Have you ever had an experience that was so powerful that it changed your life? I have-that’s why I’m able to stand before you today and preach the good news. Jesus had several powerful experiences, including his Transfiguration, which we heard about in Mark 9:2-9.
Transfiguration is a believer’s spiritual transformation into the image of Christ. Mark’s version of the transfiguration story offers a glimpse of Jesus’ divine nature and his radiant, divine glory. He radiates light from the inside. In the future kingdom, Jesus’ glory will not be veiled. It will shine like a thousand sons. No one will be able to mistake it.
Moses represented the Old Testament law, Elijah represented the prophets. Together they represented the Old Covenant. In Old Testament scenes where God revealed himself, human audiences were often at a loss for words. Peter was also at a loss for words, so he said the first thing that came to his mind. Mark argued that Peter spoke out of great fear. He was scared by what he saw.
Holy moments can do that to us. Words can bring healing, and the right words at the right time can bear holiness, light and life, but words said quickly and too easily can distract us and allow us to avoid whatever it is we might feel in the words that were not said. In cases like this we have the ingredients we need for Christ’s glory to be seen and transfigure the time. Then we can see Christ’s glory in our ordinary time. As long as we continue to do ordinary things, Christ will be present. As long as birth, deaths, hope, despair, courage, fear and faith are with us, Christ will be with us.
Peter was amazed by what he saw. He did not want to leave. That’s why he offered to build the three shelters. God had to bring Peter back to reality by telling the disciples to listen to Jesus. You can’t really blame Peter for wanting to stay on the mountaintop. All of us have had mountaintop experiences that we did not want to see come to an end. These experiences could be anything from the birth of a child or grandchild, our wedding or any other life-changing event. They provide stability and assurance that our world is intelligible, orderly and has value, if only for a short time. The problem is that we can’t stay on the mountaintop. The past can never be preserved, and we as faithful people must live in the present. We have to come down and get back to the mundane reality of everyday life. It is in everyday life where we have to do the work God has given us to do.
There was an expectation among the Israelites that Elijah would appear just before God sent the Messiah and restored the reign of the Lord in Israel. Moses promised the people before he died that God would send a prophet like him at a time in the future. That moment happened during the transfiguration, and the disciples were scared as they saw Jesus for who he really was. Their physical sight gave them the gift of spiritual reality, and it was too much for them. Something very powerful and life-changing was happening before their eyes.
Jesus’ glorification is like dessert that is served as part of a meal. It has to come at the end. Jesus glorification needs to come after his suffering and death. If we start with the desserts, we may never get to salvation events. If we focus our attention only on the desserts, we will find a lot of people who are pretending to be Christians, not really believing in or serving Jesus, not really willing to deny themselves and carry their crosses, but seeking an escape from their problems.
The cloud confirmed that Jesus’ transfiguration was a re-enactment of the Covenant given to Moses on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24. Moses and Elijah conveyed the law, but Jesus was the law. Peter would remember this event years later because it revealed to the disciples that Jesus is the son of God. This experience is not meant to diminish the importance of the law and the prophets. They work together and with the revelation of Jesus as the son of God. Moses and Elijah were important, but they are not as important as Jesus.
Jesus sought help from the scriptures for understanding his life and mission. He knew how to listen to them and how to interpret them in relation to what they said. For him they were not merely sources in the present. They spoke of God as our creator, sustainer and redeemer, the loving giver of bread and forgiveness and protection from evil; the one who calls us into relationships of love to him, our neighbours and ourselves.
At the transfiguration, Jesus had a visionary moment in his life where he knew that his life had a meaning. There are times when we can have the same type of moments in our lives. We might not be able to pinpoint the exact time of that moment, but we know that our lives have a meaning and a goal. We know that God has a purpose in our lives, a destiny in this world, and we have surrendered ourselves to a purpose that is larger than us. This vision allows us to see beyond any obstacles.
When Jesus came to earth, he did not give up his deity. He shrouded his glory and laid aside the privileges of his deity. Why? So that he could serve us and save us. He modeled what it was like to be a servant. We are to follow his example. If he could lay aside his divine privileges, then we can lay aside our own needs to put the needs of others first.
Jesus told his disciples not to reveal what they had seen until after his resurrection. They would not be able to understand what had happened during his transfiguration until after his death and resurrection. They might have even tried to bring on the kingdom prematurely themselves. When Jesus was transfigured, the disciples saw the glory of Christ as God’s son. Christ’s death and resurrection put his transfiguration in its proper context. Jesus and his disciples will endure suffering and death, but their final destination will be glory. This story offers hope. Jesus struggle doesn’t diminish the confidence of his promises, including the promise of a future with him. He promises to be with us during the difficult times in our lives.
