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.