Go Mountain Climbing with Jesus
A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9
Sunday, February 19, 2012 – Transfiguration & Confirmation
I was exhausted, dripping with sweat, and hurting all over. But it was all worth it for the view. Last summer I climbed Skyline trail when some family came to visit. And as we made our way up to the saddle, the clouds burned off. I was amazed that from that height I could see the Turnagin Arm and beyond it the city of Anchorage. If I turned around I could see Skilak Lake, Mt. Redout, and Mt. Illiamna in the distance. The view was incredible.
Peter, James, and John also went up a high mountain. Most believe it to be Mt. Tabor, the only high mountain around Galilee, which, much like Skyline, just rises out of nowhere. It must have been a steep, strenuous, exhausting climb. But the view at the top was well worth it. They could see Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee on the one side, the blue Mediterranean on the other, and the lush Jordan valley down below. But far more exciting than the view from the mounting was the view on the mountain.
There on that mountain Jesus pulled back his humanity for a brief moment to give them a glimpse of his divinity. There he was, the Light of the World, lighting up the night sky, not reflecting the sun, but shining from within as if he were the sun itself.
And this experience on the Mount of Transfiguration and the view the disciples got there, prepared them for another experience on a different mountain. It prepared them for the crucifixion on Mount Calvary. And this morning, I invite you all, and especially you, confirmands, to join those three disciples and go mountain climbing with Jesus. Climb the Mount of Transfiguration, where you'll get a sneak preview of Jesus' divine glory. Then come back to the valley below for a while. But soon, we'll go up to the Mount of Crucifixion, to see Jesus' sacrifice for us. Listen again to Peter's description of Jesus transfiguration as Mark recorded it for us in Mark 9:2-9…
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. 5 Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
I. From the Mount of Transfiguration
One day Jesus took his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, mountain climbing. He wanted to spend some time with them in prayer and quiet instruction, but after a tiring climb, the disciples were tired. Luke tells us that once they reached the top, they were starting to drift off.
But when they woke up, how startled they must have been! There was Jesus, but boy did he look different! He had transformed or transfigured. This is the Greek word from which we get our English word metamorphosis. He was completely changed—all lit up in brilliant light!
Have you ever been asleep in the dark when someone suddenly turns on the brightest lights in the room? It takes a minute for your eyes to adjust and at first it's so bright that it hurts your eyes. You have to look away. That's how it must have been for Peter, James and John. Mark says that, "His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them." And Matthew and Luke tell us why. Jesus himself was shining as bright as the sun. Matthew says "His face shone like the sun," and Luke, "His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightening." How spectacular! But that wasn't all…
Two men were standing with Jesus, talking to him. We don't know how the disciples recognized them, but somehow they knew who the other two men were—Moses and Elijah—the two great prophets of the Old Testament. No wonder the disciples were terrified!
And bold, impetuous Peter, scared half to death, couldn't just keep quiet. Though he didn't really know what he was saying, he interrupted Jesus' conversation with the prophets to suggest that they put up three tents to put the glorious scene on hold.
And then, just as amazing as the Transfiguration, God the Father interrupted Peter! "This is my Son, whom I love." The other gospels add, "whom I have chosen," and, "with him I am well pleased." Then, "Listen to him!" Peter and the others understandably grew even more terrified, since, after all, Peter was just told off by God himself. "Don't speak, Peter. Don't interrupt. Listen to him."
And yet, as terrifying as it must have been, how exciting it must have been! Peter was right when he said, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here." They got a glimpse of Jesus' divine glory! There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God, the one and only eternal God, Jehovah himself!
When you hear about Peter, James and John's experience, do you wish that you could have been there? Do you wish that you could see a glimpse of God's glory now? Well, if so, you're in luck! Those three disciples aren't the only ones who get to see God's glory! Because they recorded these events for us, we get to see his glory too.
Through the Word of God recorded in the pages of Scripture, summarized in Luther's Small Catechism, through the Word that you've been studying, we get just as great a view of Jesus' divine glory!
Peter later wrote of this transfiguration experience, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain and we have the word of the prophets made more certain…" (2 Peter 1:16-19)
We have the Word made more certain since we have seen God's full plan of salvation completed. We see his glory when we see that Christianity isn't a new religion created in the hundreds AD, but the only true religion given to Adam and Eve, to Moses, to Elijah, to every true prophet. We see Jesus' glory when he reveals himself among us, not in a cloud that envelops us, but in the quiet whisper of a sermon, in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, in waters of Baptism where he makes us his own.
