus says he has to die, Peter and you dear Christians today, listen to him. Because in that is the certainty of eternal glory with the God who loves you so greatly.
The lightning clothes, Moses, Elijah, the cloud, the Father’s voice. If there was ever a case to be made for sensory overload, this would be it. And then, just like that, it’s all gone. Suddenly when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone. No one else was there. Jesus was just regular old Jesus again—no more peeks at his divine glory. No more epiphanies into who he really was. Just Jesus, Peter, James, and John as they had hiked up the mountain, needing now to go down again.
But leaving this place meant leaving the glory and the excitement. Leaving this place would mean having to go back down the mountain and deal with life again. Leaving this place would mean having to face all those horrific things Jesus had said were going to happen. You wonder if in Peter’s exclamation, “It is good to be here!” there weren’t still echoes of that event six days earlier, “This shall never happen to you!”
But like all of our criticisms of Peter throughout the Gospels, aren’t we so often Peter? How often don’t we just want the good of being a Christian without the bad? How often don’t we want the highs without the lows? How often don’t we want the fun without the suffering? Whole church bodies (and, humanly speaking, very successful ones at that) center their whole theology around that very concept. But the life of a Christian in this world is not all fun and games. There are good times, true enough. God gives us moments of joy and glory. He gives us times where we see the plans he’s laid for us and the good he’s going to work from them. But then, from those times, we must journey back down the mountain to face the troubles that lie ahead.
Rather than being discouraged by leaving the good times behind, be strengthened by the good times to face the troubling. You know the end game to all of this. You know that for as miserable as this life can be, what is coming will be free from those miserable things. In the end, we will be with our Savior whose sun-wrapped clothing we will see for eternity because he was willing to suffer for us.
We’re leaving one of the high mountains of the church year today. We’re descending into the valley of Lent where we will have to face our sin head on. It won’t be comfortable or fun, but it will be absolutely necessary. We will say farewell to the term “Alleluia” in our worship for the next six weeks as a solemn reminder that our sin is not a reason to rejoice. But as we journey through the muck and mire we know what is waiting. We have to see our horrible repulsive sins for what they are and see the unimaginable, horrific price it cost our Savior to rid us of them. But we know that, Lord-willing, “Alleluia” will return to our worship. There is no other response to the angel’s message, “He is not here; he is risen!”
Hikes aren’t always fun and even the best ones must come to an end. Thanks be to God that after the often-miserable journey of this life we will be able to say with Peter, “It is good to be here.” And because of Jesus, the one whom the Father loves and the one who loves us, we will not have to leave. There our Journey with Jesus will end and we will simply be with him forever. Amen.