Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 9:2-9 Sermon
February 15, 2015
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice)"
WOV 654 "Alleluia, Song Of Gladness"
TLH 135 "'Tis Good Lord To Be Here"
---------- "O Wondrous Type, O Vision Fair"
TLH 657 "Beautiful Saviour"
AN APPROPRIATE COURSE IN CHANGE
TEXT (vs. 2-4): “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. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
Back when I was a university student, I took a lot of courses over the summer. Many of these summer courses didn't last very long. Some would meet every day for a week, and that was it. The course was finished. Sometimes it was for two weeks, but the idea was the same. These courses packed a lot of information in a very short period of time, and some were more difficult than others were. Some were in-service classes and workshop classes, usually in the area of psychology or sociology.
I remember taking my second year of Hebrew the summer before I started the seminary, and this was no short-cut class either. Professor Honsey made absolutely sure that nothing was eliminated from what normally would have been a three day a week class for two semesters. We did it in only six weeks. And I really struggled with it.
Yes, we had all of the examinations as well, including mid terms and finals. This was on top of the normal daily work we had to do. For the students who took the class during the school year, they had a day in between classes to do their work. Our summer class had only the evening before. It was not the proverbial walk in the park.
I'm using this as an example, because this is the way our Gospel lesson starts out for today. The first words read, "After six days...." There was something or things going on for six days prior to the Transfiguration spoken about in our Gospel lesson for today. What was going on for six days, and why is it mentioned?
It would have been something along the same order as my summer classes were. If we go back one chapter in Mark, to chapter 8, we can get an idea of what was going on. Things were about to make a change, a very abrupt change. Jesus asks Simon Peter to tell him his identity. Peter had to be absolutely certain when he preached that Jesus was true God, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.
And then Jesus goes on to explain that he would be betrayed, killed, and then rise again after three days. In fact, in Mark 8, verse 32 begins with this short statement: "And he said this plainly."
Things were going to change, and it was going to be happening soon. Jesus wanted his disciples to be prepared for it. All of us experience change in our lives at various times, some of it good, and some of it not so good. The disciples were going to be experiencing many things, and some instruction needed to be done.
Today is the day in the Church Year that we know as Transfiguration. It happens every year at this time. By its very definition, when something is transfigured, it is completely changed. This change happened to Jesus—not in who he was, but in how he appeared. The disciples witnessed something they could never have imagined on their own. And it had to be the most awesome thing they could ever have imagined.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus taking Peter, James, and John high upon a mountain. And after they get there, Jesus is transfigured. It’s still Jesus, but he has a totally different appearance. The Bible tells us that “…his clothes became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller (which means “launderer”) could bleach them.” The Old Testament Prophets Moses and Elijah also appear with Jesus, and they converse with one another.
What is happening is that Jesus is giving his closest disciples a small glimpse of his true divine nature. He had with him Peter, the leader of the disciples; and also James and John, the "sons of thunder." They were probably the most influential of the bunch, and probably a bit skeptical by nature. So they witnessed Jesus' transfiguration, which was a manifestation of at least some of his divine glory.
This is not something that God did very often either. If we go back into the Old Testament book of Exodus, we can see how God partially revealed his glory to Moses. Verses 18-23 of Exodus chapter 33 tells this story:
“Then Moses said [to the Lord], ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live.’ Then the LORD said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”
For Moses, this had to be an experience as awesome as it was for Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration. God allowed Moses to partially witness his glory, so there could be no doubt in his mind that this indeed was the one true God who was speaking. And as a witness to the people, we read in Exodus chapter 34 verse 30: “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” Moses even reflected the glory he had witnessed in a type of transfiguration of his own that the Israelites were able to see.
As we get back into the New Testament situation with Jesus and the three disciples, it would probably do us well to look a little closer at those six days of instruction Jesus had with his disciples.
Simon Peter makes his famous confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” There was no doubt in Peter’s mind as to who Jesus really was. And then Jesus continues in Mark chapter 8 verses 31-33: “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, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”
A lot of things were about to happen, things that the disciples weren’t able to fully comprehend, even with the intensified crash course Jesus was giving them. One of those things was quite obviously what Jesus would have to go through to accomplish his divine mission. He had to suffer rejection, persecution, and die the death of a criminal. And then he would rise again from the dead, which was something the disciples really had trouble with, even after Jesus did it and proved it beyond all doubt!
Peter of course had all good intentions that Jesus shouldn’t have to suffer like that, so he rebukes Jesus. Why would the Son of God willingly endure what he shouldn’t have to? But of course that wasn’t the divine plan, so Jesus turns and rebukes Peter for contradicting the will of God.
