A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9
Sunday, March 15, 2015 – Transfiguration B
Okay, so a few weeks ago we talked about the best of men and the worst of men. Well, I know I already used the introduction and illustration, but today, we're going to do it again. Today we're going to hear a tale of two mountains.
The first mountain of course, is the Mount of Transfiguration. It was the best of mountains! There Jesus showed his true glory in all of its splendor. But Jesus couldn't stay on that mountain. If he would have just stayed put, it would have been the worst of mountains.
Instead he went on to another mountain: the Mount of Crucifixion. That was the worst of mountains. There our Savior was tortured to death and endured the agony of hell itself on the cross. But it was the best of mountains in that there on Calvary our sins were paid for, we were rescued from satan, we were ransomed out of hell.
This Transfiguration Sunday which ends the season of Epiphany—where Jesus reveals himself as the Son of God—and prepares us for Lent—where we see Jesus suffer and die for our sins—we begin at the Mount of Transfiguration as the events are described 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 evening Jesus took three of his disciples, his three closest friends, Peter, James and John, mountain climbing. These three were in Jesus' inner circle, who alone accompanied him inside the house of Jairus when Jesus raised his daughter from the dead. These three were invited to come with Jesus when he would pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, and these three were invited this evening to travel to the top of a high mountain to join Jesus in prayer and quiet instruction.
But it was late and the disciples were tired. In the gospel of Luke we learn that before long they started 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 dead 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 and watch and listen. Instead, he started talking. Though he didn't really know what he was saying he was so scared, 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! God revealed that he was too was present on that mountain in the form of a cloud, like he was so apt to do (just think of the pillar of cloud and fire he used to lead the Israelites through the desert, or the cloud that covered Mount Sinai when God gave Moses his Law, or the cloud that settled over the tabernacle and filled the Holy of Holies when God was present with his people). And just as he did at Jesus Baptism, God the Father spoke.
"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. "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! How that mountain must have been the very best of mountains to them!
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 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 have seen the glory of God when we realize how Jesus has fulfilled every Old Testament prophecy given through Moses, Elijah, and all the other prophets. 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 gives us the comforting assurance, "Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you." 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.
And what comfort we have in climbing that mountain with Jesus and seeing our Savior's glory! When we read of Jesus' miracles and when we hear of his proclamation, "Son, your sins are forgiven," when we wonder "Are these things true?" then we climb the mountain, see the transfiguration and say, "Yes! Jesus is God's Son, God himself with full authority to do what only God can. He did please God in every way on our behalf. We can listen to him and trust every word that he says." Dear friends, when you see God's glory, 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. Why couldn't they stay on the mountain? Make some tents to keep the glory? 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. Jesus could not stay on that mountain in his glory. That really would have made it the worst of mountains. But 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 brought Peter, James and John later.
After they climbed the Mount of Crucifixion they were tempted to think, "He's dead. He's defeated. He's not the Messiah, not our Savior. Everything is hopeless." That mountain must have seemed like the worst of mountains at the time. But after the Holy Spirit enlightened them at Pentecost, they could take comfort in the Mount of Transfiguraton. "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—that best of mountains!— 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 in 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 we're still tempted to doubt too aren't we? When I lose my job, my health, or a close friend or family member, when I go through the worst of times, I'm tempted to wonder "Is Jesus really in control of the situation? Is he really God?" When the guilt of my sins weighs me down I'm tempted to think, "I'm the worst of sinners. So how can Jesus really forgive me?"
But when I start to think that way, I need to go mountain climbing with Jesus. 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 I find when I first climb the Mount of Transfiguration—the best of mountains!—where I see Jesus in his glorious splendor. Yes! He is true God. He is in control at all times! What comfort I find when I follow him from that mount to the Mount of Crucifixion—the best of mountains!—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 me. What comfort I find when I remember that as true God his death on the cross does count for me. His death was not just the death of "some guy," but the death of the living God in my place. I am forgiven. I am at peace with God.
This Lenten season 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. Then that mountain won't be the worst of mountains, but the best of mountains as you realize that our Savior is the God of Glory! It wasn't weakness that took him to the cross, but love—his great love for you. It is good, Lord, to be here to see our Savior's glory! In his name dear friends, amen.
 2 Peter 1:16