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Mark 9:2–9

James T. Batchelor

Transfiguration, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Feb 15, 2015 

Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration.  We just heard an account of that very Transformation from the Gospel according to Mark.  Transfiguration Sunday is a major turning point on the church calendar.  We enter the Sunday of the Transfiguration from the season of Epiphany and, as we leave, we look forward to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.

So it is that the Sunday of the Transfiguration is a hybrid of these two seasons.  The obvious epiphany is Jesus standing before Peter, James, and John and giving them a glimpse of His glory.  The foreshadowing of Lent is the prophecy of Jesus upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection that precedes the Transfiguration by just a few verses.

The reading that we just heard from the Gospel according to Mark begins with the phrase And after six days Six days after what?  The preceding verses tell us that Jesus [Mark 8:3132] began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly.  So the transfiguration happened six days after Jesus began telling the disciples about His sacrifice to save the world from sin.

We know that the disciples did not understand what Jesus meant because Marks account goes on to say, [Mark 8:3132] And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  None of the disciples understood, but Peter was always the one with the mouth and he actually scolded Jesus for talking about suffering and death.

Many of you will remember Jesus response to Peter. [Mark 8:33] Turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. With these words, Jesus warns Peter that not only is he wrong, but he is also acting as an agent of Satan in order to tempt Jesus to abandon His mission of going to the cross.

So the transfiguration happens about six days after Jesus began telling the disciples about His suffering, death, and resurrection.  It also happens six days after this very dramatic demonstration of Peters confusion about these events.

So Jesus took Peter, James, and John up onto the mountain.  Mark tells us that Jesus was transfigured so that even His clothing shone whiter than any launderer could get them.  Not only that, but two Old Testament saints, Moses and Elijah, appeared and had a conversation with Jesus.  You have got to admit that this is pretty impressive stuff.

The Gospel we recently heard doesnt actually tell us anything else about Jesus and his conversation with Moses the Law Giver and Elijah the prophet.  Instead, it draws our attention to the utter failure of Peter to understand what is happening.  Peter said to Jesus, Rabbi, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. Once again, here is Peter trying to divert Jesus from the cross.  In effect he is saying, Hey Jesus!  We can build some shelters up here and just stay here and worship you. Now keep in mind that if Jesus stays up on the mountain, then He cant go to the cross.  This is simply another variation on the devils main temptation of Jesus.

About this time, God the Father puts in an appearance similar to His appearance at Jesus baptism.  A cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, This is my beloved Son; listen to him. It is almost as if God the Father was saying, Hey!  Pay attention!  This is My Son.  When He tells you that He is going to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise from the dead, listen to Him! When the Father appears, the disciples find themselves face down on the ground trembling in terror.

Not much has changed over the centuries.  We find ourselves down with our faces to the ground in terror right along with the disciples.  You see, we think that we would really like to be there with the shiny, mountain top, Jesus.  We think it would be really great to have Gods glory shine down on us.  We think it would be great to bask in the brightness of Gods presence.  But, what we think would happen and what the Bile actually says about being in the glory of God are two different things.

Gods revealed presence has a profound effect on people.  The Bible tells of people falling to the ground like dead men, falling to their faces, quaking in fear, and so forth.  Basically, it doesnt make any difference what kind of person you are.  If God were to show up in all His power and glory, you would have a panic attack.  Todays Gospel account says, Peter did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

You see, when God shows up in the full majesty of the glory that He revealed on the mountain top, we become intensely aware of how holy He is and how sinful we are.  This is the terror of sinful people in the revealed presence of Holy God.  There is a reason angels normally begin their message with the words, Fear Not! Even though the angels only reflect the glory of Gods holiness, it is enough to terrify even the bravest soul.  We think we would like to bask in the glory of God, but the terror of Peter, James, and John teaches us to rethink our desire for this kind of mountaintop experience with God.

Instead, we should think about joining God on a different mountain the mountain Jesus was talking about when He said [Mark 8:3132] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  As marvelous as it is that we should hear about Jesus showing His glory to Peter, James, and John, this is not the glory that we should seek.  Instead, we should seek the glory of the blood, sweat, and tears of the cross.

It is in the ugly brutality of Jesus on the cross that God reveals His greatest glory.  The glory of Christ on the cross is the glory that takes away our fear and replaces it with humble confidence a confidence, not in ourselves, but a confidence in the God-man on the cross.  It is the brutal glory of Christ on the cross that takes away all sin and replaces it with the righteousness of Jesus.  This is the glory that Peter did not understand when Jesus spoke of His suffering, death, and resurrection.  This is the glory that Peter did not understand when he suggested building three shelters on the mountain top.

Eventually, Peter would understand.  Before he understood, he had to witness Jesus in Gethsemane as He prayed.  He had to witness as a band of soldiers arrested Jesus.  He had to witness as he tried to stop Jesus mission with his sword only to see Jesus heal the ear of the servant.  He had to witness as the soldiers took Jesus away to suffer and die.  Most of all, he had to witness the living Lord risen from the dead showing His hands, feet, and side to the disciples.  Even then, it was only when the Holy Spirit came on the following Pentecost that Peter would get it right.

We are thankful that Peter got it right because he is the one who taught Mark, and Mark is the one who wrote todays reading from the Gospel.  Peter finally did get it right.  It is through the apostolic words of Peter as recorded by Mark that we have the Gospel account we heard today.

All too often, we seek the bright glory of the mountain top experience that shone on Peter, James, and John as we heard it in todays Gospel reading.  We tend to ignore that part where the disciples were in terror.  We ignore the terror because we are arrogant enough to believe that the holy glory of God will not strike us down with terror over our sins.

God the Fathers message is clear.  This is my beloved Son; listen to Him! Listen to Jesus teach [Mark 8:3132] that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.  It is this suffering, death, and resurrection that is the glory of God that rescues us from sin, death, and the devil that gives us eternal life.

The season of Epiphany is about the revelation of Jesus Christ.  It begins with the light of the star that led the magi to the Christ child.  It ends with the Transfiguration that teaches us that this man Jesus is also true God.  In revealing Jesus as both man and God that Epiphany prepares us for the glory of the cross.  It teaches us that the man who died on the cross is also the God who shone forth in the transfiguration.  That in Jesus Christ, we have both man and God dying for our sins as He hangs on the cross.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent.  Now that we have once again celebrated the Epiphany of Jesus Christ as both God and man, we are ready to remember that Jesus must be both God and man so that He can go to the cross and save us from sin.  We are now ready to remember the journey that Jesus took from the mountain of the Transfiguration to the mountain of the cross.  We are ready for Lent.  We are ready to meditate on the journey that leads to the cross where Jesus will battle for us and win the victory the victory that gives us true life with Him forever.  Amen

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