And what comfort we have in climbing that mountain with Jesus and seeing his glory there! Jesus is God's Son, God himself in the flesh. He did please God in every way in our place. We can trust every word that he says. He is with us always, even when we have to go back down the mountain. Dear friends, when you see God's glory, zip it! Don't speak, but listen. Observe and marvel at the glory of our God!
II. To the Mount of Crucifixion
Now, while there could no longer be any doubt to the disciples that Jesus was the only true God, they still didn't really get what his mission was about. As quickly as it began the transfiguration was over. Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus looked like he usually did once more. But the disciples were confused. What did this all mean?
Well, Jesus had just told them what it all meant only six days ago. Mark tells us in chapter 8, "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this…"
Whenever God appeared to his people in a cloud, it meant that he was about to act in some supernatural way. When he appeared to Abram in a smoking fire pot, he was about to make a new nation. When he appeared to the Israelites in a pillar of cloud and fire he was delivering them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. When he covered Mount Sinai in the cloud he himself inscribed the 10 commandments on the tablets of stone. When the cloud settled over the Tabernacle, God himself was present among his people acting on their behalf.
Now that he appeared again in the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration, he was ready to act in a supernatural way again. From the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus set out toward Jerusalem one last time. Again and again he told his disciples what would happen there, "We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise." (Mark 10:33-34)
Even that evening of the Transfiguration he, Moses and Elijah were discussing Jesus death on the cross. Luke tells us, "They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem." And though the disciples were listening in, they didn't seem to get it. Peter rebuked Jesus. The three discussed what exactly does he mean by, "Rise from the dead"? Though he spoke to them plainly, they didn't understand what he meant and were too scared to ask him about it.
But even though they didn't get it that night that they saw Jesus glory, even though they didn't understand the night of Jesus' betrayal or the day of his crucifixion, imagine what comfort that climb up the Mount of Transfiguration would later bring Peter, James and John. They would know without a doubt, "Jesus is God. We were there. We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. We have seen his glory; the glory of the One and Only!"
What comfort they had when they realized that as true God, he could have stopped the crucifixion from happening at any moment. He could have called down an army of angels to defend him, but instead he went to die, to suffer hell, willingly and he did it all for them. What comfort they had when realized that since Jesus is true God his death on that cross could pay for every one of their sins. God's death on one end of the scale far outweighed the sins of the whole world of all time on the other end. And what peace they found in the events that took place on that Mount of Crucifixion, strengthened by their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Dear friends, blessed with the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament, we have "the word of the prophets made more certain." And with 20/20 hindsight, we understand what the disciples at first did not. But even though we get why Jesus had to be handed over, killed and rise again, often times when we leave the mountain top and come back down to the plain of day to day living we're still tempted to doubt too aren't we? When you lose your job, your health, or a close friend or family member, you may be tempted to wonder "Is Jesus really in control of the situation? Is he really God?" When the guilt of your sins weighs you down you may tempted to think, "Does the death of some guy who lived 2000 years ago really pay for my sins? Am I really forgiven?"
And when we do start to think this way, we need to go mountain climbing again. It's not by accident that the Last Sunday of Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday, where we see Jesus in all his glorious splendor, comes right before the season of Lent. Because the Mount of Crucifixion means nothing without the Mount of Transfiguration.
What comfort we find when we first climb the Mount of Transfiguration where we see Jesus in his glorious splendor. Yes! He is true God. Is in control at all times! What comfort we find when we follow him from that mount to the Mount of Crucifixion and see that though Jesus, the One and Only God, could have easily stopped the crucifixion at any time, he didn't. He suffered willingly for us. What comfort we find when we remember that as true God his death on the cross does count for us and for all people. His death was not just the death of "some guy who lived 2000 years ago," but the death of the living God in our place. We are forgiven. We are at peace with God.
This Lenten season, and throughout your Christian life, as you climb with our Savior to Mount Calvary and watch him go to the cross to pay for our sins, don't forget the first mountain, the Mount of Transfiguration, and remember what you've seen. Our Savior is the God of Glory! It wasn't weakness that took him to the cross, but love—his great love for you.
And finally, remember one more mountain: The Mount of Ascension. At least four churches on the Mount of Olives claim to mark the very place where Jesus ascended into heaven. But no matter where it took place, know that Jesus didn't leave us alone when he left us physically. Though unseen, he is still with us everywhere we go.
He's there when we're sad. He's there when we're scared. He's there when we're struggling here in the plain. He's there to remind us who he is by the Mount of Transfiguration. He's there to remind us of what he's done by the Mount of Crucifixion. And he's there to remind us of our own ascension into heaven one day soon. So hang in there. Keep climbing with Jesus all your life. In his name, dear friends, amen.