Anyone who rejects the Messiah rejects God because God sent the Messiah. Peter, James and John saw Jesus’ glory and his greatness over Moses and Elijah. They also hear God authenticate Jesus as his son. Jesus alone will walk the path of suffering for our redemption. This knowledge was reserved for Peter, James and John. They needed to prepare for Christ’s death and resurrection. They were overwhelmed by the prophecies of Christ’s suffering, and they needed to see what Christ meant by his power and glory if they wanted to break the world’s hold over their lives. They could not endure the cross or hate the shame that awaited them as well unless they shared Christ’s vision of joy. They saw the glory of his sinlessness, his sonship and his suffering. They learned that every word Jesus spoke carried the glory of the truth of the Gospel.
Peter had a problem with this. His confusion was the reason why he offered to build the three shelters. Peter was scared, and most of us would probably also be scared if Jesus had taken us up to the mountaintop. God had to reassure them by telling them to believe Jesus. He reassures us today by telling us the same message-believe Jesus. He makes our lives simpler. He helps us avoid mistakes. He helps us to inherit a heavenly treasure. He helps us experience joy. The only way we can experience this is to study his world. We can listed to CDs and great preachers and read books, but they can’t take the place of reading the Bible.
Mark’s Gospel is all about the cross and suffering along with the glory of Jesus. The vision of Christ in his glory in the transfiguration is an encouragement both to Mark’s audience and to us. Only after Christ’s death and resurrection can we understand that the Jesus at the transfiguration is the same Jesus who was crucified—and that’s the beginning of a wonderful story. Mark’s version of the transfiguration is a transition from the season of Epiphany with its emphasis on the power and presence of the good news of salvation through Jesus to Lent, with its emphasis on Jesus’ journey to suffering and the cross.
The transfiguration had several purposes:
- To see God’s kingdom coming into power.
- To connect and contrast Jesus with the law and the prophets.
- To point to Jesus as the one whom the prophets expected.
- To connect Jesus with “mountaintop experiences” at down times.
- To show Jesus as a divine being.
- To show Jesus’ coming martyrdom.
- To show the disciples their blindness.
- To allow the disciples to hear God’s declaration that Jesus is his son.
- To usher in a new commandment from God-that is, to listen to Jesus.
- To remind us that there is a time for us to speak and a time for us to listen.
We want an encounter with God, but we often fear him at the same time because we are afraid of being changed or transformed. Standing in God’s presence gives rise to a feeling of reverence that is similar to fear. We are small in the face of God’s ministry. The God who struck fear in the heart of Peter is the same God who heals the sick, frees the oppressed and forgives sinners.
We are called on to create an environment in which God’s glory can be revealed and celebrated, and in which our understanding and experience of Jesus can be deepened. We have to get people to see that the only God that is important in their lives cares deeply for them and for us and allows his Son to take our place of punishment that we know we deserve, to die for us and rise again to give us life.
What keeps God from getting through to us? Are we so certain that we know the end of the story? Are we so busy that no one can get through to us-not even God? Stories like the story of the Transfiguration bring us closer to God and draw us farther away from the world. We need to figure out how to listen for God’s voice among the noise of our worldly lives. We need to listen as Jesus tells us to get back to reality and do the work he has given us to do. Only then can we move forward in our Christian lives.
* Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2013)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J. : The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
- Exegesis for Mark 9:2-9. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- Ron Buford, “Divine Interaction.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sarah Henrich, “Commentary for Mark 9:2-9.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.,org
- David Lose, “He Came Down.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- James Boyce, “Commentary on Mark 9:2-9.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- The Rev. Brian Cole, “Day-to-Day Glory.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Walter Harms, “If I Could Only.” Retrieved from http://www.predigten.uni-goettingen.de/archive~81060226-5e.html
- The Rev. Edward Markquart, “Visions on a Mountaintop.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com
- The Rev. Edward Markquart, “Mountains, Valleys and Plains.” Retrieved from www.sermonsfromseattle.com.
- Greg Laurie, “Our Example to Follow.” Retrieved from www.harvest.org
- John van de Laar, “Brainstorming for Worship: Transfiguration”. Retrieved from http://sacradise.com/blog/?p=1746
- Pastor Dave Risendal, “The Transfiguration of our Lord, Year B (2/15/1015). Retrieved from email@example.com
- Lectionary Homiletics, Feb./March 2015 (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, pp 16-22)