Jesus knew however that the days to come would be exceptionally difficult for his disciples, especially those closest to him. And so he takes them up on the mountain, and gives them a glimpse of his true glory, just like God did with Moses so long ago. And as a further witness, Moses and Elijah also appear with Jesus. Of course the disciples had no idea what either Moses or Elijah looked like, but God made it possible for them to recognize them. Yes, they knew it was them without any introduction.
Peter, James, and John needed strength for their faith for the days to come, and Jesus provided it. He needed to show them that he was exactly who he claimed to be, the Christ, the true and only begotten Son of the living God. These men needed to know that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, and that the whole situation was under control, even though it would appear to their human logic that Jesus’ had been defeated, and his enemies had been victorious.
In our confirmation classes, we have several lessons about the Apostles’ Creed that cover the two states of Jesus—his state of humiliation, and his state of exaltation. To understand this, we look at what the Bible says in Hebrews chapter 2 verses 9-10: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
The Apostles’ Creed outlines this very nicely. His state of humiliation is described thusly: “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”
This is further explained by the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 2 verses 6-8, that Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
When the disciples and other people saw Jesus, he appeared just like any other human being would look. There wasn’t anything remarkable or unique about him at all. In fact, Isaiah 53 verse 2 gives this description: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him…”
Jesus’ entire life of humiliation on this earth was of his own choosing. He set aside his divine glory to come to this earth. Everything he did was on our behalf, out of a love that we could never begin to comprehend.
Jesus had to be a fully human man in order to live the perfect life that we, along with the entirety of the human race could never live. By being a true man, Jesus was able to represent all of humanity. So, after living the life we could not live, he then suffered the punishment that we all deserve because of our many sins. He was rejected and despised and died the death of a criminal by being crucified on the cross. God unleashed his punishment upon his only Son instead of unleashing it upon us.
Jesus also had to be fully God, because no human being could ever live a sinless life. After the fall into sin, only God could be sinless. Therefore to make everything work, Jesus had to be both true man and true God. That’s what it took to redeem the sins of the whole world.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus allowed his three closest disciples, and perhaps his toughest audience, to catch just a glimpse, and only a glimpse of his state of exaltation. This was an event that was observed by three witnesses, which was required by Jewish law to establish something as a fact. And they also heard the voice of God proclaiming that this was indeed his true Son, the Saviour promised from long ago.
At the beginning, I talked about the various intense summer classes I took when I was a student. This is the method that Jesus used to prepare his disciples for what was about to come. Things would be completely changing in their world. Jesus made a dramatic change in the presence of the three disciples: Peter, James and John. This was a part of Jesus they had never seen; but after seeing it, the true nature of Christ had been vividly revealed to them.
Even though Jesus had this dramatic change right in front of his disciples, all we have is the written record of what happened, recorded for us in the Bible, which is the very Word of God recorded for us.
Dramatic changes in such things as technology and in other things that pertain to this world, are nothing compared to the dramatic change that occurs in us by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God. We need to realize that everything Jesus did, he did for people the likes of you and me. He did all of this because of his great love for us.
Through the Word, God has led us up that mountain, right along with Jesus, Simon Peter, James, and John. Through the Word, God has allowed us to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ divine nature. Through the Word, we see Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, just as if we were standing right there at the moment it all happened.
God has placed this story in his Word for our benefit, because he wants to deepen and strengthen our faith. Our faith is the only thing that grasps and accepts what Jesus did for us. The Holy Spirit has created this faith in our hearts so that we can fully accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour from sin. Through faith alone, we know without a doubt that Jesus lived, died, and rose again for our sakes.
Things that change in our world are often things that change our very lives; and most of the time, those changes are done to benefit humanity. There are medical breakthroughs, digital technology, and so many things out there that people couldn't have even imagined fifty years ago. Peter, James, and John wouldn't have had the foggiest clue as to what was going to happen up on that mountain. But when it did happen, they couldn't have been more awe struck and elated about it. They knew without a doubt that Jesus was true God, and he was here amongst them. The one prophesied by the Old Testament prophets had come. Their salvation was at hand.
Think now about the change that has happened within each one of us. The Holy Spirit has completely changed us by creating faith in our hearts. Our old sinful self has died, and has been replaced and transformed by our new life in Christ. Our benefits are eternal and everlasting. We can therefore be assured that one day we will indeed be able to join Jesus, and Moses, and Elijah, along with all true believers in Christ, where we shall live in perpetual happiness and glory in a new world that is without end.