Go Mountain Climbing with Jesus
A sermon based on Mark 9:2-9
Sunday, February 26th, 2017 – Transfiguration B
Do you like mountain climbing? Because of my fear of heights (or, I guess, to be more precise, my fear of falling from heights) I'm not a big fan of scaling cliffs or scrambling across loose rocks with a drop off on either side of me. But I do like a nice gradual slope on a wide path to the top of a mountain. Even though it takes some effort (and lots of heavy breathing) on my part, it's usually well worth the view when you get to the top.
Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? One where you get to the top and there at the top your life has changed? That expression "mountain top" experience comes from the Bible. Just think how many people had an experience on the top of a mountain that changed their lives.
On the top of Mr. Ararat, the ark came to rest after being on the open water for more than a year! And Noah offered God a sacrifice of thanks for that moment of rescue.
On the top of Mount Zion Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. Though God stopped him, that moment must have changed his life!
On the top of Mount Sinai, God appeared to Moses in a fiery cloud to give him the commands he himself had written on the stone tablets. That experience must have forever changed Moses.
On the top of Mt. Carmel, Elijah summoned God to send a pillar of fire to consume his water drenched sacrifice to prove that he was the true God, right before Elijah commanded that all the prophets of Baal be slaughtered. What a mountaintop experience!
Well, you know that Moses and Elijah had another mountaintop experience centuries later—one they shared with Jesus and with three of his disciples. On the Mount of Transfiguration, they appeared with Jesus as he shone with the light of the sun! What a mountaintop experience that must have been for Peter, James, and John.
This mountaintop experience on the Mount of Transfiguration prepared them for another mountaintop experience on a different mountain. It prepared them for the crucifixion on Mount Calvary.
And this morning, I invite you to join those three disciples and go mountain climbing with Jesus that you might have your own mountaintop experience of sorts. Go from the Mount of Transfiguration, where you'll get a sneak preview of Jesus' divine glory, to the Mount of Crucifixion, to prepare for Jesus' death for us.
Listen now to Peter's description of Jesus' transfiguration as it's recorded for us in Mark 2:2-9…
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 the 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? Or been driving down the road when someone with LED headlights flashes their brights in your face? 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 who were literally centuries old were standing with Jesus, talking to him. We don't know how the disciples recognized them. Maybe they overheard Jesus call them by name. But somehow they knew who Moses and Elijah, the two great prophets of the Old Testament, were. No wonder the disciples were terrified!
And bold, impetuous Peter, scared half to death, couldn't just keep quiet and observe. 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 pause—to capture the moment and make it last.
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! What a mountaintop experience!
When you hear about Peter, James and John's experience, do you wish that you could have been there too? Do you wish that you could see a glimpse of God's glory on some mountaintop 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, through Elijah, and through all the other prophets.
We see Jesus' glory when he reveals himself among us, not in a cloud that envelops us on a mountain, but in the quiet whisper of a sermon, in, with, and under the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper, and in the 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 Noah, to Abraham, 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 like we did last week, "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 do. 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 again. 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 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." 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." (cf. 2 Peter 1:16) "We have seen his glory; the glory of the One and Only!" (John 1:14)
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. What a life-changing mountaintop experience!
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 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, "Does the death of some guy who lived 2000 years ago really pay for my sins? Am I really forgiven?"
And when I do start to think this way, I need to go mountain climbing with Jesus and have another mountaintop experience with him. 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. He 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 our my place. So we are forgiven. We are 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 your sin, don't forget the this first mountaintop experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and remember what you've seen here. 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 and have this mountaintop experience as we see our Savior's glory! In his name, dear friends, amen.